Midwives want to change narrative on childbirth and share reality of postpartum

A call to arms and reality-check from the Malta Positive Birth Movement: it will not be ‘marvellous Middleton’

Midwives are serving a slice of reality to mums: postpartum will never be ‘marvellous Middleton’. But neither does it have to be Mother Hen…

“The reality of how hard the fourth trimester is for women often ends up neglected in the media, which favours a false reality usually facilitated by celebrities,” says midwife Pauline Borg, who together with Ruth Marie Xuereb and Francesca Cachia Galvagno, runs the Positive Birth Movement.

Borg wants women to understand that the image depicted in the media of celebrities post-birth, is far off from the reality – case in point, Kate Middleton leaving St Mary’s Hospital in London, the very same day of her birth, dressed immaculately, make-up sparingly applied, though perfect.

Indeed it is far from reality when you live in Kensington Palace with a horde of staff to look after you and your new arrival.

“Women see images like that of Kate Middleton’s in the media and think that there’s something wrong with them because their experience more than likely looks nothing like it”
“Women see images like that of Kate Middleton’s in the media and think that there’s something wrong with them because their experience more than likely looks nothing like it”

Postpartum or the fourth trimester – the first three months of a baby’s life – is the time a new-born is adjusting to life outside the womb, but also the adjustment period both parents have to make when learning to navigate their new normal.

And yet it is usually the most demanding period on the mother, who is not only learning to navigate her new body post-birth, but also the fact that her partner may be heading back to work so soon.

“Women see images like that of Kate Middleton’s in the media and think that there’s something wrong with them because their experience more than likely looks nothing like it,” Borg says.

But she and her friends want to change that narrative in Malta, following the example of the UK’s Positive Birth Movement and its counterpart in 37 other countries, to open the door to women who want to discuss the reality of childbirth and the postpartum transition.

The reality of how hard the fourth trimester is for women often ends up neglected in the media, which favours a false reality usually facilitated by celebrities, say midwives Pauline Borg and Francesca Cachia Galvagno
The reality of how hard the fourth trimester is for women often ends up neglected in the media, which favours a false reality usually facilitated by celebrities, say midwives Pauline Borg and Francesca Cachia Galvagno

“We meet monthly, we’re open to expectant parents and grandparents, and even those who are considering having children… we explain how important it is for family members to realise that during the fourth trimester, what mother needs the most is support.

“Family members tend to come around to see and hold the baby, sometimes creating more mess during their visit, leaving it for the new mother to clean. If anything, it should be the other way around, the mother should be holding her baby, and family members should be providing support in other ways, such as helping them clean up, perhaps even doing the dishes. Having a newborn can be overwhelming and as such housework very often falls it the wayside.”

Borg says information is a powerful tool, empowering women to take control of their own situation in a way that benefits both the mother and the baby.

“As midwives in the field, we know that it is very important for women to have space where they can talk about their experiences, their concerns, and raise their voices,” Borg said.

“Midwives do have these conversations with women, but it was important for us to have a separate space where women are in charge of the conversation. I think it’s very useful, and something that wasn’t available locally until now, so we felt the positive birth movement would fill this gap in Malta.”

The idea of a ‘positive birth’ advances the notion that it should be whatever the mother feels comfortable with – indeed Borg calls it the woman’s human right to choose where and how she has her baby. “One of the most common concerns expectant mothers usually face is the unknown. Women, especially first-time mothers, are fearful of the physical challenges of giving birth.”

Marie Xuereb adds that women are usually concerned about not knowing what to expect when they arrive at the hospital, because they may not know their midwife or doctor. “Shift changes also mean that women may not also be able to remain with the same midwife or doctor throughout the birth, which can add extra stress.

“They want continuity most of all. They would prefer it if they were able to remain with the same doctors and midwives throughout the entire process.”

The midwives behind Positive Birth Movement are now calling on the government to give women that extra comfort by having them meet their midwife prior to birth. “Research suggests that women are more likely to be relaxed when they have built a relationship with their midwife prior to birth, which overall contributes to a positive birth. We’ve also found through the meetings of the Positive Birth Movement, that this is something that is important to women,” Xuereb says.

And she is hoping for more women to come forward and share positive experiences about childbirth with expectant mothers. “People have a tendency to share negative stories about childbirth. I’m not sure why, but it is perhaps because those experiences are more memorable. But that’s not what an expectant mother needs: she needs to be surrounded by positivity.”

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