Sunday, March 6, 2011

Fear of Birth

My first birth experience was traumatic. Without going into detail, it left me with a lot of questions and a lot of months of crying. You can read my birth story here.

Around month nine after my son's birth, I found myself at a turning point. I literally felt as if a fog was clearing. I was standing at a crossroads, a happy baby boy in my arms. I didn't want to look back anymore. I had answered all my questions. I understood what went wrong. I had applied blame to those who deserved it, myself included. And while I still bristle at the idea that what I went through is considered par for the course in most of Western culture, I rarely get worked up over my own experience anymore. (I say rarely because I am still prone to squeezing out the occasional tear, and I'm sure that will stick with me for many years to come).

I had mourned for my son's loss of a peaceful birth and proper opportunity to bond and nurse right away. I had apologized to him for both my own stupidity in allowing it to happen and for him to have born to a culture who considered it okay for it to have happened to him. I had shaken my last clenched fist at the sky. It was really time to move on.

While I had spent the first nine months seeking answers to questions I wasn't even sure I knew, I set my sights on what I wanted for my future births. This was such a better way of handling things, I found. I had read others' wonderful, inspiration birth stories before, but I usually ended up feeling cheated and angry. I took a new approach and began to read birth stories to help form visualizations of what my next experience could be. I found a connection with a few ladies on the Birth Without Fear Facebook page, including the author of the Birth Without Fear blog, if only for the shear fact of how these women took a painful experience and turned it on it's head to have a wonderful birth without fear.

I can do that, I thought. I *CAN* birth without fear. Can't I?

I found the uplifting phase of my self-therapy to be a shorter one than my angry phase. Ah, if only I had found this crossroad sooner. It might have been longer if I hadn't stumbled across a gal I had met a good year and a half before shortly after the birth of her second baby. I hadn't spoken to her much other than to congratulate her on her beautiful daughter. But I recognized her at Toys R Us, with a new baby bump. Over the next few weeks, we chatted. She was planning her third home birth. In the days just before she went into labor, she invited me into her home to witness the birth of her third child. You can read that story here, if you care to.
Oh yes. I CAN do this! I've connected with a midwife I feel really jives with my vision. I've begun reading book after book and blog after blog and article after article... I am going to have a wonderful birth next time! I am so empowered now!

It's funny how the brain (or maybe just my brain?) can get so focused on one thing. I have romanticised this future birth (keep in mind I am not actually pregnant right now) to the point that I completely forgot... it's CHILDBIRTH.

In a conversation with my in-laws, the question was posed to me: Are you unafraid of the pain or the interventions, or both?

Huh. Honestly, I hadn't given one thought to the pain.

I remember writhing in pain with my first. I had refused those pain meds for quite some time under the strain of each jack-up pitocin contraction... until I sent my mom screaming down the hall for a nurse. I had checked into the hospital with the notion that I would not accept pain meds and I might go without an epidural. Oh you better believe I took the epidural. Alas. I felt everything. The epidural numbed my stomach and legs, but left the business end almost completely able to feel. I felt that baby push his massive head through the 'ring of fire' and felt his big 'ol feet flutter on his way out.

I really had to consider this question. I can answer matter of factly that I am very positive that I am going to experience a wonderful home birth free from interventions. I trust myself and my partner and our midwife.

The pain. Oh boy do I still fear the pain. Childbirth hurts. It's exhausting. Number two will be a complete unknown. They say natural labor is much different, less tiring and painful than pitocin augmented contractions... but, I'm pretty sure contractions still hurt.

Well, I've got a new path. I came full circle by my son's first birthday. I had confronted my depression and misgivings pertaining to my first experience. I took steps to visualize and prepare myself mentally for Number Two. I found closure through another woman's positive experience. By the end of February 2011, I rarely felt those twangs of regret and remorse.

Pain management is almost assuredly a part of almost every bit of literature I've read pertaining to natural birth. I just need to start focusing on that aspect some more and confront my own fears of pain in childbirth. I have done this before, but never in much detail and always with the idea that an epidural was not far away.

Every time I feel my path is coming to a dead end with a big "Welcome to Being Totally Prepared for Number Two" sign, I realize there is another path shooting off into the distance. I suppose no amount of reading, discussing, visualizing, whatever, will have me totally prepared for my next birth experience...


  1. I think about giving birth to baby number 2 all the time. (I am not pregnant and number 1 is only 9 months old). As wonderful as my first birth was I keep thinking that I will pretty much have to start over with preparing my mind and body for birth. I'll have different fears to work through this time. "My first birth was perfect, my second birth may not be." "What if this baby is breech?" "What if something happens and I need a c-section?" "What if this labor is really long and hard? Can I handle it?" "Just because I did it once, doesn't mean I can do it again." "I KNOW what to expect this time! I know what labor feels like! Can I handle it?" Even with all that, I still look forward to being pregnant and giving birth again.

  2. Just wanted to echo an "oh, yuck" to the memory of induced labour. But, now that I have done it twice, I can speak to the fact that induced labour does not automatically equal a lousy birth experience. My first was traumatic, my second, empowering. My best advice? Be as flexible as you can and stay positive. Fear is birth's #1 foe.

  3. Kristi, what an interesting point. I hadn't even considered what it must be like for women who have had ideal first experiences. I get so wrapped up in overcoming my own trauma that I forget that the fear of birth, or of the uknown in general, is the same for most women. Thank you for pointing that out.. It's a good thing to consider that preparing for the next birth is an ongoing thing, even if it's at the back of our minds and even if we're not pregnant. Birth is normal. There is nothing extraordinary about it, we've been doing it for thousands of years. BUT, *I* haven't been doing it for thousands of years. *You* haven't been. On an individual level, it's a very big deal worth a lot of our attention.

    Lisa: My first birth was not induced. I went into labor naturally... but, my labor was augmented about 12 hours in. I was told that my labor was not progressing and needed to be sped up. My contractions were 2-4 min apart, 45-60 seconds long. Apparently, they had been like that too long for the hospital. My only biggest conviction for my next birth is that I trust those in attendance (right now, probably just my mw and partner) and that I have a say in everything that happens. I felt out of control with my first... left in the dark... I just don't want to feel that way again.

  4. My first was a natural hospital birth and I had no idea what I was in for of course. With the second we decided to do a homebirth and the last few months leading up to it I was so nervous and just kept having thoughts like, this is going to be crazy, I know what's in store for me, I'm going to look like a total crazy person and make all these crazy sounds and not be in control of myself. I would warn my husband, you know this is just going to be ridiculous just like the first time right?? Then finally I was just like I need to stop this! I need to work through this and find a better attitude about the pain I'm going to experience. So I read hypnobabies and while I definitely did not experience a pain free labor (I think it was worse than my first) reading the book helped me put my brain in a different place. Now having been through it twice I have come to accept it. I thought well maybe the first time was a fluke and I can do something different this time, but for me it was no, the pain is still there. If I ever get pregnant again I don't know whether I should keep delving into how to minimize the pain and then be dissapinted or to just accept it and prepare for it in that way? Anyways I know I'm rambling but mama you will do great, you CAN do this!!