Fear-Busting for Pregnant People
A guide by Vicki Elson, MA, CCE, CD www.birth-media.com Feel free to copy this with credit.
You’re not alone – fear and anxiety are normal and even useful.
Will I be able to handle the pain?
The baby will come out one way or another, no matter how you relate to the pain. So, by definition, the pain of having a whole little person come out of you is TEMPORARY. The pain means your body is working. Unlike other kinds of pain, it comes and goes in waves, and it doesn’t mean you have to FIX anything.
Vaginal birth requires your cervix to open up (first stage: dilation), which usually feels like an ache low down in your belly that comes and goes in a predictable rhythm. Your job is to relax as much as you can and let the muscles do their work. Then your baby moves through the open cervix and down through your pelvic bones and vaginal tissues (second stage: pushing). Your job then is to use your diaphragm muscles to help the baby move down and out during contractions. What hurts in first and second stage is the stretching of muscles, bones, and tissues. (Third stage, the placenta, is easy.)
I’ll just have an epidural.
After weighing the benefits and risks, you might request drugs or anesthesia. These can lessen the pain, but you’ll still have to deal with some pain and some hard work. If you expect painlessness, you’ll probably be disappointed. The more you can RELAX, the easier it will be, epidural or not, cesarean or not.
All cultures have developed rituals for softening and opening the channel, not fighting all that stretching and pressure. Many untie knots, open windows, clear pathways. Many keep the mother upright and moving so gravity can help the baby find its way. Most surround the mother with reassuring fellow mothers. Some breathe deeply and envision a soft and open vessel. These practices can all support the hormonal and physiological process.
You do have within you a lot of resources: your ability to soften, open, work with your birth team. Thoughtful, realistic preparation and loving support can help us women prevent trauma and discover our inner strength, even if the birth is complicated or includes cesarean surgery. See if the two-minute experiment is useful for you.
What’s the two-minute experiment?
You don’t have to do this perfectly: Breathe in all your fear, exploring it, getting to know it, noticing how it feels in your body. Silently breathe out the word “calm.” Try that 10 times. Did you notice that you’re still who you are?
Next, try this 10 times: breathe in the word “open,” pretending that both the word and your breath are flowing around the inside surface of your pelvis and birth canal and even your tailbone, and breathe out the idea “soften” everywhere, including your face and shoulders. Did you like that?
Every time you think about giving birth, do that! Or, even simpler, just mentally melt your body like butter in August, and your mind and muscles will follow. Or take a nice bath. Or just pretend you’re taking a nice bath.
Note: If that exercise upset you, you may need to do some healing work about past trauma in that part of your body. You are not alone! Sadly, it’s very common. Seek support! Read Penny Simkin’s When Survivors Give Birth. Consider discussing it with your care provider.
Will the baby and I be okay?
This is the big question, right? Very, very probably, yes, even if you give birth all alone in a stuck elevator or something. But nothing in life is guaranteed, and birth does carry some risks.
It’s your RESPONSIBILITY as a parent to know a lot about pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and babies. If nothing else, read Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn cover to cover (there’s Penny Simkin again), or Our Bodies Ourselves: Pregnancy and Birth. Learn about nutrition, pregnancy changes, prenatal care, and normal birth. Learn to “speak the language” so you can make informed decisions about complications, interventions, options for pain relief, baby tests and medicines. Learn how to care for yourself and your baby in the first weeks. Then cheer yourself up with this fear-buster: Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth.
Learning what can go wrong just makes me more scared!
Those fears have a purpose – they’re trying to get you to do your homework.
Know this: Complications are rare. Health care is now able to solve problems that would have been disastrous for our ancestors. If you have access to good nutrition, clean sanitation, adequate birth control, and well-trained care providers, you can relax a lot, and save your energy for helping to insure that everybody in the world can enjoy the same.
If persistent fears are bugging you, try this: IDENTIFY your fears – name them, examine them. TALK about them with somebody nonjudgmental and safe. LEARN all you can about them – that will help you to dispel “fear of the unknown.” DO all you can to prevent them from coming true. PLAN how you would cope with trouble and who would help you. AFFIRM whatever is the opposite of your fear, like “I will give birth in a way that is perfect for me,” “my baby and I are radiant and healthy,” “my body is so strong and flexible,” “I will love my baby and myself no matter what.”