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February 7, 2010

Facing my childbirth fears

Last night was the roughest night I’ve had in about three weeks.  Pain + intense itching + hunger + heartburn + nausea = very long night and definitely no church this morning.  But it is a good reminder of how difficult most of this pregnancy has been.  There is that old wives’ tale about how when the baby comes you forget all about how hard and painful it all was . . . well, I don’t have my baby yet, but I think I was beginning to have that experience already.  In so many ways weeks 36-39 have been the easiest of the whole pregnancy and I started to think, was it really as hard as I thought it was? Maybe it wasn’t that bad. At which point, Neal wants to have me committed because, um, yes, it was that bad.

The upside of this sick, can’t-get-out-of-bed day is that I will finally finish this post on my childbirth fears for those who were left hanging.

So as I was saying . . .

Birthing from Within is the last childbirth book I’m reading (I promise, Neal :)) and overall, it has been the most helpful — even if just for page 7 alone.  It outlines a short list of questions to help you confront and deal with your fears and worries.  This straightforward, logical approach has felt like the final piece in all my preparation.  Paraphrasing from the book, I’ve asked myself:

  • What do I worry about or fear?
  • What would I do if this worry/fear occurred?
  • What would it mean about me as a mother if it happened?
  • What can I do to prepare for or prevent it?

This paradigm has helped me to identify and dissect my emotions and psychologically prepare for what will happen if my fears come to pass.  I have felt empowered by this process, knowing that I’ve pursued whatever preventative measures I can.

I think I’ve had three primary fears (related to labor/delivery itself, not pregnancy — that post would be a novel and probably too traumatic for me to ever write it all out!):

  1. Having a c-section
  2. Perineal tearing
  3. Lacking the necessary stamina

About two or three months ago, a cesarean seemed like THE worst case scenario to me . . . something so different from what I wanted that it would be devastating.  But I’ve got to say that having abdominal surgery at 7 months pretty much took the mystery out of it for me.  I had started reading The Essential C-Section Guide just prior to the appendectomy and when I came back to finish it after the surgery, the medical procedures and physiologic healing processes were just about identical to what I was experiencing.  Of course, the physical process itself is a small part of why many women don’t want c-sections — the emotional component is huge.  I feel extremely blessed to have an aunt and a very close friend who both had unplanned c-sections and were willing to talk with me about the emotional trial it was for them.  When you combine all that, I think I have come to a good place where if a cesarean became necessary, I could deal with that, knowing that I would have some wise and sensitive women to help me through it.

Perineal tearing is actually tops on Neal’s list.  He doesn’t mind medical interventions, so the idea of me having an epidural or cesarean doesn’t bother him.  But when he heard what 3rd and 4th degree tears were, he pretty much wanted to curl up and die.  Obviously, some degree of tearing is very common in first-time moms, so it’s not a fear that carries so much emotional baggage for me.  But asking myself these questions and doing all I can to prevent it has given me greater peace of mind.  So that means Kegels and perineal massage now (with the help of a little bird named Neal that doesn’t want any physical part of these preparations, but constantly checks up on me — we’ve finally found something that Neal has genuine anxiety about!) and using warm compresses during labor.

This last one is the biggie for me because it is so tied to my overall health, which if you haven’t heard, leaves something to be desired.  Even though I really believe that my body can do this, I would be lying if there wasn’t part of me (a very emotionally-charged part) that thinks my body can’t do much of anything right — and why would this be an exception.  In many ways, I don’t really fit the “natural childbirth” profile . . . I don’t run marathons; I’m not a health-food guru; I don’t even get a high from exercise.  Have I mentioned I like to lay still and not move as much as possible?!  Pretty much everyone I personally know that has had an unmedicated labor or attempted one fits into one or more of those lifestyles and I have asked myself again and again, am I really tough enough for this?

At our last childbirth class, our doula Melissa said something that really helped to improve my perspective on this issue.  She told me that some of her clients who are very athletic struggle a lot during labor because they are unprepared for how emotional the process is, not just physical.  You can’t just force your way through it with pure physical exertion because there will be times when a gentler or more nuanced approach is necessary — and if you are always used to being the master of your own body, you may be in for a rude awakening when you can’t make your body do just what you want it to.  It really opened my eyes to a possible upside to my health history: I have had to learn to listen to and respect what my body is telling me, limitations and all.  Sometimes I have pushed myself, but my body always pushes back, reminding me that I am no master of it.  I hope that this will end up being a strength that I bring to the table, even though my body lacks some of the physical strength that others bring.

Of course, that hasn’t exempted me from trying to increase my physical strength and endurance as well.  This was a firm requirement Neal set out for me before I was even pregnant, from the first moment I even mentioned the kind of birth I wanted.  So first I took a ballet class last spring (I danced for all of childhood and adolescence, but my health and injuries brought that to an abrupt halt about 13 years ago).  If you don’t know, ballet is not for wimps.  It is a rigorous, full-body work-out if you’re doing it right.  When I did get pregnant and the horrid first trimester hit, ballet wasn’t a possibility anymore.  We were going to try swimming instead, but my skin condition made that an impossibility as well.

I started going to the BYU gym to use an elliptical because the no-impact motion is better for my joints than most work-out equipment, but soon my shifting center of gravity and light-headedness ruled that out as well.  I’ve been left with the stationary bike.  Not my first choice since bikes scare the pants off me (that’s a story for another day), but I tried to ride for 20-30 minutes, 3 times a week at the BYU gym.  After I had healed sufficiently from the appendectomy but still wasn’t able to leave the house, Neal bought a bike for $30 at D. I. (a local thrift store) and I’ve tried to make the investment worthwhile.  One and a half hours of exercise per week sounds pretty paltry when you compare it to about 160 hours of lying in bed, but I’ve gotta say that I feel pretty darn heroic when I manage it.  Kinda like her:

Do you think a headband like that would be motivating during labor?

So I may be naive, but I feel ready to do this thing.  Every account I read of childbirth has so many distinct elements, and I want to figure out what the end of our story is.  I want to know if after car accidents and neck surgery and appendicitis and fibromyalgia, childbirth really is the most intense pain I’ve ever experienced.  Most of all, I want this little girl in my arms, safe and sound.



  1. As always, thanks for bearing your heart and soul. Many of these words were healing to me. In response: 1) I know at least one other person who has had 2 natural births who does not fit the profile you mentioned and she did great—you’re not alone! 2) Your doula sounds awesome. She is so right. One of the hardest parts of pregnancy and childbirth for me was giving up my body and feeling out of control. Since you’re used to that, you really are at an advantage. I really think the emotional component is key. I’ve heard some women say they actually felt like they were going to die in childbirth. I did not have that fear—the chances of dying in childbirth these days (esp. in a highly supervised hospital setting) are pretty low. So with that fear aside, really it came down to me being afraid the pain would be so intense I would just completely freak out. I did amaze myself with how calm I stayed despite the pain I had before my epidural, but maybe I was too outwardly calm. Anyway, what was hard was it almost felt like I was trapped in the pain because I knew I wouldn’t die (not that I really wanted to, but still) and I knew I was making no progress, so it felt like there was no way out, and I didn’t feel like I could express what I was experiencing (and even if I could, I knew it wouldn’t make it go away). I hope this is helpful, not scary. The point I’m trying to make is that I think if you can focus on the progress you’re making (assuming, unlike me, your labor does progress!), that can be a really helpful way of dealing with the pain, a “this too shall pass” kind of deal. And letting yourself have FAITH that it really is worth it. There were times I did not feel like I KNEW that, but I remember so many people telling me it was, and WE ARE ALL RIGHT! IT IS SOOOOOOOOOOOOOO WORTH IT! But I think you’re catching on to that pretty well already too.

    Comment by Vickie Blanchard — February 8, 2010 @ 2:54 am

  2. “I don’t even get a high from exercise”–I have often felt gypped b/c I don’t get a runner’s high 😀

    I will have to buy that book now (yet another one to add to my growing parenting stack!). I never thought about exactly why I fear childbirth too–it just seems generally scary and painful. But it’s so true that really honing in on what you’re afraid of (no matter what it is) can take away a lot of unfocused anxiety.

    Good luck!

    Comment by Emily — February 8, 2010 @ 4:16 am

  3. HECK YEAH!!! you better get one of those for the delivery! i know all those fears… don’t worry… whatever happens.. you’ll get through it and recover. love you linds!!

    Comment by Lindsay Heinzen — February 8, 2010 @ 7:28 pm

  4. To ease your mind a bit – I tore with my first delivery and honestly, I wouldn’t have known if the doctor hadn’t told me that the afterbirth was taking a little longer than usual because I had to get stitches. Healing from the stitches (the dissolving kind of course) was more irritating than the actual tearing – use the sitz bath religiously if you have stitches! It’s a lifesaver!

    Comment by treen — February 8, 2010 @ 8:57 pm

  5. I’m a natural childbirth person, and I certainly don’t fit into those categories. I’m curious to see what your perspective is afterwards. My personal experience was much like your doula postulated. We are good at “enduring,” which counts for a lot in birthing. It was tiring, difficult work that I couldn’t control. But I was used to being tired, to forging ahead with the necessities regardless of how I technically felt. For me, giving birth to my children, particularly Cecily (natural, no ineffective epidural like with Gwen) was the most empowering experience of my life.
    Sometimes I wonder if I have a really high pain tolerance, after doing the fibromyalgia dance for 8+ years, or a really low one–maybe this isn’t a big deal but I’m a total pansy. After childbirth I didn’t feel that way. It didn’t seem to matter. It was difficult, but with more purpose and results than any other pain or physical difficulty I’ve had.
    I’m praying for you, lady! I know that you are a mother at the most fundamental level possible, regardless of how this all comes to pass.

    Comment by Aislin — February 9, 2010 @ 5:16 am

  6. Hi Linds! I, too, am a natural childbirth lady — and definitely not an exercise/natural food person! The thing that helped me the most was the monitor on my belly — noticing that the pain was peaking and then going down. I could endure it all because it wasn’t going to last forever. The breaks between labor pains are really, really nice! Of course, then you get into hard labor and pushing and you don’t get breaks, but that period doesn’t last nearly as long. I love you Linds! Can’t wait to hear the good news that a baby has arrived! Love, Debbie

    Comment by ehghlsmom — February 12, 2010 @ 1:36 am

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