Fear and Its Effects on Labor
Excerpt from: Painless Childbirth: An Empowering Journey Through Pregnancy and Birth
“We need to always remember that mothers who are afraid tend to secrete the hormones that delay or inhibit birth. This is true of all mammals and is part of nature’s design. Those who are not terrified are more likely to secrete in abundance the hormones that make labor and birth easier and less painful-sometimes even pleasurable.”
Ina May Gaskin, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth
The most common fear we all experience is fear of the unknown, and of course if this is your first time labor and delivery your fear falls into that category. You have heard that labor is painful, and that it will hurt a lot. You have seen it on TV, friends have told you, and there is an exorbitant amount of confirmation out there that you are in for the most painful experience of your life. People even stop you in the streets to share their experience with you, warning you: “get your epidural as soon as possible,” they say, “I had a cesarean could not stand the thought of going through with it.” they proudly exclaim. And that is not only what you expect but what you fear, and focus on. Managing the hurtful labor becomes all encompassing, you take classes on how to breathe during labor, you learn about the drugs that are available if you cannot manage it, you take classes to learn how to deal with the waves, focusing on being brave and taking it, or screaming for an epidural in the parking lot. But fear is not only a future projection of what you can expect during labor, some of your fears have nothing to do with labor per se, you might mask them that way, but the fears that often stand in the way of a painless childbirth are fears that come from your past. Those fears are the ones you need to deal with in order to manifest a painless childbirth. For instance: the fear to go against the norm, to be different, to stand on your own, and have that rare but possible experience of a painless childbirth.
It’s important to recognize that past fears, which have yet to be dealt with, can affect the quality and length of your labor and delivery
Scientific studies indicate that certain hormonal changes take place in the presence of fear, stress, and anxiety. “The adrenaline released while in fear or stress has been referred to as the antithesis of oxytocin, the naturally produced hormone that stimulates uterine contractions. Another category of hormones called catecholamines (which include epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine) is indicated by other studies as one of the causative factors in fetal distress and problematic labor. Catecholamines circulate when the pregnant mother is anxious or afraid, and they pass through the placenta to the baby, affecting his environment.”
When we are afraid, we tend go into an automatic fight-or-flight reaction: we tense every muscle of our body in order to prepare for a defensive action. Consequently, fear can be a deciding factor affecting our overall experiences.
- In labor: fear creates tension and tension creates pain.
- In postpartum: fear creates confusion, anxiety, the feeling of helplessness and of being lost and alone.
- In life: fear is the very obstacle to our self-confidence and, ultimately, to our success.
Often our deepest fears are reenacted in our dreams, and many of us have very vivid dreams during our pregnancy. Be grateful when that happens as your dreams help you discover was is deeply embedded in your unconscious and give you a chance to face it. Babies can and will accrue memories while in the womb and will feel and embrace the mother and father’s emotions. If fear and low self-esteem are what you feel most of the time, so will your child.
Another way to explore our fears is through hypnotherapy. During a hypnotherapy session I help my clients bring to the surface a memory from the past that seems to still influencing their present. Once they are in the midst of the memory, not only intellectually but with their entire sensory engaged, we slowly modify the memory, by adding a rescuing element, a positive image that shatters the past and reconstructs a new memory of the event. In a sense, the mother-to-be learns how to embrace her fears by changing her memory to one of success and safety. Embracing your is fears is ideal because trying to erased them will only make them fight harder to survive.
Even if you had a difficult first birth, your fear can be still strong, especially if the first birth was difficult, and that fear needs healing through reenactment.
Imagine a small child frightened and shaky; screaming under the covers at the monster, she believes lives in the closet. Mom runs to the room, “What’s the matter? Don’t be silly! There are no monsters in the closet.” This answer won’t appease the child. In fact, when dismissed and ridiculed the fear will hide deep within the child’s unconscious. The child resolves to not share her fears with Mom to avoid being belittled and ridiculed. Ideally, the scene could go as follows:
Mom walks in and hugs the child as she saying, “So, my little one, tell me more about the monster under the bed.” The little girl might respond, “It’s big and scary! Make him go away, Mommy!” Then Mom responds by taking her daughter’s words seriously, “Do you want me to go and look in the closet and tell him to leave you alone?” “Can you do that?” says the little girl, still frightened. “Sure. In fact, I’m going to leave my angel with you, and together with your angel they’ll watch over you.” Then Mom shines a light into the closet and speaks these words: “I know you are there monster, and I want you to know that you are frightening my girl. From now on, my angel and her angel will stand guard over her so you may not come back here and frighten her.”
Simply denying ours or our children’s fears and negative feelings will only make them stronger. Through the lesson learned in the second chakra associated with our right to feel, we have learned that we need to acknowledge our feelings, even those that seem unjustified or fantastic, like the fear of the monster in the room.