Your Guide to Childbirth Fears & Overcoming Them
*Disclaimer: As a doula I am a non-medical support person and therefore cannot offer any medical advice. Please, speak with your healthcare provider regarding any medical matter*
Fear is normal. Fear is natural. Fear is a part of life.
Without it, we might make some pretty bad decisions. It's what forces us to stop and think about what we're about to do. It has it's place for sure.
In regards to childbirth? It's so huge there's even a name for it.
"Tokophobia": an extreme fear of childbirth, which affects roughly 1/10 women.
I've been thinking about this a lot lately, so I decided to ask a few thousand women in a couple Facebook groups that I'm in, to let me in on their worries & fears. (If you're reading this, you know who you are. Hi and thank you!)
Before delving into it, I want to mention a couple things:
1. It is TOTALLY OKAY to be scared of childbirth! It is a giant, new, unknown thing, and so many of us are on the same page about it. You are not alone.
2. This post is in no way meant to scare you even further, or offend anyone! I simply wanted to compile a list and try to explain it in a way that makes you feel empowered rather than scared. A lot of the time, we're frightened of things we don't know about. Knowledge can help with this.
Without further ado, let's begin!
I wasn't even surprised with how much this came up in peoples comments.
I feel as if most women have a fear about this one!
Poop is private. We do it in our homes, with the door closed, and (most of us) certainly don't want an audience for it.
Leading up to labour, your body begins to empty itself in preparation for delivery. The early contractions you have affect your bowels as well, leading to many bathroom trips.
A lot of women are emptied out by the time it comes to push. If you aren't though? It's not a big deal.
Labour & Delivery Nurses are so incredible and they deal with this shit literally every day (yes, pun intended). They are magic, and so good at their job that you probably won't even notice if you do poop. I haven't even seen any at all of the births I've attended.
Your partner probably won't notice either, especially if they're around your head and not staring at your butthole.
If you're worried about the smell, using some diffused essential oils mixed with water can ease your mind! I should note, birth also does have a smell. (It's not terrible, it's very earthy, and iron-y.)
So oils, or a nice candle may be of interest to you if you have a sensitive nose.
I want you all to be comfortable with the possibility of pooping because it can hinder your cervix from opening up if you're not!
You may automatically clench up, and as it's all a very close together, your cervix may clench up too. Which is the opposite of what needs to happen.
Tip: Go have a private moment alone to sit on the toilet when you're in labour. It may ease your mind a bit, and toilet sitting is a fantastic labour position! Not only does it open your pelvis, but just the act of being in private (and more comfortable) can speed labour up (less stress hormones).
Who wouldn't be scared of the idea of a doctor cutting your perineum? I clench up just at the word. I remember watching a video in high school when they showed us what birth is, and I was just horrified! (I really wish schools would educate on how beautiful and natural birth can actually be, rather than a bunch of unnecessary medical intervention. Please go watch some nice Youtube videos depicting peaceful birth!)
I wrote a handy post all about episiotomies which you can check out here.
But what it comes down to is that it is mostly a dying 'art' (if you could even call it that). If you want to avoid one, it's important to pick a doctor who has low rates of performing them, and who trusts birth & the female body.
Doing kegels/squats, as well as perineum massage, also help to reduce your risk of tearing. Same with water birth as it makes your skin even more elastic.
That being said, sometimes, it just happens. You can't always prevent it, but you can give yourself your best shot.
The good news is, that it's not the end of the world if you do tear. You are usually numb when they stitch you up, and the stitches dissolve in a couple of weeks.
To make going to the washroom more comfortable, you can use a peri bottle to squirt water down there rather than wiping with rough toilet paper.
And a quick word about the 'husband stitch'. Barf.
I cannot even fathom WHY it's a thing, but hey, that's patriarchy for you! This article talks about it more in depth, and all the backwards reasons for it and why it's so awful.
But please mama, know that you have a say! It is your body, and you fight for what you want. If you are too out of it in the moment, you have your partner, or doula, or whomever on your side!
This brings us to...
Obstetric Violence/Being Rushed/Pitocin
It makes me so sad that we even have to discuss this. How dare anyone, let alone a medically trained, professional doctor, disrespect a pregnant/labouring/new mother. This is in no way true about every single doctor or nurse out there, but the fact that it happens at all is very upsetting. There is a power dynamic in hospitals. This article explains it more in depth.
And even though a women in labour should be in charge of her own labour, and doing what feels best for her, she is not in charge. Not most of the time at least.
Sometimes, medical staff may want to move things along a bit quicker.
After all, you're using up one of their beds that someone is waiting for, or your doc wants to finish their shift for the night and go home, etc.
This is where pitocin usually comes in. Oh how doctors love their pitocin. Pitocin (they may call it oxytocin, which it is not) is a synthetic version of oxytocin, a hormone we produce naturally as the 'love hormone'.
Using pitocin makes your contractions stronger but also doubles them up, making contractions more than some women can bear. This can lead to getting an epidural too early, which may make you 'fail to progress' which results in a C-section.
If you wish to avoid pitocin, you need to make it clear to whomever is attending your birth! Put it on your birth wish list, tell all your nurses, doctors, anyone who will listen. Having your partner or doula help you advocate for yourself is great too.
Get your natural oxytocin flowing by kissing your partner, or using nipple stimulation. These are great ways of opening up your cervix!
Mamas, it is so very important to know that you have rights when it comes to your birth. Please exercise your rights, and say 'no' if you need to. Have a support team to make sure that your birth goes the way you want it to (the things you have control over at least). Using informed consent, and all of our knowledge, empowers us in birth. The more you know!
Also, using a midwife greatly reduces risks of obstretirc vioelnce!
This is another real big one. No one likes pain!
The good news is that labour pain is a pain that you are meant to handle. It's not like an injury pain, or an illness pain. It ebbs and flows.
A contraction builds up and hurts, but then when it dies down you feel like yourself again until the next one.
Every birth is so different. There is no one-size-fits-all about it. For some women, it's excruciating, yet for others it's peaceful and easy. You never know how yours will go, but you can go into it armed to the teeth with all the tools to help you.
Fear, and tension, cause more pain. It's a vicious cycle. But you can combat that by trying to ease your fears, by getting comfortable, having love and support around you. By knowing, and understanding, what is happening to you, and allowing it.
Also, if it helps, I've heard from many people that having kidney stones is more painful than childbirth. You've got this, mama.
Body Being Different Afterwards
So, as I am not a mother myself, I cannot speak to this in the same capacity.
But please, just be kind to yourself. You just grew, and birthed a whole human being.
It makes sense that if it took nine long months for your body to grow and change, that it'll take at least that long to "get back to where you were before".
Your feelings of course are so valid.
Eating the right stuff, and living an active lifestyle are keys. Breastfeeding can also help to shed baby weight quicker.
We work hard for our bodies to look a certain way, but the good news is that if you keep treating it just as well as you have been, you'll still be able to be happy with it.
After all, it's the only body you get. And this one just created another person!
And your vagina? It's a muscle! It goes back, too. It may take a little while for sex to be enjoyable, even possible, again. But it will be! Eva Amurri wrote a great blog post about it here!
While it's true that a lot can go wrong, I really don't want you to dwell on that fact! Think about how common car accidents are, yet most of us still get into a car every single day.
It's important to be informed, and do research if you need to, like if you're high-risk. But what it mostly comes down to is trust. Trust in the process. Trust in birth. Trust in your body.
No matter what happens, you need to remember that you are a strong warrior woman, who can get through anything. I know it.
Sometimes bad things happen. I don't want to go into details because it can snowball, resulting in you being awake until 3 am googling symptoms of a super rare disease that you probably don't have to worry about.
Just know that if something ever should happen, you most likely live in a place where there are amazing doctors and an advanced medical system that can help.
And hopefully you have a support system in place as well.
Having other people to lean on in times of hardship is crucial and I wish that for all of you. If for whatever reason you don't have support, you can always use a doula.
You have a baby, now what?
You're sleep deprived, you need a shower, and food, you wondering if you're making every single mistake in the book as you maneuver new-mom-hood.
You are doing great.
Your instincts will kick in (trust me, you have them).
Now is an amazing time to get that support system helping you.
Do not be afraid to ask for help. In fact, make it a rule. If anyone wants to come over to see the new baby, they need to do something to lighten your load.
Chances are, your loved ones wouldn't mind at all throwing a load in the wash, or cooking you some meals.
If you worry about very real illnesses like Postpartum Depression, Anxiety, or Psychosis, you're not alone. While they do affect a number of women, it's important to remember that help is out there. It will not last forever. Whether you use medication to fix it, or see a counselor, you will be okay.
Know the signs of PPD and get help right away if you need it. Having a postpartum doula is great not only for helping with baby & taking care of the house, but also in recognizing symptoms of these illnesses, and getting you help.
What It All Comes Down To
I know there are no magic words I can say to make your fears go away.
It's just like telling someone with depression "just be happy, it's easy".
I know it doesn't work like that.
What it comes down to, is that fear is normal and okay.
And if you arm yourself with knowledge, & trust in your body's amazing ability to give birth, you can overcome your fears.
I understand that not every birth will go to plan, and some people will go through hard shit. It's terrible, and I'm sorry, but you are so strong.
I understand that 'the unknown' is a huge concern.
But you can choose to let that scare you, or excite you. There are so many things we can't control in life. Yet that doesn't mean we hide away! We face our fears and deal with obstacles as they happen (if they happen). Not beforehand.
Beforehand, we experience the beauty of this moment.
That is all we have.
If you are pregnant right now, take a moment.
Close your eyes. Take a deep breath.
And say "I trust my body & it's ability to birth my baby. All will be well."
Because most likely, it will be.