“Fear Itself” Is Not a Thing to Fear

Franklin, you're not helping these ladies.

Sorry Franklin, you’re not helping these ladies.

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. It’s real. 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. Probably from reading birth literature (which I wholly endorse), 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, attend a birth class, consult with a doula, and ask your care provider tons of questions.

Confidence
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.

Support
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.”

Positivity
Prepare yourself to be accepting of fear, and to talk freely about your fears with those you trust. Expect that you will feel fear at some point. Decide that when you do, you will not be afraid of it. You will not let it change your course.

Acceptance

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, will make them real. On the contrary, holding in feelings of fear will likely increase your body’s tension, while 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. But imagine all the contingencies that may bring on a new level of fear: abnormal fetal heartrate, a doctor recommending a cesarean, a retained placenta, difficulty breastfeeding, a baby in the NICU, a fever in a 3 week old. Imagine how a parent might respond to these situations if she has told herself the story that fear is damaging. Imagine how she might respond differently if instead, she has anticipated the fear, and decided upon strategies to work through it.

So:

Fear of Childbirth

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