By Keely C. Helmick, LPC and Doula
With the onslaught of stories, experiences, blogs, and tweets it is no wonder there is so much fear surrounding birth. Whether it’s the fear of pain, fear of Cesarean, or fear of “freaking out” and losing control, fear and anxiety often intrude daily thoughts and activities. Anxiety during pregnancy leading up to birth in anticipation of the unknown provides an opportunity to work with our thoughts and emotions.
The term fear is used to describe a reaction to immediate physical danger, while anxiety involves worry. Our minds do not always separate these and so the reactions can be similar. During pregnancy, anxiety can be felt in the body as difficulty breathing, racing heart, restlessness, fatigue, muscle tension, headaches and stomach aches. It can also present in the form of worries about the upcoming birth or about being a parent.
It is normal to “check out” from these uncomfortable feelings and thoughts. Instead, with the practice of mindfulness we encourage you to “come alongside” the fear, to acknowledge the sensations and accept the worrisome thoughts. Our acceptance facilitates a shift in the way we react.
So how does this look in labor? Here is an example from a birth I attended. The mother had been laboring for awhile and appeared to be moving into more active labor; contractions were getting closer together and more intense, and it was difficult to talk during contractions. Despite being positive throughout most of the day she had a strained look on her face. I asked what she was thinking and she said “Should I talk about my fears?”. I encouraged her to do so, and she spent the next couple of minutes describing her fear around the next stage of pushing and her fear about having another Cesarean birth. After talking she found her rhythm again, transitioned, and birthed her baby.
If you experience fear and anxiety during pregnancy, it can be helpful to verbalize what you are feeling. Explore your feelings with a trusted friend, your partner or a counselor. Practice yoga and meditation. Formal practice can help you observe your thoughts and emotions without attachment. This is equally effective in labor, or as midwife Rachel Reed explains: “Get on with birthing – as fear arises let it come, feel it, accept it, and deal with it however you need to (be loud, be angry, be quiet, reach out for reassurance, shut yourself in the toilet, breathe, whatever). It will pass, and you will birth.”
Reed, Rachel. Feel the fear and birth anyway