I wasn’t always certain about having children, which made it easier to ignore the fact that I was terrified of pregnancy and childbirth. It was a big fat mental block that had me completely stalled at a very real emotional impasse. Forget that women have been having babies since the beginning of time, I was convinced they all had something I did not.
I soon came to realize that my deepest fears was rooted in the unknown nature of it all. The assumed loss of control perhaps.
Most of us want certainty in our lives and (at least for the millennials and generation z’ers) we’re accustomed to living in a world where opportunity is boundless and most of what we need or want is always at our fingertips.
Unfortunately, even in this ever-advancing technological age, fertility, reproduction and childbirth is still a sordid mess of unknowns. This can be hard to accept.
It was hard for me to accept.
And yet, I came to learn that there is a lot of power and autonomy in giving birth (more on this a little later).
Eventually my desire to have children won out over my fears. I have an amazing partner with whom I wanted to have babies and raise a family together. Once I was really “in it” (sonogram in hand, listening to a heartbeat and watching my body transform to house and nourish this little being inside of me), I realized my fears were not going away. Rather, they were primed and ready to hijack the entire experience.
I had work to do.
The strongest messaging I had received to date about childbirth was that something bad would inevitably happen, because it ALWAYS does. On the whole, we don’t hear stories or see positive imagery of women leading the charge and owning their bodies in pregnancy or labour and delivery. We see doctors advising pregnant women on every minute detail. And of course, labour always begins with the waters breaking and the woman rushing frantically to the hospital where she’s placed on a gurney on her back, screaming in discomfort until the doctor enters to tell her when to push.
This is not meant to criticize or shame women who have this exact birth story. Medical interventions save women and babies’ lives. No question. I had to have medical interventions with my first-born and I am so grateful to the obstetrician who helped me deliver my baby. This criticism is a commentary on birth culture in our society and how it leaves women with very little autonomy and causes us to distrust our natural physiology.
We hear dramatized cautionary tales that make us worry about every choice we make from the moment we have a positive result on that pee stick. Hell, even the getting pregnant part has us obsessing and overanalyzing. Sure, there are legitimate concerns and high risk pregnancies.
However, I highly doubt that women from the 17th century (for example) worried about half the things we do today and lots of women died giving birth in that era because the knowledge and interventions weren’t there. Now, in 2017, we’re in the know and we have so many amazing advancements in birthing and yet, we’re scared shitless. Why is that?
We know too much? We definitely trust the medicalized version of childbirth more than we trust our own bodies. There is so much fear-mongering circling us, like predatory vultures.
I can tell you. I did not trust that my body could give birth.
I also held tight to my own mother’s birth stories. She had four children. I was her first-born. Her only “natural” birth. (The others, all scheduled cesareans after me.) I use this word “natural” loosely because what she experienced was hardly “natural” or typical. It was traumatic af. Even our family doctor years later, corrected her jokingly, stating that that was no “natural” birth. I was breach and presented face up. The cord was wrapped snuggly around my neck and when I finally emerged, my breathing was pretty lack-lustre. Oh, and I was a lovely shade of blue too. My mom began hemorrhaging almost immediately and had to stay behind while I was rushed by ambulance (170 km away) to a children’s hospital. It was the 80’s. Things would probably go down differently today. But regardless, this was my beginning and I believed this would be my first-born’s beginning as well.
My mom owns her birth stories. They are a part of her and us. I admire this. And I think we should all take a page from this book. However, I knew I had to relinquish her birth story as my fate.
Needless to say, I took to work, filling my heart with lots of positive birth stories and reading books that helped instil confidence in me that I could handle whatever was coming my way. I got informed and began to let go of any preconceived notions about what would be.
My greatest strength going into labour and delivery was the affirmations that I rehearsed countless times leading up to those first contractions. I trusted that my body would do everything it could to deliver my baby and if there were challenges, the right interventions would be made by me, my partner and my birthing team.
A huge part of staying in a positive zone for me was birth affirmations. They lowered my anxiety and worry. They also helped me enjoy my pregnancy and come away with a positive birth story (despite things not going according to my ideal “birth plan”).
During my pregnancy, I had post-its stuck on walls, mirrors and cupboard doors – all over my house. Messages and mantras reminding me of my strength, openness and ability to flow with change. They also helped me to counter the many “what ifs” that surfaced on a daily basis, especially as my due date approached. Most times I read them aloud and repeatedly until they really landed solid in my psyche.
Positivity has a neurological and physiological impact on our bodies (seriously, go look that shit up – it’s fascinating!). Our minds can be major inhibitors to our bodies.
And you know what?! Affirmations did not cease to serve me once the childbirth bit was over. Nope. I still refer to certain mantras and quotes to inspire me in motherhood, especially on the really really hard days and there are many of those.
Our birth affirmation card deck was created to support expectant mothers in their journey to childbirth. It can be a scary road, littered with uncertainty and anxiety. I know it was for me. It helped tremendously to read aloud grounding and affirming words.
It doesn’t help that the landscape of birthing culture can be straight-up toxic, hypocritical, shame-inducing and terribly judgemental. I have met people (in real life and online) who will unabashedly attack women for their choices; getting an epidural versus “au naturel”, having a vaginal birth versus a cesarean birth or having a home birth versus a hospital birth. There is only one thing to be said to these people; mind your own damn business! You are not the keeper of anyone else’s body but you’re own. Nor do you understand the intimate circumstances of someone else’s life.
There will always be unknowns in pregnancy and childbirth. Some of us handle this uncertainty better than others but I venture to guess, it’s scary to most, especially the first time around. Undoubtedly things will happen that you did not expect; good and bad. It helped me to be well-informed of the options and to ask “why?” a lot (of my health practitioners). But the thing that helped me to feel strong, empowered and capable leading into the birth of my first child (when I had no idea what would happen), was a positive state of mind.
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