FDR had good intentions when he said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” But let’s take a look at how that plays out in pregnancy, birth, and parenting.
If you’ve done your research on natural childbirth, you’ve probably covered quite a bit of literature on the mind-body connection, and the "fear-tension-pain cycle." It’s a thing. When we feel unsafe, or very afraid, our bodies may not be able to release as easily. Our muscles resist relaxation. Our happy hormones can’t flow freely. Anecdote after anecdote in natural childbirth standards such as Birthing from Within or Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth reveal that fear can inhibit the natural process of birth.
But fear is natural too.
I have been surprised at the number of instances in which pregnant women have expressed to me a fear of fear. They become concerned about feeling so much anxiety or fear it will affect labor progress. They’re afraid that fear will make labor painful, make it stall. It’s important to be aware of the mind-body connection, but we need to be careful not to stack fear upon fear.
Instead of fearing fear itself:
Learn as much as you can about the birth process. The more you know, the more confident you’ll feel. Read books, watch YouTube videos, consult with a doula, ask your care provider tons of questions, and of course, check out the Intentional Birth course.
Prepare a good support team. Choose people with whom you feel safe, both because they are skilled and because they support your beliefs and hopes about birth. Choose people who believe in you, and ideally at least one person who truly loves you.
Practice birth affirmations that focus on courage, support, and gratitude. (It’s hard to feel gratitude and fear at the same time):
“My body and my baby are safe.”
“I am grateful to be bringing this child into the world.”
“I am surrounded by people who care about me.”
“I am brave.”
Prepare yourself to be accepting of fear, and to talk freely about your fears with those you trust. Treat your fear as an expected guest, and show it to its seat. Decide that whenever it arrives, you won't let it change your course.
Stay present. Most women who feel derailed by fear or anxiety are thinking ahead. It's the unknown that is unsettling. Be in this very moment. Right now you are safe and your baby is well. Right now your husband's hand is on your shoulder, your favorite album is playing, you are gently swaying your hips as you watch the pattern of the rug. (Or, just as possible, right now you are vomiting, your partner is holding your hair, and you can't find the breath between labor moans to tell Alexa to skip this song). Just be here, now.
At one moment or another, in pregnancy, during labor, or in early parenthood, you will feel afraid. But now you are prepared: with knowledge, with support, and with trust.
When you feel afraid, vocalize your feelings. Don’t suppress them out of fear that speaking about them will give them power. On the contrary, talking about your fear with someone you trust is your best shot at moving past it.
A bit of fear is a normal part of a normal labor.