When I was pregnant with my daughter, I don’t recall feeling any real fears or concerns about labor. I was in love with the idea of birth, wild and powerful, even the future “pain” did not cause me pause as I practiced my breathing, visualization and relaxation techniques like the over-achieving first-time-mom I was. My world seemed to come alive the more I submersed myself in preparation for labor and birth.
My labor was longer than I had anticipated, and I was thrown off by unexpected back labor and the powerful discomfort of contractions. Pushing brought on a sudden fear of tearing I had neither expected nor prepared for. However, throughout each of these unforeseen developments, I felt so empowered and supported by my birth team, so lost in the endorphin-laced majesty of Laborland, we all pressed through each of them with seemingly little intentional “effort.” Hours of primal moans and guttural groans brought forth my daughter who was born peacefully in the water after 25 minutes of pushing.
Though my overall memory of my birth is positive and empowering, I was struck by the impact of unpredicted diversions on my narrow vision of what my birth would look (and feel) like. Now, pregnant with our second, I am making an intentional effort to face my “Birth Tigers” per Pam England's, author of Birthing from Within, insistence. When we face the fears or concerns (our “tigers”) we have about labor BEFORE labor begins, walking ourselves through the situation as it might unfold in a “worst-case scenario,” their control on us dissolves. It is the unidentified fears, the Tigers that sneak up on us, that can have the most devastating impact on our labor and birth.
Shortly after finding out we were pregnant, a nagging Tiger began pawing at mind periodically:
What if I die giving birth?
Each time this fear pricked my subconscious, I was shocked and severely unnerved. Unlike other tigers you can walk yourself through (i.e. What if I need an induction? What if I need a cesarean?), you can not create the same sort of plan or redemptive perspective when it comes to dying in labor. I was overwhelmed with visions of my daughter (and this unborn child) being raised without a mother, my husband being a widower in his thirities, my mom watching her daughter’s life slip away into the darkness…
The images were disturbing and paralyzing.
However, I refused to be imprisoned by them. I needed to identify the source; I needed to cage this tiger - and fast.
First, I began the painful and horrifying process of walking myself through this worse-of-all-cases scenario. What if I did die? Fortunately, after much prayer, meditation, and seeking, my faith provided me with the first level of peace I was seeking. As my husband always reminds me, “all will be well, and all will be well.” Despite seasons of my life filled with deep pain and grave loss, I have consistently found God to be faithful and present.
If I died, I knew where my soul would find it’s rest, and I trusted the God who provided that salvation to also care for my grieving family as I have seen Him do many times over for me in my own crippling grief.
Though I found this solace in my faith, it still did not answer my nagging question: what was the source of this fear?
Somehow, instinctively, I knew I needed to identify and address this source to find the full movement through this Tiger and enable myself to have a peaceful and powerful labor and birth.
I found the answer in Pam England’s Birthing from Within.
While texting Monet furiously about this fear, overwhelmed and unsure of how to proceed, I was in the process of rereading Birthing from Within. Turning to the page to page eight, I almost dropped my pen when I read the heading: FEAR OF DYING IN LABOR.
Though this section is only a few paragraphs, it dramatically transformed my internal struggle with this distressing consternation.
Pam begins by addressing the three universal fears shared either consciously or unconsciously by all pregnant women to one degree or another:
- Fear of pain
- Fear of having an abnormal or stillborn baby
- Fear of dying in labor
There it was in black and white, my dark, shameful adversary; my paralyzing Tiger.
Seeing it like that helped normalize this reality for me; it helped diminish some of my concerns about being just a crazy birth junkie who has OD’d on birth information.
This fear was normal - it was universal. I was not alone.
Next, she addressed a common reality for many women: the awareness of a fear of dying that emerges toward the end of labor. Unlike what we might expect, mothers who experience this are typically just aware of the sensation, not disturbed by it. It simply surfaces and then passes, with little pomp or parade.
Pam then provides the key to locking my Tiger away forever. Because labor forces us to walk to the edge of ourselves and then beyond, our sense of self and “ego” is dissolved. We are no longer afraid of dying because no “‘self’ is left to resist and fear” this destruction. This is true transcendence when women have “become birth itself.”
Though this perspective brought me hope that this fear might dissolve once I found myself back in Laborland, what it provided me with was the information to look inside myself to find the fountainhead of this anxiety.
The source of this fear lied within my sense of Self and my concrete identity as a Mother. Unlike my first birth, I had not experience the primal, miraculous, instinctive bond with my child outside of my womb. Over the past three years, my identity as a mother has come to so powerfully define my sense of self, my other identities (e.g. wife, daughter, sister, friend), have taken vastly secondary roles. All of these identities existed during my first birth; however, none of them were even remotely as strong or dominant as my identity as a mother.
As my husband pointed out so clearly when I shared this newfound knowledge with him, “this time around around, you have seemingly much more to lose.”
That was it. The risk of loss was much greater with this birth, and was, therefore, the spring of this river of my fear.
Once I unearthed this information, I could literally feel the grip of this fear dissolving. The fear held no power because it was no longer a fear, but rather a psychological state that I could explain away through my newfound truth.
This freedom has liberated me to truly embrace, explore and excitedly anticipate this next birth. I can feel the flame of expectation once again alight in my soul, deep in my personhood, no longer muted and snuffed out by my lurking Tigers.
My Tigers have found their rightful place: securely caged by truth.
Though this information brought me great liberty, the source of your fear may be altogether different. I encourage you to exercise the bravery of motherhood now by facing these Tigers. It is good practice for when your baby is on the other side of your womb.
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Have you experienced a fear of dying during birth or another fear that could inhibit your labor? How have you dealt with it? What was the source?