Birth without fear doesn’t mean you can’t be scared

March 20, 2011 · 36 comments

the intensity of birth

Birth without fear sounds pretty ballsy.

For many women (actually, most women), the idea of laboring in blissful calm without pain is something only superhumans (or at least only supermodels) do.

I remember being in labor the first time (after confidently assuring everyone that I was completely prepared for the pain and intensity of an out-of-hospital birth) — being on all fours in the shower, trying to squirm away from the pain … or wrapping myself in a blanket on my bed, breathing deeply through each contraction but wondering how on earth I would keep going … or shaking my head at my midwife and saying, “I can’t do this, I can’t do this”.

Even at my second birth, as I moved into transition, I asked over and over again why I wasn’t the kind of person who just took the drugs.

My birth experiences weren’t anything like the strong women I watched in birthing videos, who chatted and laughed right up to when they started pushing, at which point they turned their focus inward, breathing deep, and hardly moving or making a sound.

No, that was definitely not me.

I was scared. I wanted the pain to stop. I just wanted to get it over with so I could stop being pregnant and meet my babies. I didn’t feel strong, and I certainly didn’t feel fearless.

These four things got me through it:

1. Information

Fear is dispelled with information. To dispel fear about birth, I learned about physiologically normal birth. Not birth with interventions (as normally depicted on shows like A Baby Story or Born Every Minute), but unimpeded birth that proceeds with cues from the mother (not the provider).

In my Bradley class, we watched video after video of amazingly strong women giving birth naturally in different settings: hospital, birth center, and home. You could see their pain, but you could also see their control. They had their families with them, including many with smaller children. Everything about those births was beautiful, natural, and normal.

When I saw the birth process working — beautifully, spontaneously — any fear couldn’t help but be replaced by joy and wonder.

2. Support

The intensity of labor surprised me, and it surprised my husband. It was very, very important to me that he respected choices and wishes, and didn’t panic when he saw me pain. He was a champ, and in both my labors it was his calm and cool head that helped me move through the worst of it.

3. Preparation

To prepare for my first birth I took a Bradley class, and read everything about birth I could get my hands on. I wanted to know what I could expect out of a natural birth. The classes helped a lot — partly through the information we received, partly through learning relaxation and massage techniques, and partly from knowing other women who wanted to have natural births.

The other part of preparation was choosing locations for birth that respected my choices. My midwives at both the birth center and my home birth were attentive throughout my pregnancies. My appointments lasted from 45 minutes to an hour and a half, and they knew me well by the time I went into labor. It was very comforting to be to experience labor with women I knew and trusted, and with whom I shared a mutual respect.

4. Trust

This isn’t blind trust — a blissful unawareness of potential risks or dangers. I believe women’s bodies were designed to give birth. I trusted my body would give signs if something is awry. And I trusted my caregivers to help me understand what was happening with my body and assist me in making informed decisions about my care during labor.

Birth without fear doesn’t mean you have to be exceptionally brave, or strong, or fit. It doesn’t mean you can’t be scared.

You don’t have to be extraordinary in any way except in your trust of the process of life and birth, and your willingness to accept the process — with all the good, bad, messy, moaning, pushing, exhaustion that brings your child into the world.

What do you think about birth without fear? Were you scared during your labor? Was it what you expected to feel?

Photo credit: Eyeliam on Flickr

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{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Melissa @ The New Mommy Files March 21, 2011

Great post, Suchada! Each of the things you mentioned was really helpful for me as well. I think that some level of fear is natural and normal – we don’t know how our bodies will respond – even the second time around, I’m sure things could be very different than they were in my first birth. Being informed, however, really helps to rid us of much of that fear, since so much of it comes from ignorance.

One of the best bits of information I think I read in my own birth preparation was the advice that ‘when you think you can’t take it any longer, you’re probably in transition, and you’re almost done!’ It turns that I did feel a bit out of control at one point, and likely would have asked for medication of some sort, but I told myself that I was probably reaching the end, and indeed I was! I pushed through, and was glad for it.

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2 Suchada @ Mama Eve March 23, 2011

That’s great advice Melissa! Honestly, I don’t think I would have had unmedicated births if I had been in a hospital. I know my weaknesses!! I completely admire women who are still able to have the births they want in an environment that isn’t always supportive of it.

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3 olivia March 21, 2011

Funny I should catch this post Today. I am due any day now; just waiting at this point. I am planning a totally unmedicated birth (in a hospital due to my previous birth experience and complications after). I keep telling myself that I CAN do this…I did it with my son…I know I can do it. But I still feel so scared. I don’t tolerate pain well, but I know my body can handle it.

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4 Suchada @ Mama Eve March 23, 2011

Good luck, Olivia . . . let us know how it all went!

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5 Rebekah March 21, 2011

How lucky you are to have such a husband! Husbands are great, but if they can’t be calm sometimes it’s best if they support from somewhere else! I wish I had found someone else to be my coach, my husband couldn’t accept the work of child birth. His anxiety defiantly caused me more…

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6 Suchada @ Mama Eve March 23, 2011

Rebekah, that’s too bad. If we hadn’t gone to the Bradley (Husband-coached Childbirth) classes, I don’t think he would have done as well. Even with that he had some serious moments of weakness (but that was when I was glad I’d paid attention in class and knew how to relax on my own). Otherwise a doula is key!!

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7 mamapoekie March 21, 2011

great post, this goes on my next Sunday Surf!
I was the relaxed chatting moither up to transition. That really freaked me out. If there’s ever going to be a next time though, I think I’ll be better prepared

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8 Suchada @ Mama Eve March 23, 2011

Aw, thanks so much! I’m honored.

Kudos to you for making it all the way to transition before the intensity hit! I never even had a menstrual cramp in my life, and after my water broke I had itty bitty contractions. I remember turning to my husband and saying, oh, I don’t think this will be that bad. HA. I learned quickly . . ..

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9 Jena March 21, 2011

Well said. I was hoping for one of those orgasmic births. Didn’t happen this time around. When my doula arrived, I told her I couldn’t believe women willingly went through labor more than once.

The whole experience was pretty amazing, though. I’d read enough (Ina May, Your Best Birth, and a few others) about natural childbirth to feel I knew what to expect–or at least what might happen, as everyone’s experiences are so different. My doula seemed very impressed with my attitude during the whole process (during and before birth). I think wanting to stay connected to the whole experience (instead of getting drugged) was hugely beneficial, as was hearing stories of women in strange circumstances giving birth. I talked to a woman who delivered her son in her vehicle on the ferry trying to get to the hospital!

As to being scared–I’m way more scared of the rest of parenthood, all the stuff that comes after the birth. (But I haven’t broken her yet. Yay me!)

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10 Suchada @ Mama Eve March 23, 2011

Jena, I’m right there with you. I was so sure I was going to have an orgasmic birth the first time around, and I was completely unprepared for the intensity of labor. You’d think my confidence would be humbled by now, but I’m still plowing along fearlessly. Perhaps now it’s because I’m confident I’ll stumble? I just hope my stumbles with my children as parenthood progresses are things we can all recover from . . .

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11 Alicia C. March 21, 2011

Great post!
The trust part is what really got me. I trusted my body and did what came as instinct. On the other hand, I had no choice but to go to a hospital and had to have doctors who did not support my natural birth. I think I was so busy being afraid that they’d take advantage of my being too busy with labor(starting IVs, getting me into those instruments of torture they call “stirrups, etc.) I was so focused on following my body’s clues and keeping an eye on the doctors and hospital staff that I didn’t have time to fear labor, itself!

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12 Suchada @ Mama Eve March 23, 2011

Wow, Alicia, what an experience! At least you were able to use the distraction of it in a positive way. Good for you!

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13 Imogen @ Alternative Mama March 22, 2011

Great post!

I certainly wasn’t one of those women who calmly meditated through their natural labour. I roared, moaned and bitched the whole way through, ha. I wasn’t scared in the lead-up to my home birth but I definitely panicked a little when labour started. I was so worried I wouldnt be able to cope, since I was medicated the first time and barely coped with that! As it was, though, it was a total breeze – probably because it was only about 4 hours long! I do wonder whether I would have managed if it’d been a 10 hour affair.

I think having faith in yourself is the key. Once I actually allowed myself to believe I could do it, it was great. I’m so grateful to my kick-ass midwives for encouraging me when i needed it and leaving me alone the rest of the time!

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14 Suchada @ Mama Eve March 23, 2011

Imogen, that’s awesome! I definitely had more faith in myself the second time around, but the first was not a calm, cool. collected experience, lol. I’m so grateful to my midwives, too.

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15 NavelgazingMidwife March 24, 2011

LOVED this post! Thank you so much for writing it. I’m sharing it, not only on Facebook, but also with my pregnant daughter.

Really, fantastic.

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16 Suchada @ Mama Eve March 24, 2011

Oh wow, I’m a huge fan of your blog and community on facebook. Thanks so much! :-)

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17 Michelle March 24, 2011

I really love this post. I am going to share it with clients. I have seen many women just not be prepared for the actual pain part of labor and when it occurs, it freaks them out. So, I try to prepare mothers for pain, but in a good and healthy way. I use the acronym I learned in the Lamaze teacher training:
P-urposeful
A-nticipated
I-ntermittent
N-ormal

For my own personal experience, there was really never a moment when I was afraid. I am pleased to report that my labor was fast and I was in denial about it most of the day. It was more annoying than hurting. Then when I got to transition, another side of me took over and I became so focused and serious that, yes it was painful, but I was never afraid.

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18 Suchada @ Mama Eve March 24, 2011

Thanks so much Michelle. Your birth sounds amazing!

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19 Dionna @ Code Name: Mama March 24, 2011

This post brought tears to my eyes, because I am still working through my own birth trauma. I am a sucker for pain, yet I chose to forgo the epidural as well (we had a birth center birth, but next time I want to give birth at home). I was not prepared for the pain (next time I’m going to try Hypnobabies!), and I definitely wasn’t prepared for the long back labor my sunny side up baby caused. Do I remember it with some fear and stress? Absolutely. But do I also remember it as one of the most empowering experiences of my life? Again, yes. Because I did it, even though it was hard. I had *enough* information, preparation and support to get me through. Hopefully those will also translate into some trust for the next time.

Thank you for this wonderful post!!

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20 Jespren March 24, 2011

I think my mom and grandma definately prepared me for labor, what I heard about labor growing up was ‘it’s hard work, that’s why it’s called labor, but it’s doable work, it hurts, but so what, and you forget it the moment you get to hold your baby’ (or some version there of). I expect it helped that I’m a chronic pain sufferer too, with all the hormones present during labor much of it was actually less miserable than a bad pain day. I kept waiting for my contractions to ‘get serious’, they never did get to be as bad as the cramps I had in high school and college. The back labor hurt, probably some of the worst pain ever, but it didn’t really last that long. Anything can be born for a while.
Both my mom and grandma too were dismissive at best at the use of drugs during labor so I grew up with the notion that it just wasn’t an option, labor could be born, so it would be born. I think your mindset going in is very important. And I don’t think being without any fear is necessary, just that you know ahead of time that you can get through any fear or occurance that happens. I think expecting a painless or easy birth sets people up for not coping well if they don’t get that and may get overwelmed with pain/circumstances. Instead I think it’s important to just be confident that you can deal with whatever happens.

I want to note that I’m not as dismissive as my relatives of women who choose medicinal pain relief. I don’t understand that mindset, but I think it’s a valid mindset and I’ve had enough experiance with chronic pain to realize that there are MANY viewpoints and outlooks on pain, and that my personal outlook on pain is fairly rare. So please don’t feel judged or belittled if you wanted/took meds, if that’s what you wanted it was wonderful if it worked!

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21 Suchada @ Mama Eve March 24, 2011

Jespren, that’s such a great point about our history influencing our ideas about birth, particularly pain relief. My mother had fast, easy labors without medication, so I assumed I would too. It was so ingrained in me that I never considered having a medicated birth (until I was actually in labor, natch!)

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22 Sheridan March 28, 2011

I had the fear of the unknown before my birth. When would things start? How would it go? Would I need another cesarean?

Once my birth started I didn’t really have any fear – things moved forward smoothly and I was in my Hypnobabies “zone” and just moved forward.

I enjoyed your post, you make some great points. :)

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23 Suchada @ Mama Eve March 28, 2011

Thanks Sheridan! I’m envious about your calm when labor started — after talking with many Hypnobabies/hypnobirthing mamas, I tend to recommend that as preparation!

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24 Sheila Pai April 3, 2011

Not sure why it took me so long to find you, but I am so enjoying your blog!

This post said everything I wanted to say in my birth story (below–pretty ideal as far as pain-free goes) in a helpful and direct way.
http://alivingfamily.com/2011/01/23/birth-of-a-mama/

I shared my birth story with my 11-12 year old students (girls). They wanted to know more. I realized what they wanted to know is “How will I be able to deal with the pain?” Though they said my homebirth story helped them understand there are different stories/possibilities of birth, more than one girl mentioned pain with fear shooting in all directions. This post is a perfectly clear and powerful message, and what I would want to say anyway!

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25 Suchada @ Mama Eve April 4, 2011

Thank you Sheila! What fortunate students to get a different perspective on birth while they’re still young! Often fear is simply fear of the unknown, so being exposed to different perspectives goes a long way in changing that. Good for you!

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26 Kristen April 5, 2011

I was terrified the first time around. I was induced, which caused a fast and furious labor. There was no managing that without an epidural. The second time I wasn’t scared, but I was nervous. I didn’t know if my first labor was so intense because of the miso induction or because I just gave birth so quickly.

Fortunately, my second birthing experience was pretty “normal” in that it came on slowly over the course of a day, became “active labor” by midnight with the birth at 9:00 am. I was definitely moaning, rocking, and demanding counter pressure throughout. I didn’t get truly scared until I began feeling pushy and began dry heaving during each contraction. I knew all about going slowly so as not to tear, but I didn’t care…..I wanted that kid outta there asap. I screamed bloody murder as I pushed that head out. It never even got the chance to cone.

I wished I could have one of those serene births, but it most certainly was not.

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27 Suchada @ Mama Eve April 6, 2011

Kristen, it always makes me feel better to hear birth stories like yours. It reminds me that there is a large range of “normal”, and that most of us fit into it. A wonderful birth doesn’t mean it has to be without pain or noise :)

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28 Brynna June 9, 2011

I spent my entire first labor scared to death of each contraction, and I fought them when they did come, so it made it twice as bad. I was determined to NOT fight any contractions with my next birth, and to work with them. And amazingly, I did just that (my 2nd was born at home unassisted). It was AMAZING, and I really feel like I took it all in stride and that made all the difference. Allowing ourselves to listen to our bodies and where/how they need to be is HUGE and I wish more hospitals (or rather, OB’s and nurses) allowed women that freedom (though then they’d lose a large amount of control and that wouldn’t work out, now would it?).

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29 Our Beautiful Mess June 28, 2011

i love birth stories :) all of them. but i truly truly wish women trusted themselves more- it is such a beautiful thing to just give in and go with it. i have never felt so powerful!

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30 Liz Redman December 17, 2011

Great Post!!! I decided to have an unmedicated, home birth when I determined through research that it was best for my baby. I wanted to do the best for my baby, so I figured why not start right at the beginning? (best for me probably would have been a scheduled c-section with an epidural…but that is another story)
I was scared, it was painful, and in the height of labor I was convinced I had made a big mistake and could not possibly do it…but I did. I had support from 2 midwives and a doula and my wonderful husband.
Looking back now it is was the bravest thing I have done in my life!

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31 Leonie MacDonald April 7, 2012

Thanks for a good read :)

Going into my second birth (a planned home birth) I had very little fear – I was open, relaxed, trusting and I did experience that blissful birth without pain. But even so, I still went into labour with some small amount of fear. I remember my midwife saying to me that you can never really let go of all the fear – because until you have done it, it is still an unknown. So true.

Labour is such a monumental experience – the birth of a new being and the making of a mother – why shouldn’t there be some feelings of fear, wonder, awe and uncertainty?

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32 Tam October 25, 2012

I had my first two babies in a hospital setting, lots of drugs and being induced. I realized I wanted something completely different for my third and boy did I get it!! However, it was not the orgasmic experience you referenced and which I heard and saw everywhere. I had lots of back pain and a midwife I didn’t care for, but fortunately I had a doula that was wonderful!! The back labor was so bad, I didn’t think I’d make it through. I think I may have even yelled that at my poor hubby. I did end up with the water birth I wanted, though, and it was amazing.

Thank you for having the courage to post this. It makes me feel like I didn’t do anything “wrong” or that I’m somehow broken because I didn’t experience a calm birth.

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33 Suchada @ Mama Eve October 25, 2012

I can totally relate to your water birth experience. Birth hasn’t been orgasmic for me *at all*, but the feeling when it’s all over and I’m at home surrounded by family and my new little one is incomparable. I’m glad you’re able to appreciate the highs of the natural birth you wanted and take the rest in stride :)

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34 Jeanne-Marie October 25, 2012

Thank you Suchada for once again your clairvoyance and honesty. All the best to you in preparing for a peaceful third childbirth, at home non the less. I myself had two hospital births (16 and 12 years ago), just two years ago I witnessed a home birth, that is truly the way to go. It just made so much more sense, then my two births that I felt had been hijacked.
I would love to know which books you most appreciated in your preparations. As you know I have started a birth and parenting preparation course “The A.R.T. of Childbirth”, which is very much based on the four topics you mentioned for a successful natural childbirth.

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