Overcoming Fear of Labor
Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.- Ambrose Redmoon
Learning how to handle the challenges of labor is what drives most women to childbirth classes. Labor and birth have become so separate from our lives, very few women have actually seen a birth before their first child is trying to be born. Because of this, a normal healthy concern to be as prepared as possible is helpful for childbirth. A healthy concern can be productive, encouraging you to make the healthiest decisions for yourself and your baby. Such concern is a motivator, moving you to do the things you should do.
Yet for some women, concern becomes an unproductive fear, paralyzing them from making decisions or enjoying the pregnancy. In addition to preventing proper preparation, such fears can cause problems during a labor. The female body is designed to stop labor in unsafe situations, and the mother being in a heightened state of fear is a trigger for stopping labor. There are some things you can do now to help you overcome a fear of labor. Choose the tools you think will work best for you and work on them for a week or two. Then consider your fear again, do you need to make more changes or do more work to overcome your fears? Take the time to investigate any fear you have. Overcoming the fear of labor is the first step towards a natural birth.
Attitude: Your attitude has to do with how you think about labor and your feelings about the process of childbirth. To begin, stop thinking of labor as something that happens to you. Laboring is something you do to give birth to your child. The process of labor is run completely by your body - it is your uterine muscle contracting; your body is creating that powerful sensation. Don't fight the work of your body, let it happen and work with it to the best of your ability. You may not be in control of the process of labor, but you have many options for ways to respond and through your response you can impact the way your labor is progressing. Consider your attitudes about childbirth. Ask yourself where they came from, why do you feel the way your do? The figure out what you need to do to get your attitude right.
Education: Many times fear is caused by uncertainty, other times it is caused by misinformation. Learning what to expect from a normal labor can help reduce those fears. Learn to tell the difference between what is normal and what is not normal. Learn about the options you have, including their potential benefits and risks. Learn some techniques to handle the parts of labor you are most concerned about.
Support: You may find yourself less frightened if you know you will not be alone during labor. Choose caregivers and attendants who will remain with you the birth process. Make sure everyone invited to your labor is supportive of the choices you have made. Surround yourself with people who provide emotional support and encouragement now, and find a way to end any discouraging or hurtful relationships you may have (either by confronting the person or avoiding if necessary). You may also want to look into hiring a doula to help you with labor.
Realistic Expectations: Pregnant women are often the unwilling audience for women who want to complain about their labor horror stories. While you don't want a Pollyanna attitude that dismisses any concern about the pain of childbirth, you also don't want stories that paint labor as the next worst thing to death. Understand many of the women who share such stories were not educated before labor began, and may not have accurate information about what went wrong during their labor. I have been told everything from, "I needed a cesarean because labor would never have started on it's own," (although there was no indication of any health concerns for mother or baby and no attempts to stimulate labor either naturally or with medical techniques) to, "My baby was in trouble because my water broke and labor hadn't started yet." (even though this is a normal variation of labor). Although the intent to educate you is appreciated, make sure you keep your expectations of labor realistic even if that means not listening to any more "horror stories."
Take Control: Just as labor is not something that just happens to you, labor is not something that is done to you. Today a pregnant woman has many options for the way she handles labor. Find out what options are available in your local community and select caregivers and a birth place with the options you want. Use a birth plan to work with your caregivers to make the best decisions possible before labor begins, and continue the working relationship in labor. Be a part of the decision making, selecting carefully how you handle unexpected situations.