Updated: Jun 3, 2020
I can't tell you how many times an expecting mother has expressed to me how nervous or anxious she is about giving birth. And even then, I can tell she's being coy.
She's SCARED and her body language is giving her away.
I can't blame her.
For some reason, labor and birth are so often depicted as being unbearable and traumatic. Watching someone give birth in a movie or on TV often means watching them panic as they rush to the hospital where doctors and nurses scramble all around as if there is some sort of emergency occurring. You watch them scream and curse and beg for some sort of relief from this intolerable pain that they are experiencing.
Western society has cultivated a fear in people around childbirth that can be extremely destructive.
When human beings are afraid, their bodies release a hormone called adrenaline that instinctively causes their bodies to respond in one of three ways: fight, flight or freeze.
Adrenaline is meant to protect us and, when we are in a dangerous situation, can save our lives.
The problem is that giving birth, while at times can have complications, is not a dangerous situation...and should not be feared!
Let me paint you a picture. Jessica is pregnant with her first child. She really wants to give birth naturally without an epidural, but she is also very fearful of how painful contractions will be. She goes into labor one evening and, not knowing how contractions feel, doesn't even realize it at first. She cuddles with her husband, watches a movie, takes a bath and by the time her contractions are beginning to feel intense instead of uncomfortable, she is 5 cm dilated. Upon arriving at the hospital, Jessica's water breaks and she begins feeling anxious and embarrassed. The bright lights, the people everywhere, the forms to be filled out and the questions being asked are all making her very uncomfortable. It begins to hit her that this is really happening. The nurses begin telling her that she needs an IV for fluid and asking her when she would like to get an epidural. She is confused and frustrated because her birth plan clearly states that she wants to attempt to give birth naturally. They tell her since her water has broken, the baby needs to come soon or else the risk of infection and complications will increase tremendously. Now she is scared. Her contractions begin to subside until they stop altogether. Jessica is discouraged because now, after laboring at the hospital for longer than she labored at home, she has made absolutely no "progress" and is still at 5cm. She worries that her baby will be stuck and that she will have to have a C-section birth so that her baby will not get an infection.
The fear that came over Jessica in this situation caused her body to produce adrenaline. The adrenaline caused her body to "freeze" / "fly" - in this case to STOP working to bring her baby out.
In another scenario, let's say that Jessica labored at home even longer. By the time she arrived at the hospital, she was 7 almost 8cm dilated. Her contractions are a lot more intense and she is deeply focused and completely "in the zone". As she arrives at the hospital, all of the same factors I mentioned before are now making her panic. Her body begins to tighten and tense up. As her muscles fight against her contractions, they work even harder causing a tremendous amount of pain. This is what she was initially afraid of. The pain is making her doubt herself. She is discouraged and is feeling like a failure. With every contraction she fights the more agony she feels. She is so close, but she is ready to give up.
Again, her fear caused her body to produce adrenaline. The adrenaline caused her body to "fight" against her contractions, causing the very pain that she so desperately wanted to avoid.
She is caught in a vicious cycle - FEAR causes TENSION causes PAIN causes FEAR...
On the contrary, when a person is relaxed and comfortable in labor, their body naturally produces oxytocin and endorphins. They are naturally occurring, pain-killers. Oxytocin is is known as the hormone that promotes feelings of love, bonding and well-being. Endorphins are known as the body's natural “feel-good” chemicals and stimulate feelings of pleasure, and pain relief. In the absence of adrenaline, these hormones will do wonders in helping you birth your baby quickly and with minimal pain. Some people even describe giving birth as painless and even pleasurable! (Crazy, right!?)
So, I hope each birthing person will realize this: Your body is designed to carry your baby, to grow your baby and to birth your baby. Embrace the beauty of birth. When you begin to feel fear and doubt creeping up on you, I hope you will remember to trust yourself and to relax. You are capable and you are strong.