Victoria is a stay-at-home mom, author, educator, and blogger at Healthy at Home. She currently lives in Colorado with her family.
For most of their lives, women have been inundated with the negative stories of other women’s birth experiences. In fact, everyone wants to tell them the horrors of giving birth and how bad it’s going to be. They have been conditioned to believe that excruciating pain is associated with labor; and because of this, women today hold an unprecedented fear of giving birth. This happened to me. My mom started the chain, sharing with me how terrible pregnancy was, the horrible pain she experienced during labor, how she begged for drugs and finished it off with how pregnancy destroyed her body.
I knew that I wanted children and a family of my own, but the whole pregnancy/giving birth stuff was terrifying. I had never known anyone closely that shared their thoughts on pregnancy with me, so I had to rely on the stories I heard. Throughout my life, I heard stories from older women about the horrible labor experiences they had, the hospital, the needles, the drugs, and the pain. There was also a disconnect I witnessed from all of these women, my own included, from their children, almost as if they blamed them for the bad experience. One day, when it was my turn, I knew that I wanted something different.
Even before my teen years, I knew that I was going to have my children naturally, and was going to experience labor in all its glory no matter how bad it was. But there was still the unknown. I know that I wasn’t the only one that grew up hearing stories like this. Most of us are conditioned from the time we are small that pregnancy and labor are horrible, and even that kids are horrible (terrible twos…). It’s a wonder that we have reproduced at all.
Unfortunately, this indoctrination continues well after your teen years into adulthood, until it’s finally your turn. Honestly, I had someone tell me the week before I gave birth that labor was going to be the worst pain I would ever experience in my whole life. This extreme fear fed to women their entire lives, then causes their bodies to become tense just when they need to be the most relaxed. That tension, among many other factors, prohibits their bodies from easily performing the normal physiological function of birth like it was intended. The result is exactly what they feared most—a long, painful birthing or unnecessary medical intervention.
I’m happy to say that every story I heard was horribly wrong for me.
Not Letting the Fear Get to You
Nearly every pregnant woman feels some anxiety about labor and delivery, especially if it's her first time, but some women are so nervous that it interferes with their pregnancy. "When a woman is anxious, it gets in the way of her enjoying the pregnancy," says Shari I. Lusskin, M.D., a reproductive psychiatrist at New York University School of Medicine. "It also can interfere with her adherence to prenatal care and her relationships with her partner and other children, as well as increase the risk of postpartum depression."
The fear women experience drives them to no longer trust their bodies, but think that everything they are being told is the truth. Women labor in the hospital because it’s dangerous and cannot be done without powerful medications and lots of strange people around with medical degrees to tell them what to do. However, most times, it is exactly the medical interventions that are imposed at the hospital that cause labor to be so bad for those women. Not to mention the fact, that a large majority of women are choosing to be induced, or are going into the hospital before it’s time, thinking that their prodromal labor contractions are the real thing.
The hospital accepts them, becomes concerned that labor is not progressing and then gives the woman drugs to induce her pregnancy contractions. A labor that is forced before it’s time, of course, is going to be way more painful than necessary because it’s working against the body’s natural defenses to force the baby out before it’s ready. More on that in other articles…
What Labor Is Really Like
Your body was designed for just this experience, if you chose it for yourself. It will stretch just like it’s supposed to in order to accommodate your baby, it will practice contractions through Braxton-Hicks and prodromal labor when it’s almost time in order to prep your body and baby for labor to come, and when it’s truly time, you won’t actually have to do a thing. You could sit back, watch TV, and eat ice cream, and your baby would still come just like it’s destined to, without you lifting a finger. Your couch would get pretty messy though.
I’m being honest. In all three of my labor experiences, my body knew exactly what it was doing. Yes, the contractions got closer and stronger as the time quickly approached there at the end. During a contraction, it felt kind of like a bad but brief period cramp that socked you in the gut. But it was so different than anything else I’d felt, not bad, but different, that I knew it was labor and not something wrong. I felt like a passenger along for the ride as the contractions built and the baby descended down the birth canal.
With the first baby, I tried to push with it, but my pushing had literally no effect to make it go faster or stop it from happening, so with the next two babies, I didn’t even bother. Contractions usually come for one minute and then go away for a couple minutes. You have time to breathe and process what is happening in between each one. With my first, I remember talking to my husband the entire way through my labor. It was hard work, but I specifically looked at my husband that very first time, between contractions and said, “This isn’t nearly the worst pain I’ve ever felt.” And we laughed.
Not once did I ever have to “push.” My body certainly did a lot of pushing, but it was totally out of my control. Not once during the experience did I ever feel like I needed pain medications. However, I had my first and third at home. I was able to move and adjust like I pleased, I didn’t have needles or tubes attached to me, and I could eat and drink and use the bathroom the entire time without anyone telling me otherwise. I was in my own environment in the bathtub with a candle burning and my husband right at my side with anything I asked for. I keep reminding him that I never cussed at him or called him any names, which is what he was worried about.
My second was at the hospital. It was awful, but not due to the labor. The needles, the tubes, the constant switching of strange nurses looking at my privates and touching me, waking me at all hours of the night, and throughout the labor, continually telling me how bad the pain was going to be and asking if I needed medication. I didn’t, but they sure kept the banter up. They completely ignored every consideration towards me and treated me like an organ donor rather than a person. The hospital is the problem, not the labor. And what I experienced was identical to all of the horror stories I heard from all other women, except I kept turning down the meds.
How Can Labor Be Beautiful?
Educate yourself, do plenty of research, and talk to women who have had natural births. Find out what they did, how they felt and what they experienced. Read up on different childbirth methods. We used the Bradley Method of Natural Childbirth, and the book called Husband Coached Childbirth by Dr. Bradley for our first and third births. It taught us the different stages of childbirth and how my body would respond at each stage, which made us feel like we were totally in control the entire time. He teaches what to do throughout our pregnancy and at each stage of labor to avoid the majority of the pain and complications that arise and even taught relaxation techniques to help us enjoy our birth experiences. I highly recommend it.
We gave birth at home during both of our beautiful birth experiences. I was in a relaxed environment, with only my trusted midwives and my husband the entire time. They allowed my husband and me to labor by ourselves with minimal intervention, and I had all of my creature comforts around. During our third birth experience, my toddler was even able to come in and go fishing with me in the bathtub during all of my contractions. That alone will be the best memory of mine.
There were no strangers, no intrusions, no rules and regulations, no one telling me what to do or when to do it, and if anything, I remember the midwife assistant stroking my face and putting a wet washcloth on my neck, telling me how great I was doing. It brings happy tears to my eyes to think about my last labor experience. Birth doesn’t have to be traumatic, ugly or terrible. It can be beautiful. I have tons of pleasant memories of the birth of my children. I remember getting to hold them immediately, and I remember holding them close in bed next to my husband and sleeping afterward uninterrupted, in my own bed at home.
Hospitals and doctors would like for you to believe that homebirths are risky and dangerous. They don’t make a dime if you give birth at home, and they especially can’t charge you for drugs, emergency interventions and that C-section if you stay at home. The sheer number of women that have an emergency situation during birth is unbelievably low. Honestly, you are most likely not one of them. Thousands of babies have cords wrapped around their necks a day across the country and are just fine without medical professionals around. It’s the Pitocin and epidurals that lower your baby’s heart rate and put them in an emergency state. If there really was a need, and there’s a better chance of there not being one than a locomotive running through your house, make sure you have the information for the closest hospital and pre-fill out the check-in paperwork.
How to Avoid the Fears
The easiest way to avoid all of the fears is to educate yourself. An informed mother is a confident one. Avoid horror stories. Don't watch overdramatized childbirth shows on TV, and ask people not to share their negative experiences with you. It certainly won’t help you to hear them. Just tell them you only want positive vibes going into labor. Find the facts. Learn about normal labor and delivery, as well as the actual vs. imaginary risks. Find a good childbirth method. I highly recommend Dr. Bradley’s book on Husband-Coached Childbirth.
Learn to relax. Meditation, deep breathing, yoga and guided imagery can help, as can long baths and peaceful walks. Focus on the end goal and imagine what your baby will look like and feel like in your arms. I don’t know if people just want women to be scared, want to make expecting moms as scared as they were, or what. You’d think others would be encouraging and uplifting, not telling a mom ready to give birth horror stories. There are tons of positive birth stories online, most, but not all of them homebirths. Search them out and read them. Affording Motherhood has 110 Positive Birth Stories to help you out, from women in every background, laboring in different areas, and even laboring in different ways. Get as much positivity as you can and that in itself will ensure a positive, easy labor for you.
Obviously you don’t have to choose the same birthing method that I did. You can have your own positive birth story going into labor anywhere you choose, using any method you decide on. What’s really important is not listening to all of the horror stories. Choose to have a positive birth and make it happen by getting the facts beforehand, reading plenty of books, seeking out all of the positive stories from other women that you can, including all of the links I’ve provided you here, and choose a birthing method that works for you.
For more information in any of these areas, I discuss the Bradley Method in another article as well as surviving the loss of a child. I’ve been there with you and would love to share my knowledge and experiences. Whatever you choose to do, I know you’ll be great. I know you’re going to love motherhood as much as I do.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2018 Victoria Van Ness