"I reeeaaaally want to have a baby, BUT I don't want to go through the whole birth thing. Who knows what will happen. And the pain, oh the pain!"
Does this sound familiar?
I've heard variations of this statement— and perhaps you have too, expressed by friends, clients, and yes, myself.
We've all heard birth horror stories whispered in our ears like a game of telephone. We've watched out of control women in excruciating pain, breathing heavily, cursing explicitly, and of course screeching violently at their husbands on television. Movies depict birth as risky, dramatic, painful, and sometimes even comical. Drama and laughter sure sell.
So it makes perfect sense why a large proportion of women have come to fear birth.
Plus, humans looooooooove certainty, and birth is extremely uncertain.When situations are uncertain, anxiety naturally percolates.
In fact, neuroscience discovered our brains are wired to crave certainty, in the same way we crave our primary rewards like food, water, and sex.
If you took a peak inside your brain, you'd discover that when you feel uncertain an alert is generated in your limbic system. This alert tells your body something is wrong.
Why? Because your brain sees uncertainty as a type of pain to be avoided.
Almost every expectant mother naturally feels some degree of trepidation. These feelings are normal. Although, many of us are simmering in the same soup, what can we do? Are there ways to help us better respond to our labour fears?
But, before we dive in I'd like to share something with you. I also had a lot of ANGST about birth. Angst with a capital A. My mother never talked about the pain of childbirth and I was blissfully ignorant in my twenties. I am bashful to admit that I didn't have a clue about perineal tearing (really, there's three degrees?), vaginal reconstruction, post birth stitches, bruising, or C-section recovery. Until one summery afternoon in 2010 when my best friend told me about her friend's traumatic birth. She sprung it on me inside the women's washroom. I'll save you the details.
Amongst flushing toilets and the stench of sewage— my jaw dropped and I tensed up tightly, clinging to her dramatic words. From then on, my eyes were opened wide to what could happen in the birth room. After I conceived and my due date starting nearing closer, I dedicated myself to learning how to better respond to my birth fears. And I deeply hope these 5 ways will also help you too!
Let's dive in.
ASSOCIATE YOURSELF WITH POSITIVE STORIES
You've heard the saying you are who you associate with. In this case, that includes who you talk to about birth and what you watch and read!
Although it may be tempting, I urge you NOT to click on Youtube Vlogs such as"my traumatic birth story" or entertain labour stories that shine a spotlight on the worst POSSIBLE circumstances that could happen during labour....ever!
It's not about being ignorant, it's about keeping your mindset positive and uplifted. We are vulnerable enough as it is. Filling our minds with the scary "what if" scenarios isn't good for anyones' mental health, including our baby's.
There are books, videos, and websites dedicated to dissolving the current status quo surrounding the fear of birth. Books such as Childbirth Without Fear and Ina May's Guide to Childbirth.
Please note, these books are geared towards a non-medicated childbirth. Whatever your cup of tea, these books do an excellent job of normalizing birth and identifying HOW society came to fear birth.
There are also hundreds of youtube videos where mamas shares their positive birth experiences. Just do a simple search! As well as informative videos, like TED Talks such as Ina May's Reducing Fear of Birth in US Culture and Nicola Goodall's talk on Reframing Birth.
As my due date inched nearer, Ina May's Guide to Childbirth was my bible! The first half of the book is qualitative and filled with women's personal birth stories. The second half discusses the essential of birthing from a more quantitative perspective.
Reading these stories before bed filled my mind with confidence, and I began to believe in the power of my body. And that I too can do it!
Social philosopher Sir Francis Bacon said "knowledge is power", and this most definitely applies to birth.
When we educate ourselves about labour and the choices we have, we become empowered.
And if you inform yourself, perhaps parts of your mind can be put at ease.
For instance, in the movies a women's water breaks and then BAM, her contractions go from 1 to 10 in seconds flat— like a race car driver. She's raced to the hospital shrieking hysterically minutes before her baby is ready to pop. Birth rarely looks like this. It's made up of stages that build on one another. And often starts off as slow, inconsistent, and even boring.
I remember getting light and very inconsistent contractions at 5:30am, every 15 - 45 minutes. My labour didn't pick up until 5pm that evening. I've heard of mothers having contractions for days, and others having a fast and furious 5 hour birth! My point is, all births are unique, but you may find comfort in knowing most don't start off like a race car.
Educating yourself about birth also opens your eyes to the choices you have. Do I want a hospital birth? A home birth? A water birth? What's a doula? A midwife? An OBGYN? Which type of care do I want? What are the medical interventions to help with pain? The natural ways to cope? What positions can I birth in? Etc.
Attending a prenatal class could be a good way to start the process (and also meet other mamas).
Knowledge is power. Although birth is uncertain. We have choices.
Fascinated with pregnancy and motherhood, I'd often find myself in conversations with mamas, curiously asking them about being a mom. One of the first questions I'd ask was, "how was your birth?" Their stories varied of course, but they all included some degree of pain.
Perhaps, if I asked enough times, I could find the answer I wanted to hear. An answer where there was no pain.
One of my dear friends— a seasoned mama of four— said something I will never forgot. Her bright green eyes sparkled as she nuzzled her son and said calmly,
"pain is part of the process, you need to accept it's going to be painful."
Psychologist Carl Jung so brilliantly said, "what resists, persists." Now here's the thing—I kept resisting the fact that most births are painful. And I wasn't making any headway with this universal truth because I kept fighting it.
So instead of trying to search for an answer that I liked— asking, poking, probing— my work became accepting the reality of birth. In order to meet my baby, I am going to feel pain.
What is acceptance? Acceptance is simply excepting the reality of the situation and not resisting what you cannot change. It doesn't mean you need to like or approve of it.
I remember seeing a client a couple weeks after she gave birth. She was experiencing a difficult recovery after an Emergency C-Section. Holding her squishy little bundle, she looked at me intently and said,
"you could stab me 27 times, and I would do it all over again. Because this right here— this is the prize of my life."
TALK ABOUT IT
Sounds simple, and it's true. Have an honest chat about your fears with your partner, a trusted friend, doula, midwife, doctor, or counsellor.
But be very mindful of who you confide in. Our society tends to amplify birth horror stories, and pass them on like a baton. Confide in people who will let you air out your concerns, and won't add to your fear.
VISUALIZE THE OUTCOME
Visualization or mental imagery is one of the most powerful mental tools elite athletes use to profoundly impact their game. Research shows when visualization is combined with actual practice, performance improves. Imagery also impacts athletes emotionally, physically, technically, tactically, and psychologically.
Birth is one heck of a marathon. Although many of us are not elite athletes (we sure are when we are birthing), and we can adopt this tool to prime our minds for the big day!
I used visualization in the weeks leading up to my birth. I'd sit in a squatting position (known as malasana in yoga), take some deep breaths, and visualize my cervix opening really wiiiiiiide and my 'Butter Baby" coming out.
What is a 'Butter Baby' you ask? A baby who slips out easily like butter!
Although, my little munchkin didn't exactly feel like butter coming down the birth canal, this practice helped centre my mind and ground me.
Birth is one of the most certainly uncertain situations we face in life. It's damn certain that the baby is going to come out one way or the other. But it's uncertain what is going to happen.
Five ways to help lessen the fear of birth are:
1. Associate yourself with positive birth stories
2. Educate yourself (on your choices and the birthing process)
3. Accept your current reality
4. Talk about it (with trusted sources)
5. And visualize the outcome
May the power be with you mama. YES, you CAN do it!
How'd you help ease your birth fears? Please comment below. :) Your thoughts are warmly welcomed.