Fear of Childbirth – Part I

Is the fear of childbirth ever a problem?  It seems most pregnant women have fears surrounding the birth of their baby.  Is that not to be expected?  There are risks involved, and pain.  To fear something risky and painful is not unreasonable.

For some women the fear they experience amounts to little more than anxiety or a bit of worry about the “what ifs”.  For others, their fear becomes a phobia which can greatly burden their hearts if they desire to be a mother, but can’t bear the thought of giving birth.  This type of fear is called tocophobia.  Many of us fear that our bodies won’t work properly.  Maybe we’ll reach our due date and not have gone into labor, or even be dilated at all.  Maybe, we’ll be in labor for a really long time.  Or what if we tear really badly, or end up needing a c-section.  Or, even more recently we’ve heard media reports on women who consider c-section as a means to avoid the pain of childbirth.

Others of us may experience fear because of a prior experience with birthing that was traumatic.  We could then become fearful of vaginal birth or for others of us it might be a fear of medical intervention.

It may be that we don’t consider that our bodies were made to give birth.  It could be that because of the decrease in women actually going through childbirth completely naturally (a vaginal, unmedicated birth), we aren’t exposed to the positive stories surrounding those types of births often enough to be affected by them.  And when we do hear of them, we might think of those women as having suffered, taken great risks, as having a high tolerance for pain, or as being stronger than we are.  Because of this we may take it as part and partial that we need medical intervention to give birth and that without it birth is intolerable.

If we focus on the media, it would appear to be true.  There is rarely a birth portrayed in television and movies that doesn’t seem to be excruciating for the mother, or very dangerous.  I have written before about the media portrayals of birth and their affects on women of birthing age.  The new website for parents, Babble, also recently featured a blog post about television and its contribution to the fear of childbirth.

Knocked Up - The Movie

In the earlier Birth True Blog post I linked to above, I also consider the stories we hear about other women’s experiences.  How many of them are peaceful experiences?  How many dramatic?  I know that when I was pregnant, I was rarely approached with a story that didn’t have a traumatic or dramatic aspect to it.  Why is that?  Are we experiencing birth as a scary experience, only to find any joy we might could glean after the baby is born and in our arms, and even then that joy is tainted by the fearful things we just made it through?  We often hear – “as long as you have a healthy baby, that is all that matters.”  Is that statement supposed to ease our fears?

It would seem that with the encouraged increase of births happening in hospitals, attended by doctors, we’d see also an increase in the safety of childbirth.  But, while it is safer than in times past when problems with simple hygiene, misinformation, poor nutrition, and living situations often contributed to poor birthing outcomes, the United States currently ranks the worstt in developed countries for maternal deaths.  In fact, the numbers of US women dying in childbirth are not decreasing, but increasing!

Could it be that the general mistrust of both the medical community and the family, friends and community supporting the birthing mother that birth can be and often is a safe and normal life event leads to negative outcomes and increased fear for birthing women?  In 2008, ABC News published online a report by Susan Donaldson James highlighting the efforts of some women to – take birth back.   The report does a great job in a small space of highlighting the real issues surrounding childbirth in our day and age.  One example from the report is the following quote.

“The American healthcare system is increasingly dependent upon medical interventions to address what is, most often, a normal and safe physiological process,” said Rebecca Benghiat, executive director of the New Space for Women’s Health in New York City, where the Caesarean rate has just hit 31 percent of all births.  “Quite often, women are not fully informed of the risks associated with commonly performed obstetrical interventions, nor do they know there are options beyond hospital birth,” she said.

Fear of the unknown is a common thing.  Had I not witnessed my sister’s natural childbirth of my nephew, I may not have had the courage to try one for myself.  Access to reasonable and reliable information, as bombarded as we are with birth information, can be hard to find.  Often our lives seem too busy to seek it out, or we don’t know there is anything out there to be sought out.  We let the healthcare system take care of it, and our experience is not within our control.  I know when I approached the birth of my first daughter, I had no clue as to what my options were, what risks and benefits were to medical interventions, reasons interventions might be necessary, and while I was the one putting my consent signature on forms, the choices of how my daughter came into the world were not my own.  This was even after I had witnessed a beautiful and natural childbirth.

When we are afraid, our ability to make good decisions is compromised.  We can be thankful we have doctors, midwives, and nurses who provide us with up-to-date healthcare in our pregnancies and births.  But, it is up to us to ease our fears, become informed, and be prepared to give birth to our babies.  Our care providers should not be expected to make our decisions for us outside of a medical need for their expertise, and even then, only once we are informed of their concerns and intentions.  Without first addressing our fears, the chances of experiencing birth as a scary event are more real.  Medical intervention is a wonderful thing to have when the situations call for it as the safest option in birth, and while I feel like natural birth is something all women are capable of, it might not be the best option for all women given their individual situations.  There is no guilt in accepting medical intervention.  Is accepting medical intervention good choice, however, when done because we fear a situation that hasn’t arisen and may not arise for us, when you also accept the risks involved?  What if there are other healthy options to address your concerns?

So, how do we address our fears about birth, and decide how we’ll give birth in the most healthy way possible for us?  Visit Birth True Blog in the coming days to read more about ways to address your fears, and approach your birth informed and at peace.  In the meantime, share with us what it is you fear about childbirth, or if you have no fears, why not?

Many happy days to you and yours,

Kelli

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About Kelli

I am Kelli B. Haywood, LCCE, a childbirth educator certified through Lamaze, a birth doula, and prenatal yoga instructor. My two little girls light my life. I am the wife of artist, musician, and teacher - John Haywood.
This entry was posted in Birth Planning, Birth Stories, Birth Topics, childbirth education, Healthy Pregnancy and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Fear of Childbirth – Part I

  1. Mhope says:

    Thanks for your post, Kelli, you raise important questions. Ours is not a culture that tolerates pain. In fact we have worked to eliminate discomfort from our lives on every level, adapting our physical environment with technology and time-saving gadgets, paying therapists high hourly rates to help us shift blame/responsibility for the choices we have made to our parents or circumstances. Even in our spiritual lives we are rarely willing to go out on a limb for Christ; we don’t face persecution the way the early church did; for the most part, our lives are risk-free.

    So why not take the same route in childbirth?

    Unfortunately, we have become culturally distanced from the fact that childbirth is a life-altering, transformational experience. The fear that is experienced prior to childbirth makes sense taking into account that our bodies are about to go completely out of our control — and so much of our lives we feign to HAVE control over.

    In the program, it is said, “Let go, and let God” and never is this more true at the moment of childbirth. However, a physician would scoff at this. Faith has no place in their realm, and malpractice insurance is frighteningly costly for that reason. They are paid to be in control, to eliminate x-factors and essentially, to run the show. Which is why any document one signs as to their “wishes” regarding the procedure of their birth is superseded by a doctors wish to avoid complications at ALL COSTS.

    Birth is painful, but it is bearable. Birth is an unknown — when it will happen, how long it will take, how painful it will be — none of this can be known or should be known. When doctors take the reins, getting bored of waiting, inducing with pitocin, and ultimately making epidurals necessary due to the excruciating contractions caused by the drug, and then all too frequently wrapping it up with a Cesarean since a woman under an epidural cannot feel her pelvis enough to breath with her contractions and participate with what her body is doing, and the birth process itself is jacked up by a doctors invading hand…

    well, the story is written almost before it starts and the statistics and many books and research back up my statements.
    [read "The American Way of Birth" by Jessica Mitford for starters]

    Facing pain and overcoming fear are transformational, evolutionary experiences that cause you to transcend as a human being. Childbirth is a process of redemption, and psychic pain that you are carrying can be expelled at the moment of childbirth. But it requires guidance. A solid, experienced, calm midwife. It requires the right environment; preferably your own home where you feel safe, loved, cherished and comfortable. It requires a community of encouragement from family (particularly mothers, sisters and girlfriends) who can talk you through the experience, reaffirming your capability and strength. Without these elements, or in a hospital surrounded by impersonal staff performing ‘routine’ procedures that provoke great anxiety and fear, birth becomes an impossibility.

    A woman needs to feel empowered to give birth. She needs to have faith in G-d, her own body, and in the fact that the process has been successfully happening for 100s of generations before her.

    A Caesarean is not just an alternative to a traditional birth, it is a loss of a great opportunity for a woman to take a quantum leap from mortal to divine, participating intimately with the process of CREATION. This is mystical event. We need to reclaim it.

  2. eastkentuckygal says:

    Thank you for leaving this comment. I think it is important for us to reconnect to ourselves and our capabilities. I accpreciate you stopping by and sharing this with us.

    Kelli

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