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Does Television Cause Fear of Childbirth?

In the past couple days, there has been a lot of talk about a clinical fear of childbirth, something that was certainly new to me, even as a childbirth educator and doula. But I am sure there is a clinical term for fear of most things in life.

The term tocophobia, or the unrelenting fear of childbirth, made an appearance in Jezebel the other day, and it sparked my interest because I have been writing about fear surrounding childbirth for a while. Just not the clinical kind.

But are women truly afraid, literally clinically afraid of having children? Or is it just a fear our society has been perpetuating through horrid depictions of birth on our televisions for as long as we can remember? I am willing to go with the less dramatic.

I flash back to watching General Hospital after school with my mother back in the day. The dramatic 1994 birth of Lulu — such a scary and surgical event for those Luke and Laura fans glued to the television like my mother was. I found myself tainted by childbirth from then on even though I was only in elementary school. I am sure other young girls shared similar experiences.

Since then it hasn’t gotten any better on television. Scary accidental home births on soap operas, Addison Montgomery turning every delivery into a near death experience on Private Practice, and A Baby Story with all their emergency situations to fuel ratings. I have come to a point in my life where I can no longer watch these deliveries on television because of what they represent.

Fear, and the broken maternity care system our country is thrusting on the next generation of mothers.

The message being sent to our sisters and daughters is that childbirth is something they should be fearing. Something scary, and emergent instead of the beautiful and peaceful event it can be. These less eventful deliveries are not making it into the public eye, while the crappy examples continue to flood the mainstream media.

Pushing these fears is a rising cesarean birth rate well over the recommended percentage the World Health Organization put in place for modern women of the United States. The multiples, and health conditions we see increasing risks in the women today. In fact, at the most we should see a 15 percent cesarean rate, and we are over double that. I know that is something that aided my fear of childbirth. Surgery is scary. Any kind of surgery. It is still scary to me after going through two c-sections myself, and various other surgical procedures over the years.

But ratings are what bring the money in. We shouldn’t expect to see low risk women birthing with midwives, or beautiful home births on these shows, and in prime time. They won’t get the numbers the networks need to stay afloat.

Although I think if we took a big time birth documentary like The Business of Being Born and put it on as a prime time special, it would get those same numbers the networks demand. And maybe help the next generation or even the current generation of mothers to take a second look at childbirth and maternity care as we know it.

Until then, we need to be the educators in our community and families, and help send the message that childbirth is not something we should be scared of because of the way it is handled today in our maternity care system.

photo: flickr.com/giarose

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