What is the connection between birth and fear? Why is fear such a common component of birth?
Why are we afraid of something that billions of people have done (and every one of us has experienced – even if we don’t remember it?)
And what effect does that fear have on labor and delivery?
When we see birth portrayed on shows or in the movies, it usually involves trauma, anxiety, and often screaming. I guess a calm birth where the person is sitting quietly on a birth ball for a couple of hours, doing deep breathing would seem pretty boring for TV. In our culture we often aren’t exposed to actual births either, so we have a lack of actual experience. And often when people share their birth stories, it’s the negative that gets the most focus.
For first-time parents, fear can come from the unknown, while those who have had a baby may feel fear because of what they know. Some of the common fears associated with childbirth are:
- Not knowing when to go to the hospital, or even knowing when labor has begun
- Not being able to make it to the hospital in time – going to the hospital too early – partner not being able to make it to the hospital in time – feeling alone
- Episiotomy or tearing of the perineum, and the pain that may result from that during urination, bowel movements and sex
- Problems with the baby including stillbirth
- Having interventions such as forceps or vacuum extraction
- Having a cesarean birth
- Pain and/or not being able to manage that pain – not getting pain medication soon enough
- Feeling out of control or not knowing what to do if something goes wrong – not feeling heard when it comes to birth preferences
While these fears need to be addressed and processed through, it’s important to remember the effect that fear has on the labor and birth process. There is a fear – tension – pain cycle that can occur in childbirth: fear leads to tension which greatly increases pain, which can increase fear, etc.
Talking about fears can help to take away some of the power that they have. For example, the anticipation of pain can actually cause more pain. Talking about what contractions will feel like and developing coping techniques to get through those contractions can help to dispel the fear, which will lessen the tension you feel when they occur and decrease the pain they cause.
A negative fear – tension – pain cycle can actually prolong labor as the body “fights” against the process, not allowing the contractions of the uterus to be as effective as they could be. Fear can cause increased levels of adrenaline as the body goes into fight or flight mode. This increase in adrenaline counteracts the release of oxytocin which is the hormone responsible for uterine contractions — thus causing a slowing in the progress of your labor.
Learning about what to do if what you fear happens can be empowering. You may find that a lot of your fears don’t need to be considered, and you can put that energy somewhere else. Or you may find that solutions to problems that might arise are well thought out and that your team knows how to carry out those solutions.
Having good support can be very important in helping bring perspective to your fears, and give you a non-judgmental place to process through that information.
Knowing that no matter what happens you will not be alone in the journey can help you get through the unknown.
Consider hiring a labor doula as they are professionally trained to give you evidenced based information, and emotional support throughout your pregnancy and labor.