Sold on natural birth? Read the fine print

In the excitement and anticipation, I ignored the fine print: some women, some of the time.
In the excitement and anticipation, I ignored the fine print: some women, some of the time. Photo: Getty Images

Sex sells, according to conventional wisdom. But when it comes to those with a growing baby bump, sex is a little passé: it's natural birth that sells.

We imagine scenes of a strong, calm partner, gently cradling a labouring lady; a crinkly newborn on a bare chest, in search of its first feed. A new mum, flushed with delight and feel-good hormones.

The mother in those images is silent, focused on her new baby, but the whole scene says, "I did it. It's what my body was designed to do."

According to the assortment of natural birth-inspired products on offer, you can do it, too. You just have to believe, let go of the fear. Allow your body to work its maternal magic.

I was sold. The power of the female body to push – I found that in books. The best positions for labour – more books. The perfect environment for labour – I stocked up on candles, music, a birthing robe, an aromatherapy kit and more.

Letting go of fear? That was going to be more difficult. But I found an assortment of courses, all selling the same dream. So I enrolled in a few. I learnt how to "ride the waves" and forget the word "contraction". I imagined my cervix opening like a flower. I meditated. I whispered encouragement to my baby.

And for many months, I focused on a vision. A beautiful vision of a newly born baby and mother, bathed in contentment and golden light.

But instead, it was the bright white lights of an operating theatre that shone down on me and my newly born baby. And that moment was glorious. Not just because I'd met my baby – I'd also come to the end of three days of stop-start labour.

The waves were relentless. I persevered, desperate to delay my hospital admission and avoid the "cascade of intervention". I wanted to achieve that holy grail of birthing. But the waves won. They were contractions and they hurt like hell.

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My willpower and resolve faded as exhaustion reigned. During the final 12 hours of the birth, I managed to tick off nearly everything under the heading "to be avoided" in my birth plan: internal monitoring, epidural, IV drip, forceps and tearing.

As my baby was "assisted" out the natural way, my magnificent birthing body was thankfully numb from the chest down. Whenever I walked or attempted to find a comfortable sitting position during the following weeks, I was reminded that the moment of birth may have been a little painful.

As the weeks turned into months, I cried with joy just looking at my perfect baby girl. But those weren't the only tears I cried. I cried with disappointment and anger, unable to forget my baby's arrival. I cried with fear, wondering if the heaviness and pain and bruising would ever go away.

And then I cried with guilt. Why was I upset about the birth when I had a healthy baby?

I couldn't let it go. I blamed myself; I didn't believe enough, I wasn't strong enough, I couldn't let go of that deeply embedded fear. A fear that perhaps lingered because, even with a body that's apparently designed to do it, I still think it's a miracle that a woman can birth a baby.

It's taken me a few years and a second, better, birth experience to forgive my body and accept that I needed help to get through birth. Not the type you can buy in books or courses and then conjure up yourself – the type that hospitals, obstetricians, midwives and anaesthetists, God bless them, can offer.

I still believe natural birth is a great goal. I believe less fear can mean a better birth. I believe women can birth naturally – some women, some of the time. In the excitement and anticipation of a first pregnancy, I ignored the fine print: some women, some of the time.

I could have found it in the colleague, a mum of three, who laughed when I mentioned the name of a birthing course I'd enrolled in. At the time I was just annoyed at her negativity. Or the doctor who gently encouraged me to keep an open mind. I'd just dismissed him. Or the statistics about interventions during birth. But I didn't want to be a statistic.

However, if I'd taken more notice of the fine print, I may have cried fewer tears of disappointment and anger and more tears of joy. And I wouldn't have been so surprised when, after being sold on natural birth, I had to fork out again once the anaesthetist's bill arrived.

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