Mumsnet has been accused of putting women off natural childbirth with a ‘Tsunami of horror stories’. According to Catriona Jones, who is a lecturer in midwifery at the University of Hull, the rise in Tocophobia (an extreme fear of pregnancy and childbirth) is in part the fault of women sharing their experiences of births that didn’t go to plan on social media.
To me this feels unfair and narrow-minded. To put the blame on women and make it seem as though they are working themselves into a state is sexist. There are many reasons that could explain this rise without resorting to the idea of hysterical women. For one thing women’s health is often neglected and under-researched. Their pain is not taken as seriously as men’s and they are often told their issues are all in their head. Why would this be any different when it comes to labour and childbirth? Rather than blaming women, more should be done to understand why they may feel such panic and fear.
Childbirth can leave women with injuries that are both physical and mental. For some, the trauma they have experienced can leave them feeling isolated, depressed and may even result in PTSD. Sites like Mumsnet give women a space in which they can be honest, open and find other people that can understand what they went through. To discourage women from sharing and supporting one another in this way is wrong. If women are too scared to talk they will end up more isolated and their fears left unaddressed.
The push on natural childbirth also does little to help. Recently the idea that the ‘ideal’ birth is one without medial intervention has become incredibly mainstream. The pressure for women to have a ‘natural’ birth with either minimal or no pain relief is huge. For some women giving birth this way is just not possible. It is crucial that they are not made to feel guilty if they have required help. There is no wrong way to give birth and no woman should ever feel as though they have failed because their experience has differed to that of someone else.
Pushing one method of childbirth can make women feel as though they have no choice. Nobody should be made to give birth in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable. No woman should be left feeling traumatised because they didn’t feel listened to or felt their choices were not valid. One of the reasons I left my midwifery degree was because of this push, which I felt went against the ideas of choice and bodily autonomy.
Furthermore, we need to consider the fact that women are not as prepared for labour and birth as they may have been a few years ago. Maternity units would offer tours of their birthing rooms and the ward. They would spend time with the women and be able to address their fears before they gave birth. After birth women would often have time in hospital to recover and process what they had been through while bonding with their new baby. However, cuts to the NHS, including maternity services, have meant that this is no longer the case. Staff shortages, ward closures and lack of resources mean that women are not as familiar with where they are supposed to give birth and are also sent home very quickly afterward. It is no wonder then that with no other space to decompress they are turning to social media to share their stories and find support and camaraderie with other women.
Ultimately we should not be blaming women and Mumsnet for the rise in Tocophobia. We should be encouraging women to keep speaking up about their experiences and celebrating the fact that there are spaces for women to do this. If we are looking at why fear of childbirth has risen there are more important issues to consider before you blame social media. Cuts to services, lack of research and a push on natural birth have all factored into this. Women need to keep speaking out for their own sake and to help encourage change.