If you are pregnant then there is a very good chance that at some point you’ve panicked about just how the baby gets out. Now we all know the logistics. We know how it works physically. But we’ve also seen programmes showing women screaming in agony or heard horror stories from friends and family. So it’s totally normal to feel at least a little apprehensive about the impending birth!
For me, however, it wasn’t a little apprehensive. I was totally terrified.
I knew the minute I got pregnant that I was afraid of giving birth. Afraid of the pain. Afraid of the unknown. And afraid of being unable to control what was happening to me.
Being in control of a situation is really important to me. Childbirth is about as out of control as you can get which left me terrified about how I would cope. I’d had years of people telling me that it was incredibly painful and barbaric to do it without an epidural. I had my partner telling me that I wouldn’t be able to handle the pain. He also wasn’t particularly interested in reading up on anything so he could support me. I felt like childbirth was something I was going to have to do on my own. Without anyone around me believing that I could handle a natural labour.
Needless to say by about half way through my pregnancy I was overflowing with anxiety and fear.
Here’s what I did wrong
I didn’t talk to anyone about it. I didn’t speak to my midwives or the consultant I saw. My family and partner were blissfully ignorant of how I was feeling. I thought I could deal with it myself and read book after book on childbirth till I eventually convinced myself that I could do it and it would be fine.
The day I went into labour was exciting. The thought of meeting my baby soon meant that I stayed calm, remembered what I’d read and breathed through contractions. My daughter was back to back which meant that I wasn’t able to lie down and get any rest. But that was OK because I was visualising a positive birth and it would all be fine. 48 hours later, after no sleep or rest, I headed off to the hospital as contractions were coming every 1-2 mins and I couldn’t cope with the pain anymore. I was sure I was progressing really well and it wouldn’t be long before baby was here.
When I got there the midwife examined me and told me I was only 1cm and should go home. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t take this well. At this point every single fear, anxiety and panicked thought about childbirth came flooding back. I thought I’d dealt with them but looking back, I’d suppressed them rather than overcome them and so they returned in full force when I needed them the least!
Without going into my whole birth story, it was the most traumatic experience I’ve ever been through. But it could have been very different if I’d just handled my fears instead of pushing them away. I now know that had I been honest and upfront I could have had a very different birth story. Perhaps it would have even been a good experience. I might have got the extra help and support I needed. I might have found additional resources that could have helped me feel calmer. And I could have had professional help to work through the specific fears I had so that I understood where they were coming from and could then manage them better.
I don’t want you to make the same mistake I did so in case you’re not already convinced that you should get help for your birth anxiety, here are three reasons why it’s important to talk to someone about how you are feeling.
#1 – Talking helps you to think through exactly what is behind your fears
If I’d spoken to people about how I was feeling I would have realised that what I wanted the most during labour was to feel like I was supported and cared for. I was left alone by the midwives for most of my labour and just checked on briefly every 4 hours. This felt really frightening to me as I needed a lot of reassurance and support. Had I talked to someone about it, I probably would have realised that a Doula would have really helped me during labour as I would have had someone with me for the whole time. I could also have been more specific with my partner about what I needed from him.
Talking about it would also have meant that I would have learnt more about why I felt so terrified. I now know what was behind my fear of childbirth (after a lot of therapy). But had I known it then it would have helped me to handle the situation a lot better. I would have known what I needed to feel safe, supported and cared for during labour and been able to find ways to build this in.
#2 – You can get support if you need it
For my second and third pregnancies I went straight to my midwife and told them how I was feeling. Inevitably my fear of childbirth had drastically increased after my first birth so it wasn’t something I could ignore again. I was put under the care of the mental health midwife which gave me extra support throughout my pregnancy. I was able to talk to her about it and had someone who could be my advocate if I needed it. Plus I was given access to counselling and CBT which I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
In my third pregnancy I also went to see someone who specialises in birth trauma and this was enormously helpful. She was trained in hypnotherapy and used this to help me release the trauma that I was carrying from my first birth. I was able to talk through what had happened as well as the contributing factors. Which meant that I really understood for the first time where my birth anxiety had come from.
This helped me to feel calmer about the upcoming birth and to know which fears were real and which were irrational. It was also amazing to have someone who listened to me and didn’t dismiss my feelings out of hand. She completely understood how I felt and made me feel (for the first time) that I wasn’t being hysterical about childbirth. That alone made me feel a lot better!
#3 – You can make the right decisions for you
By talking to the right people in my subsequent pregnancies I was able to make informed decisions about what I needed to happen. Because I was honest and open about suffering with severe anxiety (and depression) due to my fears about childbirth I was able to get support for an elective c-section. By telling people how I was feeling I ended up getting the help I needed to work it through. Which in turn opened up more options for me so I could chose the right path for me and my baby.
I knew that a c-section was right for me because of my deep rooted need to be in control but there were lots of other options open to me too once I started talking. If I’d wanted it, I would have been given extra support in labour. They would have noted on my file that I wasn’t to be sent home if I wasn’t came in too early. There was also an option to be given an early epidural if I needed it to feel calmer.
By talking it through with someone, I could make sure I got the birth experience that was right for me. It also meant that my anxiety during pregnancy was lower because I felt like I was handling the situation. You can read more about my decision to have a c-section here if you are interested.
So what should you do if you have birth anxiety?
If you have anxiety about the birth don’t ignore it. It won’t go away and will come back to bite you when you go into labour. Talking it through will be massively helpful and can help you to make informed choices. You should be able to get support for it but your midwives aren’t mind-readers. You need to tell them you want it. Also talk to people around you or find supportive forums on the internet. Yes, labour is painful and hard but a lot of people find it a positive experience too. Don’t talk to mums who have horror stories, find the ones who had a smooth labour and birth instead.
The most important thing is to work out what worries you the most and find ways to minimise that. If it’s feeling unsupported look into a Doula or private midwife. If it’s the pain then get to know what your pain relief options might be. Or if it’s ending up with medical intervention then do your research into what might help or make a plan of what you would consent to in advance and in what circumstances.
Birth anxiety is not something you should dismiss or take lightly. It can really overshadow your pregnancy and anxiety is never pleasant to have to live with. Plus, it risks making labour more distressing if you go into it anxious so it really does pay to work through it before baby comes along. Don’t bottle it up. Be honest if you are worrying and trust your instincts as to whether it’s normal anxiety or something more serious.
Lastly, don’t worry if you are anxious about the birth! It’s perfectly possible to deal with it and still have a positive birth. Think of your anxiety as a way of letting you know what is important to you about labour. It can tell you what you are worried about which means you have time to find ways to deal with it. Whether that’s using meditation, hypnobirthing and positive affirmations or deciding on a medicalised, pain relief loaded or even c-section delivery.
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