Last week, I asked a woman where exactly she was feeling the cramping sensations she described.
‘Before they were up here,’ she said, pointing at her tummy, ‘but now they’re mainly in me flu.’
Then she immediately apologised for this non-medical slip of the tongue.
Now, firstly, let us get one thing clear: you never need to apologise to me for introducing me to a new euphemism for ‘down there’. Nothing makes me happier. I don’t think a midwife can call a place her home until she knows what its women call their vaginas. ‘Flu’ was a new one for me - that woman has probably saved me from, sooner or later, betraying my southern roots by not knowing what it meant. Then I would have had to apologise. And so the chain of ‘I’m sorry’ continues…
Women are constantly apologising in labour. And, every time they do so, they are basically saying, ‘I’m sorry for letting this monumental life event in any way affect my behaviour. I’m sorry for revealing my true self. I’m sorry for not birthing in total silence, I’ll never be a scientologist, Tom Cruise would be ashamed.’
To help non-midwives appreciate how pervasive this tendency is, and, I hope, make a few women less apologetic in the future, here are some of the many unnecessary things I’ve heard women apologise for:
- for making noise (this one crops up at least once a shift)
- for expressing discomfort during a vaginal examination (because heaven forbid, you should make us feel bad)
- for asking for breastfeeding support (after all, we might have been doing something important like paperwork)
- for sounding like a camel (this woman initially thought there was a camel in the room, then, when she found out it was her, promptly apologised)
- for thinking the London Eye had moved from one side of the Thames to the other (entonox makes the world a mysterious place)
- for bleeding / farting / having a show / doing a poo / weeing / being sick (NONE OF THESE THINGS ARE YOUR FAULT)
- for coming in to be assessed (‘because it’s probably nothing’)
- on behalf of their partner (the reasons for this are manifold)
- for their cervix dilating ‘too slowly’
- for wanting to drink water
- for wanting pain relief
- for having an unruly bikini line (at 42 weeks gestation, can you imagine?!)
- for swearing
- for crying
- for pushing
- for not pushing
- for biting (me)
- for squeezing
- for moving
- for not being in labour
- basically, for having a baby...
Women, just… STOP SAYING SORRY! You are wonderful and you are doing an amazing thing. Anyone who tries to tame you at the time of birth is a fool. I think we need to make a commitment right now to say #noshame and #noapologies. Birth is a force of nature, and it’s our job to ground you, not to reign you in.