By Kathryn Gutteridge, consultant midwife, clinical lead for low risk care and doctoral student, Bournemouth University.
The full article appeared in MIDIRS Midwifery Digest, vol 23,
no 4, Dec 2013 and can be accessed through one of MIDIRS subscription services.
Who’s afraid of the big bad birth?
A service to support anxious and fearful childbearing women in a Pregnancy Psychological Wellbeing Clinic: a midwife-led service at Sandwell & West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust.
Giving birth today is deemed to be a safe and fulfilling event where a mother and her baby can expect a high standard of care with good outcomes. However, there are frequently documented articles in the popular press that argue British women are fearful of birth for many reasons, and that also suggest this number is increasing. Naomi Coleman, writing for the Daily Mail (2011), found that in a survey of 3000 women, respondents were afraid of being left unsupported by midwives, of unnecessary clinical procedures and feared that their bodies would never be the same afterwards. This suggests that women are entering childbirth with deep-seated anxieties and are mistrusting of the very people that should be supporting and caring for them.
The human reaction of fear is a vital response that can protect and conserve life, however, to associate it with one of the most joyful human experiences seems to be a juxtaposition hard to understand. During the last 25 years working with childbearing women, I have observed and witnessed this phenomenon, which appears to be increasing, or at least more prevalent in the current childbearing population.
Supporting maternity services and women as both a psychotherapist and midwife I have worked closely to establish, in a much deeper way, the nature of this fear as part of my doctoral studies at Bournemouth University since 1999.
Anxiety, worry, fear
Most of us will experience a degree of anxiety and worry when we face a new and unknown situation; in fact there is an expectation that pregnant women will experience a measure of worry and rumination, particularly if it is a first pregnancy (Fisher et al 2006). This is a normal part of female adaptation and transition from one state of being into the next; essentially ‘…from me as an individual to me as a mother’ (Gutteridge 2001). This is the stage where women seek advice or information to appease those anxieties and worries, thereby allaying further fears. They will use trusted individuals to negotiate their worries, this can be a midwife or more likely will be a female family member or close friend. However, this interface with the public to allay fear often has a disparate effect as the telling of stories is regularly where elaboration and exaggeration of birthing events happens. Those experiences can cement their worry and fear, developing into morbid or even, in the most extreme cases, phobic thoughts ..’
The full article and references can be found in the December 2013 issue of MIDIRS Midwifery Digest. Other original articles in this issue include:
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