Fitmum Sharny and her Pregfit Labor
She says that anyone can have a pain-free, 15 minute labour. And that’s bloody unhelpful.
Seriously, what have we been thinking?
Silly, lazy women.
In fact, if only I had listened to certain “experts”, I may never have known just how indescribably excruciating it is to push a tiny human out of your far, far tinier vagina. I would have tensed something, flexed something, stretched out an elegant, toned leg and Pop- we’re done here.
How? If I’d have done more exercise when I was pregnant.
This past week it seems exercise is being floated as a cure-all when it comes to those difficult parts of pregnancy and childbirth that women have lived and died by for centuries.
Michelle Bridges says her fitness has handed her a pregnancy at 44 without the need for all the pesky fertility treatment that she might have otherwise have had to explore.
It’s wonderful for Michelle, of course, but an irritating comment for millions who have struggled with infertility. Those women might well hear in that reasoning an insinuation that they weren’t sacrificing hard enough to get pregnant, that they’ve been sitting on their over-sized bums scarfing party pies when they could have solved all their problems with a few more sit-ups. That is rarely the case.
And now there’s another thing exercise can do for us – take away the pain of childbirth. Last July, ‘fitmum’ Sharny Kieser went into labour and gave birth to her fifth child in a birthing pool. The whole process took 15 minutes.
I have spoken to Sharny about her in-your-face views on motherhood and fitness in the past. Hers is a take-no-prisoners transformation story. She was, in her opinion, overweight and unhappy and now, through eye-watering self-discipline and a business model that revolves around her and her husband Julius’s impressive physiques, she is now pregnant with her SIXTH child, and peddling a book about how to have a FIT PREGNANCY, not a FAT PREGNANCY. In Sharny’s eyes, there is no reason why we can’t all do what she has done.
Sharny is a shining example of healthy living. She has made fitness her business, but that comes with a side of judgement. And when that judgement is around birth and babies, it’s dangerous, dangerous territory.
Because when it comes to how women give birth, we already see judgement in all corners.
Didn’t take any drugs? You’re smug.
Opted for the epidural? You’re selfish, and drugging your baby.
Had a C-section? Well, you didn’t REALLY give birth, did you?
Did it in a birthing pool with the midwife? You risk-taking hippie, you.
But one thing that is generally not in dispute when it comes to the discussion of childbirth is this: It hurts. It hurts like hell.
And yes, there is a way to have a (relatively) pain-free birth: The administration of DRUGS, early and often. But drugs aside, it’s unlikely that pain is what’s going to be missing from your experience of giving birth.
Obstetrician, gynaecologist and fertility specialist Dr Joseph Sgroi, says that it’s undeniable that being fit and healthy and having a BMI that’s well within a healthy range is going to impact positively on labour.
“It’s a bit like running a marathon, you want to be as fit as you possibly can because you need to have good stamina to get through the labour itself, and the pushing. If you’re fatigued it’s a lot harder to achieve. In my experience, women who are extremely fit do very well in labour.”
BUT, he says, that is not necessarily related to pain, and how much your labour will hurt.
“Certain women will experience pain at different thresholds… There are some mechanics at play, for some women no matter how fit and healthy you are, a natural birth might not be possible. Different women have different pain thresholds.
“I’m wary of health gurus overstating something that might let a woman feel let down afterwards, and that will be detrimental to her psychological state.”
In other words, being fit and healthy is very important for pregnant women, but it’s a false promise to suggest it will somehow magically score you a quick, painless labour.
Women who have not yet given birth (and many who have) are afraid of that. As well they should be. There’s pain, and bleeding, and danger. And before modern obstetric medicine, many, many women and babies died doing it.
Which makes pregnant women a vulnerable market for people selling The New Birth Solution. They will grasp on to the idea that there is a way of delivering a child that is safe, and doesn’t hurt like hell.
They will throw money at that promise, hand over fist.
Hypnobirthing, or Calm Birthing, is another technique that also promises a “pain-free” labour. And its teachings, which many women have found very helpful, revolve in large part about reframing how you see the pain of labour in your mind.
Rather than something terrifying to fight, Calm Birth ideology goes, see the pain as the inevitable, purposeful steps to getting your ultimate prize – your baby.
Hats off to you if you can keep that positive thinking going for one, two, 24, 36 hours.
The average calm-birth class program in Sydney costs around $500.
Again, promising frightened women a less painful birth is big business.
When I gave birth to my first child, I went to the average pre-natal classes with all the other scared people. Overwhelmingly, the question that most asked most often and earliest was “But how much does it hurt, really?”
The midwife tried to avoid the word PAIN, replacing it with its bullshit cousin DISCOMFORT, but, I’m telling you, there was nothing DISCOMFORTABLE about the pain I found myself in, several weeks later, in the middle of an early, high-speed delivery.
All the pre-natal yoga and perineal massage in the world can’t take away from the fact that labour hurts an incredible amount. It hurts so much that you temporarily, you lose your mind. And it hurts so much that when it’s over, you have no idea how you just lived through that.
But really, if the pain is the only thing that sucks about your birthing experience, then you’re doing okay. You’re lucky. If you get a baby in your arms and a couple of stitches and some war stories to tell at mothers’ group, you’re doing just fine.
Because for so many women, and for so many babies, things get a lot more complicated than that, with much higher stakes.
Not getting the labour you planned for is not the worst thing that can happen.
Telling pregnant women that they can achieve a pain-free birth plays to their fear of pain and their fear of failure.
And if a woman is safe, with a healthy child in her arms, failure is something they should never be feeling.
However long their labour lasted. And however much it hurt. Mums need to remember this: You have not failed. You are brave. And no one is having a pain-free birth. Ever.
Do you think people like Sharny are exploiting a woman’s need to “control” the birth experience.
* Dr Sgroi is a representative of The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.