Birthing WITH Fear and Pain: Why your birth was still perfect.

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Birthing WITH Fear and Pain: Why your birth was still perfect.

Ashley Hurlburt

You’re 39 weeks pregnant and quietly (and rather uncomfortably) gestating your 8 lb bundle of love. You’re planning a home birth with a midwife. Or maybe you’re planning a Freebirth. Perhaps you’re planning to birth alone in a yurt on a cliff-side in the middle of New Zealand in Springtime with a single candle for light. You’ve read Birth Without Fear cover to cover even though you think to yourself every time you open it ; “They should really use a different picture for this cover…” . You’re perhaps having a VBAC/HBAC/FreeBAC. Maybe your uterus has been cut open before. Maybe you’ve lost a child in the past, maybe you have a lot of birth trauma baggage you’re lugging up that New Zealand hill. But that’s ok, you have Hypnobabies in mp3 format on your iPhone (shit, there’s no electricity in this yurt!), and you’ve been to ICAN meetings and your therapist is one of the red, highlighted, “In Case of Emergency- ICE” contacts in your phone. You’ve read “Tear Soup” until you couldn’t take it anymore. You’ve read Silent Knife and worked your way through Birthing From Withinuntil your hands hurt from making and re-making your vagina to perfection out of fimo clay. You’ve written your fears on pieces of paper and burned them symbolically while chanting “Om namo guru dev namo” to the Birth Goddesses and considered brushing war-paint onto your face while you’re in labor. Like the Picts…the Scottish clan that Mel Gibson depicted in Braveheart. Mmm, Mel Gibson. You digress.

You’ve joined Mothering forums and birthing forums until your eyes grew into tiny little slants from looking at the light of your phone in bed at night as you had heated conversations about ingesting your placenta and coming to terms with the truth that Nancy, in your “Breathing Through Your Yoni” Facebook group actually had an orgasm when her baby came out. Like legit climaxed in her birthing pool. And you can’t decide if that’s awesome or if that’s really, really weird. But, you digress again.

You’ve spent hundreds of dollars on books, therapies and babysitters so you can meditate to overcome your hangups about your birth trauma. Because you were cut open in the past. Or someone forced something onto you. Because you experienced “birth rape”. Because your choices were taken. Because you had a baby die when it was born, or when you were 26 weeks pregnant, or when your child was 3 years old. You’ve worked out everything you think you possibly can. And all you can think about is: I am a fearless warrior. I have no fear. Not a single stitch of fear. Fear has no power over me. I will birth without fear. You repeat these words to yourself as your mantra in your yurt. In your heart of hearts you know you can do this. And you know that fear is the antithesis of a good birth.

That’s what you have been taught.

Fear = weakness.

Fear = ignorance.

Fear = distrust.

Yuck, we don’t want fear in our births. No one wants that. Fear leads to interventions. You are a powerful, fearless birthing goddess and no one is going to fuck with you.

And then you finally go into labor. In your excitement during early labor you plaster all of your positive birthing affirmations upon walls around you. You happily tend to whatever you need to and have full trust that your body is doing everything it is supposed to. Trust. Love. Birth. Baby.

And then…it hurts. I mean it hurts like hell. And you’ve got back labor, so that means your pelvis is basically shattering into five million pieces every time you have a contraction. But you’ve got this. You’re doing great. You’re getting into whatever position your instincts tell you. But suddenly you’re hearing something. It’s not coming from outside the yurt. It’s not even coming from someone else inside the yurt. It’s coming from within you. At first it starts as a whisper. You shoo it away and try to focus on what you’re doing. But there it is again.

Fear.

It whispers lies in your ear;

Remember your last birth when you were “stuck” at 7 centimeters for 9 hours and then they gave you a cesarean? What if that happens again?”

Remember how your midwife told you you weighed too much to push a baby out last time? Well you weigh even more now…”

You lost one baby already…”

Is the baby sideways?”

Have I felt the baby moving?”

Why is this happening? You worked so hard to rid yourself of these fears in preparation for your birth. Are you failing? Are you doing it wrong? Why does no one else feel this? You’re a failure. Again.

Here’s the truth, lady in the Yurt. Fear is normal. It happens. And…surprise! You can still birth through fears. You can still work through them real-time as they’re happening. In fact, I’d even go out on a limb and say that some fears you cannot even attempt to work out until they’re happening. If you think about it in any other context with cognitive therapy in mind…you need that particular, triggering experience to happen again to work through the problem. If you have a major driving aversion following a horrific and traumatizing car accident, you can’t solely work out your fears about driving while sitting in the safety of an arm chair. You have to get out there and drive eventually. And things will pop up emotionally and psychologically. If you have PTSD (as many women who have gone through a horrific birth trauma do), you may have flashbacks, anxiety, you name it. It happens. It happens to many of us.

Some fear seems completely unfounded in labor. They’re simply obsessive thoughts we have as we work through our pain. Some examples:
If I let go of this pillow I’ve been shoving against my mouth my contraction is going to hurt so much more.

If I stop rubbing my face on the bathtub I’m going to lose my mind to the pain.

My significant other cannot leave me to go get soup in the kitchen because I will die from back labor. I’m sure someone has died from back labor. I can manage without soup.

Braying like a donkey makes it hurt less…I must keep braying like a donkey.

Some fears happen simply because of hormonal changes in the body. Prior to a woman pushing her baby out she will experience a rush of catecholamines which activates the fight or flight response within the woman’s mind and body. At times like this she may suddenly panic as the hormones overtake her and she prepares to meet her baby. She could be as birth-trusting as all get-out, yet still suddenly feel a ripple of fear and panic come over her. Her eyes may widen and dart to and fro. Her breathing may turn into a shallow pant. Panic. It happens.

Some fears are instinctive. Instincts are about a deep sense of knowing. It could be knowing something emergent is happening to you or to your baby. But it isn’t the same voice nagging you about your past or convincing you your baby is really just never going to come out. Or that you’re not good enough. Instinctive fear is a real, true knowing. A loud, determined knowing. It doesn’t whisper and giggle. It doesn’t take your mind for a fun ride at your expense. It is an all-knowing, we need to do ‘xyz’ immediately kind of fear. Sometimes the panic doesn’t even set in with those kinds of fears until much later.

Fear happens at birth. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a hospital room surrounded by beeping machines, in a posh birthing center with Jack Newman whispering through your Bose headphones, in your bedroom with the candles burning and your 10 year old daughter putting a cool cloth on your head…or here…in your yurt on the face of a cliff in the fjords of New Zealand.

And it doesn’t mean you failed at birth. Quite the contrary. Fear and pain are consistently things women are trying to avoid in birth. Some women feel that we’re playing a crunch-tastic birthing olympics game where you get birthy-points for not having any so-called “negative’ emotions during birth. Having a painless birth is great if that happens to you. But so is the birth where you’re clawing at your vagina, howling in pain screaming “I LIKE TO POOP!” because that feels right to you right then. Having a birth where you literally don’t have a fear in the world- not an old psychological fear creeping up, not a fear caused by hormonal changes, nada, zip, zilch…. is wonderful. So are the births that take an extra fifteen hours because you’re having a home VBAC and the last time you got ready to push your baby out your midwife told you you were too fat to do it, so now you have to let go and release your fears.

Do you know why ALL of these births are great? Because they’re yours. Why are all of these births perfect? Because they’re yours. It’s your journey. It’s your show. It’s your story. Who cares if Nancy from Facebook had a painless, orgasmic birth? Nancy does! Be happy for Nancy.

But you there! You, mother crying in the bathtub telling your husband you “can’t do it”.. and you there! You, over in the corner afraid to squat because you know you need to, but you lost your baby two years ago and you’re terrified of losing this one…all of you…listen to me. You are perfect. Your births are perfect. Because they’re yours.

Birth isn’t about avoiding fear and pain at all costs. It’s about working through whatever you can, however you can, for as long or as short as you need to, and above all else…listening to your instincts. You don’t stifle the cries of a baby who is going through separation anxiety by covering its mouth. You don’t drown out the anxiety of a friend who experienced a horrible trauma and is essentially being triggered again. You coddle them, you love them, you support them as they work through those things.

It’s time you realize that you can do that for yourself. Love yourself through your birth. Be easy. And know that as long as you are following your instincts in your birth…it will always be perfect. And it will always be yours. And it will always be right.

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4 thoughts on “Birthing WITH Fear and Pain: Why your birth was still perfect.

  1. Tammy says:

    Ashley,
    I’m sooo blessed to be able to call you my friend. Thank you for this amazing truth; This reminds me sooo much of my truth. Birthing my first baby all my rights and choices got ripped away from me by my abuser. I made it thru that fearful experience and had the sweetest baby girl to show for it. My second was so easy and I had my voice back! Then having an emergency tubal pregnancy and being told we’re rushing you into surgery now, I felt all that work to get my voice back fade to nothing. Not a few months later I was pregnant again and even though I had the most amazing partner I panicked. All of this washed over me thru my fourth pregnancy but weirdly enough, more so when I was birthing Brooklyn. Thankfully I now have 4 beautiful babies, one watching over us!

    I really loved reading this because I’ve always felt like I’ve done something wrong. So many women learn to birth without fear and I couldn’t. It’s nice to know its part of the norm to birth WITH fear ❤

    Love you mama!

    Like

  2. karriep says:

    This was so helpful to me. I read this more than once over the past few weeks, I had my daughter 5 days ago. I had a home birth, this was my third child and second drug free birth. While my last birth was picture perfect, I knew this would be difficult and different because I had a baby die before this pregnancy. It was traumatic as I was taken to the ER by ambulance for blood loss, which happened at home. Anyway since the last baby to come out was not alive, this pregnancy was hard. I was not excited to give birth even though I felt in love with this baby. My birth was painful on many levels but your post has helped me to realize that painful, fear filled birth is just as valuable as a peaceful, joyful one. As a birth worker I find not many people will make such a statement, even homebirth midwives, which is a shame. During labor I didn’t really get any support for fear being OK and normal. Thank you again for your insight, so helpful and I will not forget it.

    Like

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