It has been shown that fear can profoundly affect childbirth. Fear causes the body to release the fight-or-flight hormones, catecholamines. These hormones are in direct conflict with those that cause labor to progress smoothly, including endorphins (the body’s natural pain-reducing hormones), and oxytocin, which causes the uterus to contract in a smooth, powerful, and coordinated way, urging the baby into the world.
But don’t panic. Before you add “fear of having fear slow down my upcoming labor” to the list of things you are already worried about, know that it is really the inability to express fear that is the problem. Feeling fear is completely normal.
Every woman is different. Each brings her unique history, attitudes, and beliefs to pregnancy. Here are a few common fears:
- Labor will be too painful for me to bear.
- Something awful will happen to me or to the baby during labor.
- The baby will be born with a horrible defect.
- I will end up having a cesarean.
- I will find myself connected to tubes and taking painkillers even though I wanted a natural birth.
- I will suddenly find myself in the midst of an emergency during my homebirth, and won’t be able to make it to the hospital in time.
- I will not be capable of taking care of a small baby.
- My life will change too much after the baby is born, and I will lose myself.
- My relationship with my partner will never be the same again after the baby is born.
- I will never lose weight after the baby is born, and I will no longer be attractive.
Many women create scenarios that feel very real. It is not uncommon, for example, to worry about whether the baby is moving around enough. Though it would be possible to try to discount each of these fears and tell you why you don’t need to worry, it probably won’t help, and you don’t need any more reasons to suppress your fears. In fact, the best thing you can do is to explore your emotions and get to the root of what scares you.
Here are a few ideas on getting in touch with yourself and dealing with fear and anxiety:
- If you haven’t yet signed up for a childbirth education class, do so now. This will help you get familiar with what is to come both during the birth and afterward.
- If your worries center on labor and the baby’s health, talk to your health care provider. Be honest—don’t be afraid of looking like a hypochondriac. They’ve seen and heard it all, and they know that expectant mothers often experience anxiety. Ask for a reality check.
- See a therapist or make an appointment to speak to a childbirth education teacher one-on-one. You can also speak to a personal life coach to work through some of your concerns.
- Talk. Then talk some more. Talk with your partner, or if your partner feels too close to the situation, try a friend who is good at listening. Although you want reassurance, you also want someone who will let you vent and not try to talk you out of your worries.
- Write in a journal. Try to write continuously for a set amount of time, say ten minutes to start with. To let your thoughts flow freely, keep your pen moving the whole time and don’t edit your words before they’ve even hit the page.
- Daily meditation, even for just a few minutes, can really help to center you. If you are able, try extending the time to 20 minutes, or meditating twice, first thing in the morning and right before bed.
- Make a list of affirmations to repeat to yourself. Write them down on an index card and carry it around in your wallet. Good ones to start out with are:
I am at peace.
I am safe and my baby is safe.
I am being cared for by a higher power that wants the best for the baby and me.
My body knows how to have a baby.
- Create a fear box or basket. Decorate it, if you like, or choose something that pleases you or symbolizes something important to you, such as your grandmother’s old jewelry box. Whenever a fear overwhelms you, write it down on a piece of paper. Fold it and place it in the box, releasing it into a safe space.
You don’t need to completely resolve all your concerns. No one enters the experience of pregnancy and childbirth without fear. What is important is to try to understand yourself as best you can and find ways to give your feelings of fear legitimate outlets.