This post is part of the ‘Tales From The Other Side Of …’ series. There are so many stages, achievements, milestones and heartbreaks we go through as parents and whatever we are experiencing, whether good, bad, exciting or terrifying, it’s always nice to know someone else has already done it and come through the other side. To find out how you can get involved and share your story/tips and tricks click here. Today we have the lovely Kate from How To Survive Motherhood sharing how she coped with birth anxiety while pregnant.
I always knew I was frightened of giving birth. I’m not sure when I became aware of it or how it developed. All I do know is that when I got pregnant with my first baby, the thought of childbirth was enough to have me curled up in the corner panicking.
Whilst I knew I was afraid I wasn’t exactly sure what I was so frightened of. Sure, it was painful but lots of women did it so why was I so sure that my experience would be terrifying?
It’s only really after seeing a birth trauma specialist last year when I was pregnant with baby 3 that I finally understand where my fears come from (spoiler – my first labour did not go well…).
Firstly, there was the attitude of my birth partners in my first pregnancy. My mum (who had 3 kids) had always talked openly about the fact that she couldn’t understand why women would ever give birth without an epidural because it was so horrifically painful. My husband at the time thought it was funny to tell me that I wouldn’t be able to handle the pain. Whenever I’d mention home birth my mum would always tell me of her friend who had to be rushed to hospital part way through. Or if I voiced concerns about induction at 42 weeks I’d be told of the woman on the ward with her who lost her baby because she refused induction. Neither of them thought anything other than a medicalised birth was right because doing it any other way was a stupid idea.
Secondly, looking back on it now I can also see that parts of my personality meant that labour would always be a challenge for me. I have a very strong need for control and to know what is happening. Two things that you just don’t get in childbirth. I also struggle to ask for help or say what I need. Which meant that deep down I didn’t trust myself to be able to tell the midwives if I needed pain relief or support.
All in all, there was a lot against me going into the labour room.
The chances of me having a good labour were slim simply because my mindset was very much on the negative side and the two birth partners I’d chosen weren’t very supportive or encouraging of a natural birth.
And so, as you might imagine, it didn’t go well. Whilst the birth itself was comparatively OK (compared with some of the stories you hear), I was left pretty traumatised by it. It was something that would affect me for over a decade.
Sadly there is no story of triumph with my first labour. All it really did was cement my fears and turn anxiety into pure terror for next time around.
Getting pregnant again
Shortly after I met my second husband we knew we wanted kids together. I was pregnant within a year. I was so excited and happy about it.
For about a week.
Then reality set in. I was going to have to go through childbirth again.
I wish I could tell you that I rolled up my ‘emotional sleeves’ and got down to the hard work of overcoming my feelings to have a wonderful natural labour. I really do. But I didn’t. Instead I spiralled into a deep depression about the birth.
Most of my second pregnancy was spent crying, worrying and feeling powerless. It was awful. I found myself unable to sleep and having nightmares. My days would be spent in a daze, wandering around preoccupied with thoughts of the upcoming labour. I’d burst into tears whenever I tried to read anything about childbirth.
Having suffered from depression in the past I knew I needed to get help and so I talked to my midwife about how I was feeling.
I was diagnosed with antenatal depression
It was pretty clear to both me and my midwife that I was severely depressed because of my fears around childbirth and would benefit from some extra help. Fortunately for me, there is a mental health midwife at my local hospital and so I was sent off for an appointment with her to get extra support.
She was lovely and listened to me when I spoke about how terrified I was of childbirth. She offered suggestions to me like guaranteeing I wouldn’t be sent home or that I could have an epidural. But they didn’t make me feel any less anxious about birth. Eventually, I tentatively asked if a c-section was an option.
She was (surprisingly from what I’ve heard) pretty supportive of the idea. And I can see why. From her point of view all she wanted was a happy mum to be. Anxiety affects the baby (and mum) so if a c-section was what it would take to alleviate my depression and anxiety then fine.
Don’t get me wrong. Despite what you might read or think you can’t simply request a c-section and get it. I had to push really hard and fight every step of the way. I had to face resistance from consultants and snotty comments from midwives. It was exhausting. I have never felt so judged or alone.
But I knew deep down it was right for me and so I kept going and eventually, had a c-section at 39 weeks.
It was amazing.
The contrast between my second birth and first was just incredible. The pain, fear and trauma that surrounded my first labour simply were not there for my c-section. Instead I was overwhelmed with how calm, relaxed and wonderful it was. It really was just the most amazing experience. I was cared for and looked after. I felt that instant rush of love towards my baby that had been missing the first time round. I was on top of the world and the happiest I think I’ve ever been.
I then went on to have baby number 3. Again, I had to fight for a c-section which meant that most of my pregnancy was spent worrying that I would be forced to go through labour. And again, I developed antenatal depression as a result of my fears about childbirth and needed a lot of extra support. In some respects it was even harder third time round because I knew just how amazing a c-section could be so to be denied that and made to go through a natural birth would have been too much for me to take.
But I did manage to get a c-section. And I did manage to get through another 39 weeks of having to deal with my anxiety. 39 weeks of having to live with my fears and the uncertainty of not knowing what the outcome would be. There were a lot of tears and I spent most of my pregnancy feeling emotionally exhausted. I had months of counselling and saw a birth trauma specialist to help me move past my first birth. It wasn’t an easy time at all but the good part of pregnancy is that there is always an end in sight. Within days of the baby being born my mood lifted, the depression that had haunted me for 9 months went and I felt happier than I had in months.
But did I really overcome my birth anxiety?
In some respects I have struggled to write this post because part of me thinks that overcoming birth anxiety should mean being able to have a natural, pain relief free birth experience. But actually, the reason it’s so important for me to share my story is to show you that it’s possible to deal with birth anxiety even if you chose to have a c-section because you are so afraid. That it’s not necessarily overcoming it that’s important, but getting through it.
Recently I have started to realise that there is a part of me that mourns the birth that I might have had. Writing about birth and motherhood means I come into contact a lot with some incredible women with incredible natural birth stories. And part of me is a little jealous that I couldn’t do it. That I couldn’t get rid of my fears and go on to have this blissful, serene, home water birth that I keep hearing about. Sometimes I wonder if I failed having a c-section.
But I do believe that birth is birth. The only ‘right’ way to birth is one where both you and baby are happy and well. Natural is great but c-sections are fine too.
And so maybe I didn’t overcome my birth anxiety. But I did survive it and was able to have two babies via wonderful c-section experiences. And that is all that matters.
Thank you so much Kate for sharing your experience with us. There is still so much stigma attached to c-sections and there really shouldn’t be. Birth is birth and c-sections are by no means the easy way out, I know, I’ve had two myself. One I had no choice about, the second I pushed for our of an inexplicable fear that something would go wrong if I didn’t. It turns out that listening to my intuition on that one may well have saved mine and my daughter’s life, but that’s a story for another day.
Kate is the founder of How To Survive Motherhood, a blog dedicated to pregnancy, parenting, relationships and mental health issues. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter when she is not indulging in creme eggs or wine.
She is also a Life and Relationship Coach with a postgraduate certificate in Couples psychotherapy so loves working with people to help them make positive changes and feel amazing about aspects of motherhood. She works with women who are feeling anxious about any areas of pregnancy and birth so if you are affected by birth anxiety why not get in touch to see how she can help.