Fear. What is it, and how do we best handle it?
I don’t want to ignore it or sugar coat it or simply tell you to get over it. Rather, I’m going to suggest we take a good, clear look at it. Let’s face your fears head on – get to know them, understand them – and then put them in their place. A funny thing happens, quite naturally, when we face our fears. When we shine light upon them, we see clearly and understand, and suddenly our fears are not as scary. And then it is up to each of us. Will we choose to work with our fears with compassion to overcome them, or at least keep them in perspective? Or will we prefer to allow our fears to loom large, controlling and dominating our emotional arena from some deep dark secret hide out where they are left to fester? I personally feel the latter is self indulgent and not to your benefit in the birthing continuum. And facing your fears – well, that is one of the greatest steps we can take for self awareness, deeper understanding of any given situation, and personal empowerment.
Let’s be honorable to your inner self, your deeper knowing, and your emotions. Let’s take a look at fear, starting with the three most common fears found entangled in the remarkable web of pregnancy and birth. These are fascinating topics we will look at in greater detail in the future. For now, let us take an overlook at the three most common fears found in pregnancy.
Fear of Pain?
Yes, birth can be painful. Understand that.
- Some women say it’s terribly painful. The hardest thing they ever lived through (and yes, they lived…).
- Some say it’s painful, but a different sort of pain that the body somehow understands and accepts because it’s not like breaking your leg – there’s something amazing going on here, and so we intuitively and on some higher level get over the pain and go with it.
- And some women say it is NOT painful. It is intense, powerful, primal, transcendental, ecstatic or even orgasmic. Really? Really!
How can the same experience be so different for women?
First of all, because it is not the same experience. Birth is different and unique for every woman, with every birth.
Second, because there is a well documented, proven and practiced method that may work for transcending the physical sensations resulting from the powerful transition your body goes through in birth. This is based on the fear-tension-pain principle brought to light in the work of Grantly Dick-Read, Frederick Leboyer, Pierre Vellay and others. This principle is based on the following formula: ignorance creates fear, we fear the unknown, fear creates tension, tension creates pain. The way to move beyond falling into fear and thus pain is through (1) acknowledgement, (2) education (3) empowerment. We’ll look at this more below.
The bottom line, according to these doctors and experts is this: You can fight it, fear it and in turn increase it.
Or… You can understand the physiological events that your body may go through in birth, understand the physical sensations body may experience during these events, understand the possible natural and healthy responses your body may have to these events. This alone may reduce fear, which in turn may reduce pain. Taken a step further, you can fully trust the normal and natural physiological process of birth, trust in your body, trust in your baby, and possibly even trust in the bigger picture, a higher power, a greater purpose… and in this trust, it appears, you may be more likely to surrender to the process, and open yourself fully to this wild ride. And what you might find is that those intense bodily sensations are not pain, but something very amazing indeed!
Here’s what we’re seeing:
- The more we treat birth as a technocratic process, the more likely we are to enter birth with an expectation of unbearable pain.
- The more we look at birth as normal and natural and understand that pain may be a part of process, the less fear we bring with into the birthing arena.
- The more we are able to fully understand, relax and let go in the process, the lesser the concern with pain.
- The more we work towards the potential of the intimate, spiritual, intense, and ecstatic, the more we are able to transcend pain and fully immerse ourselves in the power of the process.
I am not going to say birth doesn’t hurt. For some women it can be very painful experience and their fears which may have created this pain also remain with their memories.
Others may experience pain through transition only to look forward to doing it all over again the very next day if they could, as pain is just that, pain. It is not the end of the world. In fact, in this case, it’s just the process of opening the door to a new beginning.
And others still do not feel pain. Period. What do they feel? These are some of the words used: Intensity. Ecstasy. Powerful. Extreme passion.
I would like you to come to a clear understanding of all of these potential situations, and be prepared to work through the pain should you endure the worst of it, knowing you are prepared, supported, well educated, and are armed with an arsenal of comfort measures- and knowing it is just your body doing what it needs to do. The greatest comfort measure tends to be our understanding, acceptance, and belief.
I would also like you to remember this – the more we focus on something, the stronger it becomes within us. The power of our thoughts, right? We can use our thoughts for us or against us. I’m going to address pain here in depth because it’s a common concern, but then I’d like you to put it in its place. It is a possible detail of the birthing process. Even if you experience pain, it is temporary, it does not last. And it remains as an indication that your body is working just fine. If you have pain, no matter how intense, it’s normal and natural and the bottom line is this: your body is working hard and actually bringing your baby forth! I also believe in not planning for pain. In fact, I’ve seen amazing results with not allowing the word “pain” in the birthing vocabulary, and seeing a pain-free, ecstatic birth. This is a wonderful topic we’ll explore in much greater detail in the future. For now… just consider the possibilities… and know that a pain-free birth is indeed a possibility.
Fear of Safety?
Fear of safety for both you and your baby. First, please understand this: safety is a relative term. Where, and with whom, every person feels safe is unique, personal and private. For one person, this may be in a hospital with a full medical staff, and for another it may be in the known comfort of one’s own house, with only trust loved ones present. There are as many options for feeling safe as there are for birthing. Good. We should feel comfortable honoring, respecting and allowing each of our individual choices, and respecting those of others. There is no one right answer. There is only your answer.
Consider where and how you feel most safe, nurtured, comfortable. These things do matter. Birth tends to unfold more rapidly, smoothly and naturally in a safe, nurtured, comfortable environment. It’s worth taking a good look at your unique formula for an ideal environment and planning accordingly. In future posts, we’ll spend more time with exercises exploring your ideal birthing environment and discussing ways to create what feels best for you. This will be fun. But for now, let us consider safety as something that if unknown and not considered, can be another source of fear. And fear based upon safety often stems from those who love us most.
You are loved. People care about you, and care about your safety. This too is normal and natural. So it is that others may be the ones feeding this fear. They are simply worried about you! It is essential to work through these fears now, not in the birth arena. There, quite frankly, fears are self indulgent. They can create undue tension for all, and tension can escalate fear into greater pain and complications. Encouraging – even ensuring – that your loved ones, and especially your birth attendants, have a solid understanding of the process of birth, what to expect, and how to handle their own fears, will help. Once again, as you know, education can create empowerment, and empowerment overcomes fear. So, find some good birthing books to recommend. Talk, openly, respectfully, about your desires and the birthing process. You may encourage your partner and/or attendants to attend a childbirth preparation workshop, like my WildBirth Workshop designed specifically for partners, family member and birthing attendants. In this workshop, we cover the normal, natural physiological process of birth (and your birthing plan) on the first week, and the second week is spent discussing and discovering the partners and attendants role in birth, and what they can do to support you.
Whatever steps you decide to take, please be firm with this one. Just as entering the birthing arena for the mother in a state of complete ignorance (except the horror stories we see on TV) may not be best for us, so it may not be best for those supporting us. And in this state of ignorance, fears are more likely to arise. For those who love and care for you, that fear of safety may be the strongest to surface. They care so they worry. Well, remind them to care is to understand and support. Honor their fears, and then have them commit to working through them. Begin with addressing the fears, finding the facts, and coming to the place where we then see our fears have somehow lost their power. Shedding light on our fears with knowledge does alleviate and often eliminate them.
Fear of wellbeing of the baby?
We’ve said this a lot and for good reason: It is true.
Birth is normal and natural. Babies manage to be born, beautifully. There are over seven billion human beings alive today. That’s a lot birth. It must be working.
We can complicate birth, turn it into a technocratic procedure and take the natural normalcy away. We can make it a big deal, and see it for the miracle it is every single time (I think I will always do that!). And no matter what… birth happens. Babies are born. And life goes on.
I have to be honest with you. You have to know. Sometimes it doesn’t work this way. Things happen – often unpredictable and there is nothing any one can do to change that. Complications can arise. These are exceptions, not the rule. I’m going to give you the facts. In the US today, the fetal mortality rate is at about 6 deaths in every 1000 births. That’s .06%. What is the rate of car accidents, choking, falls, cancer? I don’t mean to downplay this fact. For truth is, our goal is to have life 100% of the time, and have every baby born live… just as we wish every baby may have a healthy and happy life. But life does not always work this way.
What can we do? Are your choices for how, where with whom you plan to birth going to affect the rate? No one has been able to prove that one yet. With the choice for unassisted, home birth or completely medicalized hospital birth, the rates are all about the same: very good. So no matter how one way may point the finger at the other, or claim their way is better, their way is “Right” and others “wrong,” at the end of the day, birth happens. And more often than not, beautifully. A lot more often.
Look within. Trust. Tune into your baby. Listen. Know. Believe. And look above. Turn to your religious or spiritual beliefs. This is one of the most incredible passages of life, and one of the greatest times when our beliefs are our greatest escort through this journey.
None of us should go into this amazing journey thinking about the few “what ifs.” If you or your partner are dwelling on them, not the likelihood of beauty of the amazing journey, there is still time to work this out within your hearts and souls and minds, and with each other. I am happy to help. This is important. This matters. You matter.
So please, reach out, find support, talk it out, work it out, work together to overcome fear. And trust in this birth and in your baby. Birth is not the time or place for fears. Work them out now, not in labor.
Birth is Sacred Transformation, a rite of passage. For you. For your baby. For your family. Let us take the time and energy to address our fears now, with honor, care, clarity and compassion. Let us fully consider our feels of safety, and work to create a birthing environment supporting our feelings of safety. Let us trust in our bodies, our babies, and the normal and natural process of birth, and trust in the higher powers. Let us approach this great event and awakening of life with honor. Let us allow this new life to unfurl in his or her own way. Let us witness the miracle that birth is every time. Let us be humbled by this ever beautiful blessing.
Remember: With few exceptions, labor is the healthy, natural physiological state of pregnancy and birth and life, not a medical condition or disease. This may not seem to be the social norm, but it is the natural norm. Trust… and believe.