Fear in childbirth
Lately, I have been listening to a podcast on freebirthing. It is a collection of beautiful birth stories by women all around the world who have chosen to reclaim their bodies’ ability to birth freely, in their own space and on their own terms.
The stories these women tell are inspiring, eye opening and fascinating. Even having experienced a homebirth myself, these stories are educating me on the complexities of birth and what happens when a woman is able to birth completely undisturbed.
I don’t mean simply ‘no interventions undisturbed’, I mean ‘not hearing or seeing another person while birthing’ undisturbed. Obviously, this isn’t for everyone but I am so grateful that we live in a world where information like this is freely available to us. It is all about choice and about women knowing that they have the right to choose, especially when it comes to childbirth.
Many of the women who are telling their freebirth stories tell how they found themselves at the decision to birth freely after a traumatic birth experience, or simply feeling uncomfortable with the care they were receiving in the medical maternal health system.
A common theme across the board has been fear. Not fear of birth itself, but that all of these women chose this path to birth freely and not succumb to the fear that the medical system pushes on women day in, day out.
They spoke of how they decided not to make any decisions based on fear.
This got me thinking; women have been giving birth since the dawn of time. Our bodies are made for it. Women were made to birth, unassisted – our bodies need no obstetricians or midwives to help us birth our babies, ultimately these services are there to fill in the lack of education we have received on pregnancy and childbirth and to override our instincts which have been silenced through years of being fed through the medical system with little choice.
It is not instinctual to birth in a room surrounded by strangers and hooked up to machines. This scenario has come about over the years as a result of the Government and medicine taking birth out of the hands of women. It has resulted in women losing touch with themselves and losing touch with our instincts.
Now we need to be shown and guided to the fact that we actually do not need to be taught how to birth, it turns out that at the end of the day, your baby will be born….if there is no hospital in sight and no obstetrician around…your baby WILL be born. That’s just how it is. I know….mind-blowing. Babies do come out on their own….
So, if you can recognise and appreciate that women’s bodies were made to birth and that you need not be in a hospital for that to happen, we are then led to the question of…why? Why are women choosing not to birth at home?
I don’t say this with any judgment for women who have chosen or are choosing not to birth at home, I myself have chosen not to birth at home, twice. We are being raised in a society by which birthing out of home is the norm, I can 100% appreciate that and the situation that most women find themselves in, but if I can educate even just one woman to seek out other options even just to satisfy curiosity, I'll be stoked. My aim is not to persuade, shame or coerce women into looking into birthing at home - my aim is to show women that we have a choice.
And if you choose to birth out of home, great! Just make sure you do it confidently and that you know what your options are and do it without fear! Do what feels right for you and don't feel like you need to justify your choices or your wants to medical professionals; it is your body afterall.
Writing this blog, I myself had to mull on this topic and decide for myself:
Was my decision to birth out of home based on fear?
I chose to birth our first baby out of home because I was uneducated. Our pregnancy was unexpected and I knew so very little about childbirth as is often the case today, I was led by societal norms, my GPs advice and the only birth stories I had access to, from my Mum and my family members, they all birthed out of home so of course, I myself then chose to birth out of home.
Whilst I say I chose this path due to a lack of education, what else is a lack of education on your options if not a fear of the unknown?
So did I choose not to birth at home out of fear. Yes. Ultimately I did.
I was recently told a theory that all decisions we make in life are either based on fear or based on growth. So I urge you, explore your fear. Really sit with your fear and figure out what it is you are afraid of and why. Is it an instinctual fear or is it due to the horror birth story someone told you last week?
When we make decisions based on fear, we relinquish our power. We give control to someone else and put the ball in their court; and that is all well and good if you can trust the person to whom you are giving power – but if you could trust them, would it still be a decision based on fear?
I feel some women have a hard time believing that the very people who are there to ‘take care of us’ are using fear as a method to get women to ‘opt in’ to the medical maternal system. The truth is, when I say they use fear mongering tactics, I don’t believe it is a conscious decision for the most part.
These medical professionals are just as blindfolded as most birthing women are. They are brought up in the same society as us and are exposed to the same media as us.
So yes, I believe fear is a commonly used tactic in the medical maternal health system, but is it always used with malicious intent? No, I don’t think so. Most medical professionals just put one foot in front of the other following in the footsteps of their teachers, mentors and colleagues and don’t question; so whilst fear is used, they may not even realise themselves that that is what they are doing.
Let me try to clarify what I mean by giving an example of when fear is used to try and guide pregnant women into the medical maternal health system.
In most cases when a woman finds out she is pregnant, she will first seek out a GP or a private obstetrician. We are then immediately presented with statistics and numbers on what can happen if we eat this food, drink this drink, don’t take this vitamin – this is where the fear begins. Take this, don’t do that, do this……or else….
When I told my GP that I was looking into homebirth, she gave me a pamphlet on all of the things I should be afraid of, all of the things that could go wrong for me and my baby. A visual statement of how I was choosing to 'endanger' my baby.
The dangers of being fearful throughout pregnancy and childbirth are real; high levels of adrenaline can reduce oxytocin release and placental blood flow. This can be especially dangerous during labour and when women go through their pregnancies fearful of childbirth, this fear then inhibits the release of oxytocin during labour and thus labour and contractions stall. Then as is commonly seen when birthing in hospital, these women are sometimes then coerced into an array of medical interventions due to ‘lack of progress’ or because ‘the baby is distressed’.
Really, I know that is a hugely black and white version of what happens but ultimately, it’s the truth. We are immediately made to be fearful for our babies and defend our choices in childbirth, but why?!
Fear of pregnancy and childbirth is not instinctual. Fear of something so natural is a learnt behaviour…. We are taught to be fearful by interactions such as this and we are constantly exposed to language by medical professionals which then reinforces this fear.
It all comes down to education and exposure, a 2008 Danish study found that fear of childbirth is more common among certain groups of women. It found that women who were young, unemployed, less educated and less connected to other people were more likely to fear childbirth.
This is why it is so important to speak about and be loud about our right to birth autonomously. Not in the hopes that all women then choose to home or free birth, but so that ALL women know they actually have a choice.