It is not because your body was designed badly, or that your baby is not perfect for your body. It has more to do with how the events over the last few hundred years have shaped our beliefs and experiences of birth.
This timeline overview helps to put that in context of how this fear has built up over the years:
1. Natural world. Before Christianity (and still in non-Christian parts of the world), birth was a wonderful celebration, a connection with mother earth, a pagan ritual, birthing women were adored, revered, birth was magical, wonderful.
2. Christianity. With the development of Christianity in the middle-ages, giving birth became connected with sex and as sex was considered carnal sin, the position of women began to be demeaned.
3. Witches. Between the 14th and 17th century, early midwives, or women who were the helpers of women during birth were considered witches, heretics and helpers of evil – millions of these women were executed. As a result, the inherent knowledge of supporting birth women began to disappear and so complications began to arise, sometimes leading to death, therefore women became more fearful of birth. Women were often left alone to birth or had a religious man to attend them.
4. Male Doctors. The rise of medicine, lack of knowledgeable women and the dominant male role put an end to a great deal of women centered birthing. So much of the medical model, terminology and procedures were created by men who were coming at birth from a medical perspective. The invention of forceps and then other medical interventions led to women birthing on their backs which in itself caused many problems so making birthing more painful and dangerous.
5. Hospitals. The creation of hospitals in the 17th century represented a huge shift in the location of where women gave birth. These early hospitals were rife with disease and poor hygiene. More women died from child-bed fever due to poor hygiene conditions than any other cause… fueling the fear of birth even more.
6. Urbanisation. During the industrial revolution, as urbanisation and cramped living conditions increased, women’s health deteriorated rapidly, they were no longer as fit, healthy and well-nourished and so their failing health led to complications during pregnancy and birth.
7. Use of Drugs. By the 18th century many women had become so fearful and traumatised that the introduction of chloroform and other drugs seemed a welcome move, however it made women even more immobile and disempowered. Queen Victoria had chloroform administered when she delivered her eighth and ninth children. The queen’s experiences helped popularize the use of anesthesia among London’s upper classes.
8. Litigation. More recently in history there has been a growing fear of the medical profession getting things wrong and the suing culture has grown so that fear has crossed the barriers to the medical team who are now often more fearful of litigation than they are of feeling confident in the woman’s ability to birth her baby.
9. Antenatal care. In our society today, from the moment a woman becomes pregnant, she is treated as high risk - constantly focusing on what ‘could’ go wrong. She needs scans, blood tests, urine tests, blood pressure monitored etc. So from the very first appointment, there is an element of fear. What if the tests come back negative, what if my blood pressure is too high? She is bombarded with all the things that could damage the foetus, all the things she MUST not do, what to eat, what not to eat, how to sleep, how to exercise and so on.
During the 1940s through to the 1960s Grantly Dick-Read drew attention to culturally induced, or a ‘learned’ fear of childbirth in our society, in which stories relating to pain and endurance are handed down from mother to daughter and from older women to young girls, stories which find a place in our literature, films, TV and more recently, social media.
Fear of childbirth and fear of the pain in childbirth in particular, is a collective belief in society, built up over time, rather than an absolute or given truth. Although the women’s body has not changed since prehistoric times, the fears surrounding birth have.
Generations of women have gone into labour feeling and being frightened and scared. Even though there are no wild animals in their birthing space and, according to the powers that be, hospital is considered the ‘safest’ place to have a baby, women’s bodies have still responded physically to their fears.
In essence, women are now faced with mental and emotional fears of what might happen, rather than real physical threats or danger (from wild animals). Remember that your nervous system does not know the difference between real or imagined danger and fear and so your body will respond in the same way to both – your body will experience real physical responses to a fear created in your mind.
By learning and practising hypnobirthing techniques you can release this fear, let go of those negative beliefs and build up the trust in your body to grow and birth a healthy child.