Saturday, 16 July 2011

Getting Past the Fear


The idea of giving birth haunts a lot of women.  Our knowledge (and the lack) of it is mostly shaped either by films that show a lot of screaming and arms flailing in excruciating pain, or from friends and relatives who recount the agony to Calgary in gripping detail. Yes, the pain is definitely not for the faint-hearted.  I still get nightmares every time I think about it.  There is however, a fine difference between succumbing to pain and handling the pain. 




That is exactly what I found out when I saw this video “Everyday Miracles” from Lamaze.org.  Long before the clip ended, tears were streaming down my face.  I realized that there are just some things in life that ought to remain uncomplicated.  I was totally moved seeing how the mother handled labor – an intuitive understanding of her own body.  She gains confidence from the support and trust by her husband, family members and healthcare providers.  Indeed, the whole experience can be overwhelmingly profound if one allows it to. 

At a personal level, my older sister gave drug-free natural birth twice - to a healthy boy and girl.  So I can probably do it, right? Heck, what about the thousands of women prior to the advent of this heaven-sent (as what my doctor's secretary calls it) pain reliever called epidural.   I have to say, it does make all the difference psychologically when that leaves you with no option.   Interestingly enough, for our grandmothers and great-grandmothers who supposedly had no choice - boy, have they made so many children!
Though a childbirth educator from our prenatal class did ‘assure’ that after the 5th or so child (I wonder who’d go for that many nowadays), giving birth gets easier. Some required almost no pushing at all!  She recounted the story of a mom who was in active labor with her 5th or 6th child.  When she stood up, the baby just popped out!  Good thing she was quick enough to grab hold of the umbilical cord.  Maybe there ought to be a separate class for moms giving birth on their 5th child onwards.  Instead of teaching breathing techniques, “Enhancing Catching Reflex” perhaps would be more relevant.
Anyway as I was saying, my sister Lyn, who eventually became a childbirth educator (teaching Lamaze and advocating breastfeeding) drew me this diagram of what must be the most important information to know when in labor:



She advised me to remain as calm as possible by maintaining breathing rhythms, and most especially not to be afraid.  Fear results to stronger contractions, which leads to more pain. In consequence, you get more frightened and the vicious cycle continues.

This is explained extensively in the classic book, “Childbirth without Fear” by Dr. Grantly Dick-Read.  An English obstetrician, he came to the conclusion that “fear felt by a woman during childbirth caused blood to be filtered away from her uterus, so it could be used by the muscles that would flee the dangerous situation. As a result, the uterus was left without oxygen and could not perform its functions efficiently or without pain”.

Our body is equipped with survival instinct.  So when we are in a state of fear, messages are sent to the brain either to “fight or flee”.  Organs are drained of blood and oxygen to aid the muscle structure and give it the “adrenaline” it needs to survive.  This explains why frightened people turn “white as sheet”. In fact, Dick-Read found that the uterus of a frightened women in labor has literally gone white! Without the fuel that it needs, the uterus cannot function properly and therefore causes labor to hurt.

I remember there were moments I lost focus and panicked, the pain instantly doubled.  I was very lucky to have known the repercussions of such behavior.  I refocused, inhaled and exhaled deeply, and channeled my energy to staying calm.  This is the beauty of natural birth.  Women are in control of their own body. Maternal instinct drives you and is most rewarded when you have that baby in your arms – truly an empowering experience.















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