Everyone knows that birth is scary. The word for the debilitating fear of giving birth is Tokophobia, and one in seven women is thought to suffer from it. But with today’s drama driven portrayal of birth, is it any surprise? Close your eyes. Now say the word, “Birth,” out loud. What do you see? Do you think of dim lights, soothing music, warm water and yoga balls? Or do you see surgical instruments, screaming women, shouting nurses and beeping machines?
Most women haven’t seen a real birth before they are in the midst of their own and by then it’s too late. What many people fail to recognize is that birth is normal - a fundamental part of the human condition. It does not have to be traumatic, dramatic or terrifying. But if you’re afraid of birth, try these six simple steps toward understanding that your birth really will be okay.
1. The first step to overcoming your fear of birth is to accept that your baby has to come out. Acknowledge and accept your fear, even if it makes you feel anxious, panicky or any number of other “bad” emotions. Use your negative feelings to motivate you to understand and conquer your fear. They can be a powerful driving force; use it to your advantage. Instead of letting it drive you away from preparing or thinking about your birth (which often seems like the easier path), use it to call yourself to action - action to understand birth and why it is not something to be dreaded. Sometimes self study and talking to your healthcare provider is enough. Other times it can be very helpful to take a childbirth class. Know that with gentle patience and firm determination you can and will conquer it.
2. Do not allow those around you to be negative about pregnancy or birth - whether their own experiences or your approaching birth. Let your family and friends know that you need to be surrounded by positivity about your upcoming event and that you will not tolerate negative comments, birth "horror stories" or bad attitudes about birth. If someone insists on oversharing, don’t be afraid to let them know how their negativity is hurting you. Don’t be afraid of being rude. Whatever their feelings, this is your birth and you’re the pregnant one - they will forgive you.
3. Take a hospital tour (as many times as you need to feel comfortable with the facility), read books, ask your doctor or midwife questions and take notes. The more you learn about birth the more you will realize that your body is made for this process. If you arm yourself with the facts of birth, you will realize that it’s not the gruesome, dramatic event our society seems to think it is. If you know what is going to happen with your body and how to cope during labor you will feel independent. Feeling more independent will help you feel confident about your whole birth process. Remember, knowledge is power.
4. Watch all the labor videos you can. This will give you an idea of what real birth is like. It will normalize birth for you. As you watch various births you will see how different women labor. You will begin to realize that the moaning, panting or even yelling that women do in labor are normal and do not necessarily signify unbearable pain. Rather, they are simple coping mechanisms, not dissimilar to the grunts, groans, and shouts used by athletes exerting themselves. Birth is normal.
5. Get to know your healthcare provider and their partners. As you approach the end of your pregnancy, schedule appointments with the other doctors or midwives in the practice. Ask each of them questions that are important to you (how they feel about induction, natural birth, long labors, etc). Knowing the person (or potential persons) who may attend your birth and knowing each of their attitudes toward birth will help you feel that you are in capable hands.
6. Hire a doula. Having a doula gives you certainty. No matter which doctor or midwife attends your birth, you can have peace knowing that your doula will be there. Doulas bring with them a beautiful, positive approach to birth. They will take the time to listen to your fears before birth and help you work through them.
“We fear things in proportion to our ignorance of them.” -Christian Bovee
Birth can be a scary thing, when you don’t understand it. But don’t hide from it. That baby is coming out, one way or another, and you must be ready for it. Acknowledge your fear, surround yourself with positivity, seek knowledge, get acquainted with what real birth looks like, and find support people who want what you want. You will have a beautiful birth.