Women have birthed babies successfully for millenniums. We don’t know if they were scared. Some of them probably were. It would be pretty unnatural not to have worries and even fear of something so epic and unknown in many ways. The difference, I suppose is that women in the past, partly was part of birth from a very early age, as birth just happened in amongst life in general, but they also had women around them, who they knew, had relationships with and whom they had seen help other women to birth. This, I imagine, must have provided some sort of emotional safety feeling, even if birth was riskier and life very hard. I wonder if that made birth less scary?
These days birth is so much more unknown to women. Even just that fact, can make it much more scary. As women we don’t really have any exposure to real birth, unless we were invited into the birth of a sibling or had a mother in the birth industry. Most of what we see and hear of birth in our society, is from TV sitcoms and can be summed up as scary, emergency, green clad people with face masks, or embarrassing 2 minute labours, and then birthing in the middle of the court room.
In the written media, it is all about how dangerous birth is and statistics of dead babies. Even more so in the way our home birth debate is being conducted. If you are not exposed to other images than that, of course birth is going to stand in front of you as very scary and very unsafe.
We also have a custom as a culture, of casually telling first time pregnant women the most horrific birth stories, even if they did not in any way invite anyone to tell them anything at all. With this I don’t mean that women, who experience a difficult birth, shouldn’t speak up and tell the truth about their birth. But I think it would be useful, if particularly those kinds of stories were mostly told in a more intimate setting, where the whole story could be told and maybe even discussed.
It can very easily seem that it is very difficult to have a good birth in today’s modern birth culture. And perhaps it is, if we don’t acquire some necessary knowledge, support and skills.
On the other hand, we are also told that if we are scared, we will feel more pain and birth will be worse and that we shouldn’t feel scared of something so natural and normal. Our bodies are made for birthing. This knowledge can be helpful in many ways for many women, but I wonder if it is helpful if you are feeling really scared and lost already. So now we have lots of sacred women, who also now knows that what they are feeling is wrong and will give them more pain.
So what can women do with all this fear? How do we as women approach birth, when it scares and stresses us to death?
I think the first thing is to accept that this is how you are feeling and that it is very understandable that you can have feelings like this. Nervousness and worries are normal and beneficial things during pregnancy, but real fear needs to be dealt with in a non-judgmental way.
Secondly, I think it is worth reading and listening to strong and positive stories. I don’t mean just natural and blissful stories, because that is just as polarizing, as the totally horrific ones and not really helpful to gain a realistic picture. Sunshine Coast BaBs (Birthing and Babies) are running an evening session on ‘positive birth stories’, and all kinds of births, where women and their partners felt positive and strong, are told. This is a great place to start and to realise that birth, regardless of what happened at the birth, can be a good experience.
Thirdly, it is imperative to choose a good independent childbirth preparation class. When you choose an independent class you will get more objectivity than in the hospital classes, who are bound to policies and protocols, when they teach about birth. Policies and protocols are not necessarily researched best medical practice! You are also likely to gain better skills in how to better birth in our modern birth culture.
These could be skills like understanding how birth works, gaining tools to deal with intensity and pain, know how the hospital works, how to communicate effectively and ask questions that will give you the best opportunity to make decisions suitable for you and your family.
Apart from these things, I think one of the most important things in preparing for birth and having a positive post natal time is, to surround yourself with support and to create community. Somehow too many women in our society are isolated during their pregnancy and early parenting times. As Bec Jenkinson from Maternity Coalition wrote in the latest Birth Matters (vol 16/1): “a significant proportion of ‘postnatal depression’ might be re-diagnosed as ‘lack of support’. This was never a journey we were meant to go alone. Attending a support group means you have somewhere to take your questions and worries outside of the medical scope and get inspired by different women’s different experiences and knowledge. Sunshine Coast BaBs group also runs, at the moment, once a month in the morning and we always have really lovely women from all walks of life and all different kinds of birth plans and birth experiences. At BaBs we don’t tell you how to birth, but we do talk about how your birth is yours and that it is an option to say no to procedures and tests, get second opinions or to ask for evidence about a procedure before consenting. A common feedback we get from the women is that this was one of the major things they have learnt and what has really made them feel more in charge of their experience. Too many women don’t know that they don’t have to do as they are told!
Now sometimes fear can be stubborn and you might need to work a little harder to come to a place where birth seems exciting rather than a dread. Often this kind of fear will be seeded even deeper in your heart and may need some one-on-one preparation to get to the bottom of. What is actually scaring you and how is it a problem for you? What might you do if exactly what you fear most, happens? There are many different ways to deal with fear issues, many different philosophies. Even here on the coast we have a few different approaches. But there is support out there, if you need it.
And that leads me to support during labour. Having those known women around you! In our modern times it is unlikely that we would benefit from inviting our mum, aunty, sister, or neighbours to our labours. But hiring a doula, who has experience in birth work and can fill the gap in our maternity systems of emotional care and support, is very beneficial. “Asking your husband to be your sole guide through labour, says Pam England founder of ‘Birthing From Within’, is like asking him to lead the way on a climb to Mt. Everest. He may be smart and trustworthy, you may love him, but in the Himalayas you’d both be a lot better off with a Sperpa”.
Overcoming fear of childbirth can be a big job. Birth can be the most amazing and transformative event in your life and maybe conquering this fear is part of your transformation. Birth doesn’t have to be really, really scary, and it is possible to take steps during your pregnancy and surround yourself with support of different kinds to guide you through to a positive, good birth, whatever that looks like for you.