For many people, the idea of childbirth is scary, terrifying even. As a midwife, I have worked with lots of mums for whom this is the case. If you are someone that harbours a fear of birth, you are not alone and your concerns are valid. I am hopeful however, that I can change your mind or at least nudge you towards feeling confident by the end of this article. Read on!
Sadly, fear of birth is pretty widespread and while fears are deeply personal, I do think there are some common factors contributing to the terror.
Firstly, learning about birth tends to be reserved for pregnancy. Despite being a normal, physiolgicial function of the female body, and something that most both men and women experience at some point in their lives, pregnancy and birth is generally not included in school sex education programs. The lack of birth chat in the lead up to pregnancy leaves a biiiiig gap in our knowledge and for most of us, this gap is gradually filled by film & TV. Unfortunately, uncomplicated birth doesn’t sell. Hollywood’s role is to keep us on the edge of our seats and what better way to do that than a dramatic birth scene? And to further muddle our headspace, most depictions of birth in mainstream media hero the doctor or health care professional and depict labouring mothers as helpless and overwhelmed by pain. Over the years, these scenes build the foundation of what we think we know about birth and what our bodies are capable of.
Secondly, there is a trend in our culture to platform and circulate birth horror stories. Magazine outlets choose to publish scary, click-baity headlines “11 Horrifying Childbirth Stories That Will Make You Never Want To Have Kids” , and mention the world “birth” at a family BBQ and you are bound to be bombarded with negativity. Amongst all the *danger* it can be hard for positive stories to shine through (and there are plenty of them, I promise). Of course this does not mean people who experience difficult or traumatic birth should be silenced. Honest sharing is an incredibly important part of changing the landscape of fear around birth. However, the conversation could stand to be a little more accurate and balanced in order to help people feel informed and confident rather than anxious and fearful.
So, what can YOU do to feel more confident and less fearful of birth?
Learning about your body is one of the best ways to combat fear. So much fear around birth stems from the unknown. When we learn about the incredible ways in which the pregnant body adapts to grow, birth and nourish new life, most people are in awe and in my experience as a midwife and childbirth educator, fear is soon replaced by pride. I often get asked, when is the best time to complete education? I personally feel it is never too early to begin equipping yourself with knowledge and that a gradual approach to learning is always better than a crash-course. Some of the ways to begin gently filling your knowledge bank include:
- Podcasts: Pop one on in the background while you cook or during your daily commute. I love Australian Birth Stories, Beyond the Bump, The Kick, and Pregnancy with Physio Laura. All brilliant, informative, palatable options for beginning your education journey and making you feel like “i’ve got this”.
- Books: Check out the resource list in my article for Mumli on how to write a birth plan.
- Invest (either time or money) into quality childbirth education: Working through a specially designed childbirth education course either in a group setting or 1:1 will almost certainly dispel overwhelming feelings of fear toward birth. There are many fantastic options, some of my favourites include: The Birth Class, an audio series by Sophie Walker (host of Australian Birth Stories), Power Birth, a comprehensive online birth course by me, HypnoBirth Australia, a birth course specifically designed to teach you the ways in which breathing and relaxation can help with pain and Core and Floor Restore a free online series by midwife Bernadette Lack.
- Voice your concerns: Tell your care provider, “what I am most fearful of is X”. Often, chatting through your fears and realising there are ways to prevent or mitigate the risk of them occurring is what you need to find yourself in a more positive headspace.
Tune out the noise
It can be wonderful to connect with other mums and share birth stories, however if someone spots your bump and is intent on sharing with you all the ways their birth didn’t go to plan, this can be really hard to digest. There is a difference between feeling prepared for different possibilities and being subject to constant warnings from people who are processing birth disappointment or trauma. If someone in your life wants to share their thoughts around birth and they aren’t particularly positive, consider saying:
“I love you and I want to support you but I can’t hear about this at the moment. Would you mind if we chatted about this after I give birth?”
Similarly, look at your social media feed and assess whether pages you follow are serving you or scaring you. Ask yourself, does scrolling past this make me feel anxious and alarmed, or informed and confident? Unfortunately, some spaces are intent on spreading fear and it is up to us to mute or disengage.
When you do come across dramatised birth on TV, remind yourself that it is just as fictional as every other aspect of the show. As a midwife, I can honestly say I have only ever watched a couple of birth scenes that are vaguely accurate… most leave me shaking my head in frustration or laughing in disbelief. If you still find it triggering, switch it off altogether.
Finally, remember that you are not alone. Midwives and obstetric doctors are highly skilled, knowledgeable health professionals and our job is to guide you through this experience as safely as possible. What feels completely foreign to you is second nature to us and it is this experience that gives us the confidence to say, “you CAN do this”. We are there for you and can answer your questions, provide you reassurance and help you make your birth experience a positive one.
Expert author: Beth Ryan
Beth Ryan is a registered midwife with a Masters degree in Public Health. You can find out more about her by following her on Instagram here.