Sunday, August 14, 2011
Maternity guru Sheila Kitzinger says 'fairytale' expectations of childbirth end with dashed hopes for women
Source: Telegraph UK
Sheila Kitzinger, the pioneer of the natural birth movement, says heavy marketing of a "perfect birth" has left countless women feeling like failures when their own experiences fall short of expectations.
The veteran author and social anthropologist said that, despite NHS policies claiming to offer women choice over how they gave birth, expectant mothers were increasingly being "emotionally blackmailed" into agreeing to medical interventions they did not want.
Others who underwent a natural delivery were also left feeling inadequate – because false expectations set by "consumer-driven marketing" meant new mothers were more likely to blame themselves if they suffered a poor birth experience.
Mrs Kitzinger, 80, a campaigner for natural births, who still works as a lecturer in midwifery, feels she must speak out now because of the growing pressure on women.
She said she supported a Government pledge that every pregnant woman should be able to choose where and how to give birth, by the end of this year.
But she said the language used to promote the policy had left many new mothers feeling like failures.
"Choice comes from the language of advertising – it is what happens in supermarkets," she said. "The idea is one of free choice but in fact the products at eye level are displayed to have the greatest impact on the consumer; it is the same with maternity."
The author of 25 books on childbirth and parenting, seen as radical when she first began campaigning for home births in the 1960s, will share her views with trainees at the Royal College of Midwives' annual conference in Manchester later this month.
Mrs Kitzinger, who has described childbirth as a potentially orgasmic experience, denied that figures like her were responsible for women's deflated hopes.
"Childbirth experts are often blamed for raising women's expectations but I think you have to look further. I think the problem is a consumerist agenda. We are geared up to competition, to test everything; nowadays, we see birth as a performance," she said.
Mrs Kitzinger said many modern women, accustomed to taking control of their careers, made a mistake in applying the same thinking to childbirth.
"There is a heavy emphasis on performance and achievement today. Women increasingly think they should keep control of childbirth, that they should manage it, rather than surrender to the experience. One mother said to me: 'I am a teacher, I can control a class of 25, I'm not frightened of taking charge, why couldn't I be in control of the most important experience of my life?'"
Many partners who were keen to assist in the experience actually made the situation worse, she said.
"I think there can be a tendency for the man now to see his role as a coach or a driving instructor. He sees it as his job to make sure the woman keeps to meticulous plans they have drawn up. But giving birth is not like driving a car, and it is not about keeping the woman on the road. I think when they take that route, couples can end up feeling they have failed."
The idea of childbirth as a performance left countless women feeling inadequate, she said.
"Women call me after having an apparently normal birth, one that appeared to have been straightforward saying they feel bad about it. They blame themselves for wanting too much; they put themselves down and apologise for being silly. Often they start crying – they say I know I'm stupid. It seems as though they had been looking for a fairytale ending that never happened," said Mrs Kitzinger.
The Government has promised that all pregnant women should be given the choice of giving birth at home, or in a midwife-led unit or traditional hospital setting by the end of this year. It says four out of five women are already being given some choice about where to give birth, and that for just over half that included a home birth- though less than three per cent of births took place at home.
Meanwhile, the proportion of babies born by Caesarean has doubled in 15 years, with one in four children now born in the operating room.
Consultants say increasing numbers of older and heavier mothers are increasing the number of "high-risk" births, which require delivery via surgery, but many midwives say too many women are being put under unnecessary pressure to undergo the operation, which many do not want.
An emphasis on "clockwatching" – with interventions stepped up, if progress was not keeping to a regimented timetable – meant many women's labours were unnecessarily induced, or ended with a Caesarean, said Mrs Kitzinger, a mother of five and grandmother of three, who lectures in midwifery at Thames Valley University.
"Caesareans are heavily promoted, as safe, as having no adverse consequences, as resulting in birth without pain. The medical system has a great focus on control and surveillance, and all the monitoring contributes to increased interventions," she said.
"Women end up under emotional blackmail; mothers do not want to do anything that could harm their baby, so are likely to agree to whatever is being proposed. As a result, many end up feeling cheated".