I just spent four days at a convention with women of all ages and I had the opportunity to spend some time talking with groups of college women. What struck me about my conversations with these young women was their unanimous and overarching fear of pregnancy and childbirth. It saddens me that the sole message these women have received is one of anxiousness, fright and actual terror. In many ways it is no surprise given the culture of childbirth in the U.S. today, the media portrayals and the widely held belief that giving birth is dangerous and miserable.
These future mothers did not have a sense of joy or a confidence in themselves or their bodies to grow and nurture a baby let alone to deliver it! One young woman confessed that she does not think her body can hold a baby while another announced she wanted nothing but a Cesarean. Where is the other side of this story?
I’ve observed so many expectant or laboring mothers struggling with their fear of giving birth, their fear of pain and their fear of the unknown. The necessity of feeling secure while giving birth has been well documented from Grantly Dick-Read’s (1890-1959) Childbirth Without Fear to current day studies showing the incompatibility of the stress hormone (adrenaline) and the love hormone (oxytocin which is needed for uterine contractions). Fear clearly works against labor progress.
These women want families, they want babies, but they have already developed an image of birth as being surgical, traumatic and terrifying.
It is therefore vital to nurture new mothers when they have experienced fear messages from young ages. These discussions have driven me to begin working with college-aged women to help them gain a trust in their bodies, to build a confidence in themselves, and to see another possibility for birth.
Is 41 weeks enough time to overturn decades of mistrust of one’s own body? The support of a doula, someone who values and honors the miracle of a woman’s body to grow and birth a baby, is critical. The constant presence of a doula who cherishes birth, who nurtures the mother (and father/family) and who can encourage relaxation and calm over fear is profoundly valuable – but young women and expectant mothers must also consciously work to trust their bodies and to trust birth. Through education, practiced relaxation and other techniques, push back against the cultural insistence of fearful childbirth. Surround yourself with people who have a positive view of birth, invite only those who have a peaceful effect to your birth and protect yourself from fear-provoking stories, words, comments or advice.
Nerves are normal, questions of the unknown are expected – but believe in the capabilities of your body, learn as much evidence-based information that you can. Consciously, actively work to whittle away any fears and decide to surrender to the process of birth. As Ina May Gaskin, renowned author and midwife, says, “Your body is not a lemon!” Choose trust not fear.