You announce your pregnancy to your family and friends, and it begins: you are subjected to birth horror stories. Sometimes others recount stories that aren’t even theirs--- they may share with you a scary news article they just read, or a third-hand account of someone else's traumatic birth experience.
What is it about pregnancy that makes others want to share negative news? When you announce an engagement, people don’t start telling you about their marriage problems. When you share the news about a work promotion, they don’t dump on you about their own workplace drama. But pregnancy seems to open an invitation to others to give you unsolicited advice and warnings.
Negative comments from others can interfere with your ability to keep your own worries and anxiety at bay, or to simply enjoy your pregnancy. And when the negative stories are related to your personal birth choices or preferences, or used as a way to discourage you or shame you for those choices, the emotional impact can be great.
Here’s how to deal with those birth horror stories:
1. Understand the motivations behind sharing them.
There are several reasons why people overshare the negative aspects of birth. Often they just want to connect with you, and they feel that sharing the hard parts of pregnancy and birth is a way to do it. What they don’t realize (or remember) is that you’re still in it! You’re pregnant and haven’t given birth to this baby yet. Even if this isn’t your first birth, each pregnancy and labor are unique and you really don’t know how it will go until you actually give birth.
Sometimes people haven’t yet processed their own birth trauma, and instead of speaking to someone who can help them work through it, they are dumping their negative feelings onto you. Perhaps their concern for your well being creates a need in them to tell you about what can go wrong, as if speaking it aloud is all that’s needed to keep you safe.
Some people are talkers with no filter. They see that you’re pregnant, and they blurt out all of the pregnancy-related things they know, even if they are negative. They don’t think about the impact on you.
And sometimes, people just think they know more than you, and know what’s best for you. But they aren’t you. This is your pregnancy, and your baby.
2. The story is incomplete.
Someone can tell you something negative about their birth experience with all the gory details, but here's what you may not know:
You don’t have all the facts about someone’s birth story. What’s missing may explain what contributed to a negative outcome, or their negative feelings about their birth.
I'll say it again: Every pregnancy and labor are unique. Even if you have the same care provider as someone else, birth at the same location, at the same time of year under the same full moon, your experience is uniquely your own.
3. Consider the source.
There are aspects of birth that can be painful, uncomfortable, and difficult. Knowing what to expect during labor and during your postpartum recovery, learning about the warning signs so you know when to seek medical care or when to see a specialist-- these things are valuable and important to share. But there is a difference between education and fear-based story telling.
Consider who is giving you the information-- what is their knowledge of birth, of perinatal research, the policies and practices of your care provider, or of your unique medical history?
Very rarely does an event or experience have only negative aspects. Is the person sharing information with you not aware of or are they withholding the positive aspects of a situation?
Your care provider, childbirth educator, doula, lactation consultant, or informed friend may be a more reliable source for information than someone recounting a horror story.
4. Challenging births can still be positive births.
You can’t predict or control how your birth will play out. Birth, by nature, is unpredictable. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily dangerous, or to be feared, or that things will go wrong. And it doesn’t mean that what happened to someone else will happen to you. The way someone else feels about their birth experience, will not have to be the way you feel about yours.
Even if you face challenges that you didn’t anticipate or want, or if things veer off course from your birth plan, you can still feel positively about your birth. When you feel informed and supported throughout, when you feel like your birth team cares about you and respects your wishes, when you feel safe and loved, then you are likely to feel more positively about your birth experience.
Inductions, Cesareans, very short or very long births, unintentionally unmedicated births, high intervention births, or any birth that didn’t go as desired— these can all still be positive births. Birth is in the eye of the beholder.
Preparing yourself by taking a childbirth education class, knowing your options in labor, choosing a care provider who supports your goals, and surrounding yourself with a strong birth team-- these steps themselves can help to buffer you against others' birth horror stories.
You can also just stop them before they start. Change the subject, find an excuse to hang up the phone, or tell your family and friends what you do and don't want to hear when you are pregnant. Surround yourself with what will help you approach your labor with confidence, calm, and joy-- start your positive birth experience now.
I am a certified birth doula, postpartum doula, and childbirth educator serving clients in Boise, Meridian, Eagle, Nampa, and the Greater Treasure Valley.
Learning about the birth process and having caring, knowledgeable support throughout pregnancy and labor can make or break your birth experience.
I've worked in the forest, in the lab, and in an office cubicle. My favorite and most passionate work has been alongside clients as they reach inside to find their innermost strength, and give birth to their babies. Each birth is an honor to witness.