The fish that got away

The husband of a pregnant patient who attended with his wife today for an antenatal visit commented after a question from his wife: “You must have to spend a lot of time reassuring your patients because of old wives tales told to them.” The answer is: “Yes”.

It is amazing how many women give pregnant women pregnancy and childbirth advice and tell them their own pregnancy and childbirth experiences and stories of the pregnancy and childbirth experiences of their friends, family members and others.

Usually, the advice is not directly based on any credible factual data and often the pregnancy and childbirth experience is a distortion and exaggeration of the true events.

The negative impact of such information on an excited and nervous patient, especially in her first pregnancy, is concerning as it often results in unnecessary fear and anxiety. Especially in her first pregnancy, a woman usually doesn’t know much and is usually anxious about her baby, the pregnancy, her labour and delivery. She wants to do everything right to improve her likelihood of a good outcome.

She doesn’t know how to filter this negative information as she often doesn’t have a credible source to ask: “Is that true?” This is an important reason why I am so available for my patients and tell them to contact me if they are concerned about what someone says to them.

The information can come from family members, including her mother or mother-in-law, friends, acquaintances, work colleagues and even strangers. It is amazing how often a stranger will come up to a pregnant woman and give unsolicited advice, saying, for instance, her baby is too big or too small, tell her own pregnancy and childbirth experiences, etc.

The damaging impact will be more if the pregnant woman recipient is by nature more of a worrier, but it is this type of worrier person who seems to attract more of the negative comments. It is a bit like ‘bees to honey’.

I suspect the reason for this behaviour is because pregnancy and childbirth is such a wonderfully important time in a woman’s life.

But for some women, it is sadly the highlight of their whole life and the only successful thing they have ever done. They may have had no career success, they are divorced, they may have tensions with children as they grew up and so did not do well at parenting, etc. but they were successful in having a baby. And so without any training or background except through their own personal experience, they become the world’s expert on pregnancy and childbirth. Indeed such a person may be prolific in on-line forums, as they can’t move on from this single important and ‘successful ‘time in their life.

There have been occasions when I have been there when such a person is ‘sounding off’. When they realise I am an obstetrician they quickly stop talking as they know that I know what they are saying is nonsense.

Pregnancy is a very special time for all women. Pregnancy and childbirth experiences can be a ‘crowning glory’ experience for some women. I recall one patient who wore a tiara in each of her labours.

Sadly some women dramatise and distort their pregnancy and labour experiences so it looks like to others they were such a martyr and hero. I know one woman who distorted her pregnancy and childbirth experiences when telling her children so they would feel sorry for her and be emotionally indebted to her for what she did for them. She did it to satisfy her need to be affirmed without consideration of the damaging impact it had on her children’s wellbeing.Pregnancy Old Wives Tales

Women telling pregnant women distorted and usually exaggerated pregnancy and childbirth experiences are comparable to men telling their mates fishing stories and in particular about the fish that got away. The fish that got away that they describe is usually much bigger than was the case.

The motive for women behaving this way is very selfish, to give the impression they know a lot, or that they are incredible to have survived such an ordeal. There is no thought given to the negative impact it will have on the pregnant recipient.

My advice is if you are the recipient of such information (and every pregnant woman is) then be polite, but don’t believe what is said, don’t react and don’t get frightened. If you are my patient then contact me for clarification. If you are with another obstetrician then contact that person or bring it up at your next antenatal visit.

If you at the woman giving the information then think before you speak. Ask yourself: “Will my words bring encouragement to the pregnant woman who I am with?” If the answer is: ”No” then keep your words, your advice, your anxieties and your stories to yourself.

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Posted by Dr Gary Sykes on - Pregnancy Concerns and Questions

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