For some strange reason our culture loves to encourage women to be afraid of birth.
Just take a look at how the media portrays it. On the television, a woman’s water breaks and suddenly she clutches her abdomen, and screams in pain. In the next shot she is being wheeled into the labor and delivery unit yelling like a banshee. Or perhaps she has the dad’s hand in a vice like grip, as she yells in a deep growl, “YOU DID THIS TO ME!!!”.
Now those of us who have had babies know that is far from the norm.
However, those going into it for the first time may have a unrealistic vision of what labor and birth will be like. Pair that with the dozens of birth horror stories they have heard and how could they not be at least a little freaked out?!
As a woman of childbearing age, and especially as doula, I often hear women voice their fears about birth.
“What if my baby gets stuck?”
“I don’t want to tear!”
“I really hope I don’t go late and have to be induced.” “
” What if I have to have a c-section?”
And of course the classic, “What if I poop in front of everyone?!?!”
All of those fears are valid to each of those to hold them, so it is important to talk through them before labor begins and those anxieties are brought into the birth space.
Fear affects labor in many ways.
Studies reveal that women who reported being fearful of labor had longer labors, were more like likely to have augmented labors, and were more likely to receive epidural analgesia. They also required cesarean sections and instrument assisted vaginal delivery more than those who did not report being fearful of childbirth.
This is likely linked to the hormones that are released in labor. When a person feels fearful, threatened, stressed or in pain, their body releases adrenaline. Adrenaline is responsible for the “flight or fight” response we experience in such situations.
If a women is fearful in childbirth, and produces excess adrenaline, it will impede the production of oxytocin.
Oxytocin, or the “love hormone” as many call it, is a crucial component to labor. Oxytcin is the force behind uterine contractions, and triggers bonding with your baby. If the flow of oxytocin is impeded, contractions may slow, or even stop.
With unproductive or stalled contractions interventions may become necessary.
With this in mind it is important to identify anxieties or stressors that women foster in pregnancy. Letting these fears fester may be more problematic then just getting “pre-birth jitters”.
Talking through them with a friend, your doula, or a counselor can be helpful. One study even saw a link in better outcomes with those who reported being fearful, and sought counseling, than those who refused it. Another study saw significantly increased birth satisfaction rates when women felt a sense of control at their births.
Working through fears, and building confidence, is a great foundation to build for your birth.
We do not need to fear birth.
So trust the ability of your body to birth your baby.
Trust the the skills of your providers to keep you and your child safe.
Be confident in yourself to rise above your fears and rock your birth, whatever it may look like.
About the author: Molly Seimears is a certified birth doula in Bellingham, WA. She lives in Whatcom County and is passionate about maternity support and serving families in her community.