Monday, April 26, 2010

Fear Factor

*Note: This was written during our vacation in Guadeloupe last month, but I thought I'd wait and see if my feelings would change as my due date grew nearer. They haven't.

“A man who fears suffering is already suffering from what he fears.”

-Michel de Montaigne

Today J and I spent the afternoon at the beach. It was a beautiful, really hot day. The water was just right—cool but comfortable. We spent a lot of time just floating in the waves, but I also found time to get through another chapter of this wonderful book I borrowed from our birth instructor & post-partum doula, Brittany.

(I have been doing quite a bit of reading as part of my pregnancy education and in preparation for the upcoming birth. See an upcoming post, “The Reading List,” for more about the books I have read or to suggest additions.)

The chapter I was reading today was titled “The Birth Journey,” and at one point the authors note, “It is completely natural when thinking about labor to have feelings of both fear and excitement.” They go on to suggest exercises to explore and confront concerns that one may have about labor and birth. This is a common theme in the books I have read thus far. And many of them suggest exercises or meditations to constructively deal with these fears. Here’s my problem—I am not afraid.

Every time I read a chapter like this, I probe my mind, my heart, my body, for areas of tension, fear, apprehension; and I just can’t find any. I feel excited, that’s for certain. I have been waiting many years for the opportunity to birth my babies, and care for my children. I have never felt so right, so calm, so at peace with my path and myself as I do now. I love being pregnant; it feels utterly natural to me. I am in awe of my body, and I can hardly wait to experience it in all its mystery and majesty as it literally opens up to bring forth another person. The very idea is so truly and absolutely AWE-some!

Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that I think labor will be a walk in the park. Just the opposite—I think it will be one of the most physically challenging experiences of my life. It is just not a challenge that I shrink from. I like challenges. I am a physical individual. I like feeling my own physicality, and stretching myself beyond what I thought were my limits. This is what I love about running (when I can find the motivation to actually leave the house in a sports bra and pair of sneakers)—the euphoria of surprising myself with my own vigor and stamina. This is what I really love about yoga—challenging myself to find a place of peace in a position of physical discomfort, learning that what I thought were physical limitations were really just new challenges to be surmounted with patience and tenacity.

At the same time, I consider myself a rather spiritual sort in that I have always been rather intrigued by spiritual teachings (of almost every ilk) and the power of the spirit once one has moved beyond the mind/ego. In addition to the physicality of the experience, I also think birth will be one of the most spiritually challenging episodes of my life. Not only will my baby be born into this world as a new unique individual and J’s and my child; I will be born as a mother. There will be a major shifting in the primary ways in which I define myself. I will come to know a facet of love, a face of the Divine, which has hitherto been inaccessible to me.

I can see why one might be fearful when facing these challenges. Even small changes are often frightening. Witnessing such profound changes in one’s own body and spirit—I can think of few things so worthy of fear and apprehension. But still, I just don’t feel it.

Thus, what has become my main concern about labor and birth is that I haven’t any major concerns.

So I worry a little that perhaps I am over-confident. I worry a little that I am setting myself up for a fall. I worry a little that I am in some kind of deep denial. Still, I can’t even make myself worry about these things too much.

I think that part of my “problem” is that I prior to all this positive reading I have been doing, I really didn’t have a lot of exposure to negative or disempowering birth stories. I wanted to have a baby so badly for so long that I avoided talking about pregnancy or labor or birth or babies with anyone. It was too painful a topic. It was incredibly difficult for me to control my feelings of envy and self-pity; I felt false when offering congratulations because I knew my heart was not in the right place. Of course when it came to close friends and family my love for them allowed me to put aside my own passions and pains for long enough that I could still politely endure some baby talk. Still, I never pursued it as a topic of conversation. I am ashamed to say that I don’t even know the birth stories of my three nephews and niece, all of whom I adore and cherish.

The only birth stories I had really ever heard before this pregnancy are those of my mother. My mother is very matter-of-fact about labor, “they call it labor for a reason—it is hard work!” However, I have never heard her describe any of the three births she experienced as really painful. Her birth stories are of joyful surprises—“and then the doctor said, ‘wait a minute, there is another baby in there!’ The twins heartbeats had been lined up so perfectly they couldn’t tell there were two of them!” Or of loving support and the ability to carry on with everyday life during early labor—“we were playing cards right up until a couple hours before you were born, and Kelly kept making me laugh, and it hurt so much to laugh during a contraction but I couldn’t stop!” Or of unexpected adventure and self-suffiency—“so your Dad and I went to the hospital and the nurse said they hadn’t had a birth there in over twenty years. She went to get the doctor but by the time they came back your brother had already been born!”

With only stories like these to build my image of birth upon, I can’t help viewing it as a pretty wonderful experience. So, is it really unnatural for me not to be afraid? Is it okay for me to approach birth with an attitude of fearlessness, willingness, and indeed, eagerness? Is it wrong for me to feel so firmly in my heart that this experience will be challenging and arduous yes, but also the most fabulous high I have ever experienced? I know the unexpected may occur, that the future is nothing if not unknowable; but is it still all right for me to believe that everything is going to turn out fine? Or even better than fine—fantastic!


  1. As usual hooray for you. You never cease to amaze me. love and kisses from your mama.

  2. No need to feel any fear - I experienced enough for both of us. But then, I'm a more fearful individual than you are, particularly when it comes to physical pain. In truth, there was little to fear. Just the unexpected, really, but then, the unexpected can be wonderful. So, I say, be fearless and enjoy every moment.

    I, too, can't believe you are about to be a mommy. And while you say it was a long time coming, I think you are at the right point in your life to begin and appreciate and fully engage in this wonderful adventure.

    Finally, I sure hope you go running with more than just a sports bra and sneakers...