Well, the previous post in this series (5 things to do if you suffer from birth anxiety) is a great start but sometimes we just want to cut right to it and make the changes that are going to get us feeling better as soon as possible.
So without dragging it out anymore, here are twenty tips that will help you to deal with your birth anxiety. Fast.
It’s not going away. It is real and you can’t ignore it forever. Be honest about how you are feeling, even if it’s just to yourself. It takes emotional energy to suppress and repress things and that energy is better spent finding ways to deal with it. Don’t bottle it up, it will just make you feel worse. Open up to people around you. You never know, they might be able to reassure you and help you to find ways in which you can get the birth that you want.
Keep an open mind
We all know that sometimes birth can be a bit… less than appealing. But there are lots of births that go just fine. When you are anxious it’s easy to focus on what is bad or frightening about childbirth but if you can keep an open mind you’ll be able to look forward to the good parts too.
Work out what is driving your fears
Fears don’t come out of nowhere. There is always something behind them. Think about what you are afraid of. Then think about what it would mean if that fear came true. For example, if you are afraid of needing an epidural it might be that deep down you feel this would show that you’ve failed in someway (which is rubbish by the way). Or if you are terrified of an episiotomy then it might be that deep down you are worried stitches will hurt or get infected (or even that sex will be different). Whatever it is, identifying the underlying fear can give you the insight you need to tackle it. It can help you to understand what will help you feel calmer and make you aware of what is really important to you in your labour.
Be aware of other people
Other people can be a wonderful source of support. They can also be completely shitty and make you feel worse. If you’ve got people around you who love to tell horror stories, or tell you that you can’t handle childbirth or that it’s disgusting/gross or awful then I suggest you lock them in a cupboard for the duration of your pregnancy. Failing that, just politely tell them that their opinions are upsetting you and could they please refrain from being an arse about things.
Focus on the positive
Yes, I know. It can seem like there is nothing positive about labour but I assure you there is. For starters you get a baby. You can also trade off this for years with your partner (you think you have it hard doing the washing up? I pushed something the size of a melon out of something the size of a tube of fruit pastilles – suck it up). Plus you will always know you were strong and capable enough to bring your child into the world. Regardless of how it happens.
Reduce things that trigger your anxiety
Firstly, I shouldn’t have to say this but stop watching One Born Every Minute. Right now. Secondly, assuming you have done a little soul searching and know exactly what it is that worries you about childbirth, make an effort to reduce the things that trigger your anxiety. Both before and during the birth. If you know you are terrified of interventions then consider midwife led (unless you are high risk). If you are afraid something might happen to your baby then opt for a hospital birth. Also consider whether or not the people around you are triggering. Got a friend who nearly died in childbirth? Perhaps politely decline to meet up with her until after. Or someone who delights in telling you how horrific it is? Maybe avoid talking about labour with them.
You’ll hear over and over again that going into the labour room tense and anxious will make things harder. Great. Very helpful for someone with anxiety. Just tell them that their anxiety will make things worse… BUT learning to relax before labour will do two things. One, it will mean that you will be able to go into the labour room with some relaxation techniques that you have practiced and know work. Two, you will have a less stressful and anxious pregnancy. Win win. Finding ways to help you relax will help you to reduce your anxiety. Read books; have baths; learn to meditate; yoga; keep a journal; watch funny films. Whatever it is, do it often and you’ll feel a lot better.
Find positive stories
Everyone knows someone who had an awful birth and for some reason, we seem to have no issue telling those horror stories to every pregnant woman we meet. Which is downright cruel if you think about it. Why is it socially acceptable to stop someone in a shop who is about to have a baby and politely tell them that their daughter has just had a baby and found it so horrific she’ll never have kids again. And yes, that someone was me and I’ve never forgiven the woman behind the counter for telling me that. But there are positive stories too. There are plenty of women who had lovely births, they just don’t feel the need to shout about it the way we do when it goes wrong. Find them. They are out there. Read the internet. Find them in forums or on blog sites. You might even know a few without realising it so ask amongst friends and family. Let their stories reassure and encourage you. It’s not all bad. Sometimes it’s just downright amazing.
Write your birth story
This one is a little bit of NLP and a little bit of law of attraction combined. Sit down and write your birth story as you want it to go. Use the first person and ideally write it in the present tense as if it is happening to you right now. So you might say “as I climb into the birthing pool I feel the warm water flow over my bump, easing contractions and lessening the pain”. It also helps to focus on how you feel rather than the specifics. You could write that you are feeling calm and in control. That you are enjoying the birth of your baby or feeling excited about the baby’s arrival. You want to create a rich picture of the birth that you can come back to when you feel anxious. Visualisation is very powerful so make it as vivid as you can. Then, when you are in labour, you can bring your visualisations of feeling calm and excited back with ease. Which will help you with the actual birth.
Consider all options
Yes I know, epidurals and c-sections are evil and the root of all problems in the labour room. Except when they’re not. Except when they save lives or give someone time to rest so she can then regroup and carry on with labour. We get brainwashed about what a ‘good’ labour is and what a ‘bad’ one is but the reality is that it’s just not that clear cut. At the end of the day, a good outcome is one where the mother and baby are safe, healthy and happy. Sometimes that means medical intervention but if that intervention saves a life then can it really be bad? Rather than thinking of all the variables of birth being good or bad, try to think of them just as options that you might want or need. That will help reduce anxiety about the ‘bad’ things because you can see that they are not always bad.
Involve your midwife
You must talk to your midwife about any anxieties. Not only will she have seen it all before and be able to reassure you but she can also assess whether or not you’d benefit from additional support. You might be able to access counselling to help with your anxiety. Or see a consultant to talk through some options. She’ll also be able to talk you through your birth plan and potentially help you to request options that will alleviate your anxiety about the birth. For example, if you are terrified of being left alone in labour then she can recommend that you are given more support than usual.
Do your research
Whilst it can be dangerous to hunt around on the internet for information, there is a mass of useful stuff out there too. Research everything you can on how to have a positive birth so you can feel more confident. You can also research birth anxiety and find ways in which you can deal with it.
Know your rights
It pays to know your rights when it comes to childbirth. I had to fight hard to get an elective c-section but was able to get one in part because I knew exactly what the guidelines were and could use them to argue a strong case. Find out what your hospital guidelines are on the different elements of labour. Look for national guidelines too. Know what you can ask for, or refuse, in the labour room so that when you are in the midst of it, you know what you are entitled to do.
Write your fears in your birth plan
It’s a fairly common thought that birth plans are a load of rubbish because birth never really goes to plan. And that’s true to a certain extent. But that’s not to say they aren’t without use. Sadly, most of us have a steady stream of midwives looking after us before and during labour. They don’t know us. They probably have no idea what our preferences are and perhaps, aren’t really interested. So it’s your responsibility to tell them. Now I don’t necessarily mean that you should pass them a piece of paper stating that you want a dozen vanilla candles (be prepared for that one to be thrown back at you). But instead, you can write a birth plan that says that you have significant anxiety about being alone. Or having unnecessary interventions. You can put on there that you have needed additional support or that you’ve had counselling. All of which will make them aware of things they might otherwise miss in your notes. And so be able to try and give you the extra support or encouragement that will help reduce your anxiety.
Writing things down is therapeutic. That’s all there is to it. Keeping a journal will help you to have somewhere you can dump all those anxious thoughts. It will help you to organise your thoughts to spot patterns and understand what is driving your fears. It can also give you a way of seeing how your anxiety changes. If it lessens at any time or is worse after speaking to certain people. Just getting your fears out of your head will stop them rattling round in it. It can help you sleep better if you jot things down before you go to bed so you don’t lie awake going over them. Plus, if you find you can’t talk to anyone about how you are feeling you can always show them what you have written, so they understand how you feel.
Meditation is the ultimate way to relax. It can help you to clear your mind of anxious thoughts. Teach you how to focus on the present moment and relax your body. If you don’t like the idea of learning how to sit in silence then you can look for guided meditations. Self hypnosis tracks are also really good for this. Especially if they relate to birth anxiety!
Talk it through
There’s nothing quite so cathartic than having a good old fashioned vent to someone. Whether it’s friend, family member or counsellor doesn’t matter. Having the opportunity to talk it all out can be really beneficial. Grab a coffee, pick up the phone and get talking. I promise you’ll feel better once you’re finished.
Write a bullet list of fears and options
This one is simple. Get a piece of paper and divide it into two. On the left side, write down your fears or worries about the birth. For example you could have things like ‘I’m worried I will need interventions’ or I’m worried I can’t cope with the pain’. Now on the other side, write down all the reasons you shouldn’t worry about this. So it might read ‘interventions aren’t all bad, they will get my baby out safely’. Or ‘if I can’t cope with the pain there is pain relief available’. You can have more than one reason for each fear. In fact, the longer the list the better. Now pin it up where you can see it daily!
Similar to the one above, reframing involves taking negative thoughts and reframing them as positive ones. It’s not quite as easy as it sounds as often we are so entrenched in looking at things negatively that we don’t (or won’t) see the positive. Keep practicing though and it will become second nature. To give you some examples of reframing; ‘I don’t want to go to hospital’ becomes ‘hospitals can be positive places where me and my baby will be looked after’. Or ‘I don’t want a c-section because my baby’s breech’ could become ‘I’m looking forward to my c-section because it’s how I will meet my baby’.
The last thing on the list is affirmations. I was never really sold on affirmations until I actually started using them. They are powerful though because, quite simply, the mind believes what we tell it. I’m sure it’s obvious but make sure your affirmations are positive. You could use statements like “I am strong, capable and confident about the birth” or “I welcome each contraction as it’s bringing me closer to meeting my baby”. And along this line, watch yourself for unknowingly repeating negative affirmations. Repetitive thoughts like ‘I can’t do this’ or ‘I’m terrified of a c-section’ are affirmations too but, as you might imagine, not helpful ones. So catch negative thoughts before they become ingrained and repeat positive affirmations to yourself as much as possible.
So there you have it. Twenty ways in which you can deal with your birth anxiety. You don’t have to do all twenty, it’s perfectly fine to just pick out the ones that you think will work best for you. But, clearly, the more you do the better it will be so why not give them all a try!
If you are anxious about giving birth and want to have a coaching session with me to help you feel calmer, happier and more positive about your upcoming birth then get in contact here or email email@example.com. I’ve got your back on this one!
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