A recent study by an independent midwifery service has revealed that 89% of pregnant women have used search engines for health advice relating to their pregnancy.
Having given birth the year before Google was launched in 1998, then given birth again 13 years later - by which time Google had become the online equivalent of God - this made me ponder the differences between the two births. Was the second better than the first because I had access to far more information?
My first daughter arrived when I was in my lateish 20s, hardly the first flush of youth but still some years away from being labelled a ‘senile gravida’ (the medical profession's term for a woman who has the nerve to have a baby after the age of 35). It bemuses me that there doesn’t seem to be an equivalent term for older dads. Despite gargantuan leaps in modern medicine, when it comes to creating life it still takes two to tango, and there's evidence that the quality of sperm, not just eggs, may deteriorate with age. Perhaps the medical profession would find ‘paternus decrepitus’ an apt equivalent, notwithstanding the fact it sounds like something Hermione Granger might yell at an approaching Death Eater.
Anyway, I was pretty clueless the first time round. Along with my daughter’s father I attended NHS antenatal classes where I watched the dilapidated doll pass through the plastic pelvis; I did the ‘stork walk’ (otherwise known as the maternity unit tour); and I was informed that massage could work just as well as morphine in relieving pain (they lied).
None of it had much bearing on my actual birth experience. As The Alternative Baby Keepsake Book is aimed primarily at women expecting a baby, I’ll steer clear of the details. Suffice it to say it was fairly standard, give or take a few more stitches than I cared to count and my chillingly accurate impersonation of a donkey being steamrollered. But I have no doubt things would have gone better if I’d been more clued-up about what was happening.
Back in the late Nineties not many of us had internet access at home, and those who did had to suffer the miseries of a fickle dial-up connection. At the time I worked for a magazine publisher which employed around 30 people and had just one computer linked to the internet. This was guarded more closely than the recipe for Coca Cola, requiring written permission to use it.
Had the world wide web been easily accessible I’d have been all over it like a cheap suit. Never have I had such an overwhelming desire for information and reassurance, which my sporadic midwife appointments went nowhere near satisfying. Pregnancy magazines helped a bit, although I got fed up with rehashed photo shoots of the same poor woman endlessly giving birth. Desperate for more, I rediscovered the library, coming away with armfuls of books. Most of these seemed to have been published decades earlier and came complete with pictures of moustachioed men massaging their bubble-permed partners' backs as they gave birth. Much of the time the information provided was as dated as the spectacularly hirsute fannies on display.
These days, whether you have a question about cervical mucus or cradle cap, you'll find inexhaustible information online. When I was having my second daughter I suffered a terrible case of Gestational Googleitus. At the slightest twinge, I would turn to my nearest electronic device for a session with Dr Google. Rather than having too little information, I now had an overwhelming amount.
The more informed you are, the less likely you are to shout: "You're not putting that sink plunger
While the internet has done much to (vacuous buzzword alert) empower women (after all, the more informed you are, the less likely you are to shout "You're not putting that sink plunger anywhere near me!" if the ventouse is brought out), it should be approached with caution. Much has been made of the negative impact of looking up medical info online, notably DIY diagnoses causing unnecessary stress. When, as in pregnancy, your symptoms change more often than a chameleon in a kaleidoscope, and when so very much is at stake, Googling can easily become an obsession. Additionally, much of the information available is medically unverified. For every rational, well researched article, blog post or comment, there are many that will put the willies up you (although, being pregnant, that's most likely happened already).
Websites that have their content reviewed or even written by health professionals, such as NHS Choices, are, of course, preferable to non-verified sites. But for anyone genuinely concerned, they are never, not ever, a substitute to a real, live medically trained professional - once that medically trained professional is good at his or her job. But that's a whole other blog post.