Written by Ash Edwards of www.MountainStateMaternity.com
It seems like the minute you announce your pregnancy, everyone has a story. You know, the story about that thing that happened to them during their pregnancy, birth, or postpartum period. A lot of the time, it’s pretty awful, and filled with anecdotes that inspire a deep seated fear of this newfound adventure you’re embarking on. These people mean well, of course. They only want to warn you of what to expect, but now you’re left dreading the next few months, afraid of what’s to come.
Let’s talk about fear. Defined as “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.” It is an essential human emotion, necessary to identify what we need to protect ourselves from. In prehistoric days, it kept us safe from things like predators and falling off of cliffs. But what purpose does it serve today, specifically during pregnancy and childbirth?
Fear is a two part response mechanism.
The first is biological and looks pretty much the same for everyone. You start to sweat, your heart races, and your body releases epinephrine, more commonly known as adrenaline. Whether it’s the aches and pains that you hear so much about in the last trimester, pushing a baby out of your vagina, delivering via cesarean, or becoming a parent, these are all normal fears and you can absolutely overcome them. In the months leading up to labor, try practicing relaxation to find what works for you, and build a support team.
The second response is emotional, and that’s as individual as you are. The key here is to understand your response to fear and to process it with a trusted individual. This could be your partner, your care provider, and/or your doula.
Fear during labor is not your friend.
Of the hormones you want released during labor, adrenaline doesn’t come until way later. The best way to describe why this isn’t good is to think in terms of animals. When mammals in the wild don’t feel safe and secure, they tend to stop laboring to delay the birth of their young. For humans, fear during labor can look like worry, insecurity, or feeling unsafe or disrespected. It can be caused by a lack of support, frequent disruptions, or not knowing what is going on with your body. This causes tension and less productive labor, and can also be responsible for stalling labor.
There’s this cushy little thing I like to call the safety cycle.
That’s exactly where you want to be when your baby is ready to come into this world. You can recreate this in the birth center or hospital by bringing things from home that comfort you (so long as they’re hospital approved). Things such as a favorite blanket, pictures of family, or a soundtrack you love. In addition to building a great support team that you trust, and practicing relaxation that works for you, these are pretty great tools to help conquer fear.
It can feel like you’re losing control.
But I have a secret: it’s okay to feel out of control during childbirth. It doesn’t feel good for most people to lose that sense of control over their life, but a great step towards managing that feeling is to explore it and accept it. Don’t be afraid to express your fears! Create a space you can feel comfortable being afraid where your fears will be respected, validated, and alleviated or lessened in the ways you have chosen prior to birth, or whatever feels right in the moment.
Those stories during pregnancy aren’t helpful if they overwhelm you.
Sometimes, the anecdotes won’t bother you, but sometimes they can create conditioned responses to the mere thought of labor. No matter how well-intentioned friends and family may be, you can ask that they keep their sharing to a minimum, or only share positive, encouraging stories and wishes
Having realistic expectations and knowing what to expect can help combat fear.
You don’t have to be a labor and birth expert (that’s one of the many reasons you might hire a doula, after all), but educating yourself on your options can help you feel empowered when unexpected situations come up during labor.