By Meagan Francis
It’s no wonder pregnancy makes some women nervous. Life is about to change in a huge way, and, in the meantime, there’s a baby growing inside whose well-being she feels utterly responsible for. And, of course, that child is going to have to come out somehow!
Whether it’s the first baby or the fourth, a natural birth or a C-section, it’s absolutely normal to feel uneasy about giving birth. Fortunately, it’s possible to replace those nerves with calmer thoughts. Here’s how.
“Humans have what’s called a reptile brain—it holds memories that we may not be able to consciously bring to mind, but that our subconscious remembers,” says Giuditta Tornetta, doula and author of Painless Birth: An Empowering Journey Through Pregnancy and Childbirth. These buried feelings actually can affect the way you feel about your upcoming birth and even how you’ll adjust to motherhood, leading to a major case of angst.
“The nine months of pregnancy are a great opportunity to really look at yourself under a microscope and work through old memories or feelings that can get in the way of your birth experience,” Tornetta says. Journaling, meditation, and visualization exercises can help you bring memories and emotions to the surface so you can deal with them before you go into labor.
Let It Out
“I was completely freaked out by the idea of having an episiotomy and was having a lot of anxiety over it,” says Jennifer Herman of Chicago. “On a friend’s advice, I asked my ob/gyn point-blank what his episiotomy rate was, and I was very pleasantly surprised to find out that he doesn’t think they are necessary very often. Just having that piece of information, I really felt like I could relax and look forward to labor.”
The moral of this story? If something’s bothering you, talk to your care provider, doula, or an experienced friend about how you’re feeling. “I think it’s always helpful to talk about anxiety,” says Teri Shilling, M.S., a certified doula and Lamaze childbirth educator in Vernon Hills, WA. When you confide your fears to someone who’s experienced in the birth process, she can help you see how common your worries are and come up with effective strategies for overcoming or reducing them.
For a lot of women, labor- and birth-related fears stem from not knowing what’s going to happen. And although you can’t script your birth experience down to the last detail, it will help to have a clear, physiological understanding of what your body and your baby do while you’re in labor. Take birthing classes and read a good book or two: If you have a spiritual mind set, Birthing From Within by Pam England and Rob Horowitz, is a good choice. If you’re more the nuts-and-bolts type, try Juju Sundin’s Birth Skills with Sarah Murdoch, set to be released in September.
Just make sure you don’t focus too much on what can go wrong. “During my pregnancy I was drawn to scary medical shows like Maternity Ward,” says Sarah Eamon of Portland, OR, “but after watching them I’d find myself all stressed out that the same thing might happen to me.” Concern over a televised medical drama or bad birth anecdote really can add to your own level of tension, says Eden Fromberg, D.O., an osteopathic physician practicing obstetrics and gynecology in New York City. “Many women read and see horror stories, but don’t hear about good birth experiences,” she says. Since it’s far more likely that you’ll have an uneventful birth and a healthy baby, Fromberg recommends that you go into delivery assuming that things will go well—you’ll feel much more empowered and at ease.
Use Traditional Techniques
Self-care methods for increasing your calm are worth the effort, says Montclair, NJ, birth educator and DONA-certified doula Jill Wodnick. She recommends investing your time in prenatal yoga classes and pregnancy relaxation CDs (get hers, Pre Natal Peace & Calming, at jillwodnick.com for $12), but reminds that you have to consistently practice to get the benefits. Attend as many class sessions as you can and listen at least three times a day.
Personal rituals can also work wonders to settle the nerves. Try using a hot-water bottle or microwaveable hot pack on achy spots, enjoying a cup of pregnancy tea, or giving yourself a belly massage with oil or lotion scented with pure lavender essential oil. Individually, these help you connect with your different senses and your own body wisdom, Wodnick explains. “But when used together, they create the consistent self-care practices that make a measurable impact on the wellness of the pregnancy.”
There’s something about being pregnant that makes people clamor to tell their own tales of 30-hour labor or the epidural that didn’t work. But listening to delivery horror stories doesn’t do much for you besides foster fear. “When people try to tell you how horrible their births were, it’s OK to say ‘I don’t want to hear that right now,’” Tornetta says. Another strategy, Shilling suggests, is to look for a pearl of wisdom in any seemingly negative tale. “Maybe there’s something that did work, or something you can learn from the story,” she says.
Meagan Francis experienced some pre-labor anxiety with all four of her babies. She’s the author of The Everything Health Guide to Postpartum Care and also writes for Parenting magazine.