Birthing in a hospital, with an assortment of pharmaceutical drugs on offer, is like standing in front of a fridge filled with chocolate while you’re on a diet. When you open that fridge door and survey the shelves of sugary treats, it’s obviously hard to resist a cheeky choccy.
There’s nothing wrong with accessing pain management drugs for labour if that’s what you choose to do. But if you’re not sure that you can resist the option (or you really don’t want to), know this:
Drugs are the hardest to resist during a crisis of confidence.
A ‘crisis of confidence’ is when you don’t think you can do something. You question your ability and convince yourself you’re not capable.
Think about something you’ve done in life that’s been hard. Some examples could be:
- Finishing school
- Running a marathon
- Studying at university
- Starting a new job
- Working on a relationship.
If you’ve experienced any of these things, chances are that at one point you were tempted to quit. You thought to yourself, ‘this is too hard, I don’t want to do this anymore, it’s too much’. That point was your crisis of confidence.
A similar point arises when you’re giving birth.
You will hit a crisis of confidence at least once in your labour.
Remember, this is not a medical crisis – it’s “an emotional, physical pain barrier crisis”. Rhea Dempsey explains it very well in her book Birth With Confidence: Savvy choices for normal birth.
It often happens at the start of your labour, when you’re around 4cm dilated, and again in transition around 8cm. This is where women say, “I don’t want to do it anymore, I’m not going to do it anymore, I’m going home, I’m leaving, cut it out, pull it out, I’m never having another baby, give me a caesarean”. We hear these comments from pretty much every woman in labour.
My reply when this happens? “You ARE doing it and you’re doing it amazingly!” Sometimes that’s all women need. To be believed in and encouraged.
This crisis of confidence can be really daunting for your support people, because it’s a plea for help and it’s pure vulnerability.
This is when your support people (or care providers) will offer drugs.
Even if you didn’t want drugs offered, the person supporting you will usually suggest them at this point. When pain relief is offered in your most vulnerable state, it can be really hard to resist (just like you can’t stop your hypothetical dieting self from reaching for that Cherry Ripe).
Again, it’s your choice whether you want to accept the offer of drugs or not (and by the way, 78% of women – nearly 4 in 5 – do). But consider this:
When Olympic marathon runners get tired and fatigued, we don’t respond by pulling them off the track and saying, “Ok, let’s just pull you out here. You’ve done well but you can’t keep going.” (They’d be very upset with us later if we did that.)
No! We stand up, stomp our feet, clap our hands and yell louder encouragement to them. And that’s what you need when you hit your crisis of confidence in labour. Maybe not the feet stomping, but encouragement, support, a reminder that you’re doing it. That the pain is not bigger than you. Rather, it’s a small part of you.
Your support people need to know to respond confidently to your crisis of confidence with encouragement. (If they can’t, a Doula is a really good idea!) If they understand this, they’ll know that if you ask for drugs it’s not necessarily that you want them, but that you need support. They can help by offering touch, a new technique like getting into the bath, shower, sterile water injections or a simple reminder to do horses’ breath.
You can (and should) ride through that crisis of confidence.
I know it’s asking a lot, but once you get over that wave, you are at the pushing stage (if at the end of your labour). Do you know what that means? Your baby is about to come out and meet you! And that’s just about the best motivation you could ask for, right?
So how can you prepare in advance for your crisis of confidence?
- Word up your support person/care team in advance about what to do for you when you hit this point.
- During your pregnancy, work on moving away from negative thoughts and into positive thoughts about labour pain.
- Prepare mentally for the pain, but also learn some physical techniques to help you manage the pain better.
Mama, you’ve got this.
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Expert author: Bernadette Lack
Bernadette is a midwife, personal trainer and Founder of Core & Floor Restore. Get more excellent information on labour techniques by following her on Instagram and checking out her FREE and very helpful online antenatal classes.