There is a secret in our culture, and it is not that childbirth is painful. It’s that women are strong.
-Lisa Stavoe Harm
In this third post of my series on the Fear of Childbirth, I want to address how to overcome the fear you have surrounding childbirth to approach your birth experience confident and quite literally unafraid. Part I of this series addressed how we have become fearful in the first place. In Part II we took a look at the same quote that is written above, and how our birth experiences and the stories of the experiences of others change the way we look at our bodies and what we believe they are capable of doing safely. The post suggested that the emphasis our culture puts on the pain and dangers of childbirth overrides any belief that we have in our own strength and physiology. Even when we experience traumatic birth, we are more likely to blame ourselves or our bodies for errors that were not in our control. The secret in our culture is that women are very strong beings, and fully capable of giving birth naturally if that is what the woman wants.
I wrote the story of my first personal birth experience in Part II of this series to share for the first time in a completely public space. It was that traumatic experience that led me into the work I do today – childbirth education and labor support. I became an advocate for maternal health and options through working out my own feelings about my experience. It was through education and obtaining accurate information that I became ready to face pregnancy and childbirth the second time. I went into the birth of my second daughter totally confident that my body worked properly, and that the women providing my care were the best possible professionals to attend my birth. I didn’t fear pain. I didn’t fear complications. And, when it came time for me to transfer to the hospital because complications did arise, I did not fear being mistreated as I had previously thought I would have.
The mission/motto of Birth True Childbirth Education is – An informed birth is a more peaceful birth. For me, that has been absolute truth. When faced with difficult decisions as a mother, the more objective information I have on hand, the easier it is for me to feel like the decision I have made is the best possible for our situation.
Get Yourself Educated
The first priority in pregnancy and the best way to overcome the fear you may have about what you are about to experience is to educate yourself about the possibilities in your experience and the options you will have with those possibilities. So many of us choose a doctor or midwife based on their location, convenience, whether or not they take our insurance, or because that is who our friends used. We choose these providers and then put our total trust in them to tell us what is right for our babies and ourselves. At what other time do we turn ourselves completely over to another person we barely know, and likely not personally at all, to make decisions that affect the lives of us and our children? As mothers, do we not know what’s best for our babies? Sure, there are things we aren’t qualified to do, but it is obvious in most cases when we need the assistance of another’s expertise. In a healthy, low risk pregnancy, we are experiencing something that is completely normal and healthy. It is a natural function of a woman’s body, and childbirth is no different. If you educate yourself on the normalcies in birth and pregnancy, your options, and the risks and benefits of medical interventions, then you have the ability to work with your care provider to make the decisions that are the healthiest for you and your baby. In being a part of those decisions, you maintain some sense of control over the experience. You understand what your care provider is communicating to you on the basic level, and you don’t feel that sense of being helpless.
A good childbirth education class is key to obtaining the best information for pregnancy and childbirth. Mother’s Advocate has created a handout that highlights what you should look for when choosing a childbirth class. I have also written here about the importance of taking a childbirth course such as the ones described by Mother’s Adovcate.
The following video also introduces some of the topics that a good childbirth course will provide.
Choose a Care Provider Who is Right for You
Another lesson I learned from my first experience in childbirth, is that the right care provider can make all the difference in how you ultimately experience the birth of your baby. It is not in the moment that you are your most vulnerable – in the middle of labor – that you want to discover that your care provider is not patient or supportive. Again, Mother’s Advocate has very good information on choosing a care provider that will be the best at supporting you, while helping you to keep your birth safe should complications arise. I have also written about choosing a care provider.
The following websites will be helpful for evaluating care providers and making the final decision about who will be the person to guide you safely through the birth of your child.
Learn About All Your Options for Pain Management
Of all the things we discuss in class, what seems to be the most important to the mommies I work with, are strategies for pain management. Expecting mothers want to know what contractions feel like. How long will I be in labor? How much pain will I experience? It is one of the most interesting topics in class too because in discussing the pain of childbirth, we are discussing a pain that is working in a positive way for our bodies unlike the pain of a headache, broken arm, or heart attack. It is highly important to have a variety of comfort techniques available to you no matter if you are planning a durg free birth, or a medicated one. Some mothers who planned to be medicated for birth find that they don’t need the medication. Some mothers who plan natural childbirth find that because of a situation that is beyond their control that medication is the best option for them. In Birth True classses, I discuss all varieties of pain management and the risks and benefits of each. I firmly believe that any woman who prepares herself mentally and physically can experience a drug free vaginal birth as an empowering and positive thing. I also believe that there are appropriate times for medication.
I recommend reading Penny Simkin’s Comfort in Labor: How You Can Help Yourself to a Normal Satisfying Childbirth, which is available for free at this link. I have also provided information on epidural for pain relief in labor on this blog.
Have Labor Support
It is crucial to surround yourself with positive people during labor that are supportive of your choices, and who are prepared to help you through the labor and birth that you have hoped for yourself. The following video illustrates this important part of birth preparation.
Seek Out Positive Birth Stories and Support Groups
This one is especially important if you have experienced traumatic birth, or those around you have. YouTube is slathered with beautiful stories of natural childbirth. It is amazing to see mothers in the throes of labor with peaceful faces. Those peaceful faces do not come from brut strength, it comes from preparedness and trusting ones body. You can also find these stories on mommy blogs and websites supportive of choices in childbirth. I feature a birth story on the Birth True Facebook page every Wednesday.
Supportive communities exist out there where other mothers and professionals can help you work through your feelings and find good information. Here are a few of those.
The Key is Preparedness
We don’t buy houses without first getting them inspected for possible problems. We don’t buy a car without test driving it. A knee replacement surgery isn’t something we just jump into without research or even second opinions. Something as inconsequential as choosing our wedding gown is a process which a great deal of thought is put into. Giving birth shouldn’t be any different. We fear most the things that are unknown to us. If we familiarize ourselves with birth, by looking at accurate information in books and childbirth education, preparing our bodies through proper nutrition and exercise, choosing supportive people to be with us during the birth, and having a variety of methods for pain management, there isn’t much left to fear. The World Health Organization states that