Now what? - Lauren Booth asks why today's women find childbirth so difficult
We've been walking, breeding guinea pigs since the Pill was introduced
I've just received a text that reads: "You lied. I'll never forgive you. Have been butchered." It's from a woman who I told not to worry about childbirth. Just days ago, she called me, wanting reassurance. I said: "It's natural, just go with the flow." The poor lady was in labour for three days, forcibly induced, and then, in her own words, "slashed from here to eternity". Meanwhile, Sophie Wessex has been fighting for her life while her newborn baby struggles for hers in a hospital miles away. Mothers everywhere shudder in sympathy.
Nowadays, pregnancy and birth seem to be getting more dangerous and painful, just when we presumed that riches and modern science would make it all easier.
"Easier" in the way that dishwashers have made eating at home bearable or microwaves produce jacket potatoes in minutes rather than days. Where, oh where, are the labour-saving devices that will help a pregnant woman sleep peacefully at 38 weeks? Or the beeper that tells her this really is it, not one of the four false alarms I had last time round?
Being rushed into having a Caesarean - with all its serious complications - has become commonplace, while merely maintaining a healthy foetus seems a feat of Gandalfesque magic. I am deeply suspicious of claims by the medical establishment that the contraceptive pill has no substantial long-term side effects on women's health and fertility. We've been walking, breeding guinea pigs since the Pill was released. It's a small point, but how come assurances about taking the Pill for the length of our fertility were appearing when I first took it 20 years ago? If the Pill was first prescribed in the Sixties, no one could possibly know in 1983 what effect taking it for up to 40 years could have. Don't get me wrong, I am grateful for the years of freedom that convenient contraception has allowed me. No way would I have wanted my first child at 16. The father would have been a kleptomaniac who blew up gerbils for fun. He also had a girl's name because his gay mother pretended he was a she - even growing his hair long and braiding it until he was six.
But having contraceptive choice has not proved the same as having control over reproduction. Here are the statistical results of my own completely unscientific research into maternity among my own circle. Between us, five women trying to get pregnant in their thirties have suffered: five miscarriages, four ectopic pregnancies, two bouts of endometriosis, one set of fibroids and three collapsed Fallopian tubes. We all used the Pill for a minimum of ten years. No doubt some would look at this group of lively professional women and hiss: "Unhealthy city lifestyles are what caused that - you all deserve to burn in hell." But surely there must be some sounder medical explanation as to why women like us appear to be utterly skewing the accepted figures on maternal complications. Pumping hormones into ourselves for decades could be at least partly responsible.
Our mothers made us promise not to "fall" pregnant until we were: a) in our thirties and b) had a career that they themselves had only dreamt of. The fable goes that we have memorised this list and added: c) and not until we've climbed Everest - twice, d) can afford a swimming pool and e) have paid off the loan on a new Mini. No wonder Britain's birth rate has fallen, howl the Lee-Potters - modern women are selfish, obsessed with "lifestyle". Even China, with its one-child policy, still has a fertility rate of 1.83, compared with Britain's 1.64.
Amazing, then, that after their ectopic pregnancies, Sophie Wessex and the women I know could drag themselves away from the beach to try again. Stop finger-wagging. And will someone, somewhere, please tell us the truth about what is going on with our bodies in sane and honest language, so that we can understand the risks and make our choices?