- you're unfamiliar with it (as most women in the west are)
- the birth stories you hear are out of context (and when you're unfamiliar with birth, all the stories you hear are out of context)
- birth is almost universally misrepresented in entertainment and media
The ‘pain’ bit.
You fear pain. Of course you do; you're a normal human with pain receptors. You’re designed to want to avoid pain, because often pain is a signal that something is wrong. More accurately though, pain is a signal that something needs your attention.
Birth requires all of your attention. Most births, at some point, involve pain. Some involve suffering (the mental pain that comes when we struggle against the physical sensation of pain). All involve intensity.
But you're an intelligent, motivated woman, and you know that there are many ways to go about training your heart, mind and body to minimise pain and to cope with an intense experience (such as attending a Birthing From Within class), and they will all make a difference.
The ‘danger’ bit.
You fear danger, for your baby and for yourself. Of course you do; you're a normal human with normal emotions, hormones and mental capacity. Your brain has amazing power to visualise future possibilities and consequences, based on very little information. Its job is to to protect you, so it naturally pays more attention to threatening information (whether accurate or not) than innocuous information. It’s also likely to interpret any intense, unfamiliar experience as dangerous, even relatively safe ones.
In Australia, the absolute risks of serious complications or death for mothers and babies are extremely low. Most events that are portrayed as emergencies usually aren’t, for example:
- cord around baby’s neck (usually has no impact on baby's oxygen supply at all)
- caesarean delivery (in Australia, every caesarean that occurs after labour has started is termed an 'emergency caesarean', but according to World Health Organisation estimates more than half of Australia’s caesarean deliveries are not medically necessary)
- greater than average bleeding post-delivery (rarely life-threatening when dealt with promptly by trained caregivers)
But I won’t patronise you. What if something does happen? Yes, you have access to brilliant emergency obstetric care in Australia, but you also have you. You are deeply resilient, adaptive and resourceful. You've come through an amazing array of scary shit in your life. Remember the time you couldn't find your mum in Big W? Or the time your best friend moved away? Remember all the times between then and now when you thought for sure you couldn’t go on? This may be much, much bigger. But so are you. And your capacity can only grow.
The ‘control’ (or lack of it) bit.
You fear losing, or not being in control. Of course you do; you're a normal human who has probably enjoyed a sense of physical and mental autonomy in most aspects of your life. If you're a Westerner, you've also probably been raised to value self-reliance, personal mastery, perfection, and yes, competition.
Birth doesn't fit the mould. You can prepare for it thoroughly—you can even prepare not to be in control—but you can't ever have complete control. In fact, most of the time birth needs neither you nor any other person to be in control. Birth needs to be in control.
You're a powerful woman: powerful enough to draw your boundaries clearly, yet hold uncertainty gently. Powerful enough to know self-mercy even in surrender. Powerful enough to accept help, and to seek it, persistently, where necessary. Powerful enough to recreate yourself.
The ‘life’ bit.
You fear what comes next, after the birth. Of course you do; you're a normal human with a normal instinct for self-preservation, and you sense that your 'self' will not be preserved. All the things we think of as 'self'—identity, values, activities—will grow into new places, some more quickly than others, piercing the bounds of what you thought was you.
It will be messy. It might hurt. Your parenting will never ever be as good, as clear, or as dazzling as the love you will have for your child. Sometimes you will fuck up.
And sometimes, you will soar, together. Your child will know you as the world, then as friend, then as flawed, then as human. You’ll learn as you go. And you'll be right there with yourself, every step of the way. We trust you.
A final note.
You may occasionally hear the catchphrase “Women having been birthing their babies for millions of years.” You might find it reassuring, inspiring, prescriptive, intimidating, or something else entirely. Personally, I find it overly simplistic. I would add:
- Birthing women have sought and relied upon the help of their families, friends, elders, communities and medicine wo/men (AKA health professionals, official or unofficial) for millions of years.
- Women have actively explored birth before doing it—through witnessing and assisting their loved ones in birth, through ceremony, storytelling and art, through personal study and practice, and/or through self-enquiry—for millions of years.
- Women have been deeply awed, overwhelmed and changed by birth for millions of years.
- Mothers have loved, whether quickly or gradually, by instinct or by togetherness, for millions of years.
- Women have healed from and integrated birth for millions of years.
You are no exception. Birth has always been powerful. And so have you.