My antenatal group was composed of several couples who came together once a week for four weeks. It was a beautiful space to gather in, our teacher was a lovely midwife, and she was informative, gentle and passionate about childbirth.
None of which really helped to quell my fear of labour.
One time we all watched a video about water births. Everyone in the circle agreed that it made them feel better about what childbirth could be like. Except me. Watching women in labour just sent me to my own personal panic room.
Listen to Rebecca Ray on Feed Play Love:
It’s very normal to be afraid of labour
The saying that women have been having children for millions of years didn’t help either, though people would quote it to me often enough. Just because lots of people have done something, didn’t help me understand what it might be like for me.
The prickly end of fear is uncertainty, and labour is fraught with uncertainty; when you will go into labour, what it will feel like, how you will manage it. And humans don’t like uncertainty.
Rebecca Ray is a psychologist and author of The Universe Listens to Brave. She says that the brain we have inherited from our evolution is one that interprets uncertainty as danger. That is, when life was primitive, moving to a new place may mean less food or water, or another group of humans on the horizon could be a rival clan.
Knowing that other women have been through labour before doesn’t give you anything to hang on to. It can’t tell you what will happen.
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Rebecca says, “You get this sense of being out of control and that’s what stays with us. There’s nothing you can grasp here to be able to control this situation. And that’s what escalates the fear.”
Some simple steps to calming the fear
Rebecca is quick to say that you can’t completely get rid of fear, it’s a normal human emotion. But there are two simple things you can do to soothe it’s biting sting.
1. Name your fear
As Dumbledore once told Harry Potter, “Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.”
Science has proven what Dumbledore knew to be true. Naming a feeling can reduce the intensity of the feeling.
Rebecca explains, “Sometimes when you can stop and go; ‘Right now I’m feeling anxiety’, it lessens the power of the anxiety because we’ve just called it for what it is. It’s like catching it in the act. If it’s unknown and escalating in the background it has more power over you than when you’ve put a spotlight on it.”
2. Control what you can control
“The enemy of anxiety is action,” Rebecca says, “Anxiety doesn’t like if you then go and disprove it by doing something.” In this case, doing something means educating yourself.
Rebecca recommends researching the way you’d like to give birth. Work out what that entails, and then be on top of all the options if that particular birth is not possible. The idea is to be confident in the choices you’re making, rather than being stuck on only one way to have your child. No matter how prepared you are, birth can be unpredictable. The important bit is to feel empowered (as opposed to out-of-control) as you go into the experience.
Rebecca says that when it’s your first birth, fear will be a passenger, but by naming your fear and by being as empowered as you can through education, you can manage it better.
“There is no way of getting it out of it, but fear won’t be the driver. You get to be the driver and it’s you and your courage that does the birth.”