My Top three fears and what you can do about yours!
Let's get real for a second. Even before becoming a doula, I spent a lot of time around pregnant women. My interest in pregnancy and birth brought me to different meetings, gatherings and classes where there was one common thread that seemed to permeate the room but no one wanted to speak about out loud- childbirth FEARS. We all have them and that's completely okay! We may imagine a possible scenario during our labour that turns our stomachs, makes us breathe a little quicker or even brings a sense of panic.
The truth is many families hire a doula because there is some aspect of their upcoming childbirth that makes them feel unsure, anxious or fearful. The good news is a birth doula can help navigate those fears and provide information that can bring reassurance, confidence and gentle understanding to the birth preparation process.
Looking back on my four births, I can clearly remember the childbirth fears that were at the top of my list.
FEAR OF SUFFERING
A fear of suffering is not the same as the fear of pain, although the two words are often used interchangeably. I knew going into labour that it was probably going to hurt and that for most people the actual labouring aspect of childbirth wasn't a particularly pleasant experience. Prior to labour, I felt like I could handle the pain. What I could not get out of my head, however, was that I was going to experience serious suffering.
The difference between pain and suffering is as follows: Pain is an uncomfortable or unpleasant physical sensation that may or may not be accompanied by suffering. A really great example is someone exercising and the after effects. Their muscles might be sore, tight or really taxed. While this is unpleasant and may even be described as painful, that person is not suffering. In my own labour, I felt like with the right tools and comfort measures, I would be able to handle the pain no problem. Suffering, on the other hand, really frightened me. Suffering can be incredibly distressing because it's a psychological state where someone may feel helpless, alone, fearful, panicked or like they have a complete loss of control. I was so terrified of suffering and seeing no end or relief in sight as I birthed my baby. I wish I had known then what I know now during my first pregnancy! I would have read more empowering books, surrounded myself with people who embraced positive birth (like a Positive Birth Movement group) and I would have gotten myself some professional support. I think that was the real game changer from my first and second labour. I opted to have a doula help support my husband and I during my second pregnancy and birth. I knew her knowledge and expertise would comfort me emotionally but she also had so many other "tools" that she could use to reassure me during labour. Not once did I feel like I was suffering because I knew that both my husband and doula had my back and that I was always in control. I had a collaborative birth team!
FEAR OF TEARING DURING BIRTH
Did you just squeeze your pelvic floor muscles or cross your legs while reading that heading!? I know I did! I remember my first antenatal classes when I cringed and closed my legs tightly when we learned about the possibility of perineal tearing. No one wants an injury like that, especially there! What I was relieved to discover is there are several ways women can reduce their likelihood of tearing. Some women swear by antenatal perineum massage. Hydrotherapy, such as being in a birth pool, can also help soften and relax the perineum as baby descends and passes through the vaginal opening. Others find warm compresses applied to the perineum during labour both emotionally soothing and preventative as well. While the thought of tearing certainly is not pleasant, it's a relief to know that there are things you can do to decrease your odds of it happening to you!
FEAR OF GIVING BIRTH AGAIN
After a less-than-ideal first birth experience, I went into my second pregnancy not knowing what to expect. My first labour had been augmented with pitocin, also known as syntocin. The contractions I experienced as a result, which I now call "monster contractions," were so intense that I felt incapable of handling them. My son was born healthy and happy, which is important, but I left that birth feeling very disappointed and disempowered because I wasn't given the opportunity for informed consent or refusal.
When I got pregnant a second time my fear of the unknown really got to me. I didn't get to experience many natural contractions (made only by my body and not the pitocin) with my first labour and as a result, I didn't know what non-augmented contractions really felt like! Were my contractions during my second labour going to be easier? worse!? I kept asking myself how my second labour would compare to my first. I would obsess over the "what if"s when what I really needed to do was focus on the here and now. I needed to realise that every birth experience is going to be different. I found saying my fears out loud to my husband and doula at the time very comforting. It was so much easier to release them versus continuing to bottle everything inside!
My doula helped me prepare for the "what if"s. I had enough antenatal sessions with her to feel like I had the opportunity to discuss all of my fears and I went into labour knowing I was prepared for any situation and any outcome. I even created a Plan B for my birth preferences in case I needed a cesarean! My doula really did help me learn to trust my body, my baby and the birth experience we would have together.
The fears above were my top three. You may have other fears that differ from these. Some other common fears include:
- Not getting to the hospital or birth centre in time
- Life-threatening labour complications
- Unwanted interventions
- Dying during childbirth
- A long, difficult labour
- Pooping or other bodily functions being on display
- A partner not being able to cope or provide adequate physical or emotional support during labour
- Postpartum haemorrhage
I really encourage you to discuss these fears with someone you trust. That may be a friend, partner, healthcare professional or other birth worker like a birth doula- like me! Talking about your fears doesn't give them extra energy and power. It does the opposite! When you really look at your fear(s), you take some of that power away and feel more confident and in control!
There is a Positive Birth Movement meet up that I facilitate in Limerick City. Please see the Facebook page here for all the upcoming events and free meet ups!