Often, when I meet with clients, especially new parents, the topic of fear comes up. It is such a normal thing for thoughts of birth to invoke anxious thoughts. In general, I think most people fear the unknown, and birth is almost always unpredictable. Many people don't know that there is a link between fear and pain in childbirth, and so I thought it may be helpful to address the top 10 most common fears moms have. In the next 10 posts, my desire is that I can make some suggestions on how to best cope with those fears as they creep in, in hopes that it will encourage my clients and readers in their own pregnancy and birth journey.
Fear #1: What if I can't cope with the Pain?
One of the number one concerns that breeds fear in moms is the concern that they won't be able to manage or cope with the pain that comes with childbirth. For first-time moms who have probably heard many "horror stories" from well-meaning friends and relatives, this is probably one of the most anxiety-producing concerns throughout pregnancy. Perhaps she's had a baby already, and the memories of a traumatic birth still play over and over in her mind as she remembers it. The last thing she wants is a repeat of that experience. Maybe she's endured abuse in her past and the fear of experiencing pain in such a private place in her body has her completely dreading the experience. And so, as mom's due date looms, she is becoming increasingly preoccupied with fearful thoughts, and sometimes she may even feel as if they are overwhelming her mind and keeping her awake at night (as if she needed any more help with this!). She may worry that she will become so distraught over the pain that she won't be able to keep going or want to give up altogether. If she's wanting a drug-free birth, she may fear that if she ends up asking for an epidural, it will make her appear weak or that she's failed in some way (more on this topic to come!). The reality is, pain is part of childbirth. There's no way to escape it, but there are ways to manage it.
So what's a mom to do when those fears of pain become a reality in labor? First, managing pain comes before the labor begins. One of the greatest antidotes to fear is knowledge, and so I recommend that pregnant women become voracious readers and researchers on all things birth. Some of my favorite books on the subject are "Ina May's Guide to Childbirth" by Ina May Gaskin, "Birth with Confidence" by Rhea Dempsey, "The Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth" by Henci Goer, "Birthing from Within" by Pam England, "Childbirth Without Fear" by Grantly Dick-Read, "The Birth Book" by Dr. Bill and Martha Sears, and "When Survivors Give Birth" by Penny Simkin and Phyllis K. Klaus (more on the topic of sexual abuse survivors and birth to come as well). As a woman gains knowledge, she becomes armed with important information and, most importantly, affirmation, as she wades into the waters of the unknown.
Secondly, she can begin to positively affirm herself on a daily (or hourly!) basis. She may want to post things around her living space where she is likely to be the most. Simple 3X5 index cards with encouraging words written around her may prove to be very empowering. A few ideas to write: "Women all over the world are birthing with me." "My baby and my body are working together in harmony for a safe and gentle delivery." "I have complete confidence that my body is working perfectly." "I believe I can and so I will." "The power and intensity of your contractions cannot be stronger than you, because it is you!" "I trust in my ability to birth my baby." "The pain that you've been feeling can't compare to the joy that's coming (Romans 8:18)." "My courage is stronger than my fear." "It is not pain. It is power." As she begins to break the cycle of fearful thoughts and instead replace them with affirming, empowering thoughts, she will find that she begins to feel more peaceful instead of worrisome. If she prays or has people she can pray with, prayer is a powerful tool that can turn those fearful thoughts off instantly. If the fearful thoughts return, repeat as necessary!
Next, she can talk to trusted friends, relatives or professionals to help her work through her fear of pain. Sometimes, saying aloud the things we have kept hidden inside can be one of the most healing things we can do. As she works out her fears in a safe place with people who will love and not judge her, listen and not try to give advice, she will find that her fears begin to abate and peace will hopefully replace where the fear used to be. If sexual abuse has touched a pregnant woman's life, I strongly recommend she find a great counselor who has experience in working with pain and trauma from abuse.
Hire a doula
Finally, she should hire a labor doula. Doulas are skilled at helping moms before, during, and after the birth in processing their fears, especially those related to pain. If pain is a major fear for the pregnant woman, a doula is a necessity. Her job is to encourage, provide comfort measures, and be a support system throughout the entire process for the woman. A doula will serve her well and be a strong guiding force throughout the birth and beyond.
What are your fears, past or present? I would love for you to share your thoughts by leaving them in the comments of this post.
Stay tuned for the part 2 as we talk about fears relating to being out of (or losing) control in childbirth.
Thanks for reading!
Happi loves serving families in the Northwest Suburbs of Chicago as a labor doula and childbirth educator. When she's not at a birth, she loves spending time her husband and three boys.