How to Get Over Your Fear of Birth

When I think back to what “went wrong” with my first birth and what can “go wrong” for so many new mothers, they all have one thing in common: We didn’t know what we didn’t know.

I touched on this a little bit in my previous post, but what I didn’t talk about was how the Right Mindset in itself has layers we need to work through.

I had worked through the superficial layers of believing that I could have the birth I wanted, and I even believed that I deserved to have a good experience. The trouble was that when obstacles crossed my path, I didn’t realize I was allowed to do as I pleased.

It’s funny to me now, because I was one of those difficult little girls who grew up to become a “Difficult Woman” and I had prided myself on not letting anyone tell me what to do.

And then I got pregnant.

I could go into the multi-layered reasoning WHY that mattered, but both Cristen Pascucci and Milli Hill have written articles and books about that, and it boils down to one single word:

Patriarchy.

As women/birthing people, we have been socialized to defer to the experts in all things.

It wasn’t too long ago that pregnancy and birth information didn’t exist in our culture. Our grandmothers were told “not to worry” and that all they had to do was trust their doctor.

I can tell you right now that line of thinking led to episiotomies, forceps deliveries, and being “knocked out” for the birth. It also led to generations of mothers believing that they needed to bottle-feed because breastmilk was somehow inferior.

Today, it’s led to a cesarean rate of 50% or even higher in the majority of hospitals, and on average 1 in 3 women will birth by cesarean.

Induction is now more common than waiting for labour to start on its own, and we’re handing our babies the eviction notices before we even hit 40 weeks gestation.

As a long-time advocate I saw the same stories play out in the parenting forums every week. Moms would ask “how do I avoid an induction? I don’t want a cesarean”. But when they were told they could refuse the induction…they often didn’t listen.

Why?

Because our society has instilled a mindset in so many of us that works against our instincts and against our own physiology.

We have been taught not to trust those instincts or even believe our own bodies.

When we feel something is “not right” we are told not to worry, and when we’re told that something isn’t “normal” but we feel that we know our bodies better we are often talked down to until we start doubting those gut instincts.

This is what happened with my first pregnancy. I let someone else put doubts into my head.

After that birth I did my homework and the more I learned, the more I recognized the key mindset shifts that are needed before you can have an empowered birth.

They are:

Believing in Your Power to Birth

Believing that You Know Your Baby Best

Believing that You Are In Charge

Believing that You Are a Consumer

Believe in Your Power to Birth

Believing in your power to birth requires you to focus on how birth goes RIGHT instead of how it can “go wrong”.

I see this a lot with mothers who express how they would love to have a homebirth, but that they can’t help worrying that if they do that something could “go wrong”.

Or there’s a mother who fears that she will have a cesarean but there’s no health indications that would lead to her definitely needing one.

Sometimes the lack of belief in your Power to Birth can show up subtly in how you absorb information. A care provider may talk of a 25% “risk” if you don’t do a certain test or procedure, but rather than focus on the 75% possibility of success you focus instead on that 25% and it paralyzes you.

As a general rule, I have found very few instances when a risk was as high as 25% in a physiological birth (meaning a birth that unfolds without interference or intervention), however we do have cesarean rates this high (and higher) and when you consider that the World Health Organization and the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada have expressed real concern that doctors are doing too many cesareans, it might be a good idea to question why this keeps happening.

So how do you start Believing in Your Power to Birth?

Stay away from horror stories, for one thing!

The more you’re surrounded by negative stories, the more likely you’ll start to absorb those messages. This is a good rule to follow in life as well as in birth, because we shape our own reality through our perceptions of it.

In my first pregnancy I made a conscious effort to seek out homebirth stories because generally those are the most positive. Birth is purely physiological in a home setting and therefore you’ll find a lot more variations to it. There may be challenging moments, but they are overcome. If there is an emergency it is often dealt with in a much calmer manner, with the mother looking back knowing that those interventions were truly needed.

When you feel that you did everything you could and that you made the best decisions for yourself out of a place of confidence rather than fear, then that birth is empowered even if the outcome is a cesarean.

This is why I created the Facebook Community for Empowered Moms! As a birth advocate, educator, and coach, I’ve noticed that a lot of what was shared in mainstream parent groups and forums on social media can be terrifying, with very little positive images or stories on vaginal birth at home after a cesarean, breech vaginal birth, or even birth of twins! Fortunately I know where I can find those stories and through my wide network of connections and resources I have been able to get the most positive videos, images, and true accounts of birth outside the variations of “normal” in our heavily medicalized birth culture and share them daily within the Facebook Community.

These stories are part of what makes Empowering Moms in Pregnancy, Birth, Postpartum, and Beyond so special! Stories are powerful, and the positive ones can lead to shifts in your mindset and understanding of what can actually be possible!

The more people who believe in your ability to birth your baby, the more you will believe it yourself. This is true of anything.

The key to success has always been to surround yourself with other like-minded individuals who will hold you accountable and set you back on your path when you start to doubt yourself.

Believe That You Know Your Baby Best

If you’re a first-time mom then you may not yet fully appreciate what I’m about to say, but I’m going to tell you the best piece of parenting advice you will EVER get:

Just Do What Works!

The best expert on your baby is YOU.

Not your mother.

Not your partner.

Not your doctor.

YOU.

You are the one carrying this baby inside you. They are growing with you and when you quiet your mind you can tune into what they are communicating.

Our “pregnancy brain” is nature’s way of tossing out “useless” information that is not in tune with what our bodies and our babies need from us. For many of us, this is when Intuition really shines through.

I knew, instinctively, that there was nothing wrong with my son’s growth. I was still hungry all the time, he was kicking up a storm, and truthfully it wasn’t until weeks of no support for my plans that I gave into the idea of having a hospital birth against my better judgment and in spite of my desire to be in control and feel safe.

Sadly, by giving in I started off motherhood with a lot of self-doubt. I was constantly battling against what others told me I “should” do while also defending what I felt was right for me and my son. I was doing what worked for me, but somehow that was “wrong”.

But really, what’s wrong is doing something that isn’t working for you or your baby, or doesn’t align with your Birth Vision, values, preferences, or needs, just because someone else tells you that’s how it’s always been done.

Breaking free of that belief that others know more than you about your own baby, requires you to stop seeing yourself as knowing less just because you’re a “new mom”.

By the time you’re ready to birth you have spent nine, even ten months with your baby. You’ve gotten to know your body more intimately, you’ve felt the changes, and this tiny little person has been a part of you that whole time. Not only that, but for however many years you have been alive you have lived in your body. You know what foods don’t agree with you, what level of light is tolerable, even what positions feel good to be in. No one else can feel that for you.

The Patriarchy likes to tell us that we don’t know our own bodies or our own minds. In fact, it needs us to believe that so that we remain compliant, looking for someone else to tell us how to think, feel, and act.

But we don’t need to do that.

One of my favourite quotes from Ina May Gaskin is, “it’s easy to scare women…it’s even profitable to scare women. But it’s not nice, so let’s stop it!”

Inside the Facebook Community for Empowered Moms, we draw a hard line on scaring moms! In fact, we don’t tolerate any of that “not allowed” nonsense and won’t tell you to do anything you don’t want to do “just in case something goes wrong”. The mothers and birth workers in the community believe that birth is a physiological event that sometimes needs medical help, but that ultimately it is your choice how you wish to interpret the evidence for or against interventions, practices, or your perception of risk to yourself and your baby.

Believe That You Are In Charge

Birth is a time when we can truly shine in our own power and learn our bodies and our babies so well that instinct takes over and we just do what feels right in the moment.

When we let go of the idea that others know us better than we know ourselves, we’re ready to step into our role as Decision Maker in our care.

The key to Taking Charge in Your Birth is to know that you were always capable of doing so. Even if you had a traumatic first birth and felt powerless, that doesn’t have to be the end of your journey. Even the greatest heroes and heroines in movies have moments when the villain overpowers them for a moment, when they feel like all is lost, and then they get right back up and fight again!

When you recognize that you can Take Charge of Your Birth it extends to your entire parenting journey. You won’t spend hours on the parent forums asking if you should do something that doesn’t feel right to you just because your doctor said it; you’ll already know that you don’t want to do it, so you won’t. You won’t ask others “am I doing it right?” because if it feels right to you then it’s right.

Only YOU can decide that!

The first step to recognizing that YOU are in charge is realizing that no one else can be.

You know your body best.

You know your baby best.

You know what you want and what you don’t want.

You know what feels like a huge risk and what is less significant.

No one else knows all of that!

Your care provider is operating with their own perceptions of risks that may be vastly different from your own.

Everyone has biases!

When you stop seeing healthcare professionals as all-knowing gods and instead recognize they are human beings it’s much easier to see their recommendations as simple guidelines that you are free to agree or disagree with.

Second, knowing your rights to Informed Consent and Refusal reaffirms that YOU are “in charge” of your care.

It is ILLEGAL for your care provider to force you into any test or procedure you do not want.

If you tell them you don’t want vaginal exams and they tell you that you “have to”, that is a red flag, not something open to debate! They are going against the LAW by implying or even outright saying that you have “no choice”.

Finally, toss out “Am I Allowed” from your vocabulary!

I cannot stress this enough!

“Allowed” has NO place in any conversation when it comes to our rights in birth or in life!

You are a grown-ass woman! NOBODY gets to tell you what you are “allowed” to do with your own body.

Cristen Pascucci of Birth Monopoly wrote an entire blog post about this!

So the next time someone asks you if you’re “allowed” to have the birth you want, refuse such and such test, or even change your mind about what you agreed to do in labour, respond with “I’m an adult. I decide what’s allowed.”

Inside the Facebook Community for Empowered Moms you will learn of your rights, your options, and feel more empowered to advocate for yourself in your maternity care. You’ll also get the perspectives of many other mothers who may have been in your shoes once, as well as the insight from the larger community of birth professionals. We only bring in those birth workers who believe in your right to informed decision making, who will support you to come to your own conclusions of what is best.

But what if your care provider really does tell you that what you want is “not allowed”?

This leads to the final mindset shift you need to make to have an Empowered Birth…

Believe that You Are a Consumer

This is the most powerful of the 4 Mindset Shifts because I truly believe that when we all believe this, maternity care will have to change!

People don’t recognize that hospitals and the overall maternity care system are a business!

Like any business, they are focused on getting a steady stream of customers coming in to bring in money.

It doesn’t matter that our medical services in Canada are paid through taxes and we don’t see any money leave our hands, the reality is that healthcare professionals get paid for the births they attend.

That means that the object of the hospital is to fill and empty beds as quickly as possible, and the more beds they fill, the more money that hospital makes.

Hospitals are also vigilant about avoiding potential lawsuits.

This means that the policies that are in place are designed to minimize risks of litigation and to maximize profit.

The “bottom line” is extracting a healthy baby from a healthy mother.

They don’t concern themselves with the experience of the birth for the mothers because after 1-3 days those moms leave the hospital with their babies and are dealt with in other areas of the healthcare system.

Nothing is integrated; these different tiers of healthcare are all separate from each other.

Wait lists for birth trauma counselling can be long.

Health care issues may not be attributed to birth trauma or the way a birth happened.

To sum it all up, our healthcare system is a mess!

But how do we fix it?

Well, how do we show a business we don’t like what they’re doing in a way that really hits them hard?

We choose not to interact with them.

We take our business elsewhere.

This may not always be possible in smaller regions with only one hospital, however we can still exercise our rights by requesting a different care provider, requesting a different nurse, or even firing our care provider in the middle of labour and birthing our babies into our own hands on the hospital bed.

Remember the laws of Informed Consent clearly state that a healthcare professional is not allowed to touch you without your permission.

Ideally, if you have other options for your care besides the hospital with the 60% cesarean rate where they insist on giving an IV and an epidural to every mom “just in case”, then choose one of those options instead. And if you can birth at home, consider that as another option should you not like the way the hospitals operate their maternity units.

When we step into the role of Consumer, we “shop” for our care providers cautiously and are more likely to reject those that aren’t willing to give us what we want in our care. We also start shopping much earlier in our pregnancies, even before we get pregnant, and we research our options more.

If this seems odd to you, consider that most first time parents spend hours researching car seats, strollers, cribs, and other baby gadgets. They may have a bunch of baby registries set up at different stores. They stock up on different size diapers.

I did this too, so don’t feel bad! This is the common thing to do in our culture. We spend a lot of time buying “stuff” for the baby that winds up only being used for a few months or not at all.

For the record, I don’t recommend stocking up on diapers before the baby is born because not all brands and fits work for all babies. My kids can NOT wear Pampers, while my sister’s son needed Pampers and his older sister was in Huggies like mine. My kids also had to be in different styles of Huggies! You won’t know which diapers will work until after your baby is born.

I also spent $600 on a crib! I put a lot of time into setting up the nursery for my son.

Guess who wound up co-sleeping for 5 years each kid?

So how do you learn what to really focus on when you’re planning and budgeting for your pregnancy, birth, and postpartum?

Inside the Facebook Community for Empowered Moms, we believe that you are the consumer of maternity care and we encourage you and give tips on how you can shop for the kind of care and support that fits your needs, values, circumstances, and preferences.

Bottom Line: With 1 in 3 women suffering from birth trauma we need to really look at what the effect of NOT Taking Charge of Birth can have on us long-term. That feeling of powerlessness doesn’t go away after we have our babies. The more we defer to other people to tell us what to do, the less likely we will be able to tune in to what our bodies and our babies are telling us. However, if we come into our pregnancies with the mindset that WE are our own best experts on our bodies, our babies, and what is important to us, then we’re more likely to feel Empowered in that birth!

You are not selfish, nor reckless, to choose a path that aligns with your values over the one that most people take without question.

Healthcare professionals are not “authority figures” and if you don’t feel comfortable with a recommendation you CAN ask for a second and third opinion or even alternative options. You can create your own alternatives as well. You are not a “patient” of maternity care because you are not sick.

Pregnancy is not a disease, it is a physiological state of being and a natural process that sometimes needs medical help in 10-15% of cases, but many birth professionals who understand physiological birth would agree that our rates of intervention in birth are too high. It’s highly unlikely that 1 in 4 women can’t birth their babies without intervention, let alone 3 in 4! Humans would have gone extinct a long time ago if that were the case.

It can be difficult to un-learn the conditioning of our patriarchal society, but it’s not impossible. If you would like to start breaking the cycle of fear in our birth culture, come join us inside the Community for Empowered Moms!

We’d love to have you ❤

The Next Post in this Series is now Up! Read about the 4 things you need to educate yourself on for an Empowered Birth.

For more on the 5 Elements, be sure to follow this series of posts and join the Facebook Community for Empowered Moms where I teach about a number of topics related to pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and breastfeeding each week in my Live videos and posts.

Carly Bonderud is a birth educator, advocate, and coach who specializes in helping moms/birthing people achieve an empowered birth and postpartum. She has been an advocate since 2014 and started with Improving Birth in her home community of Abbotsford, BC, and quickly gained recognition by the greater birth worker community in the Lower Mainland, Fraser Valley, and even other parts of Canada, the U.S., and the U.K.

She is the founder and CEO of Empowering Moms Pregnancy & Birth Coaching and also runs the Facebook Community for Empowered Moms: Empowering Moms in Pregnancy, Birth, Postpartum & Beyond

You can connect with her through her Facebook Page, her group, and via email at: Carly@EmpoweringMomsBirth.ca

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