Well Rounded Birth Prep

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Monday, November 15, 2010

"How do you overcome the fear that your body doesn't work?"

On my Well Rounded Birth Prep Facebook page, Samantha posed this question: "How do you overcome the fear that your body doesn't work?" It's such a huge and important question, one that so many women face, especially after a difficult or traumatic birth.

I don't know Samantha's (or anyone else's) particular situation or medical history, so I'll try to write out a few things that many moms find helpful.

First of all, I'm sorry that you had an experience that left you with doubt and fear. It can be helpful to request a copy of your medical records from your previous birth(s) to see the details of what happened. Maybe a midwife or doula could help you decode what you read and help you identify any preventable interventions or other potentially avoidable factors that occurred before. This can give you a better idea of what you can do next time to help have a different result.

For example, some moms know that they had a bad reaction to narcotics or other medicines in the past. For them, having a game plan to avoid those meds in a future birth can help them feel less fearful and more confident for a future birth. For others, a bad perineal tear may cause intense fear of future birth. If lithotomy pushing (on back, hold breath, count to ten) is to blame, that's another fairly easily avoided situation. If there was a bad outcome following an induction, it can be helpful to avoid an induction the next time around (more on that later) unless it's medically indicated and if the potential benefits outweigh the risks of induction. If the last birth was a cesarean birth, identifying which factors led to that can help you decide what action plan will help give you the best odds of a vaginal birth the next time around.

Reading every GOOD birth book and article possible can be a great first step in processing all this. I keep meaning to write a blog with my book recommendations. Many of them are on the Amazon.com widget to the lower right on each of my blog posts. If you scroll through the pages, there are birth books for many different topics and situations. I can't overemphasize the importance of reading fact-based, evidence-based birth books instead of funny, tongue-in-cheek books, or worse: those which downplay the risks involved with birth interventions and normalize a medical birth. A few suggestions:

to read:

The Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth by Henci Goer

Ina May's Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin

Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn by Simkin, Whalley, Durham, Bolding, and Keppler

to watch:

The Business of Being Born, produced by Ricki Lake and directed by Abby Epstein

for VBAC hopefuls:

The VBAC Companion: The Expectant Mother's Guide to Vaginal Birth After Cesarean by Diana Korte

Silent Knife: Cesarean Prevention and Vaginal Birth After Cesarean VBAC by Nancy Wainer Cohen and Lois J. Estner

ICAN (International Cesarean Awareness Network) is a great resource for cesarean research, articles, information, support, and healing. Their White Pages are a wonderful resource for statistics and current cesarean recommendations. ICAN's community and message board have been a source of healing and cesarean/VBAC info for thousands of women.

This is just the beginning for a reading list, but if I keep going, this will morph into that other blog I still need to write.

If you PM me your particular interests for reading or specific situation, I can try to point you toward books, articles, research, and/or websites to help you start your quest for information and empowerment.

Have you read about the fear-tension-pain cycle during labor and birth? Ina May's Guide to Childbirth describes it in detail. A good, independent childbirth class (NOT affiliated with a hospital or other institution) can go a long way toward helping you understand how your body works and how birth works. For anyone in western or southern WV, I can recommend one. ;-) The more you know and understand about the design of birth, the more you can recognize what's normal, and the less there is to fear. This, combined with your reading, can help you have a good grasp on how rare true, non-preventable birth complications are, and how they can be safely handled. This won't guarantee that you won't be one of the rare few, but perspective does help bring confidence and reassurance.

Finding a supportive care provider (midwife or OB) AND place of birth that are compatible with and supportive of your birth philosophy are CRUCIAL to working toward the birth you envision. To quote Desirre Andrews, ICAN President and owner of Preparing For Birth, "It comes down to the fact that you can't get Chinese food at McDonald's." Most hospitals, birth centers, OBs, and even midwives have a pretty firmly set order of operations. They are unlikely to bend their normal procedures to your requests. It's far easier to find a care provider who supports you than to struggle against your OB, nurses, and hospital during the time that you should be able to put all your focus on labor instead of arguing with staff. Here's my blog on "How to Avoid the Ol' Bait-and-Switch with your OB."

It might be worth your time to interview midwives and even consider whether you might be a candidate for a homebirth or freestanding birth center birth. It can be helpful to discuss your concerns openly with your care provider so that she or he can be aware of your grief and/or trauma triggers and be sensitive about them.

On that note, it's crucial to be selective who you invite to attend the birth. A sense of safety (both emotional and physical), security, and privacy is so important in allowing labor to unfold unhindered. It's essential that anyone present is someone who you would feel comfortable with in your most vulnerable moments, and that he or she supports you and your birth plan 100%. "Giving Birth With Confidence" had a great article on this topic. A doula can be a wonderful asset to your birth experience as well.

Journaling or otherwise processing what happened with your previous birth(s) is another step you may find helpful. I have compiled a few links on birth related PTSD and PPD, and I'm continually adding to the lists.

I also encourage my birth class students to recognize what can and what cannot be controlled with a birth. You can (generally) choose your care provider, birth setting, environment (candles, quiet, mood). While birth itself cannot be scripted, many moms find it reassuring to write birth plans for Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C eventualities of birth, with their preferences for example, with Plan A for a non-medicated birth with no interventions, Plan B for preferences if induction becomes medically necessary, and Plan C for a family-centered cesarean should the need arise. This allows you to make thoughtful decisions for your preferences, in advance while you are level-headed and have time to research various options. Some expectant families even write out their preferences in the event of a stillbirth or if the baby dies (photography: Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, assist in bathing and dressing baby, save a lock of baby's hair, and more). While it's unpleasant to think about anything but Plan A of birth, it can give a sense of relief and free up mom not to have to worry so much about "What if?" when many possibilities have been covered with the birth plan.

Whether you are still in the planning/preparing stage for your next pregnancy or whether you are already pregnant, optimizing your health is another proactive step you can take. The common sense things like taking your prenatal vitamins, exercising to your ability, and best possible nutrition really do make a difference.

I'd like to sum it up by saying, you are the expert on your own body and on your baby. Read, prepare, surround yourself with great support people, then listen to your gut. Nobody knows what *your* normal feels like and what's right for *you*-- but you.

I hope this list is helpful. Feel free to add a comment with your own experiences.

What has worked for you to help you overcome fear that your body doesn't work or any other birth fears?


  1. Excellent post, Sarah! Spot on.

    You have to choose to believe that your body does work. Remind yourself as many times as necessary until you believe it. When fear comes up, you explain to yourself why it is wrong, why you *can* accomplish this.

    I hemorrhaged with my firstborn, so in order to prepare for that, I took medical precautions (which, for our situation at that time, included a hospital birth), as well as reading the positive stories, and reminding myself of my strengths. I also memorized bible verses that encouraged me.

  2. Thanks so much for all the love and support..
    After 3 c sections I am having a HBAC, I hope.. All is going well except that I normally don't go to my due date and after 2 weeks of off and on labor I am afraid my body will never start labor on its own. I have never spontaneously started labor. I used pressure points and herbs with all of them. I have tried with this one but all I get is nothing but tired in the end.
    The last baby was a v bac... I count as successful,well at least as successful as you can get when only one dr is willing and has to leave when your at 10 -another section. I was in transition so really didn't understand what was going on and no one was talking to me to be supportive. I got information afterward that would have helped before.. like that I was in transition and doing well, that the baby was ok.. just decelling when having contractions but her heart rate was coming right back up. (anterior Placenta,so she couldn't move down effectively)
    I am trying to have faith but with my due date the day after tomorrow I am afraid I won't go into labor and that in a couple of weeks I will be on my own to face another section or who knows. I don't want to go unassisted-truly don't.

  3. Morningbird, I'll try to pop back in here with links that might help. First, I'll post Teresa Stire's homebirth VBAC (10 days after SROM (spontaneous rupture of membranes)) photo slideshow:

    I homeschool & am supposed to be teaching right now. Will come back w/ more later.

  4. A few links on due dates:

    If mom and baby are still doing fine, an arbitrary date isn't a medical indication for induction or C-section (in the absence of any other factors).

  5. I know this is an older post, but I am a freshly trained doula, looking for insight as to how to help a first time mom who thinks her body doesn't work/is scared of natural birth? Any tips you can offer would be appreciated!

  6. Hi Erin, thanks for writing. My best recommendation to reduce fear is comprehensive, independent (not hospital-based) childbirth education, the earlier the better. Pre-conception, if possible. As early in the pregnancy as possible.

    As a doula, you can offer a discount (10%?) to any of your clients who complete a childbirth class series (you could specify that the discount applies to those who take non-hospital based classes, if you want).

    You could also look into teaming up with other birth professionals in your area (doulas, CBEs, midwives, etc.) to see how you could reach out to your community, normalize birth, have a table set up at health fair events and hand out business cards, put out fliers at the library and at mommy groups, etc.

    Utilizing social media can help, too. You never know who within your sphere of influence will learn from your posts.

    Long range? We have to get good, evidence-based info to the next generation. Some doulas and CBEs offer age-appropriate, simplified birth classes to local high schools or clubs.

    I hope this helps.


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