The other day I was talking with some folks on Twitter about childbirth and breastfeeding horror stories. If you’ve ever been pregnant, you know the ones I’m talking about. They lay the fear on thick, and use words like ‘agony’, ‘devastated’ and ‘nightmare’. And they are just as likely to come from a random stranger as your best friend.
In general, I don’t see much value in sharing horror stories. Once you’re seven months along with your planned pregnancy, you’re not about to change your mind. One way or another, that baby is coming out. And then you are going to have to feed that child, whether at your breast or not. Living in fear of the outcome isn’t going to change it for the better.
Me, about 30 minutes before Jacob was born, not experiencing significant horror
Some of the people on Twitter disagreed with me, though. They said that negative stories can prepare women. Forewarned is forearmed, after all. If you are prepared for pain in breastfeeding or complications in labour, perhaps you will handle them better. You will know that you are not alone, and that you are not somehow abnormal. I see value in this perspective. If I had a very negative experience with a health care provider, I might share that with someone who was considering seeing the provider. Or if I knew that my friend wanted a natural birth, I might share the tale of how my own wishes for a natural birth weren’t honoured at a particular hospital.
Thinking about sharing horror stories got me thinking about my own birth experiences. I was actually not all that afraid of labour when I was pregnant the first time around. And, in general, I think that helped me out. Granted, I had a pretty short and smooth labour at around 4 hours or so, but I also gave birth to a preterm infant, hemorrhaged severely and required surgery and a blood transfusion. I think that excessive fear would have only made it worse, and wouldn’t have made the severe anemia somehow better. Being armed with someone else’s story of severe blood loss wouldn’t have changed anything for me.
Me, less than 24 hours after Hannah’s ‘horror story’ birth, doing OK
Thinking about it, I believe there’s a difference between sharing a horror story that scares someone out of her pants, and useful information that you can use to avoid problems. First of all, it depends on whether the input is wanted. If someone asks for your story, or you ask permission to share it, then you know that the person is interested. Second, you have to ask whether knowing your story would actually be helpful. If you experienced a strange fluke that could never be foreseen, telling random pregnant ladies about it probably isn’t going to accomplish much. I would say that my amniotic fluid infection, for instance, falls under the heading of ‘scary but not helpful’. My negative experience with my family doctor, on the other hand, might be useful to a friend.
When bad things happen, it’s natural to want to share your story. I have found sharing my own stories immensely helpful to me. All the same, it’s a good idea to use our judgment about who we share with, and in what context. Telling pregnant ladies that their lives are about to end and they are in for the worst pain imaginable accomplishes nothing. And it might not even be true, for them. Commiserating with others is cool, but I say that needlessly scaring isn’t so cool.
So, what do you think? Do you believe that cautionary tales are useful, or do you think that it’s best to keep your mouth shut about your 36 hours of labour within earshot of someone who is 8 months along? Please share!