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When Fear Enters the Birth Room

I love the Birth Without Fear movement. I share the belief that our culture is too easily led by fears into a practice of numbing our birthing experience. Many of us not only seek to dull our perceived pain of labor and birth, but also avoid the unease of taking responsibility of our own birthing experience and lets face it, our health care in general. But today I’m writing for the women in my own practice and the homebirthers across the world who are not ruled by these fears. The families who have done their research and thoughtfully concluded that a home birth is the safest, healthiest option for their family and yet Fear can still arise.

“0242 emotional response to intensity of labor” this is how I chart fear in the medical records. This is the moment when even the most well prepared mother with 2 other children born at home acknowledges her fears. Suddenly, there’s a shift in the mood of the room, maybe this birth is very different that the others, it’s not what she expected, her first was long and this one is short, or the other way around. Or maybe she’s overwhelmed by thoughts of an unsupported postpartum period. Maybe it’s the knowledge of what is about to happen to her body physically as the baby emerges. Our reasons are different, our fears are from different places and experiences, but whatever the source, fear almost always enters the room at some point during the labor.

The moment her eyes lock to mine with a strength that is almost indescribable is how I know fear is here with us, it’s in the room. Most often the women will verbalize this, “I’m afraid” she will say. The forced words are all she can muster while the left side of her brain is almost completely turned off, but she needs me to know this message. It’s as if Fear itself is checking in with the midwife to see if everything is ok, to see if fear is going to be in charge or if it is safe to just walk beside us during the experience. Through her eyes she asks me: Do I need to give in to this fear, Is this something I should be fearful of, Is everything ok, Will I be able to do this? Midwife-me responds, “It’s okay to be afraid, we can do things even when we are afraid, all is well here”

By acknowledging fear in this way, it allows our normal feelings of fear to emerge but not to rule us or shake our confidence. Fear is a normal part of the human experience and to push it back down when its trying to come out can feel diminishing to our spirit. Fear protects us however it also has the tendency to carry us away. When we can recognize fear in ourselves and then continue on our journey even when fear is present we learn not to be controlled by our fears. So I say to you, don’t try so hard to birth without fear, just let birth happen and if fear shows up we will allow it to watch in awe at your marvelous ability to carry on.

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