Expert warns viral pregnancy and birth horror stories may be doing more harm than good

All it takes is a quick Google search or scroll through social media to come across a pregnancy or birth horror story these days, but are they doing more harm than good?

Hearing about other women’s traumatic experiences on TikTok, Instagram or even over a cup of coffee often leaves mums-to-be fearing the worst.

The trend of publicly sharing pregnancy horror stories only emerged in the last century and has exploded in recent years with the rise of social media.

Midwife and author Kathy Fray tells 9Honey Parenting that the phenomenon began in the 1980s, likely in response to the 1970s women’s liberation movement that changed attitudes towards pregnancy and birth.

“When birth first became a hospitalised event in the earlier 20th century, there were three things women never spoke about: their sex life, their mortgage and their births,” she says.

“For hundreds and thousands of years prior to that, with women home-birthing in villages, the story-telling was about instilling empowerment – not fear. Plus by the time a woman was giving birth she had usually already attended many births as support, so she was already familiar with it.”

These days, women have more freedom than ever before when it comes to speaking about their own experiences with pregnancy and birth, which can be great.

But Fray says there’s a fine line between “sharing your truth” and telling a horror story that will instill fear in other mums-to-be.

“I guess that is the question for each woman to ask herself when regaling her story,” she says.

Though women who share their stories usually want to “warn and protect” other expectant mothers, she’s seen expectant mums traumatised by some horror stories.

Especially when the person sharing the story didn’t have the full picture of ‘what happened and why’ during a traumatic pregnancy or birth event.

“The best person to discuss a traumatic labour with is a knowledgeable birth practitioner, who has access to the woman’s medical notes in order to interpret to the mother what happened and why,” Fray adds.

Doing so can help resolve trauma and rid the mother of any self-blame she may experience, as well as answering lingering questions about what happened.

Then if they do want to share their story publicly, they can do so without harming other mums-to-be by sharing “not just the problem but also the solution”.

In turn, the worst person to talk with about bad birth experiences can be another expectant mum.

“Unless you know why a medical event occurred and how things could have been done differently clinically, then sharing the negative stories – rather than positive stories – doesn’t empower the expectant mother: It disempowers her,” Fray says.

Instead of relying on first-person horror stories spread across social media, Fray urges expectant parents to invest in prenatal care and education from professionals.

While many mums- and dads-to-be are happy to spend thousands on baby gear, fewer want to drop their hard-earned cash on pregnancy wellness and birth education.

However, investing in professional education rather than relying on the scary stories that go viral on TikTok can go a long way in boosting your confidence while pregnant and during childbirth.

Midwife Kathy Fray is New Zealand’s best-selling birth and motherhood author and creator of the MotherWise resources.