When I found out I was pregnant I was thrilled and then I quickly became terrified about the birth. I had a fear of hospitals and doctors, which was caused by the treatment I had received by a doctor in my early twenties after a traumatic incident. It felt like being traumatised twice. Fifteen years later and pregnant, I was still holding onto the fear. Imagining anything associated with my impending birth was enough to propel me into a state of anxiety and panic.
Although I had an understanding of where the fear came from I also felt angry at my fear. Angry that this potentially beautiful, life-affirming transition into motherhood would not be realised because I would be paralysed by my fear. Feeling at the mercy of fear felt so disempowering and hopeless. If I had named it I would say it was like a damp, dark, black swamp that I was stuck in. I felt it rise in my chest to my throat every time I read a birth story and within minutes I would be sobbing.
My fear had a definite source and that’s true for lots of the women I work with. Sometimes though we don’t know where the fear comes from. It’s a genralised anxiety that has potentially grown as a result of stories about birth we’ve heard in the mainstream media or those our traumatised sisters have told us. Wherever the fear comes from the impact is the same and the messages we tell ourselves are:
I can’t do this
I’m not strong enough
This will break me
I’m going to let myself and everyone else down
Why can’t I get past this?
I won’t be able to handle the pain
It will overwhelm me
This will break me
The fears and limiting beliefs we experience, however all encompassing or fleeting are a barrier to our potential to have a positive, calm birth experience. But here’s the thing: our fear about birth or anything we may find ourselves afraid of in life: public speaking, making decisions, ageing, dying, relationships, does not go away. How about then we make friends with the fear? And start to entertain the idea that fear is looking out for us. From fear’s point of view, it’s like hey what’s up? I thought we were buddies; I’ve always had your best interests at heart….
I’d like to propose then that contrary to what we feel like doing to our fear ie banishing her to a dark cellar, to never see the light of day again, we instead pull up a chair, sit down and make friends with her. I’m not going to pretend that’s easy but the results are well worth the effort it takes, believe me. So how do we begin?
5 ways you can start to get to know your fear:
- Close your eyes, connect to your breath and start to sense where you feel the fear in your body and describe the sensation. For example I can feel a bright red heavy ball in my stomach
- Personalise your fear. Give her a name, an appearance, what does her voice sound like?
- Write a letter to your fear telling her how you feel and write one back from your fear to you. You may be surprised what comes up!
- Try Morning Pages which is explained in Julia Cameron’s iconic book The Artist’s Way. Every morning you write three pages of A4 unedited internal monologue. Essentially it’s a massive brain dump
- If you notice fear starting to talk to you during your day and it’s having a disempowering effect, find a way to thank her and stop listening. You can let her know you’ll give her some time later to voice her concerns. Perhaps using one of the tools above. Remember fear is doing her best to keep you safe!
This process is the first step in managing our fear and moving from a place of pain to power. My own experience has been that once I really made room for fear, looked her in the eye and acknowledged her role and thanked her, things started to change. She let go of her grip on my throat and I stated to feel ok about her being there. I recognised that in fact she would always be there but the difference now is I’m the one in the driver’s seat, not her.
And of course there are more steps. And that’s what we keep doing. Taking steps and taking action. It’s all part of the process. And in the case of giving birth, we may just look back on the experience and see that it was when things felt unbearably hard and the fear felt insurmountable, that there was the growth, our opportunity for a beautiful transformation.
I’d love to hear how you get on with this first step. Let me know! And if you would like support on your journey, contact me to find out what options are available for working together.