Updated: Feb 27, 2021
I was out for a walk in my neighborhood early one morning this week and I passed a poster board in someone's yard. It read: "Hate is not the Enemy. Fear Is. Fear is always the only enemy."
It struck me as quite true.
Only a day earlier I was driving #4 to an appointment I had been dreading. He was the only one in the car, and since he's not yet talking, it was blissfully quiet. I was digging around in my mind trying to understand what about this appointment was making me feel so uncomfortable, rattled and unnerved. I was not myself. And all of a sudden, just before a big bend in the winding highway, it hit me. I was scared. The tears came streaming down my face. It was a mix of emotions all flooding over me at once: pain, recognition, relief at having named it, and also complete understanding and compassion for myself and our current situation.
I had finally named it, I was afraid. And having named it, this fear no longer had as much power over me. I understood it now and could cope a little better.
In birth, fear comes up a lot. I've witnessed people in labor fearing the intensity of labor, scared of tearing, afraid of old pains and wounds from their own childhood that resurface as they near becoming a parent. Sometimes they fear letting others down if the birth doesn't go as they planned. More than once, I've supported a laboring mama who was afraid of disappointing her partner because she wanted an epidural and they had agreed prenatally that they were going to have an unmedicated birth. I've seen birth partners struggle with their own fears of being helpless as they watched their loved one work through the toughest parts of labor.
But does everyone have to fear their births? Can fear be managed and understood before, during or even after your birth? I believe it can. I don't think fear has to be the enemy in our birth experiences. I think it can be something we work with, embrace and grow to understand. Fear, after all, is just a feeling, a strong emotion. I've come to see fear as its own entity in our minds, protecting us from the great unknown, whatever we can't control or can't be sure of. And boy, does birth fit the bill!
With practice, I know that fears surrounding birth can be worked through, or at least accepted, so that you can feel more at peace with your birth.
Here are a few things you can do:
Be curious - Invite your fear out to tea. Well maybe not literally, ha! But invite it into your mind, do your best to understand it and what it's role is. Be curious about what your fear/s are trying to protect or trying to teach you.
Talk it through with someone you trust - Keeping your fears to yourself only gives them more power over you. Share your fears about this pregnancy and birth with someone you trust, someone who will listen to you without reservation, limitation or need to "fix it" for you. Allow yourself to be heard and accepted. If you are working a doula, she would be a natural for this job!
Meditate on it - Meditation is a very effective tool for processing heavy emotions, and can lead to great release and acceptance. It is also a very powerful antidote to anxiety and stress, promoting feelings of calm and peace. There are many different pregnancy and birth meditation modalities to try out. One of my favorites is GentleBirth, their app has wonderful guided meditations on just about every pregnancy related topic.
Be creative - I've often found that our creative juices flow more freely during pregnancy. Use that energy to make affirmation posters or flags, pick up a pregnancy coloring book, paint or draw what you WANT out of this experience! Focus on the good, the positive and the loving. Manifest the good this time is holding for you. If you have older kiddos, include them in the fun - we had lots of fun making driveway chalk drawings of our baby when we were waiting to meet #3.
Inform yourself - Gathering information and being properly informed about the birth process and all of your choices will do a great deal to diminish many of your fears. If you fear tearing in birth, for example, do all you can to learn about tearing in birth, what positions support your perineum and therefore reduce the chance of tearing, what your care providers can do to help soften the tissues, learn about self massage practices you can do in the weeks leading up to birth, figure out what recovering with a tear looks like and understand what an episiotomy would entail. Arm yourself with evidence based information, voice your concerns with your birth team and choose birth practices that will support your most positive experience rather than feed into your fear.
Spark curiosity toward the fear you have about your pregnancy and birth. From curiosity, understanding and compassion can flow more easily. And so can your energy for having a positive, informed, peaceful and joyful birth!
Arielle is a Certified Labor and Postpartum Doula, and a Certified Childbirth Educator. As such, she promotes a sense of curiosity and exploration during pregnancy, provides evidence-based education for childbirth and postpartum and offers support services guiding expectant families to claim their birth and postpartum experiences as their own. To read more, check out her Philosophy page.
Note: Any links to services or resources are not affiliated. I share freely those resources which family's I have worked with find helpful and therefore may also be helpful for you!