In the first post in this series I looked at what birth anxiety is and considered the somewhat staggering number of women it affects each year. I wrote about the two different types: primary and secondary. I discussed how there isn’t much information or support for women who are affected by this. All of which is important but if you are struggling with this issue then the thing you want to know the most, is what do you do about it!
But here’s the thing. The first step in knowing what you do about it is understanding where it comes from.
So to start with, let’s consider some of the factors that might make one woman a higher risk for developing birth anxiety over someone else.
What are the risk factors?
Whilst this isn’t a comprehensive list, some the the things linked with a risk of birth anxiety are;
- Previous traumatic birth
- Having an existing anxiety disorder
- Gynaecological problems that might mean a difficult birth
- Having heard frightening stories from friends or family
- Having a need to remain in control
- Suffering from depression
- Where there is a history of sexual abuse or assault
I think it’s also important to consider in more detail the role that those around us play in how we feel about childbirth. If you have a birth partner who is very supportive of a natural birth and who feels positively about childbirth then this is going to affect you in a good way. Likewise, if you have a birth partner who feels childbirth is very risky, should be medicalised and needs pain relief then this is going to affect you negatively (one of the reasons why I think Doula’s are such an amazing idea). This also applies to family members and friends – their opinions and experiences will impact on you too.
So the people that you have supporting you will either increase or reduce your risk of feeling anxious about the birth. Choose them carefully!
What drives birth anxiety?
The second element to working out what causes birth anxiety is to understand what, exactly, it is that some women are so terrified of. Some of these fears are more obvious than others but can include;
- Fear of the pain and whether it will be bearable or not
- Fear of not being able to control what happens
- Being in the hands of medical professionals or in a hospital
- Fear of the unknown, of not knowing what is going to happen
- Worries about unwanted interventions or decisions being made without your agreement
- Fears about the baby
- Fears about being injured, hurt or even dying in labour
- Anxiety about being alone or unsupported
- Existing fears can also be exacerbated (such as fears around humiliation, embarrassment, being judged)
The thing about birth anxiety and the fears it can bring up is that they are not always irrational. In fact, in most cases they are perfectly rational. It’s normal to be scared of pain. It’s normal to worry about something that is as unpredictable as childbirth. We can’t ignore the fact that things do sometimes go wrong. Or that sometimes medical professionals don’t respect the wishes of the mother (something I’ve witnessed first hand).
These fears affect all pregnant women at some point. It wouldn’t be normal if they didn’t. So perhaps some level of birth anxiety isn’t avoidable. What is important though is that it doesn’t impact on how you feel on a day to day basis or make you take decisions that you wouldn’t otherwise feel are necessary. It’s that level of birth anxiety that we need to be talking about and helping women to overcome.
Now let’s make it personal
If you’re affected by anxiety around giving birth then the first thing you need to do is work out exactly what is behind your fears. The lists above will hopefully have rung true on at least one or two points but let’s think about it in more detail. Answer the following questions as honestly as you can;
- What risk factors do you have? How are these affecting your views of childbirth?
- What are your specific fears about childbirth?
- Where do you think these fears come from?
- Can you dig a little deeper? For example, one of my fears was that I wouldn’t get enough pain relief. But underneath this was a fear that I wasn’t strong enough to cope with the pain. Or a fear of being alone during labour might be being driven by a fear of something going wrong and not being able to get the right help. See if you can go one level lower to uncover any deeper fears that might be impacting you. If you struggle with this try asking the question “what would it mean if [I didn’t get pain relief/if I was left alone in labour/if i needed an emergency c-section]” to work out what is behind a fear.
Write your fears down. How do you feel now they are out of your head and on paper?
In the next few weeks we’ll look at specific ways you can address these fears but for now, knowing exactly what you are anxious about will help you feel calmer and more in control about them. After all, if you know what is behind your birth anxiety you can work out what to do about it.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ve got your back on this one!
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