Fear and the Birth Experience

There is much to say about the role that fear plays in women’s childbirth experience. I feel as though brushing this subject off would do the women we know and love a great disservice. I also feel that brushing it off would do the midwives and doulas who work tirelessly a great disservice. 

“The once natural event of female-centered birth has effectively been medicalized. Power and control have been removed from midwives and women and shifted to science and the surgical specialization within medicine, today known as obstetrics. This historical shift resulted in numerous changes in the conceptualization of the birthing process and women’s roles within it.” ~ Colleen Bak, Midwifery Today, Issue 67

In a previous post, I had written about the mindset of childbirth being a medical emergency, and that this just isn’t the case. As we become pregnant, we are naturally inclined to learn about this process and what all is about to come–including childbirth. However, as we learn about the process, we are not comforted in the fact that we, as women, are made to to this. We instead are presented with medical terms and lingo (which is not necessarily a bad thing) and are told horror stories from women we know in our lives.

It can be difficult not to fear childbirth with those conditions.

Luckily, there are ways to beat this fear, but we should first know exactly how fear interacts with our bodies during labor and childbirth.

Fear can slow down, or arrest, labor.
The same response as in animals, women who sense fear (or the fear of a threat) instinctively stall or slow down labor naturally. The perceived “threat” can be manifested from the obstetrician presence, medical terms and “powerlessness”, or the very thought or sight of a hospital, among others.

Fear releases adrenaline and noradrenaline.
As we feel fear, our bodies release hormones to cope. Among these hormones are adrenaline and noradrenaline which end up actually slowing or fully stopping labor altogether. “Adrenaline has been referred to as the antithesis of oxytocin, the naturally produced hormone that stimulates uterine contractions (Colleen Bak, Midwifery Today). The slowing down or stopping of labor can also trigger fetal distress, making medical interventions more likely to occur.

Colleen Bak (who wrote the article I have been referencing) explained the fear phenomenon very well:

“It is arguable that the level of fear experienced by women today is in part due to the removal of birth from the natural feminine realm, or in other words its medicalization. Thereby, the medicalization of birth in part causes the fear, which causes the rising hormone levels, which cause the complications, which cause the need for medical intervention, and by way of circular logic make it seem completely sensible that birth is currently normalized as a medical event.”

So, what do we do about it?

We do not have to remove birthing from hospitals altogether to create a stress and fear free environment. Midwives and doulas are trained in providing education and support so that women can control, and even combat, their fear when they are in the moment. In labor, women can learn to, instead of releasing stress and fear hormones, release hormones of love, such as oxytocin, to help labor progress along. Each woman is different, and may find some things relaxing that another woman does not. It is not our place to force one approach on all women and call it a “practice”. Rather, we help you find the strength that you have to relax and give birth the way you intend to. This can be done in so many different ways, that I can’t necessarily list them all, but some are massage, affirmations or praying, singing, talking, breathing, etc. etc. etc…

Was there anything you especially feared during your labor and birth? Did your labor and birth go as planned? How did you cope?

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