The Use of Fear During Labor

I read this awesome post about how “failing to progress” in labor is most likely a “failure to be patient and understand” labor, and it got me thinking about my own birth story and the use of fear in deliveries.

Overall I had a wonderful birth experience, and giving birth to Pip is one of the highlights of my life. However, I believe that fear was used twice in my hospital birth experience, and both instances had negative results for me.

The first was when we arrived at the hospital and I was going through triage. My early labor went wonderful and I was already four centimeters dilated when I arrived. Hoorah! But the triage nurse told me I needed to drink. In fact, what she told me was: “your baby needs you to drink.” Even now when I write that I feel a rush of adrenaline in my body. She brought me a giant pink jug of cranberry juice. I drank half of it down in under a minute. Two minutes later I promptly vomited everywhere.

I’m sure her use of fear wasn’t intended to be harmful, but either way the end result was negative. Not only did vomiting leave me weaker and actually less hydrated, it left me feeling less confident in myself and perhaps subconsciously more scared about what was to come.

I believe that statement “your baby needs you to _____” can be a form of manipulation and a way to get a woman to do something from a frantic and fearful state. Telling the woman essentially that her baby is in danger, to whatever degree, in order to get her to comply, introduces fear and anxiety into the labor. There is no room, time or need for fear and anxiety in a labor; breathe, peace, stability and strength is needed in labor. Even in cases of a true emergency, fear and anxiety will only hinder or impair the proceedings.

In retrospect, the nurse could have asked me to take small sips, or simply provided me the juice so I could drink whenever I felt like it. Or she could have asked my birth partner, my husband, to be mindful of my thirst and offer me liquids, since my attention would probably and rightfully be elsewhere (which for me was my breath).

The second time fear was used was towards the end of my labor. I was 8cm dilated and I believe now that I was in transition phase at that point. Because I had been resting, I was in the bed, on my back. Uh oh! Now I know that should have been a warning sign. My contractions were coming fast and furious, maybe a minute apart, and just rolling through my body. I was in quite a lot of pain. I had told the nurses I didn’t want an epidural and I wanted to labor walking and moving, but the nurse shift had changed and a new nurse came in who I don’t think shared the same outlook as me. She told me this was my “last chance” to get the epidural and that I “had to decide now.” I hesitated and when I asked how much longer this would be, the nurse said “it could be like this for two more hours. There’s no way to know.”

All I needed to hear two more hours and fear immediately took over. I panicked, thinking “there’s no way I can do this every minute for two more hours.” And I agreed to the epidural.

In the end I didn’t get a strong dose of the medication, and I was able to always feel the contractions and knew on my own when to push. And I loved giving birth to my daughter, it was one of the very best moments of my life. I felt so powerful and strong and alive. I was not and am still not scared of pushing: that’s how heady and beautiful those feelings were for me.

But now, I do wish fear hadn’t been used to encourage me to get an epidural. I wish the nurse had been willing to labor with me. I wish I had been standing up and walking or in any other position that can help relieve labor pains instead of the flipped beetle position. Because in truth, all I would have had to do was face each minute as it came – this minute, and this minute. Not two hours all at once. Not an unknown and unmanageable amount of pain. There were other options. There were better options, that would have left my body and spirit more in tact afterward.

Speaking of afterward, the same nurse interrupted Pip and my bonding to say to me, “it’s a good thing you had the epidural, or else when you were pushing you would have felt a burning when she was born.” And I remember very clearly thinking, “so what?” Avoiding a burning sensatation was not at the top of my list. In fact, avoiding pain wasn’t even at the top of my list of concerns. You can’t live if you are trying to avoid pain. Less trite is the fact that pain is inevitable. Fear of pain is understandable- let’s face it, it’s not enjoyable. But for someone else to push their fear of pain on you in order to get you to do what they want, or what they think is best, is wrong.

Fear is counterproductive in every way, in every part of life, and especially in labor. Fear actually increases pain in labor, because it stops the breath and creates tightness, or resistance, in the woman’s body. Openness and release is needed for birth. Breathing is needed for birth.

Next time, I will be aware when fear is being used to persuade me. My husband (and a hired doula, hopefully) will know be aware also and able to run interference for me. For now, and always, I’ll remain proud of the way I birthed my daughter. Girl, did I learn..a lot.

And no matter what, like I’m doing right now…I’ll continue to breathe.

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3 Responses to The Use of Fear During Labor

  1. Julie says:

    Such a good post! Exactly what mommas-to-be need to hear!

  2. Pingback: Feeding and Eating with Kids | lovenotesmama

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