Oh, Harry. Super-striker Kane has gone and put his golden foot in it. Tweeting yesterday, after the arrival of his second daughter, the England captain praised his fiancée, Kate Goodland, “for having the most amazing water birth with no pain relief at all #mygirls #hypnobirthing”.
The critics quickly weighed in – broadcaster Julia Hartley-Brewer described his comments as “absurd. There’s a reason why women get pain relief during labour: because it bloody hurts.” Kane followed up with a tweet, stating: “Any woman can give birth however they would like. I’m very proud of my fiancée for doing it how she wanted and we both learnt a lot from hypnobirthing.”
I feel sorry for Kane. Clearly, no one had given him a heads-up on the politics of childbirth. He’s proud of his partner, as he should be – birthing a human is an incredible feat, with or without the aid of drugs. But it was inevitable that his proud-dad moment would ruffle feathers. Natural versus medicalised – the business of giving birth and the “right” way to do it has increasingly been a way to pit women against one other.
Like Kate, I had a drug-free labour, much of it spent in a birthing pool. I wanted to have my baby the way my mum had my sister and me – at home, “riding the crest of the wave” through transcendental meditation. (Only after I gave birth did Mum admit she was furiously doggy paddling, not surfing that gnarly wave.) I swapped TM for hypnobirthing and, as I didn’t fancy a smattering of placenta on the mustard sofa in my small London flat, I opted for the home-from-home centre at my local hospital.
The early labour went well. My husband made blueberry pancakes, we watched Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, the midwife arrived and said I was almost fully dilated. A taxi was called, the pool filled. Hours slipped away listening to Paul Simon and Spotify’s Indian Chill playlist. I snacked on chia-seed energy-balls and inhaled flannels doused in camomile oil. I think I even high-fived my other half – we were nailing labour! The pain started to get worse, but it was OK, my baby would be here soon. And then the whispers, just going to do an internal check. The first midwife got it wrong – I was only 5cm. Time to break the waters, time to push. But I couldn’t push. Good God, the pain. I. Won’t. Take. The Drugs. Strip lighting. So many doctors. A forced tear down there; a suction device shoved roughly inside me. This is what it feels like to die. My son hauled out, soundless. Roughly sewn back up. Here’s your baby, off to the ward with you. You can’t go back to your room – it was a birth with intervention. Thirty-six hours to deliver, months to process.
We take aspirin for a headache yet pile the pressure on women to eschew relief for what is, for many, the most profound pain imaginable
Labour can be a rough ride. The Birth Trauma Association says, in the UK, up to 200,000 women a year may develop PTSD following the birth of their child. I’m surprised it’s not more. Babies are getting bigger and women are having them later – these factors can lead to complications. Complications can lead to pain.
So, why do we still see a drug-free birth as a badge of honour? We take aspirin for a headache yet pile the pressure on women to eschew relief for what is, for many, the most profound pain imaginable. Why? The risks of an epidural are low and a study last year by the American Society of Anaesthesiologists debunked the myth that the opioid fentanyl, used in the anaesthetic, affects early breastfeeding success.
Can we clear this up now, please – birth is an intensely personal experience and every labouring body is different. Some women will feel pain like no other – they are not lesser beings for asking for help. Other women are luckier and have relatively easy births and, equally, they shouldn’t be shamed for admitting they enjoyed it. If you happen to orgasm in the throes of labour, great stuff! An empowering birth isn’t a drug-free birth. It’s a birth where a mother feels safe and respected, and equipped with the knowledge to make an informed choice about the labour that’s right for her, whether that’s meditating in child’s pose or lying on a surgical table.
I’ve yet to decide how I’ll approach labour if I have more children. We’re moving to a bigger place soon and, if it feels right, I’ll consider a home birth. But I’ll be less stubborn and more open to help if needed. As obstetrician Amy Tuteur says in her book, Push Back, “deciding before labour begins to refuse an epidural is the equivalent of vowing not to use an umbrella next Tuesday”.
The real test of maternal strength and being a “good” mother isn’t how you bring your baby into the world. It’s what comes after. Raising a happy, kind, well-adjusted human – that’s the stuff to be #proud of.