A few weeks ago I was after a new book to read and was recommended Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat Pray Love). I didn’t really know what the book was about but had heard from many friends that it was an absolute must-read. The tag line of the book is Creative Living Beyond Fear. Interesting. I can honestly say that fear is an emotion that I hadn’t given a lot of thought to before I started reading this book. I have always considered myself pretty average when is comes to fear, avoiding any adrenaline rush activities like jumping out of a plane or diving with sharks, or public speaking. But on a more everyday level, I generally learnt to stick within the parameters of my comfort zone in order to feel as little fear as possible. This has worked pretty well for me over the last few years, and there haven’t been too many times that I have really felt fearful. I’m quite sure that I’m one of many women who have ‘unknowingly’ organised their life in this way. This is something that Elizabeth discusses in her book, and I have decided to write this post as I think this is really important to talk about, and definitely applies to labour and birthing.
So, from what I have read in Big Magic and researched online, fear is essentially just your body reacting to an unknown outcome. The more I think about this the more I believe that it is true. I heard a quote from Elizabeth this morning which said ‘Creativity will always provoke your fear because it asks you to enter into a realm with an uncertain outcome, and fear hates that – it thinks your going to die’. Fear has an important purpose in keeping us alive by encouraging us to avoid dangerous situations, but in many of us it is in overdrive. Any situation or experience that starts to edge out of our comfort zone has a somewhat unknown outcome, and that is what fear hates. This makes total sense to me, and I can definitely identify situations in my life where this has happened.
You may be wondering how this relates to pregnancy and birth. I actually think that this is super, super important, and definitely something that any modern woman needs to consider. For most, if not all women birth is a somewhat unknown process. If you are like me and many other women, you may not have experienced this ‘unknown’, or been pushed outside your comfort zone recently. If you think about our society today, we can plan for almost everything. We hardly ever have to wait for something. And more often that not we are not great at dealing with change, and unknown outcomes. For many women, pregnancy is the first real thing that they can’t control or plan every detail of. If you’re having your first baby, there may be many things that you haven’t experienced before, and many things that may be running through your head about how your birth will unfold. Will I go into labour spontaneously, or will I need to be induced? Or even more commonly –will I actually be able to deal with the pain and sensations of birthing a baby? What if medical complications arise and my birth doesn’t take the course that I was planning? Even if this is your 2nd, 3rd or even 6th baby there are always some parts of your pregnancy, labour and birth that are unknown, and that you can’t plan for.
I was speaking to a friend a few weeks ago who mentioned that she really ended up getting an epidural because she was afraid of how her contractions may increase in intensity, even though when she requested the epidural she was actually managing them quite well. She also said that she felt vulnerable and and somewhat out of control at not knowing exactly how her labour was going to pan out, and opting for the epidural was her way of trying to escape this feeling. Now, I’m not here to talk about epidurals, butI’m sure that many other women have also been in this situation, and it got me thinking. Although I am passionate about preparing for labour and birth, I know that there are always going to be some things that can’t be planned for, and we are never going to be 100% sure of our birth outcome.
So where do we go from here then? How do we prepare for a positive birth when there are so many unknowns and fears that pop up?
We need to be okay with fear, and with unknown outcomes. This applies to everyday life as well as pregnancy and birth. Just because we feel fearful, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep going, and expanding our comfort zones. We seem to have created a culture that actively avoids feeling extreme emotion and fear, and encourages us to be in control of everything. Always remember that our fears are only as powerful as we allow them to be.
In the Hypnobirthing Australia course that I teach we discuss causes of fear about labour and birth in depth, and I also take couples through a hypnosis fear release exercise. I think its very important that we work through many of our fears, as its well know that extreme levels of fear and anxiety can physiologically affect labour. If a woman’s stress response if activated, less oxygen is going to be directed to her uterus, and her labour may slow or stall, not to mention the increase in pain due to the lack of oxygen (Click here to read one of my previous posts which discusses this.) For these reasons I 100% believe that working through as many fears as possible is really important, but it is also important that we make peace with the fact that we can’t control everything about our birth, and that there are going to be some ‘unknowns’. In my classes I emphasise the importance of releasing and letting go, and surrendering to the amazing process that is birth (once you've got the knowledge, tools and preparation that is!)
I encourage you to explore your fears during pregnancy. Think about where they come from, and if there is anything that you can do to help reduce these fears. This may include increasing your knowledge, research, speaking with caregivers or birth support workers etc). Perhaps even look into independent childbirth education courses to help you prepare for your positive birth. Remember that it is okay to feel fear, and that you are just moving into something with an unknown outcome and expanding your comfort zone. Let the feelings arise, accept it, and then move forward and deal with that fear however you need to so that you feel safe and supported, and continue on your journey towards a calm, empowered and positive birth!
And incase you were wondering about me - I will keep doing things that edge me out of that little comfort zone in order the get to the magic on the other side! Starting with speaking at a midwifery conference to an audience of 80 about Hypnobirthing!! Wish me luck!
A few of my favourite quotes about fear:
Fear is only as deep as the mind allows. - Japanese Proverb
Many of our fears are tissue-paper-thin, and a single courageous step would carry us clear through them. - Brendan Francis
A mind focused on doubt and fear cannot focus on the journey to victory. - Mike Jones
Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy. - Dale Carnegie
As always I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Also, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to chat further or would like to learn more about my Hypnobirthing courses.