Stress Free Mamas blog - "The Dignity of Birth"

Stress Free Birth

Natal Hypnotherapy

Harriet Hancock Natal Hypnotherapist

07811 463457 / 01491 873728


I was reading a facebook post recently from a woman worrying about poo-ing during water birth.  There were lots of posts about sieves and "don't worry - the midwives have seen it all before" and the old favourite "you'll have lost all dignity by then so you won't mind!".  It got me thinking ... and now writing!

I felt a great loss of dignity amongst other things during my son's birth.  I remember lying in theatre being stitched.  The medical team were attentive to my physical needs, checking I was in no pain and that I was warm enough and so on.  And then they chatted about their holidays and the artistry of the stitching being performed.  But I lay there, a brand new mother who had just brought a new life into the world and for that matter, owner of the nether regions being artistically stitched. I had lost all dignity and it crushed me.


A couple of years later and with Natal Hypnotherapy techniques to hand, during my daughter's water birth I pooed with abandon!  My husband and Doula (Jo Piercey) tended to me with a sieve.  My dignity was resoundingly in tact as it was when my husband and I went to ceremoniously buy a new sieve!  


What was the difference?  First time around, I was overcome by fear and so I handed over all control of the birth to the medical team and I allowed the process to unfold around me in their hands.  The loss of control seemed to underpin the loss of dignity.  With my daughter, I overcame my fear and I was in control and I allowed the amazing process of birth to flow through me and bring my baby out into the world.  My dignity soared!


So what is dignity anyway?  Why would a woman lose it during birth?  And if this is the case, what can we do about it?  

The Oxford English Dictionary gives 4 great definitions for dignity which, it seems to me, all apply perfectly to birth. 

1)  "The state or quality of being worthy of honour or respect."  

In western society, many of the rituals and traditions that previously existed to honour birthing women are no longer practiced.  Birth is increasingly seen as a medical event, rather than a normal physiological process and a rite of passage.  Throughout history, societies all round the world have had different rituals to acknowledge birth as the creation of a mother as well as the birth of a baby. 

2)  "A high rank or position."

A birthing woman holds the highest rank in the room regardless of her medical qualifications! Because birth is so often seen as a medical event and because more often than not it happens in hospital where there exists a hierarchy of medical staff, all too often a birthing woman seems to end up feeling that she is in the lowest position in the room.  The scientific knowledge, experience and technology available to help women during birth is fantastic, astonishing not to mention life saving at times but is at its very best when its used with rather than instead of a woman's birthing instincts. 

3)   "A composed or serious manner or style."

Composure during birth is rarely seen or heard about in social media stories of birth or on the television but it should be a feature of every birth, however and wherever that birth occurs. Once in a while a beautiful film of a composed birthing woman pops up on facebook and instantly goes viral with a deluge of comments "how amazing!", "beautiful!", "made me cry". Our society seems surprised and astonished that birth can be this way.

4)   "A sense of pride in oneself; self-respect."

This last definition is the one that I think most women who've given birth will connect with. Sadly, many will, like me with my son's birth, connect with the sense of failure associated with a traumatic birth but many others report a surge of pride and a sense of empowerment that lasts a lifetime.  

It seems to me that women lose their sense of dignity not for example when they poo during birth but when they lose control and aren't at the heart of every decision taken during the birth. This happens when their care givers don't tend to their mental, emotional and spiritual needs as well as their physical needs.  Ina May Gaskin says ”If a woman doesn’t look like a goddess during labor, then someone isn’t treating her right.”

And so there is the heart of the matter of a dignified birth ... a goddess in control of the process, deeply connected with her birthing instincts and respectfully cared for by her birth partner, her midwife and whoever else she may encounter during the birth.

Harriet Hancock  August 2014


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