Childbirth is often compared to running a marathon and for good reason. The physical and emotional demands are not dissimilar. A recent study showed that childbirth put an equivalent level of stress and trauma on the body as running a marathon.

So I thought I’d take this comparison a step further and explore the kind of messages that women are frequently subjected to when pregnant and see how those same messages might look if she was putting herself forward for a marathon instead.

This is to highlight the ridiculousness of what pregnant women have to put up with and to show how our culture encourages fear among women when it comes to birth.

nature TW

Do you think this is the face of a crazy woman?

To me she appears to be a confident woman who trusts her body to do what it knows to do; to run. Why wouldn’t a human being know how to run? It’s part of our DNA. We need to be able to run to survive. It’s not something we have to learn, we just KNOW how to do it.

Just like giving birth. How have we managed to last several thousand years if a woman’s body didn’t know how to birth its young?

If a friend or colleague at work was sharing how she was aiming to beat her personal best on tonight’s run around the park near her home… what do you think she’d hear:

You can’t run in the park on your own… who’s going to help you?

How come you’re not running at circuit track where there are staff to look out for you?

Are you sure you’ll be able to run on your own with no help? What if you have a heart attack?

Don’t all these comments sound ridiculous? And yet, women who declare that they’d like to birth at home get this kind of crap all the time.

Sharing my intentions for a home birth

When I was pregnant the last time around I had decided from the outset that I would have a home birth; as long as my pregnancy progressed in a healthy manner of course. When I would share my inentions for a home birth, here are just some of the responses that came my way;

You can do that?! Give birth at home?

Why would you do that?

Don’t you live near a hospital?

Isn’t that dangerous?

And then there were those who didn’t actually say anything verbally, but their face said it all! They clearly thought I was mad, or some kind of crazed hippy.

But the worst responses came from the nurses who were doing my ultrasound scans in the maternity unit. And they all reeled out the same phrase repeatedly….

Oh you’re brave!

The truth is giving birth at home isn’t dangerous and doesn’t require bravery. In fact, in the UK, it’s recommended for women who are low risk and who have had healthy pregnancies.

Why choosing a hospital birth is brave

In my opinion, birthing in a hospital requires bravery. WHY? Lots of reasons! The most obvious one being why would I want to do something like give birth in such a horrible environment; no home comforts, terrible beds and bedding, awful bathrooms and toilets, loads of people roaming about, no privacy, bright lights, expensive food that happens to be terrible… jeez I could go on, but let me get to the more serious aspects of why I don’t like the idea of a hospital birth.

A hospital birth is more likely to be a medicalised birth and for me that means TROUBLE!

A medicalised birth means interfering with the natural birthing process and can begin before labour with an induction. Once labour is underway, it might include pain relief or epidural, intrusive monitoring, use of tools such as forceps or ventouse and of course, a c-section. The thing is, once you start on this slippery slope, you’re more likely to need more. This is otherwise known as the cascade of interventions, and is known to lead on to difficult, painful and sometimes traumatic births. And for me that is a risk I’d rather avoid. In fact, to choose to raise your chances of going down this route is brave.

It’s often said that the best environment to birth your baby is the one that helped to create your baby; at home in private, dim lights, lots of love and… letting your body go in the sheer power of the moment. Would you check yourself into a hospital for the weekend for a romantic weekend? Probably not!

The medicalisation of birth is pretty recent in terms of human history… it started in the 50s and has had a very damaging effect on birth and birthing women. Before then, women would have been supported by midwives and other women in their community. Women who had birthed and knew how to support a birthing woman. Not hospital staff who’d only ever seen the worst aspect of birth and were driven in “helping’ you by their own fears of what might go wrong.

Now that is not to say that I’m against a medicalised birth WHEN THERE IS A MEDICAL SITUATION. But birth in itself is not a medical situation. If mother or baby is in distress or has a medical need due to complications, then sure, that requires medical attention. But a healthy mother who’s had a healthy pregnancy does not automatically require medical attention.

How to speak to a pregnant mama who wants a home birth

So, if a pregnant woman tells you that she wants to birth at home (or in a birthing centre), she is NOT crazy and she is not brave. She is simply choosing to birth in environment that she feels is best for her and her baby. And whatever works for her IS FINE.

Consider yourself fortunate to be speaking to a warrior woman who is confident in her ability to birth her baby. Women who choose to home birth are doing so after careful consideration of their options. They’ve done their homework and they understand birth well enough to feel confident that birthing home is going to be just fine. They are mindful about how the birthing experience will affect them AND their baby, not just during the birth, but afterwards and for the rest of their lives. A woman who has done this level of preparation and thinking is going to be a GREAT MAMA! Encourage and support her, don’t pull her down and project your own fears onto her.

We need more women like this and they need to be supported in their choices. So if you ever hear a pregnant mama telling you she’s planning a home birth, just remember this

  • She’s thought about this A LOT and is doing what she believe is best for her family, just as she will as a mother… respect her choices and butt out!
  • Unless she’s asked for it, she’s not that interested in your opinion or judgement, so keep it to yourself.
  • She DOESN’T need to hear your repertoire of birth horror stories, whether they’re yours or a friend of a friend’s … show some sensitivity.
  • She IS NOT BRAVE so don’t patronise her by saying so.

We need to help more women to bring out their Warrior Woman when it comes to birth and not give them the pregnancy jitters at every corner. We all have a role to play in that, including you!

I’d love to know your thoughts on this. What responses have you faced when sharing your birthing intentions? Please let me know in the comments.

Maybe you’d like to read my other posts in the If childbirth was a marathon series;

No need to give birth on your back. In fact DON’T!

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Alexia Leachman

Alexia is the host of the Fear Free Childbirth podcast and the author of Fearless Birthing, Childbirth, Midwifery & the Media, and Clear Your Head Trash.

Alexia supports families planning pregnancy and birth. She helps them to overcome their fears and feel calm and confident about birth and pregnancy.

Alexia also trains birth professionals in the Fearless Birthing, a unique approach to birth preparation that is ideal for those who have fears around birth.
Alexia Leachman
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