When it comes to childbirth, fear is common — for both moms- and dads-to-be. So how can we help expecting parents with this emotion? By attending prenatal classes to discuss their feelings, says Christine Shoaf, Coordinator of Maternal Child Education and Parent Educator. Here she provides some tips if you fear childbirth — all of which are offered during these classes.
Is it normal to be a little afraid of giving birth? The answer is “yes.” And it seems more women today feel this emotion yet are afraid to express it — it’s almost like a black cloud that surrounds them when it comes to giving birth. A recent survey of British women revealed that nearly 87 percent reported feeling frightened of giving birth.
The physical birth process hasn’t changed. What has changed is that it has become incredibly safer for women with access to health care to give birth. If moms in labor knew exactly what to expect and how to handle it, maybe things would feel less scary. We can talk about different situations and how to handle each one, however, labor is what it will be: It will unfold on its own, and we never really know exactly what to expect until we are in that moment. So fear of the unknown is huge for most moms.
Another consideration is this: Our culture today seeks to avoid and minimize extreme emotion and pain and encourages being in control — and birth isn’t any of that. We can’t change what birth is; what we can change is our approach, letting birth be what it is. By becoming educated and understanding the process, we can reduce some of the fears of giving birth. Learning how to breathe, relax and utilize comfort measures can also reduce some of the discomforts of labor.
Working Through Childbirth Fear: Active Labor
While this may work well in the early and active stage of labor, transition may be a different story. Keep in mind, transition is the most intense but shortest stage of labor. A mom in transition may verbalize her fears, reaching out for reassurance, becoming loud and/or angry. Others remain externally calm, and those around them are oblivious to their turmoil. Women who manage to remain calm and serene whilst birthing are admired for maintaining control. In contrast, those who are loud and appear to ‘lose it’ are considered to be out of control. However, appearing calm and feeling calm are entirely different things. Only the woman knows what is going on inside her head – and body. There should be no judgement for a mom in labor.
We can use medications and/or skills, methods and techniques to remain in control and dampen the emotions – or at least the expression of those emotions. In some cases, women are told that they should not experience fear, or pain, during birth. They are advised that these are conditioned feelings that can be controlled, but this powerful aspect of the birth experience should not remain hidden and suppressed. Women rarely share with others their experiences of feeling fearful and out of control – possibly they are worried about being judged or think they are unusual.
It just may be that another approach to exploring birth is to open up the discussion about fear and losing control during birth. Rather than trying to eliminate fear, it seems more helpful to acknowledge it as part of birth (for most) and to embrace it.
How to Embrace Childbirth Fear
- Talk about your fears. What are you afraid of? Is there anything you can do to help alleviate specific fears?
- Reinforce that it is OK if fear surfaces now and during birth — even if you think you have “worked through” a specific fear during pregnancy, it may resurface.
- Learn relaxation/coping techniques. These can help.
- Create/plan a safe birth environment where losing control and feeling fear will be OK. Anyone who you plan to have in your birth space should be able to “‘be with” your fear and support you through it. You should feel comfortable about losing it in front of them without being judged.
As fear arises, let it come, feel it, accept it, and deal with it however you need to.