Birth fears

I remember being pregnant for the first time and feeling elated. Elated and truly terrified.

Terrified of birth.

You know birth, that process where you’re supposed to get a baby out of your body and safely into the outside world. The whole damn thing seemed to be too horrifying to think about, a terrible and violent act that women had to endure. It’s got to be a design error right? How do women manage to give birth? How could I possibly give birth?

I don’t think I’m alone in having felt so scared of giving birth for the first time. I’ve met a few women who seem naturally comfortable with the notion of birthing but for many I think birth is met with fear and anxiety.

Birth influences

My personal birth influences were pretty thin on the ground. I had no close friends or siblings who had babies. My mother and Nanna both birthed in an era and setting where doctors and to some extent nurses were in charge of your labour, and you did what they told you. Mum’s labour was a little progressive for the time, in that my father was allowed to sit silently in the corner of the room as an onlooker. Very helpful. They birthed on their backs in hospital beds under the direction of their doctors. What a nightmare.

Mix the experience of previous generations with the skewed birth imagery that comes from media, movies and entertainment and you’ve got one mixed up mama-to-be. [Note: I was pregnant in 2010, just when social media was starting to get real momentum]

Avoiding the subject of birth

Early on in my pregnancy, I worked with the tried and proven avoidance strategy. It’s much more fun to busy yourself with cots and nurseries and baby clothes then delve into your deepest fears. Birth, what birth? I’ve got nine months right? That’s what the books tell me. So I skipped the birth bits of my pregnancy books, leaving them all about three quarters read and worked hard at keeping thoughts of birthing from my mind.

Turns out once people actually know you’re pregnant and you start visiting baby doctors, it’s really hard to avoid the topic of birthing. It just kept coming up for some reason. Many women who have already had bubs love to talk birthing. Some are interested in your plans and thoughts, some are just making small talk, others like to reassure and some love to give unsolicited advice. Then there is my least favourite group, the birth horror story over-sharers. “54 hours and 36 stiches hey?” thanks for sharing that with me in the toiletries isle of the supermarket even though I don’t know you. Some things you can’t un-hear.

Talking to people about my birth fears

Eventually though, I needed to change tact as the pesky and undeniable truth that unborn babies need to at some point be born kept resurfacing.

I started apprehensively talking to people about my birth fears. “Hey Kate, Great to see you! I’m terrified of birthing. How is work?” Reassuring words flowed in, “don’t worry about it, women go back for their second and third child”, “women do it everyday, every minute of everyday, everywhere in the world”, and “it’s a natural process, and you get through it”. Some less than reassuring words came my way too but I can’t remember the specifics. I must have blocked them out. Something to do with watermelons I think.

Next stop, quizzing my obstetrician. Now even though she was a baby and birth doctor by trade, she seemed to be less than helpful in this department. “You’ll be fine, we have lots of options, and your body is built for labour, read this medical factsheet”. “Great, thanks”, I said, feeling no more reassured than when I walked in the room. I may as well have asked my mailman. “Built for labour, got it”. But I didn’t get it. I still feel really let down by my doctor in this respect. We talked about options like pain relief, and vaginal birth vs Caesar birth but it never felt like we had a real conversation about the birthing process.

Antenatal classes at the hospital weren’t much better. Much of it was very clinical and hospital centric. Then there were the baby dolls and birth videos and awkward conversations with other apprehensive parents. What was intended to prepare and educate, instead stirred up more feelings of dread and anxiety. I left knowing where to labour and who to call, which is handy. I just didn’t know how to give birth.

When I got into the third trimester someone said to me “just do what’s best for you”. But what the heck was that anyway? My birth plan would have read: Somehow manage to have a healthy baby.

A birth fear breakthrough

But finally, in the nick of time at about 34 weeks pregnant, a breakthrough! I picked up a book called “Birth Skills, by Juju Sundin”. And something shifted. I had been up in my mind trying to get my head around birthing. This book spoke to me in a very real and practical way. It got me out of my head and I started focusing on preparing my whole-self for labour (it really does teach practical birth skills). All those things that other people had been trying to explain in their own way came together: the natural process, trusting your amazing body, and your body being built to labour started to ring true. I started to feel somewhat prepared and the idea of birth being a terrible thing to be endured lifted. I absolutely still felt fear around the birth but not terror.

What I’d do differently

Looking back there are lots of things that may have helped shake my deep fear of birthing. Here is what I’d do differently:

  • I’d have a really good chat with a midwife about birthing. The private hospital I went through in Brisbane, Australia didn’t allow for pregnant women to connect with midwives (apart from a brief interview and form completion). I didn’t appreciate how amazing and important midwives are in terms of birthing until I gave birth myself.
  • I’d find a better obstetrician or use a midwife centric care model. My obstetrician at the time was and is well respected, well known and competent, but I never connected with her or felt particularly comfortable. My obstetrician choice shaped my pregnancy and could have really negatively impacted my birth experience if I hadn’t found Birth Skills. I changed doctors for my next pregnancy and it made such a difference to my pregnancy and birth of my second child.
  • I’d go to a prenatal yoga class. I hadn’t found my inner yogi at the time but I did go to a prenatal yoga course in my second pregnancy and loved it. It really helps strengthen your mind-body-baby connection and depending on the class can be invaluable for physically preparing for labour.
  • I’d connect with more women at the same stage of pregnancy as me (another great reason to do a prenantal yoga class). Connecting with women working through the same body changes, fears, experiences and process can make a huge difference in reducing anxiety and make the wild ride that is pregnancy more enjoyable.
  • I’d hook into some of the really great websites, Facebook pages and forums around, so that I could educate myself about birthing, options and my choices early on in my pregnancy. Social media has really opened up the conversation about birthing and made great information and imagery easily accessible.

And you know what, my friend was right. Just like all those other women, I did go back a second time and have another baby. And the second time, I (almost) looked forward to the labour and I birthed without fear.