A male midwife’s two-word response to my agony left me traumatised

In the words of Rachel Green from Friends, ‘no uterus, no opinion’.

A male midwife’s two-word response to my agony left me traumatised
Kat Romero asleep in a hospital bed, holding her baby on her chest (also asleep).
All too often, the pain of childbirth is dismissed and undermined (Picture: Kat Romero)

When I was pregnant, I was told that women often forget the pain of childbirth as soon as they hold their babies in their arms.

But for me, that couldn’t have been further from the truth. 

Two years later, I’m still haunted by it. 

Throughout my pregnancy, my fears surrounding labour pain felt brushed off. ‘It’s just like intense period pains,’ midwives would say. ‘People used to give birth in caves,’ others would add. 

‘If it was that bad, would women really go through it again?’ they’d insist with a fixed smile that didn’t quite reach their eyes.

All too often, the pain of childbirth is dismissed and undermined. 

When my contractions first kicked in, I was forced to lie on my side so they could properly monitor the baby’s heart rate. I told the staff that the contractions only felt manageable when I was on all fours but no one around seemed to take notice.

My partner echoed my statement to the room but a male midwife told him I needed to ‘calm down’. 

Those two words broke me.

‘This is early labour,’ he added, shaking his head. ‘This is nothing. If she can’t handle the pain now, she’s not going to be strong enough to get to the end.’ 

I burst into tears and struggled to catch my breath. I felt weak, inferior and like I was failing.

I kept reminding myself I was designed for this and tried to picture my contractions like waves. But they were coming so thick and fast, I felt like I was choking on the water and slipping underneath the current. 

The pain felt like a hot knife hacking me open. I felt like a magician’s assistant being sawn in half without the slight of hand or clever camera tricky. And still this midwife would remind me I was hardly dilated and ‘real labour’ hadn’t begun. 

Kat Romero in a hospital bed, with various tubes attached to her, giving a thumb's up to the camera.
I told him to stick the epidural needle through my eye if that’s what it took to rid me of this pain (Picture: Kat Romero)

The reality is around 30,000 women in the UK experience birth trauma, with many citing poor pain relief or even the refusal of it as a trigger. 

Case in point last month when an NHS trust received a wave of backlash when they advised women to squeeze a comb in labour to deal with the pain. They framed it as a helpful ‘labour hack’. 

But I, like many other mums, felt it was just another way to gaslight women over the real pain and trauma of the labour experience.

‘On behalf of me and the PTSD that I still have from the lack of pain relief, kindly shove the comb,’ one woman commented on the Instagram post. 

I did hypnobirthing, which uses relaxation and breathing techniques to help ease fear and manage the pain, and was reminded women had been doing this since the dawn of time.

I even recall hearing that if my breathing exercises were done correctly and I didn’t panic, labour didn’t have to hurt that much at all.

And while I know hypnobirthing is loved by many women and many enjoy positive birth experiences, I still believe that the narrative that all babies can be easily pushed out with the right breathing technique and positive affirmations is a damaging one. 

Particularly as labour is not a one size fits all experience. 

Viewing something like an epidural as the easy way out understandingly makes mums feel like a failure before they’ve even held their baby in her arms. In fact, a survey by Channel Mum in 2016 revealed that a third of mums admitted to refusing pain relief during labour for fear of being judged. 

In 2020, an investigation by the Telegraph found that women were being denied epidurals in childbirth due to what it described as the ‘cult of natural childbirth’. 

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During childbirth, for 16 hours, my partner and I were largely left alone in a room to deal with the pain until a new midwife came on shift. I expected to be ignored or patronised. Told my pain threshold was low and to just suck on the gas and air like a good girl. 

But he checked my notes and after learning that I’d been induced, told me that my contractions were likely more intense as a result. He monitored me and confirmed that they were lasting two minutes, sometimes three. 

He said my pain must be horrendous and that due to the number of hours I’d endured it, an epidural would be a good idea. If I wanted it, that is. 

I told him to stick that needle through my eye if that’s what it took to rid me of this pain.

It was an almost instant relief but the trauma of the experience still scarred me. And sadly, the disappointing availability of pain relief was a theme that continued. 

Kat Romero wearing a black Arctic Monkeys t-shirt, holding her baby.
We need to start listening to women (Picture: Kat Romero)

After having an emergency c-section, I was only offered paracetamol to numb the agony of being sliced open several layers. 

‘Paracetamol?!’ I remember hearing a woman cry out from the next ward in disgust. ‘That’s not even strong enough for one of my migraines!’ 

Sadly, since talking to other mums I know my birth experience is nothing new.

One of my friends was refused an epidural or even gas and air when she started experiencing contractions. Her pain was ignored until she eventually convinced someone to examine her and they realised she was at 10cm. 

Another ended up delivering on the maternity ward floor with no pain relief despite screaming out for help. One thing we remember all being told countless times? To calm down. 

And there lies the main issue. Women’s pain is just not treated seriously enough.

Have you experienced birth trauma? Have your say in the comments belowComment Now

According to Nurofen’s Gender Pain Gap Index Report from 2022, women felt their pain, in every aspect of health, was often ignored by healthcare professionals who simply made them feel like they were being too emotional. 

We need to start listening to women. To hear their cries as a plea for help and not a signal of hysteria. To realise that birth is not always something we can adopt a British stiff upper lip with. If women request pain relief for a painful ordeal, listen to them and administer it.

Oh, and if you’re a man that has decided to go into midwifery, please never comment on the intensity of contraction pain. 

In the words of Rachel Green from Friends, ‘no uterus, no opinion’.

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