a strategy for switching off fear about childbirth
Fear can be a good thing. In the early years of humanity, it protected our ancestors from saber-tooth tigers. It encouraged them to run, fight, or hide in order to save their lives. Fear is a natural and helpful feeling. It’s also one of the strongest emotions that we can experience, so strong that it can be paralyzing. I’ve felt that level of fear once or twice, and boy, it’s a doozy!
The crazy thing about experiencing fear during childbirth is that it causes our bodies and our minds to do all of the things we don’t want to be doing when we’re giving birth. When we experience fear during childbirth, messages are sent to receptors all over the body creating exaggerated and distorted reactions (a.k.a. pain). These amplified messages then set off physiological and biochemical changes within the body, preparing the body to fight off the saber-tooth tiger (or to take flight by running away, if that’s more your thing).
The body produces catecholamines (I like to call them the “cats”), which are the fight-or-flight hormones. When we’re not supposed to be fighting or flighting, like when we are in labour, the “cats” cause complications, like constricting the uterus and reducing blood flow to all of the places that most need oxygen rich blood during birth (the uterus, the baby, and the placenta).
This lack of oxygen rich blood to these all-important areas can cause the labour to stall, which can create more fear, which produces more “cats,” which slows the labour process more, and it goes on and on and on. When we’re fearful during labour, either consciously or subconsciously, we tense up, labour time increases, and the perception of pain increases. And what can this all lead to? You guessed it, more fear!
Just in case you’re pregnant and you’re experiencing a few fears about your upcoming labour and delivery, I want to offer you some support. One quick and easy way to switch off the fear of birth is to focus on gratitude. I’m sure you’ve heard of this concept before because it exploded into public awareness with the movie The Secret. But, have you considered how this nifty little trick might impact your birth experience?
Here’s something to ponder. We know that the part of the brain that experiences gratitude is not the same part of the brain that experiences fear. When the part of the brain that experiences gratitude is switched on, then the part of the brain that experiences fear automatically switches off and vice versa.
Here’s the thing about fear. Despite all your inner strength and determination, it can be difficult to simply stop thinking fearful thoughts. The truth is: it’s much easier to start thinking grateful thoughts. The good news is that when you start thinking grateful thoughts, the fear switch in your brain turns off, causing the fearful thoughts to disappear. And that, dear reader, is what can free you from the fearful thoughts that may be plaguing you about your upcoming birth.
In case you’re not familiar with my work, know that I love experiments! So, here’s an experiment for you::
Every time you are stopped at a red light, think of at least 10 things that you are grateful for. Start off generally. This can be as simple as your heart beating, your lungs breathing, the sun shining, or the clouds raining. Once you’ve mastered this step, turn it up a notch and list all of the things related to pregnancy and birth that you are grateful for: things like your little munchkin’s soccer legs kicking your ribs (you know he’s strong!), your midwife whose kindness makes your heart tingle, or the hospital for offering you a tour so that you can see their impressive array of technology.
As you exercise the gratitude muscle in your brain, it will become stronger, and as it becomes stronger, it will be something that you know you can rely on when those fearful thoughts try to push their way back into your mind.
The final step of this experiment is to exercise your gratitude muscle when fear is trying to sneak into your life. As soon as you feel the niggling sensation of a fear thought trying to make its way into your mind, instantly reach for your gratitude thoughts and see what happens. And, just like all good experiments, take note of your results. If it works for you, great! If not, I’m sure I’ll come up with another experiment that will help, so stay tuned.
One final note before I sign off. A friend of mine was terrified that her labour noises would resemble the call of a grey whale. She used this little trick for two months prior to her birth, and guess what happened. She had the courage and confidence to express all of her birth noises, even the ones that resembled the call of a grey whale.
Gemma Stone is a mom, psychologist, speaker, and writer who is passionate about birth. She focuses on empowering women to have peaceful and positive birth experiences (no matter how the birth process unfolds).
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