Motherhood

Ask Erica: “I’m Scared of Giving Birth”

Our wellbeing columnist Erica Chidi Cohen is here to talk about sex, health and overall wellbeing. Today, she’s tackling a big subject: giving birth. More specifically, what do you do when it terrifies you? Here’s her sage advice…

Q. Help! I’m approaching my ninth month of pregnancy and I’m legitimately terrified of birth. I feel crazy because none of the other parents-to-be on the message boards or in my friend group seem THIS scared or panicky. On top of that, I’m now freaking out that my anxiety is harming the baby. Please, I know everyone goes through some version of this, but I think I must be an extreme case. Do you have any tips on preparing myself for birth? Or just chilling the hell out? — Monica

A. Yes, I do. And before we get to that, I just want to start by telling you that this is totally normal. I know it might feel like the furthest thing from it, but rest assured that you’re nowhere near alone. It’s natural and healthy to have a good amount of fear going into this, especially if you’re a first-timer. I wish I could hug you through the computer, but since that isn’t possible, I will offer you as many resources as I can to help you get through it.

It might be helpful to know that there’s actually a clinical term for this: “tocophobia,” which is defined as significant fear of childbirth. Not every expectant parent will experience anxiety to this degree, but know that many do.

My first recommendation is a simple one: Get out a pen and paper and write a list of your specific fears — all of them, no matter how wild or mundane they seem. (This is a great tool for managing anxiety of any kind.) Catastrophic thinking does really well when left to its own devices in your brain, and the simple act of writing a thought onto a piece of paper can help lessen its intensity and give you distance from it. Once you’ve made your list, I’d encourage you to show it to a friend or your partner, if you have one. Discussing your fears with others (rather than ruminating on them yourself) can put things into perspective. Plus, it’s good to know that someone else is in the loop on what you’re dealing with.

Pregnant or not, people often find that breathwork and meditation can ease anxiety. Expectful is an excellent mindfulness meditation app created specifically for pregnancy. And breathwork teacher Ashley Neese recently published a book with simple self-guided breathwork techniques. When you’re practicing deep breathing, listen to your body. Don’t feel like you need to hold your breath for any particular length of time. Just keep your breathing smooth and steady.

My next recommendation is to amp up your resources. Many of us tend to isolate when we’re dealing with anxiety, when, in fact, we need extra support. A childbirth class can also be a helpful for expectant parents. Doing a private class at home with a childbirth educator or doula might be a good option for you, since it creates a safe environment for you ask questions. Another more cost-effective option is an online birth class. Most allow you to take in the material at your own pace, which can prevent overwhelm. Either way, educating yourself can alleviate so many fears. Often, the root of anxiety is simply the fear of the unknown, and birth education lets you go in knowing you’re as prepared as you can be. (I recently launched an online birth class that is non-judgmental, option-filled and evidence-informed, which could be a helpful addition to your toolkit.)

If the pain of labor is something that’s adding to your fears, don’t forget, pain can be managed on the big day. In fact, I think that one of the most feminist decisions you can make is deciding how you want to feel during labor, and thanks to modern medicine you have options. Whether it’s using nitrous oxide (aka laughing gas) through each contraction or getting an epidural, do what makes you feel comfortable and know that all birth is natural because it’s natural to birth a baby, regardless of what interventions you decide to use.

You might also look into a doula, if you can afford it. Doulas are essentially birth normalizers, there to support and guide you through this experience. Part of what a doula does is reframe the intense or scary things that can happen during labor, and assure you that what you’re feeling and what your body is doing is normal. And if something unusual does happen, your doula will be on the lookout for it. To find a doula in your area, check out the DONA International database.

Finally, I encourage you to consider picking up the book What No One Tells You: A Guide to Your Emotions from Pregnancy to Motherhood, by doctors Alexandra Sacks and Catherine Birndorf. It’s all about the many emotional shifts you may experience during pregnancy and after — which again, are totally normal and unfortunately don’t get talked about as often as they should. And if you’re worried about the much-discussed effects of anxiety during pregnancy, take heart. I spoke with Dr. Sacks about this issue, and she offered these wise words: “Pregnancy has been designed to withstand extraordinary circumstances, including war and famine, so be reassured that your body, and your baby’s, is resilient and that the system has lots of checks and balances. That being said, I also believe that mental health is just as important as physical health in pregnancy (and in general), so if you’re not sure if your worry has reached a level of clinical anxiety, talk to your practitioner or call the hotline at Postpartum Support International.”

At a time like this, I wanted to offer you resources galore — but feel free to take what you need and leave the rest. Just know that you are not alone (back me up here, readers!) and help is there whenever you need it. Last but not least, congratulations! You’re bringing a baby into the world.

Erica Chidi Cohen is a doula, educator and cofounder of LOOM. She is passionate about helping people cultivate body literacy and the tools to advocate for their reproductive health and wellbeing, and has guided thousands of people in their transition from pregnancy to parenthood in her practice and through her book, Nurture: A Modern Guide to Pregnancy, Birth and Early Motherhood.

Thanks so much, Erica! Do you have a sex, health or wellness question for Erica? Let us know in the comments.

P.S. 10 things Erica always tells pregnant women and Joanna’s favorite calming book for mothers-to-be.

(Photo by Anna Malgina/Stocksy.)

  1. Emily says...

    Thank you, Cup of Jo and Erica, for this piece! I love everything Erica represents in her work with Loom and her book, Nurture (the only pregnancy book I bought – currently 13 weeks pregnant). Check out the book – such wonderful, loving resources for mamas-to-be.

  2. Jessica says...

    In my early twenties I was terrified by the idea of giving birth. Mostly afraid of the pain. I always thought I would want a c-section to minimize giving birth. Once I got pregnant in my 30s, I did a lot of research on birth, although still anxious and nervous about it; found that c-sections sounded much scarier and had a relatively easy vaginal birth. Reading and talking with other moms helped ease my fears. Even though I didn’t know what it was going to feel like, I still felt prepared for what could possibly happen.

  3. Erin says...

    Nothing to add here. Just 7 1/2 months pregnant and crying. I especially love Erica’s comment: “In fact, I think that one of the most feminist decisions you can make is deciding how you want to feel during labor, and thanks to modern medicine you have options.” Texted it to my best friend who is also pregnant and has been saying the same thing to me this whole time. Thanks, Erica, for your affirming wisdom.

    The other thing that freaked (continues to freak) me out was how much my life would change (my eating habits, sleeping habits, sense of identity, ALL OF IT). I started to grow resentful of my baby and my choice to give birth. But instead of stewing in my resentment (which might have been a signpost pointing me towards my anxiety) I decided to get some help from communal resources. Feeling angry I couldn’t drink a glass of wine to release stress I started going to AA meetings where wise, lovely people bravely shared their stories with me and made me feel less alone in it all. I don’t know if I’ll remain sober after I give birth but I cannot wait to introduce this beloved community to a baby they helped me feel strong enough to grow a healthy human.

  4. Elise says...

    I love Erica’s book – it has been so helpful for me, both in pregnancy and now a few weeks after giving birth.
    Though I have a diagnosed anxiety disorder, I did not experience a high level of anxiety going into birth/labor (surprisingly). I found that I was nervous about the feeling of losing control, so I decided to try to do it unmedicated. My labor was long and difficult, but a positive, empowering experience. I found that the prenatal yoga that I did (and my years-long yoga practice) helped to get me in the right mindset and with breathing through contractions. I would also highly recommend a doula!
    I have always been so intrigued by birth stories and knowing that I was about to have my own helped as I went into labor. And the feeling of relief and accomplishment when it was over is sticking around, even nearly three weeks later!

  5. Kate says...

    I love Erica, and her book, Nurture. It gently guided me into motherhood. It was the only book I wanted/needed/read and it was more than enough.

  6. Sasha L says...

    The films Birth Day by Naomi Vinaver and Esctactic Birth (sometimes called Orgasmic Birth) are wonderful resources if anyone is looking for some visuals on giving birth. I used to teach birth ed as a doula and used them in my classes. *Seeing* other women go through the labor and birth process is very normalizing, comforting and fear dispelling for many women and birth partners. Hearing the sounds women make, the ways that partners can nurture and comfort, and all of the positions one can use is all so helpful. It’s also kind of a cognitive rehearsal for your own upcoming birth – visualizing yourself having a good experience can help you have one. Many folks who viewed then with me in class said things like “oh, that was beautiful!” “That didn’t look so terrible!” “I didn’t know birth could be peaceful” or “it’s good to know it’s ok to scream”. The takeaway is that however you give birth you will be accepted and loved by those around you – you will do a *good* job.

  7. Lee says...

    Erica, can you give some advice on fertility, especially for those of us in our late thirties or forties? I’m 39 and just had my first round of IVF, which failed spectacularly. All embryos were genetically abnormal. While the genetic counselor told me there was no pattern to the abnormalities to suggest an underlying problem, my doctor basically said he thinks all my eggs are probably chromosomally messed up and that has caused my past inability to get pregnant/pregnancy loss. I’m just feeling a lot of feelings now, hoping to find some way forward. If you have any guidance, recommendations, or book suggestions, I’d be grateful.
    Thank you for insiders g this request, and for everything that you do.

  8. Emma says...

    Erica, Joanna & team – my question is, what pregnancy/birth resources are out there for the not-pregnant partners? I’m not pregnant, but I want some resources for my dude if we ever decide to go down this road.

    Also, I have more anxiety about the pregnancy than giving birth, but I also really hate being in hospitals/medical settings. Wondering if home birth is really an option (is this even legal?) and what kind of alternatives are out there. *Alternatives that are not outrageously expensive .

    • Bridget says...

      I had 3 babies at home. It was great! I’m freaked out of hospitals too- I had a back up doctor “just in case” that my midwife worked with. I think home birth is a great option. Two of my sisters had both of their kids at home too.

    • Nora says...

      The book, ‘The Birth Partner’ by Penny Simkin is a great resource for the non-pregnant partner.

    • Sasha L says...

      I’m a birth doula Emma and I had my second child at home, after having my first in a hospital. I had a truly magical, nurturing and wonderful birth, completely free of fear. Lots of my clients over the years of doula work had their babies at home or in an out of hospital birth center. So many great experiences, I highly recommend you look into this option in your own community (birth resources vary greatly by community) since you are interested.

  9. Maranda says...

    This post was something I so needed and will be bookmarking for future reads. I am not pregnant, however the thought of being so and giving birth has TERRIFIED ME. Like, the thought of having a separate human growing in your body for several months and then having to painfully push it out of your body after seemed mind boggling for me. However, as I have gotten married and gotten older, I do see us wanting to bring a child into our family and it was so refreshing to read this and to see that my fears are normal.

  10. Barb Geri says...

    It truly is all about the breathing! I used this technique to great effect:
    breath in nostril full (will be short and quick at times)
    breath out l o n g
    on the breath out, say out loud or in your head “A-Mennnnnnnn”
    Keep breathing out as you emphasize the N sound
    Practice if you can before so it comes naturally in labor
    Also one more tip:
    USE the equipment in the room, use the giant ball, walk around the room, put the ball on the bed and hug it when contractions hit

  11. Katie says...

    First off, congratulations on welcoming your child to the world soon!
    These are great suggestions. You are not alone, and what you are feeling is understandable. Depending where you live or are giving birth, you might have access to volunteer doulas. I live in Wisconsin and am one. Consider asking around!

  12. Melanie says...

    My doula always said to me, “women have been doing this for hundreds of years. You are one of those women, don’t be afraid.” This was a big mantra during my entire pregnancy and I naturally delivered a 9lb 6 oz baby! You can do this mama!

    • Bridget says...

      Yes! That was mine too. If millions of women have done this before me, I could too. I have 4 kids and I really got terrible anxiety with my last. I was afraid that something would go wrong with the last baby because everything went fine for my first 3. I also knew what to expect! lol I had no idea what I was in for with my first. I had medicine (including pain medicine) free births. To get me ready, I watched amazing birth videos of women giving birth without needing medical intervention and saw how strong these women were.

    • Heidi Seely says...

      Yes!! My manta was similar: Your body was MADE to do this! I was able to latch on to that and not try to stop my body from doing what it knew how to do. You can’t stop the process, but you can flow with it. You got this.

  13. Marly Young says...

    Loved your advice! I was nervous about childbirth too so I took a class and hired a doula. Hiring a doula was the best decision I ever made. She made me feel so supported and safe throughout the process. While I did experience pain (duh), fear was not part of my labor/delivery experience and I ended up not using an epidural like I thought I would. I know not everyone can afford a doula but if you have the resources, it can make all the difference. It’s my hope that all women will have access to doula support one day so more women can have a positive birth experience like I did. Feeling safe and supported during your labor shouldn’t be a luxury!

  14. Kat S says...

    I read Erica’s book Nurture and it really helped with my anxiety of giving birth!

  15. BethAnn Rosario says...

    I was absolute terrified of labor and birth. I wanted a planned medicated c-section so I knew exactly what was coming when and where and with the relief of medicine. What I had was a completely unmedicated 10 min labor at 31 weeks. Nothing that I wanted nor expected but also exactly what I needed and everything I wanted at the end. Worth it. 6 week NICU stay and all. Life gives us everything we can handle even when we don’t think we can.

  16. Darcy says...

    I ended two pregnancies bc I’m terrified of childbirth/pregnancy and have been for as long as I can remember. Each time, I told myself that I could get through it but found that was impossible to do. I spoke a bit with a counselor and an ob/gyn. Looking back at it, they had a few things to offer, but not that much.

    • sha says...

      Hi Darcy – I’d recommend reading Many Masters, Many Lives to get some insight into why you find it to so terrifying. xo

  17. J says...

    Thank you so much for this. For years, I have been TERRIFIED of the idea of giving birth and having babies. Something about Erica’s posts here always make me feel wonderful and at peace and like if I ever decide to do it, I better get a doula as amazing as her to help guide me through it.

  18. t says...

    I was so overly anxious about labor and the physicality of it (not really the pain but the endurance) and about not knowing when it was going to occur that I determined for my sanity an elective, scheduled c-section would be best.

    • TBW says...

      I did the same. The thought of going into labor anywhere at anytime was something I just couldn’t handle. It was debilitating.
      Truthfully, I wonder how it would’ve been had I not elected a c-section but 7 years later I still believe that I made the right choice.

    • Jane says...

      Same same same. So glad to hear other mothers have made this choice too – I feel like the only one! I had awful anxiety with my first pregnancy until I basically told my doctor “Look, if you don’t agree to a c-section, I’m gonna take your scalpel and attempt it myself.” She thought I was joking but I was THAT terrified of labor and vaginal delivery. A controlled, surgical environment did NOT scare me. My father-in-law is a retired doctor and tried to convince me that I was making the wrong choice / my doctor must have been fine with it because she’s in it for the money etc etc etc. (I had to convince HER!) Everything turned out wonderfully though, my c-section recovery was quick and easy, and now I’m pregnant with my second and have had no anxiety – knowing I’ll be just fine with my elective c-section. I’d much rather deal with the pain post-op than the anxiety beforehand imagining a 30-hour tramautic labor that STILL ends in a c-section (two of my sister-in-laws).

  19. Meagan says...

    I went through the same thing, really severe anxiety about the prospect of giving birth, with each of my three pregnancies. I’d really encourage anyone experiencing it to talk really openly about how it’s affecting them.

    With my first it was moderate and I white-knuckled through.

    With my second, it was severe enough that I was having daily panic attacks and hiding them, making it hard to care for my toddler. At my lowest, I actually started having very dark thoughts about not being “good for” my family, and wondering if they’d be better off without me. I mentioned it to my midwives, but felt ashamed, so I downplayed the intensity of it all and they didn’t really follow up.

    When I got pregnant with my third son, I knew I couldn’t go through nine months of terror and depression leading up to the birth. The first day I met my OB I laid it all out in the open – the anxiety, the dark thoughts, the panic, and she immediately referred me to a perinatal mental health program in my city and started working on my birth plan with me then and there – even though I was only 12 weeks pregnant at the time. Having medical support in the form of an understanding OB and a psychiatrist to talk to made a huge difference. I wasn’t exactly excited to give birth, but I felt safe and supported and it helped me work through the anxiety.

    Getting past the shame I felt about being “scared” (especially considering I’d done it before), is the only way I was able to take some control. We talk a lot about mental health AFTER birth, but not so much about it during pregnancy, and it’s so important!

    • Whitney says...

      So glad you were able to find support during your third pregnancy. I agree that not nearly enough thought is given to mental health during pregnancy (for me, it was a much harder and darker time than post-baby).

  20. Kate says...

    “In fact, I think that one of the most feminist decisions you can make is deciding how you want to feel during labor, and thanks to modern medicine you have options.”

    This is the most wonderful statement! I have rheumatoid arthritis so pain is a part of my daily life and I 100% did not want to invite more of it during childbirth. An epidural for me was so important, and it’s so empowering to recognize all births as good births.

    I was also terrified of the actual birth while pregnant with my now-12 month old, but taking a birth class with a nurse at my hospital really helped allay my fears. Feeling prepared for every possible situation gave me a much better sense of control throughout delivery. I only panicked a little with a loud ‘OH SHIT’ when they said it was time to push :)

    • Laura says...

      Kate, your comment was so encouraging for me to read! I also have RA and my husband and I would like to have a baby in the next year, and my biggest concerns is managing RA while pregnant, and especially in childbirth. It’s good to hear from someone in the same situation that it all worked out okay, so thank you! :)

  21. Naomi says...

    Thanks for this post, really important to acknowledge the fear that many women have about birth but also to offer sound, practical, empowering advice. I also love the reminder that ‘all birth is natural’. I had lots of intervention with my first (epidural, syntocinon) and then a (planned) home birth without pain relief (that bit not planned but no time!) with my second. Both were beautiful experiences, with support from excellent NHS midwives whose wise counsel, competence and kindness guided me through each time.

  22. Tamara says...

    I had my last baby eleven years ago and I sobbed reading this. I wish someone had given me all these resources then but even though they didn’t, hearing them now was healing. Thank you so much for the work you do, Erica!

  23. I’m in month 8, and have been doing a lot of work toward not being scared of birth. I started out being very fearful and am now very chilled out about the whole thing, so it seems to be working. Personally, I…

    … Did a hypnobirthing course. It sounds very hippy dippy but it’s actually fantastic, and very empowering. You can do it online via The Positive Birth Company, if it’s too late to sign up to a face to face class (I did both, and both contained the same info, so you wouldn’t be missing out on anything)

    ,,, Read The Positive Birth Book. It really flips the usual mindset associated with childbirth onto its head, as it focusses on giving you all of the information in a friendly, approachable and very upbeat way. A lot of the fear of childbirth can be linked back to what we’ve been fed through the media, but horror story births aren’t the norm, and knowing your options and what your body is doing on the day is such a soothing thought

    … Make a birth plan. Some people will tell you it’s not worth it. But it’s always worth going into a scary situation feeling in control

    … Read and watched a lot of positive birth stories (there’s a few at the end of this post: https://www.loveshackbaby.co.uk/2019/06/what-happens-in-hypnobirthing-class.html) SO MANY people told me awful stories about their own births as soon as I announced my pregnancy, and it made the whole thing seem so unappealing. But birth can be a beautiful thing, and seeking out the happier stories really helps to reframe it

    … Did thorough research into all of the aspects that I found scariest. Actually understanding everything has really taken the edge off.

    Also, something I didn’t initially know but find very reassuring is that it only actually hurts like 20% of the entire labour. It’s not a constant pain, so don’t believe what you see on TV

    I hope you have the best birth, and that you’re able to go into it feeling a bit less fear than you are currently experiencing. You can do it! xx

    • Meg says...

      Wow, I love the ‘it only hurts for 20% of the time’! I had always wondered about this but have never thought to ask anyone. A very reassuring thought indeed!!

    • Erin says...

      Re. “it only hurts 20% of the time” — yes, I came across a similar statistic when I was preparing for my older son’s birth and found it reassuring. The pain of labor is intermittent; you get breaks from it all the way through. Also, even if you choose not to use pain medication (a choice I made for both my kids’ births), you are not choosing “no pain management”. There are *lots* of good pain management strategies in addition to meds. I had a doula the first time who was GREAT at massaging my lower back during contractions, as well as helping me stay in the moment and breathe/rest (and not feel overwhelmed) between contractions, and just generally reassure me that things were going according to plan. Good labor support = less anxiety = less pain.

      Also, having given birth is such a fantastic accomplishment! On the other side of it, you’ll have this kick-ass achievement to be proud of. :)

    • E says...

      Well …sorry to tell you, but if you are in the unlucky 2% of women, like I was, who experience precipitous labor (start to finish in les than three hours) it will hurt almost 100% of those three hours. I had back-to-back contractions and it was like a neverending wall of pain. An epidural wasn’t possible because there was no time for one. I am not trying to scare anyone, but it drives me crazy when people keep acting like birth is something you can plan for. I mean, sure, if you are lucky! But I planned on an epidural and I didn’t/couldn’t get one. But my baby is healthy and so am I. So all is well that ends well, I suppose, and in the end it was three hours of my life. Still, I would never have another child because both the pregnancy and birth were too awful for me to do again.

    • @E Wasn’t trying to say that birth always goes according to plan, just that going into it feeling prepared is much more likely to have a positive result, and that it removes a lot of the fear in the build up to labour, which is huge for a lot of women. I know that flexibility is key, but personally I’d rather go in hoping for the best than fearing the worst

      I’m sorry to hear you had a bad experience, but just as a positive birth isn’t universal, neither is a negative one! x

  24. Colleen says...

    When I was pregnant with my first, in the last weeks leading up to my due date I obsessively watched the British tv show One Born Every Minute. I would spend hours watching episode after episode. It follows a maternity ward and every episode would show a couple women coming in to give birth. Each woman was different, her expectations, her experience, the interventions or assistance she chose or not. I found it fascinating and really believe it helped me mentally prepare, it definitely took away any fear. At the time I was living in a foreign country so it filled a gap in support that I would have had otherwise.

  25. Kate says...

    Sending so much love and yesses and me toos to this mama.

    When I was pregnant and then in labor itself, it helped to rename things that sounded overly medicalized or painful or scary. My doula (and Ina Mae) really helped in this respect. So instead of contractions, I thought about waves: riding them to their crest and then allowing them to subside. Instead of dilation I thought about opening, expanding my body and my life to make room for this new role. And instead of pushing, I thought about listening to my body’s cues and responding in a way that felt natural and productive. My doula said to me throughout labor, “Your body knows how to do this. Let that sensation be as big as it needs to be.” I’ve thought about that in motherhood too. It includes the highest highs and the lowest lows, you know, but our bodies know how to get through them, and if we can let our sensations be as big as they need to be, usually they pass more quickly and less painfully.

    Blessings to all the mamas and mamas to be!

  26. D says...

    This is probably the best advice response I’ve ever read. Thorough, evidence-based and empowering. Wow. Thanks for bringing in this voice, Joanna!

  27. Jeanny says...

    Thanks so much Joanna (and Erica) for making this blog a safe place for women to share experiences and feeling heard and understood <3

  28. Lyndsey says...

    I felt the same way, but when the time comes your body will know exactly what to do! Just allow yourself to trust it. As soon as you have your sweet baby in your arms it all worth it and you would do it a million times over for that tiny human. It is the most incredible thing.

  29. Katherine says...

    I was nervous about giving birth to my first baby this past April, mostly because I wasn’t sure how I’d handle the pain (and people seemed to LOVE telling me stories about their own horrendous experiences). A week before my daughter was born, my cousin took me aside and said “Just do whatever you need to enjoy the experience. It’s a cool thing.” When I went into labor, I tried to take it one step at a time and not worry about what was coming next. Sure enough, it was incredibly rewarding (and the pain wasn’t as scary as I imagined). I hadn’t even left the hospital room before I found myself thinking “How long do I have to wait before I can do this again?!”

    • Sarah says...

      Why oh why do people loooove telling the pregnant lady their horrendous birth experiences?! I’m due at the end of this month and even random strangers are getting in on the act at this point!
      I’m glad that you had a rewarding experience, it gives me hope!

    • Kat says...

      I’m pregnant with my third, so I’ve heard a lot of birth stories – good and bad! After having a somewhat traumatic experience the second time around I realized that other mothers NEED to tell their horror stories in order to process their feelings. Everyone has their own story, and one day you may need to tell yours too!

    • Megan says...

      I feel like “Just do whatever you need to enjoy the experience. It’s a cool thing” might be my new mantra for life, and not just childbirth!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes, megan, me too!

    • katie says...

      Kat said “I realized that other mothers NEED to tell their horror stories in order to process their feelings” THIS IS THE TRUTH.

      I have had 2 precipitous labors – the 1st in a little less than 3 hours and the 2nd in 49 minutes. The 2nd was very traumatic. I woke from a deep sleep with contractions less than 2 minutes apart, drove to the hospital, and had the baby 20 minutes later. There was no break. There was no chance to breathe. It was one giant contraction and I had zero ability to mentally cope or process what was happening. Telling my story was what allowed me to work through it all .. after the fact. It was not to scare anyone whatsoever, especially since a precipitous labor is NOT all that common. It was my way of working backwards, processing what had happened.

  30. Katie says...

    I felt similar prior to giving birth, but when I went into labor it was so natural, so primal. My logical, anxiety ridden brain was completely shut down and I was calm and even joked during the experience. I’ve never felt anything like it.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s amazing to hear, katie. love hearing everyone’s experiences. xoxo

  31. Mara says...

    A good doula (or support system during labor) is essential! My fears circled around stillbirth so I wanted a doula who had seen and been through it all. I was induced at 42 weeks and she was next to me when my husband and mother were home resting. She talked me through everything. She distracted me with stories, news all while coaching me through contractions. Audrea, you are an angel!!

  32. Kinsey says...

    Thank you for answering this question, the thought of childbirth can be scary for those who are afraid of the unknown and pain! Could you also do a post about pregnancy? I gave birth last year and I always thought birth would be the worst part, but if I could choose between one or the other (It’s not possible, but if I could) I would choose birth over pregnancy any day! My husband and I want to try again for number two and I am dreading being pregnant again! Any tips for managing morning sickness or sleep help or body aching would be super helpful!

    • I feel the same way! I felt really strong and capable when giving birth, but miserable and like a stranger in my own body while pregnant. I’d definitely choose labor over nine months of pregnancy if I could!

  33. Jennifer says...

    The most helpful sharing I received before my birthing experience was to trust that my body knew what it was doing and I just had to get out if the way. I didn’t need to figure out how to birth my son, I just needed to give my body what it needed- water, air, rest, encouragement. It helped ms to feel like my body and I were a team and my role was do able.

    • Ali says...

      It’s so true! I was TERRIFIED of the pain of labour and couldn’t believe how when I went through it, my body just knew what to do. We had some complications and even then there was a process and it my obstetrician was all across it.
      I had an epidural and was also shocked at how little it hurt and the incredible relief it provided.
      Sending love to you and hoping your fears ease and you ultimately have a great experience!

  34. LJ says...

    I remember feeling really nervous about the unknowns of labor before I had my baby. But one nurse who did a blood test for me about halfway through my pregnancy said something I’d never heard anyone else say about childbirth: the baby’s the one doing the hard work. Thinking about all the complicated turns and amazing things our babies do during labor helped put things in a different perspective for me. It made it easier for me to mentally prepare for birth by thinking that no matter what happened or how difficult it felt, I would be there helping my baby do what she needed to do.

  35. Stefanie says...

    I was TERRIFIED for my whole second pregnancy, a week before I have birth I heard about Ina Mays Guide to Childbirth and it was extremely helpful, I can go into details but I won’t, but I had a wonderful childbirth experience and credit a lot of the reasons why to that book :)

  36. Hannah says...

    I must admit to being a little concerned that this article left out the recommendation of seeking support from a qualified therapist or counsellor, especially since Monica references feeling anxious, scared and panicky.

    The suggestions mentioned are excellent, however a significant number of women experience anxiety in pregnancy and professional support is readily available and often so beneficial!

  37. Emily says...

    Never been pregnant, but I do have generalized anxiety and want to share one thing that’s helped me through it this year which is just realizing that whatever it is I’m worried about will pass. This is especially true for time-limited things, like work reviews, airplane flights, and, I assume, childbirth! Just remembering that even if it is as bad as I’m worried it will be (which things never are), it’ll be over in 24 or 48 hours, and will be just another day in thousands and thousands. Sort of like how when you come home from vacation it’s like you never left– once the moment being hyped up by your anxiety has passed, it will be like, what is the big deal?!

  38. Megan says...

    I was *really nervous* too–something that really helped me was remembering that my mom did it, my grandmother, my great grandmother…I imagined myself having the strength of every woman who had ever lived on the planet earth behind me.
    I also randomly thought about Beyonce and Kim Kardashian giving birth, which was weirdly comforting.
    Bottom line: the baby is coming, and once baby is out, it’s like INSTANT RELIEF, you can suddenly see your ankles, you have no memory of WTH just happened, and it’s basically all good, so just hold on to that.

    • Rachael says...

      I always do this too– with everything. I remind myself that there is basically nothing I have to do/get through that hasn’t been done a million times before. Pregnancy, childbirth……overseas flights (involving missed connections) with infants/toddlers, hahaha. You can and WILL totally do it.

  39. Lisa says...

    I was on hospital bedrest for 50 days before I had my daughter at 29 weeks. I was petrified of giving birth and just absolutely wrecked with guilt because my body went into labor at 20 weeks. I remember my lovely nurse, Anne, asking me to write down a list of all the things I was afraid of and she would go over them with me. Some of them were very dark and thankfully didn’t happen (like that my daughter would die or I would die). I also remember writing I was worried a out an emergency c section because the plan was also for a vaginal delivery since she was head down and basically already in my cervix. Like they could feel her head especially after my water broke at 28 weeks. Anyway, I had that emergency c section due to cord prolapse. And my baby did almost die. I was cut open without anesthesia because the anesthesiologist accidentally gave me oxygen instead of gas to put me under. So my daughter’s birth was one of the absolute worst experiences of my life. I felt her be ripped out of me. And yet she is my whole life now, 2.5 years later. I would do it all again for her. A week later I almost died again of a severe infection that the doctors kept assuring me was mastitis (despite the fact that my milk hadn’t come in yet). Finally after my incision ruptured and pus spewed out of me they took it seriously and put me on crazy strong antibiotics hoping I wouldn’t need to be taken back to surgery. They worked thank god. I was on a birth podcast about a year later to share my story and afterward they emailed me saying it was too “intimate and difficult” to share. I still feel shame about that.

    • Lisa says...

      And something I find myself chuckling at is the doctor who kept telling me I didn’t have a post OP infection and didn’t need IV antibiotics is often quoted in articles about maternal morbidity and mortality because she is some hot shot MFM doctor. She goes on and on about believing women and listening to women. I had to see her SEVEN TIMES before they took it seriously. And they thing a few more days it would have been too late, I would have become septic because my body was so compromised from being on bedrest for 10 weeks.

    • Rebecca says...

      Lisa, thank you for bravely sharing your story. We hear you! And we’re here to witness your strength and your mama bear love for your sweet little one. I’m sorry the podcast wasn’t able to do that for you, I can’t imagine how rejecting that must have felt.

    • Oh my gosh. What a horrific experience. I’m so glad you survived and that your beautiful daughter is healthy and well. I’m sorry you were so terribly failed by your doctors.

    • Lisa says...

      Thank you. It helps to be heard. Sometimes I get the urge to write a book about my experience. It was quite an ordeal.

  40. Robin says...

    Hugs! It’s funny, isn’t it, the way we’ll focus on one big first thing instead of the much bigger longer term thing (wedding vs being married; giving birth vs being mom). I did the same, thinking so much about the birth and barely at all about after. And then it’s over. And then you have to take care of them! This too shall pass. But for right now, I agree – take a childbirth class (a non- judgemental one!), and write down and work through your fears. For me at least I like knowing the worst and preparing for it. People sometimes tell me I’m too negative, but I like to be pleasantly surprised when things work out. And if not, I’m ready! All the best for you and the baby to be. Birth is the start of an amazing, beautiful life changing journey. You can do this mama!

    • cilla says...

      “It’s funny, isn’t it, the way we’ll focus on one big first thing instead of the much bigger longer term thing (wedding vs being married; giving birth vs being mom). I did the same, thinking so much about the birth and barely at all about after. And then it’s over. And then you have to take care of them! ”

      YES, YES, YES! I agree so much. This is also my experience. Totally wrong approach. Of course, birth story can be traumatic, but still, it passes quite quickly (compared to the life-long period of having a child).

  41. Michelle says...

    What a wonderfully written article!

    A few things that helped me immensely, in addition to a wonderful midwife and a supportive partner were understanding that contractions come in waves and to rest during them as well as the PAIN acronym- meaning that the pain associated with labor is “P” purposeful. “A” anticipated, “I” intermittent (i.e. the waves), and “N” normal.

    My now 6 year old son recently went through some surgeries and I taught him to use the Faces pain scale to rate his pain. He asked if it hurt when I had him and I told him that it did, but that at the end of it, I had a beautiful baby boy and didn’t think about the pain.

    For what it’s worth, I actually taught the day he was delivered and in retrospect now realize that I was in pre-labor that day. I started having contractions around 11pm and decided to go to the hospital around 1am and was 8 cm when I got there. It was part of my plan to go without an epidural, which I don’t think I would have had time for regardless. About 90 min of pushing, which resulted in tearing, and screaming, which apparently motivated another mom down the hall to go without an epidural as well (who would have thought), but honestly, once you see the baby, you’re not thinking about anything else. The midwife and nurses were amazing and things mend. Best of luck.

  42. Leah says...

    I am a nurse but forgot almost everything I learned about childbirth. This combination (knowing too much but also not enough) caused me extreme anxiety leading up to the birth of my first child in March of this year. I was all for a natural childbirth and endured 12 weeks of Bradly Method classes. I wouldn’t say I had a complicated pregnancy but it wasn’t textbook smooth, either. I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes at the end of my second trimester and then discovered that baby was still breech at 37 weeks – both of these things made me fear that I would lose the natural vaginal childbirth I had envisioned in my mind for so long. I nearly gave up hope completely and prepared myself for a c-section but miraculously baby was successfully flipped via an external cephalic version procedure (don’t google this lol) and my water broke shortly after at 38 weeks. I thought the worst was over but I had to get induced when my contractions didn’t pick up on their own and oh boy let me tell you they left that part out of the birthing classes I took! I ultimately begged for an epidural and I felt so good afterwards that I gladly pushed for 4 hours and cuddled happily with my baby while they stitched me up. All this to say – get the epidural! I salute those who could manage without but I had to admit natural just wasn’t for me and I’m so glad I let myself get that relief because I enjoyed my whole birth experience so much more once the pain was gone. But whatever you choose, know that it’s right for you. You can do this mama!

    • Cassie says...

      Oh my gosh, Leah, yes. All of this. I am so glad that I can remember my birth experience and was calm and chatty while pushing (!) because of the epidural! After laboring for 7 hours without it, what a game-changer.

      The biggest thing I say to people after having gone through it (and that people told me beforehand but I didn’t let it truly sink in) is: “do what you’d like, but you don’t get a prize for avoiding an epidural.” So if you’re anxious, my best advice (in addition to everything in this post!) is to pursue the drugs! Modern medicine is a gift when administered responsibly and I’m SO grateful for the gift my epidural gave me—a sense of calm, the ability to rest, and the ability to be present. Not everyone’s pain is intermittent… my contractions were really close together so I never really had a break :/ Everyone’s experience is different! Do what you need to do!

  43. Laura says...

    I’m a midwife, and I can assure you that’s many many women have some level of anxiety regarding pregnancy and birth. My advice is to expose yourself to as many birth experiences as possible. There are some great instagram accounts and that feature birth and motherhood in all their gory/beautiful detail. Try Birth Without Fear (also a great podcast) and carriage house birth.
    If you’re not seeing a prenatal care provider that you feel you can discuss these fears with, then I suggest looking into switching practices. You may have more luck with a midwife, but I also work with plenty of physicians who have hearts of gold.
    Lastly, understand that modern American culture has framed birth as a painful, terrifying, bloody experience. A horrific means to an end. Of course you’re scared, you’ve been trained to feel this way since your own birth! The truth is that women have been giving birth for millennia. Yes it’s a miracle and a life changing experience, but for those of us on the other end of the vagina, it’s beautifully routine! A thought that helped me through my own labor was that women all over the world were going through this with me at the same time.

  44. Alex says...

    I feel ya. When I was pregnant with my first kid I took a childbirth class and when they showed us a video of a birth (full on view of the vag, crowning, etc…) I had this intense visceral reaction – I started sobbing! Like ugly cry , full body heaving. I had to excuse myself from the room. When they showed the video of a c-section, I had no reaction at all. It was nutty. Anyway – ended up with 2 c-sections and 2 happy, healthy kids. Maybe it was a sign!

  45. Justine says...

    I so loved this sage piece of advice in the article: “Whether it’s using nitrous oxide (aka laughing gas) through each contraction or getting an epidural, do what makes you feel comfortable and know that all birth is natural because it’s natural to birth a baby, regardless of what interventions you decide to use.”

    I also enthusiastically suggest a doula – we took our time to find someone that both I and my husband related to, and she was truly a god-send.

  46. Karen T. says...

    Just popping in to say your readers (and their comments) are awesome. I hope Monica feels embraced and supported and finds exactly what she needs to get through her labor and happily to the other side. Labor, birth, and parenthood are a wild ride but I’m so thankful to COJ (and its community) for the wisdom and kind words you always provide at just the right time.

  47. Cynthia says...

    GET THE EPIDURAL!! There is no award for “natural” childbirth.

    • Rachel says...

      Agreed! If you are fearing pain, you don’t need to. I feel like there often a lot of pressure for women to tough it out even if it’s not what they want to do. I had an epidural with both my boys and both times it was the right decision for me and allowed me to calm down and really enjoy my birth experience.

    • Anna says...

      I’d say: do whats right for you!

    • Emily says...

      It doesnt work for everyone, sadly. I had one my first birth and it did …nothing. Don’t know why, it just didn’t. Then my second labor was less than 3 hours —so called “precipitous labor”. Most horrible thing in the world. I dialated from 0-10 in less than an hour. I screamed for an epidural during my back-to-back extremely strong no break contractions and one minute the nurse said “oh, its’s too soon for an epidural.” Literally 10 minutes later she said “it’s too late! The baby is coming.” So yeah, I wanted an epidural not a medal, but didn’t get either. Just a baby. He’s pretty great tho :)

    • katie says...

      I KNOW this is an unpopular opinion, BUT THERE SHOULD BE! That shit is no joke. Especially a precipitous labor (I’ve had 2!), when you don’t even HAVE the option of having an epidural. Full disclosure, I’ve had 2 unmedicated births and had no desire for pain meds, as I PERSONALLY felt like it would have lessened the experience FOR ME.

  48. Maire says...

    I also was terrified of birth before my first was born. Something that helped a lot was watching tons and tons of videos of women giving birth. I took a local birth prep class and this was a key part of their instruction. In earlier times, women were often exposed to tons of other women/ family members giving birth and also say animals do it all the time. I had never seen anything beyond what was shown in silly TV scenes. Watching tons of women go through the process and be strong and do a great job just made giving birth seem so much more realistic, normal, and “doable.”

  49. Lynn says...

    After reading these comments I realize I need to learn how to push. Tips welcome! I’m pregnant with number 2. For number 1, I was told to hold my breath, push for 10 seconds, and it will feel like it’s coming through your anus. There must be better advice than this. The one thing that did help was having no drugs, I could tell exactly when to push. I could use the contraction’s energy. I can’t quite imagine someone telling me when to push due to lack of feeling it myself. But maybe this time!

    • Nicole says...

      Lynn, I had an epidural (and loved it) and I still knew exactly when to push! I didn’t feel pain with the contractions, but I still felt them and would alert the nurse and my husband when one was approaching. It felt like pressure without pain. In any case, you will know and you can still use that energy!! Also to me the pushing felt exactly like pushing really hard to poop, ha. 20 min of pushing every 2 min and he was out!

    • Kathryn says...

      The second one will be much easier, it will practically fall out on its own! I think I pushed for an hour with the first one and the second one came out in less than 3 pushes.

    • Chantsy says...

      This might sound overly simple but since it can’t hurt…I remember the head nurse with my first telling me to push down into my bottom. It made a huge difference and I went from pushing rather ineffectively to getting our baby out.

    • Chantdy says...

      Oh…and one more thing. Listen to your body. I had directed pushing with my first and hated it. The second time around the doctor told me to push when I felt it (essentially every time a contraction ramped up I’d push as hard as I could until they told me to ease off). This really helped!!

  50. Celia Rodriguez says...

    ❤️

    Something that helped me with anxiety during pregnancy was to stop googling everything and focus on the books and stories that were meant to make me feel good. Otherwise, I found myself reading worst case scenarios or stories that scared me bc they were supposed to prepare me but did not.

  51. J. in D.C. says...

    How do you guys always have such magical timing with your articles?!?! I’m scheduled for an induction on Wednesday and am definitely super nervous! Thank you for yet another thoughtful article normalizing an aspect of women’s lives that doesn’t get nearly enough coverage.

  52. Ana D. says...

    I needed this article TODAY.

  53. Chaz says...

    Oh, I wish I could hug you through the computer too. When I was pregnant, I was also nervous to give birth, though it sounds like you might be more nervous than I was I wanted to say you’re not alone and to offer the things that helped me feel better, in the hopes that they might help you too. I remember being happy to wait even when my baby was overdue because I didn’t feel “ready” (whatever that even means haha). First, thinking about the fact that everyone here was birthed into existence was huge- every single person has a mother who went through giving birth. Looking at my midwives and just reminding myself that they had been through this and were happy and healthy after was reassuring. 2nd- do you trust your care provider? It’s never too late to switch if you don’t. I switched from a hospital birth with a doctor, to a home birth with midwives at 6 months pregnant because I realized I was nervous every appointment- complete 180. I was given the advice to choose someone who you would feel comfortable going on a road trip with so I met with all different kinds of care providers (including other doctors- not necessarily advocating for a particular type of care provider here) until I found the person I could laugh with and wanted to be around. 3rd- trust your body. Though Western medicine can make us feel like birth is some medical emergency, it absolutely isn’t. It’s THE MOST natural thing in the world… it’s how we ALL got here. Your body knows what to do and will carry you through this. For me, I bought and re-read Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth close my due date because I found myself getting nervous all over again, but that book gave me such confidence in my body’s ability to birth. (I had checked it out from the library early on in my pregnancy and it made me feel good, so I Amazon primes that book right back into my life for keeps this time haha). Again, not necessarily advocating for a particular style of birth (I think it bears repeating that ALL birth is natural), but reading those birth stories and how straightforward Ina May puts everything made me feel so much less nervous. Is there anything like that you could go back to? Maybe a card, a comment someone offered? A smell? A place? You’ve got this mama!

    • Kristie says...

      This is fantastic advice, so thoughtful and encouraging!!

  54. Katrin says...

    Thank you for this article.
    I suffered from paralyzing fear before the birth of my fourth and final child. I googled “duration birth fourth child” and read all those stories about how it gets easier and quicker every time. I knew that it wouldn’t be easy for me – all three previous births had been long, tortuous ordeals even with epidurals, and I just didn’t feel like I could go through it all again.
    I wept with relief when my son was finally born. And it makes me sad to think back to that time, realizing that there would have been help available. I just didn’t reach out for it.

  55. Sarah says...

    As an anxious person myself, some of the best advice I ever got was that sometimes anxiety has a purpose. I was very anxious when I was pregnant. I just knew I wasn’t healthy and my life would never be the same. Friends and family told me I was just a nervous first time mom and that everything would be fine. But I wasn’t okay and I’m happy I chose to be true to my own experience. I had multiple complications during pregnancy that resulted in a traumatic birth. I was able to handle preeclampsia, an emergency c-section and a jaundiced baby like a champ. Then, when life changed after the baby was born, I was mentally prepped to move my family to a new city where I don’t speak the language. I was able to accept all the change that needed to happen so my family could thrive. I’m thankful I got all up in my feelings when I was pregnant. That vulnerability eventually grew into “mom courage”. Aren’t moms some of the toughest people you know? Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing.

    • Natalie says...

      Love the term “mom courage”! Thanks for introducing it:)

  56. Kat Taylor Simonyi says...

    One of the things that I did while I was pregnant was ask my grandmother, one of the people I find most comforting , to write down her birth story and send it to me. I was able to read it (and re-read it) when I was feeling anxious. It helped me to be able to visualize the end of it all – somehow the idea of laying there peacefully on a hospital bed with a baby just didn’t seem attainable. Hearing about someone else going through it, and someone I love so much, helped make it feel more real. And that was an image I held onto during my pregnancy and birth if I was feeling anxious.

  57. Abesha1 says...

    For me, learning how the uterus works to draw up the cervix, and propel the baby down, and how the pelvis cradles and accommodates the baby’s movement was astonishingly magical…

    The most powerful muscle in your body is working really hard… it’s gonna hurt. But it’s only one day of your life, and you will get through it.

    • Claire says...

      Yes! I found understanding the actual mechanics very soothing. Your body is designed to do this, but it is such an unknown, anxiety is only natural.

  58. Lindsey says...

    Just in case Erica reads these comments – thank you, thank you for the work you are doing. I have a 2.5 month old daughter and I read your book towards the end of my pregnancy. It was like a warm hug – so helpful and non-judgmental. I felt really guilty about wanting an epidural, especially after several family members and friends told me it wasn’t a healthy choice for the baby. “All birth is natural” made my eyes well up – I felt so affirmed and supported in trying to make the decision that was right for me. Now my healthy, happy baby and I are just loving getting to know one another. Thank you.

    • Alison says...

      Second this! I had a baby five months ago and absolutely loved reading her book Nurture while pregnant. It was empowering warm advice.

  59. CEW says...

    I just went through CBT & EMDR therapy to “heal” from the PTSD I suffered from childbirth. I didn’t have a “traumatic” birth – there were no complications or anything like that – and I never had postpartum depression, but it was, uhhh, y’know, a HUGE EVENT, and made me (someone with a history of dissociation, plus generalized anxiety, and a bipolar diagnosis) freak out months and months afterward, sometimes crying at work, in the car, etc. I was disgusted by my body, I was embarrassed by the whole thing, I felt powerless and SO SO SO SO GUILTY FOR NOT FEELING “EMPOWERED” BY IT. (Is that enough emphasis??)

    Now I’m seriously 100% okay with it. I can even smile about it!

    (Ok, would I do it again? Hell no, hahaha, and thankfully my husband got snipped so I don’t have to worry about it. BUT that’s mainly because I just don’t want another child, not really the childbirth element.)

    My tips are these:
    – Do what YOU want. I personally wanted to give birth at my hospital, with only my husband there, plus the doctor/nurses. (We also did not let people visit us until we got home, where I felt less vulnerable / more in my element.) You may want a home birth, more people, less people.. whatever. Just be safe.
    – It’ll pass, more quickly than you think. I was in labor for 28 hours, and I really resonate with what Joanna mentioned in her own birth story on this site, that the time ZOOMED past. Crazy fast.
    – Get the epidural, it’s cash money dopeness in the extreme, and worth the catheter.
    – They *have* seen it all before. There really is no reason to feel embarrassed. Everyone there wants what’s best for you & your baby. 100%.

    Now when I look back, I think… dude, I had my awesome hubs there, going through the most crazy exciting boring funny weird wild experience ever, and we even got to take home the coolest kid ever. (If I do say so myself. And for what it’s worth, although I loved him at first sight, it also took me a few weeks to feel our “bond” cement itself; don’t feel guilty about that either.)

    TL;DR: It’s true, it’s worth it. There’s no way to fully prepare, but it’ll be over before ya know it. Get the help YOU need, always, and be kind to yourself. Love all you wonderful mothers, mothers-to-be, and just plain awesome women on here.

  60. Lauren says...

    As someone who was also quite nervous about giving birth and went through it 8 weeks ago, I can’t recommend working with a doula enough! She made the experience calm and positive and was super hands on which was wonderful for me as someone who loves massages. She also really empowered my husband to be confident in his role. I was pleasantly surprised at how chill the pushing part was – I thought I would be in stirrups with a dozen people around me and lots of chaos but it was just me, my husband, our doula, a wonderful nurse and amazing OB resident more or less hanging out on the bed in a very relaxed way until the last few pushes with the rest of the team came in. The epidural was much lighter than I thought it would be so I could still feel the pressure and sensations but no pain! And my doula really helped me to envision how to push the right way to make it effective – basically a c-curve crunch like in a barre class. Also, she continues to check in via text about once a week to see how I’m feeling physically and mentally and has been a great resource during breastfeeding difficulties – she got me in touch with a terrific pediatric chiropractor who helped immensely.

    I know everyone’s birth experience is different and so many factors go into it but after my experience, I am a huge advocate for adding a doula to your birth team if possible. I really looked at it as a gift to myself before everything became about the baby and it truly was a gift.

    • Abesha1 says...

      Yes, yes, yes! An educated birth partner is invaluable. Your life partner will be feeling their own feelings about you and the coming child and the birth, but a doula or a midwife or a wise woman will support YOU.

  61. MJ says...

    You are not alone! : )

    I had my first baby this January and had lots of fear of birth even before becoming pregnant. Mid-way through the pregnancy I did a hypnobirthing course online. I did the Positive Birth Company one, and can honestly say that once I’d finished the course I had zero anxiety about the birth.

    Driving to the hospital I was totally relaxed and had no fear – I think my boyfriend was more scared!

  62. Tara says...

    When I was pregnant with my now 10 month old twins, I was pretty sure that I was going to die in childbirth. I went so far as to draft a very serious letter to my 5 year old’s preschool teacher asking her to marry my husband and to please raise my three children like her own. THANK GOD I did not hit send. Can you imagine the awkward parent teacher conference?

    • CEW says...

      Tara, this cracked me up; your twins are lucky to have you as their mom!

    • Erin says...

      This is the best comment on the internet!

    • T says...

      This is hilarious.

  63. Parker says...

    I just found out I’m pregnant for the first time (!!!). I’m thrilled but incredibly anxious. Does anyone have any favorite books for this time? However, what I really don’t want is a list of things that can go wrong. I had to ban myself from ever visiting WebMD years ago-ha.

    • M says...

      Congratulations! Erica’s book Nurture is great! I also really liked “Expecting Better” by Emily Oster (and her follow up “Cribsheet”).

    • Maura says...

      I second both of those recs and also really love Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth — I found it extremely empowering and comforting. Half of the book is birth stories (sharing a wide variety of experiences), and the other half is extremely straightforward information on the birth — regarding your body, medical practices, etc. I went into that book thinking I’d need to be knocked out to deal with the fear during birth and am leaving it feeling excited and capable (I’m due in September, so jury’s out on how much I actually end up remembering and applying in the moment, haha!).

    • NJ says...

      I second Expecting Better! Also in the early days of pregnancy and it really, really helped me feel empowered with actual, useful information.

    • Nancy says...

      Angela Garbes’s LIKE A MOTHER is excellent – a great blend of personal stories and science reporting (it’s subtitled “A Feminist Journey Into the Science and Culture of Pregnancy”).

    • Meagan says...

      The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin is amazing. Wonderful information on labor stages, comfort measures, pain management options, interventions etc. My husband and I both read it, and reread it before each of our kids were born, and it accompanied us to the hospital both times.

      Both of Emily Oster’s books are great as well.

  64. Katie says...

    I was very anxious about childbirth too. Something one of my (actually childless) friends told me really helped, in a weird sort of way. She said “well, I’m sure it’s going to hurt, but everyone says that you don’t remember it clearly afterwards. So just keep reminding yourself that once you get through it, you won’t remember it anyway.” For some reason, that really helped me get through labor and delivery. I kept thinking “I won’t remember this, so it doesn’t matter.” And sure enough, I don’t really remember what it really felt like. Also, get the epidural. :-)

    Finally, re: fear of anxiety hurting the baby, I’m really familiar with that fear. When I was pregnant, my dad suffered an unexpected and horrific health problem – he was in the hospital on the other side of the country from me for about six weeks, and then he suddenly died. My dad and I were close, and this was the most stressful, emotionally devestating thing I’ve ever gone through. I remember sobbing in my obgyn’s office, saying that I was so afraid that the anxiety and loss that I was going through would hurt my baby. My doctor told me the exact same thing as in the article above – she said that people have healthy babies in war zones. Three years later, I have a healthy, wonderful preschooler who is the light of our lives. She’s perfect, despite everything that I went through while I was pregnant with her. Take care of yourself so that you feel better, but remove any worry that anxiety will affect your baby from the picture – your baby will be perfect too.

  65. Laura says...

    Serious question — for anyone who’s gone through childbirth, is getting the epidural itself scary or painful??

    I have a hard time getting through much more basic medical procedures (barely got through having a colposcopy done) so when I think about the possibility of becoming pregnant, I’m scared of even getting the epidural *face plant into palms*

    • Katie says...

      I was worried about this too – I’m afraid of needles and have trouble with any sort of medical procedure. I was on the fence about an epidural mostly because I thought I wouldn’t be able to handle the needle. Now that I’ve gone through it myself, I can definitely say that when you’re in labor, you genuinely aren’t going to care. I think I would have left my husband for my anaesthesiologist.

    • Michelle says...

      Laura, I hate needles and was scared of that too. I waited a while before I got the epidural and let’s just say at that point I was like “give it to me!” But some more practical advice is don’t look at the needle. They have you sit on the side of the bed and hug a pillow and it is a pretty quick thing so I just did breaths and did NOT look. I have had three babies now and still have not looked at that dang thing. But it definitely helps. :)

    • Callie says...

      I’ve always been very needle phobic (and have been known to hyperventilate over dental procedures in my 20s). But by the time I got to the epidural with my 1st (I’m now pregnant with my 3rd), I’d kinda gotten over it. There is so much blood drawing and everything over the course of pregnancy, I think I just accepted that I needed to not look at the needle and take deep breathes and get over it. The hardest part of the epidural for me was not the actual needle prick but just that I was so uncomfortable hunching forward over my giant belly in order for them to give it to me in my back–almost like now how at 7.5 months pregnant it’s uncomfortable to try to bend down out of a chair and pick my kid’s toy up off the floor. I know everyone is different, but this was my experience.

    • Melissa says...

      I agree with other commentators in that the epidural was a not bad at all- and also a godsend once in place. I remember thinking that I couldn’t bend over anymore and that I was uncomfortable because my belly was in the way hunched over like that. The next thing that I knew, it was done. I didn’t even really know what had happened.

    • Avi says...

      I was VERY anti getting an epidural just from fear of having it done. Freaks me out the needle in spine and numbness! I thought the pain of labor is preferable. So my first labor was 37 hours and I only got the epidural when desperate at 27 hours in and at that point I was so desperate, I didn’t care at all. 2nd baby went quickly so I tried again for no epidural and made it. Decided never to do that again! 3rd time before I even felt pain I asked for epidural and went into it knowing I would do it. While it is scary to think about, for me knowing the alternative is much worse! Also with a good nurse and anesthesiologist, they explained everything step by step and assured me all the sensations were normal. If you’re scared to get one, just wait til the pain is so bad you NEED the epidural, and it seriously won’t bother you in the least! Or just get it right away and catch a movie and a nap!

    • Mary Kay says...

      Hi Laura!
      That’s a good question! I agree with what everyone else has said but also want to add that the anesthesiologist usually numbs your skin with lidocaine first using a tiny needle, before inserting the epidural. The lidocaine burns for a few seconds and then the skin goes numb. It helps so that the process is less painful overall. It’s kind of uncomfortable, but pretty minor compared with everything else going on.

    • E says...

      In my experience you will NOT care! And there is no reason to even look at the needle, it’ll go in your back and truly it would almost be difficult to see that procedure happening. With my second they had to give me this quick speech about risks and have me sign something on a clipboard and I was so desperate for the epidural I literally yelled, “I will sign ANYTHING, just give it to me!”

    • Mary says...

      I had the exact same fear as you, Laura, and also have the worst time with the most basic medical procedures. I had my daughter a little over a year ago now and I agree with the other responses; turns out it’s not such a big deal. I was on the fence about getting it but had heard horror stories from my friends who waited until it was too late so I got it well in advance. Good thing I did. My placenta did not birth on its own at all and had to be manually ripped out of me. I cannot adequately put into words how painful that was for me. I can’t imagine what it would have been like without the epidural. Thank God for modern medicine.

    • Kiley says...

      With my first, I was put on pitocin after my water broke but contractions didn’t start. In all seriousness, the epidural I got was the closest thing to a miracle I have ever experienced. When the time comes, you won’t even be thinking about the needle. My baby turns 4 tomorrow…wah!

  66. Jane I. says...

    I love what Erica said about choosing how you want to feel during labor. I’m currently 5 months pregnant with baby #1 and I am so excited to start Hypnobirthing classes in a few months. I’ve talked to nurses and practitioners from all walks of the birthing-methods spectrum and they swear by it.

    For those of you who are curious, I describe hypnobirthing as a deep, sedated meditative form of enduring labor. This is attractive to me because meditation has been one of the biggest life-savers for me and my husband with managing our depression and anxiety – respectively.

    When I found out that I could meditate my way through labor I thought, “SIGN ME UP!”

    Now, granted, I don’t know what will ACTUALLY take place during my labor, but it feels like it’s a miracle already to go from the panic I had pre-baby to actually being EXCITED about birth because I know I can have more control and peace over my experience. To me, that’s the biggest gift I can give me baby as I welcome him into the world.

    • Priya says...

      Hi! Just chiming in to say that I also suffered from anxiety during pregnancy. I did the hypnobabies course starting from when I was 5 months pregnant and it really helped with general pregnancy anxiety (not about anything in particular, just anxious fog) and also made me feel more positive and prepared for childbirth. I really believe it helped me immensely with labor. I had a relatively short (7 hours, felt a lot shorter), empowered and overall positive experience of childbirth.

    • Jane I. says...

      Priya – that’s so awesome! It’s so great so hear so many women in the comments raving about hypobirthing and hypnobabies. That makes me even more jazzed.

    • Rebecca says...

      Hypnobabies really helped for me too!! It was crucial to get my partner on board — I needed him to cue me during each contraction, couldn’t have done it without him. The affirmations were also a huge help. Once it came time to push I needed to switch gears, the hypnobabies was a little too calming and I needed more OOMPH, haha, but overall damn it was good.

  67. Vicki says...

    At the beginning of my third trimester with my first, I Was reading the birthing chapter of my baby book and it just hit me that labor was REAL and I was about to do that. I started crying and told my husband that I had read the labor chapter I wasn’t going to do it. He was almost speechless so he just hugged me and said “Im not sure that is an option anymore” So you are not alone!

    For me by the time my baby was a week late I was huge and felt like I just didn’t want to be pregnant anymore so I was ready. I made it through, with an epidural and a supportive partner.
    I’ll also say if you do struggle with anxiety make sure you have your support system before you give birth, perhaps even seeking a therapist now to just be a support for now – therapy us great and should be normalized.
    Unfortunately our health system is not well set up for PPD and it can feel like ages to get support once you realize you need help. So having your support system beforehand can feel like a godsend.

  68. Omaya says...

    I had my first child this past April. Although what I am about to say does nothing to ease birth anxiety (which is very real–don’t ever feel bad for having it), I do want to add: the meeting of, caring for, and feeding of my baby, even in those immediate moments after birth, completely eclipsed everything I went through during labor and delivery. My baby, how amazing he is and yet how hard it was to care for him, is all I remember and ever want to talk about now that I am on the other side. It surprises me that I can’t even tell you what contractions felt like. I just don’t remember! But I can tell you in surprising detail the moments after my baby was placed on my chest.

    I do know it’s hard to consider life post birth when you have yet to endure birth, but know that birth, at least moments of it, will become a blur. That baby—he/she takes the cake.

  69. Adrien says...

    Child birth is a wild ride – even if you’ve been through it, you still don’t know what to expect the next time. Because pregnancy and walking seem to go hand in hand, I found myself listening to birth story podcasts (The Birth Hour specifically). Hearing women speak about a wide range of experiences in a positive light helped me prepare for the what if’s, knowing I would be ok through it and after because I wasn’t alone.

  70. Julia says...

    Please can I recommend The Positive Birth Company. I used them for my recent birth and have recommended the course to everyone I know who is pregnent- it helped so much and made me feel so empowered! They offer an online course which is very reasonably priced (I found it on facebook) and you can do it at your own pace. Good luck!

  71. Gemma says...

    Not to sound like a pessimist but listen to no one when they give their personal experience of birth. When pregnant with my first a sales lady, as I was leaving the store said, “Oh, and don’t worry, it’s really not that painful!” I kept this comforting thought with me during labour only to find that it was the most painful thing I have ever done. All bodies are different. Pain thresholds are different. Your experience will be your own and no one else’s.

  72. VB says...

    I read positive birth stories obsessively when I was pregnant, and it really helped with my fear, and to get me into a positive mind set. I loved hearing about how strong other women could be! It helped me to believe I am strong, too.

  73. Chantsy says...

    Coming from a super health anxiety ridden person who was terrified of birth-do hypnosis! I can not recommend it enough. I’ve had three kids and turned a possible train wreck into a beautiful experience every.single.time. I spooked my nurses, who said I didn’t look like I was in labour (seriously!!) and I even got upgraded to a private room with my second because the nurses remembered me from my sons birth two years earlier 😳. I used a CD (Maggie Howell) to listen to every day for the last ten weeks of pregnancy. It was a bit of an investment since it required lying down for 40 minutes every day but so, so worth it!! I always figure you have nothing to lose for trying it. While it won’t take all the pain away (if only!) it will leave you calm and in control. Can’t recommend enough!!

  74. Louisa says...

    My aunt – mother of four and fellow kidney-stone-sufferer – told me that childbirth wasn’t as bad as kidney stones. After giving birth (way worse than kidney stones) I told her how wrong she was. “Well you got an epidural, didn’t you?” “No! You told me it wasn’t that bad!” “Well it ISN’T that bad if you get an epidural!”

    It took me a year to laugh about this. Here’s to lowered expectations.

    • Becky says...

      I’m laughing because I had my gallbladder out unexpectedly in my 20s. It was painful. I cried so hard, one time even driving myself to the ER ( I thought it was a heart issue). Every woman I met who also had theirs removed said labor was easier. Makes sense, the body accommodates a baby but not stones. But no one mentioned with or without epidural haha!

  75. Emily says...

    I think nature is kind of cool in that by the time you’re about two or three weeks away from giving birth, your body (and your psyche) would pretty much agree to anything to get the baby delivered. For me, somehow, this overwhelming desire to not be pregnant anymore overtook the fears I had related to my labor and delivery. If someone had said I had to walk a tight rope between the world’s two tallest buildings in order to have the baby I would have been like, Where’s the elevator…

    • CEW says...

      Hahaha, too true. I never thought I would have been that way, but by 41 weeks I was just going through the list of ways to naturally induce labor, sitting on a yoga ball scarfing down the hottest hot wings ever, a half-empty jar of dates in my fridge…

  76. Lana says...

    I was so scared to give birth the first time, too! I think it’s bc nothing you have ever done can compare you for what is about to happen and movies make it look horrific. (So much screaming and crying!)
    My advice to you would be to read books by famous midwife Ina May Gaskin. She is the best of the best and has so much comforting information and amazing birth stories. You will be feel incredibly empowered when you finish it and ready for anything.
    Also, to be really honest, birth isn’t awful. The hardest part for me was all the things that happened afterwards that no one prepared me for (you bleed a lot and for a long time after and all that blood is soaked up by hysterically GIANT pads. You have to wear mesh underwear. Your boobs leak. Your bum might hurt and you may have hemorrhoids.) All is this came as such a shock to me and I think it made my first birth experience not as great as I’d hoped. I honestly just assumed the actual birth would be painful (it was not) but then it’s over and you’re good to go (not exactly the case! lol). But (!!!) at the end of all this you’ll have a baby and truthfully he or she is so worth it. Congratulations!

    • Kari says...

      I fully second this. Ina Mae Gaskin books are the best. I accidentally had my second child at home and I remember thinking in the moment that if all those hippie women could birth their babies during a walk in the woods I could do it because at least I was indoors :) Thankfully I was right.

    • Lana says...

      Hahaha! Kari that made me laugh! I think women need to be reminded that we’ve literally been doing this since the dawn of time. Oh, and that our bodies are not lemons. 😂

  77. Tovah Close says...

    I was scared of giving birth too, and one bit of advice that stuck with me was, “it’s only one day.” (Give or take, ha). As in, no matter what happens with the birth, the pain levels, etc, it is NOT the new normal and it won’t last forever! It’s only one day. Good luck, mama!

    • ray says...

      I told myself the same thing! whatever happens, it’s 48 hours at worst, and nothing compared to the lifetime I actually create.
      I also watched lots of birth videos. at the end I had a successful, quick and exhilarating home water birth.

  78. j says...

    I was so scared of giving birth the first time. I prepared for it like it was my job (and totally forgot to prepare for actually bringing the baby home, oops!). I gave birth at a birth center that couldn’t administer an epidural, and in one prenatal meeting with my doula, I looked at her and asked, “Am I going to be able to do this?” She scoffed at me. “Of course,” she said. And she was right! It was actually less painful for me than I expected (and than popular media would have you believe). No complications, just the most beautiful several moments of my life. I’d recommend any Ina May Gaskin book and filling yourself up with positive birth stories.

  79. Esss says...

    Just here to say thank you, Erica! Nurture got me through pregnancy and birth in a more calm and centered way than I ever imagined possible!

    I was scared of birth too and getting a doula for our hospital birth was the best decision we could have possibly made. It was amazing to have someone who we already knew and who had done this before at our sides over a hard labor.

  80. Meghan says...

    This is such a wonderful post. I think many of us who have already given birth are wishing Erica could have been our doula! My theory on anxiety is that as we grow a baby (or prepare for a baby, as adoptive/foster parents), we are also literally growing a new part of our brains, one that will forever track the well being of this new person. I think that sometimes that mental road-building manifests as anxiety. Also, I felt a tremendous disconnect between the joy everyone was promising me and the dread I felt about birth, and this also made me anxious. It just felt dark, like I was staring down a creepy tunnel that I had to to walk through alone. Yet so many have gone before you and so many will follow after, and you are safe, and loved, in our company.

    • Allison says...

      “we are also literally growing a new part of our brains, one that will forever track the well being of this new person. I think that sometimes that mental road-building manifests as anxiety.” Just wow. I love this perspective.

  81. Lorraine says...

    I had a looming fear throughout my first pregnancy, knowing I was on a rollercoaster and at some point the baby was going to come out, somehow. I think not knowing how and when was tough for me, the perpetual planner. It did help for me to talk to other mamas, and hear about how they got through their labors.

    Are you able to treat yourself to the spa for a prenatal massage, or something else fun/relaxing before the baby arrives? I was downright bored during my final “pre-kids” month. Life as you know it is about to change, and spare time will be a thing of the past…

    As others are saying, just remember that our bodies were designed to give birth. I wound up having a c-section (twice) and both experiences were actually beautiful. We’re all here for you – homestretch, mama! xo

  82. Katie says...

    I’m 6 months pregnant with my first here, and while I am nervous about birth, I’m more excited. The part that stood out most to me in this post was where Erica states, “…In fact, I think that one of the most feminist decisions you can make is deciding how you want to feel during labor, and thanks to modern medicine you have options…” and also “…know that all birth is natural because it’s natural to birth a baby, regardless of what interventions you decide to use.” This almost made me cry! I think our culture is moving swiftly towards the idea that a “natural” birth is an unmedicated birth, or better yet, an unmedicated home birth. But my husband and I know this isn’t the decision for us. We are open to whatever outcome happens during delivery to ensure a healthy baby and healthy mama. It can feel defeating and diminishing to talk about one way of childbirth to be “best”. So thank you Erica! I am totally taking your words to heart!

    • Savannah says...

      I always think, no one brags about getting a tooth pulled without pain meds! Why is it only in childbirth that we malign women who use medical pain management techniques?! I am so happy for options! I would have loved a natural home birth like my sister but I am so thankful for the emergency c section that saved my daughters life.

    • Roberta says...

      I agree! Coming from a line of women who all needed medical intervention (preeclampsia and narrow hips!) to save their life and their baby’s, I’ve always viewed childbirth as one of the most dangerous things a woman can go through. Medical advances literally gave me life – without them, I wouldn’t have survived birth, and neither would have my mother. I would love to think that any childbirth I go through would be different (I’ve completed an ultramarathon!), but that’s probably unrealistic. I thanked God for the safe delivery of my sister (emergency c-section due to preeclampsia and other complications) and for the skill of the doctors and midwives who saved her life. I sometimes think that those who advocate for unmedicated birth should pause to think of the millions of women and babies who died (and continue to die) because of the medical treatments they spurn…it is one of the greatest achievements of our age that women where I live are able to go into labour confident that they (and their child) will survive. Suffering is not a prerequisite of motherhood!

  83. Hilary says...

    One trick I used when I was pregnant with my first child: I reminded myself of the many women I knew who, after having one child, decided to have another. I literally listed them in my head: my mom, my husband’s mom, my friend Molly, my friend Emily, my friend Jenny, my grandma, my husband’s grandma…I had a mental army of women who went before me into this singularly female experience, and I felt so encouraged by their presence in my life.

    And guess what? I did it again; I had another baby three years after my first! :)

    • Lisa says...

      How funny, I did this exact same thing but with newborn days when I was sure the people telling me “It gets better” were lying! I kept telling myself this HAS to get better if people do this again ON PURPOSE!!! It does get better. I got 8 hours of sleep last night and my two boys are so cute. :)

  84. C says...

    “know that all birth is natural because it’s natural to birth a baby, regardless of what interventions you decide to use.” LOVE THIS!

  85. Anna Vitale says...

    I can TOTALLY relate to this reader. I did work with a doula (highly recommend) and had my mom at my first birth. Still, I had anxiety leading up to my second birth. Writing the below affirmations really helped me and it’s something simple (and free!) that anyone can do. It centered my headspace to have them and my husband read some to me as I was in labor (it helped to ground me).

    + I have grown Emory, and now I will bring her into the world. She and I have been perfectly matched to journey through labor together.
    + I belong to a community of billions of women who have birthed. 300,000 other women will birth with me today.
    + My body knows what it is doing. I can let my mind relax, because my body knows exactly what to do.
    + I fear the pain to come, but I accept and choose to birth in spite of my fear.
    + I am powerful, and I am not alone. David (husband), Katie (doula) and my nurses will be strong for me and will buoy me in moments where I am tired and feeling weak. They want the best for me and for Emory.
    + The pain is purposeful
    + The pain is not bigger than me
    + Every contraction ends, and I can handle one contraction at a time.
    + My breath calms me and opens my body.
    + Each contraction brings me closer to looking into Emory’s eyes.
    + Soon I will hear Emory’s voice
    + When I feel I cannot go on, I will know the finish line is in sight.
    + I am birthing my daughter into the world.
    + Soon I will push, and it will feel so good to hold Emory in my arms for the first time.
    + Soon Emory will be with our family

    • bethany says...

      These are lovely and powerful. Thanks for sharing them.

    • Blythe says...

      Oh my goodness Anna. 35 weeks today and crying over these. Copying and pasting to write my own. Thank you so much for sharing!

  86. Kellyn says...

    I had been terrified of giving birth since I was a child. What helped me as my anxiety reach a crescendo as my due date came and went (beyond reading lots of birth stories and thinking of all women who have given birth to the 7.5 billion currently living people around the globe) was thinking about the cast from MTV’s Teen mom. If they could do it, I could do it!

    • Rebecca says...

      Haha I used to tell myself that if Kim Kardashian did it, I could too!

  87. T says...

    You are not alone!

    The idea of giving birth, made me not want to have a baby for a very long time. When I wanted to get pregnant, I talked to a therapist about it. I found her by asking my obgyn if she knew someone specialized in anxiety around birth. My therapist taught me mindfulness and putting things in perspective. We also made a birth plan together with a highlighted section about my anxiety and what would help me.

    For example:
    I don’t mind feeling pain, but I don’t want to suffer. If I suffer from pain, I’ll want an epidural.
    When I am hyperventilating, it helps when you put a hand on my sternum.

    To be this specific about your wishes and to communicate them, gives a lot of peace and power. She also told me to share it with anyone that might be involved before, during or after birth.

    So I guess that would be my advice: find your people and talk. Talk about your feelings, fears and needs. They are legit and they are real. You don’t have to figure it out alone or beat yourself up over it. There are a lot of people around you who can help you navigate your options and support you.

    PS: I gave birth twice, and both births were incredibly empowering.

  88. Emilie says...

    I was terrified of giving birth – I told everyone it was my greatest fear. But halfway through my first pregnancy I had lunch with one of my only friends who is a mom and she told me quite sincerely, “It’s not that bad and you can totally do it.” It was the truth! I had built it up in my mind to be so scary that the reality of birth seemed a relief. My doula also recommended a book called Birthing from Within, which is a bit woo-woo but really helped me to work through my fears with creative exercises. It’s okay to be scared, mamas – you’re not alone!

  89. Elyse says...

    If you’ll be giving birth at a hospital and a doula isn’t an option for you, know that labor-and-delivery nurses are (I’m convinced) among the greatest humans on the planet. I had a doula and my husband with me, but the person I remember the most is my nurse Molly, who snuck me snacks and told me I was strong and beautiful throughout my labor, made me laugh mid-push by complimenting my smooth legs, and helped me use the bathroom after giving birth. You will not be alone in that hospital room!

    I also second all the comments about seeking out positive birth stories of all kinds. I had lots of anxieties about needing to be induced because of all the horror stories, but when I did end up with an induction, I actually had a GREAT experience. I wish I’d had more of the happy stories in my head, and fewer of the “worst-case-scenario” tales.

    • Amber J says...

      I second this in two ways — I was induced with my angel child and it went beautifully. After a little while of the labor, my doctor & I decided a C-section would be the best way forward, and I’m here to tell you that it went absolutely smoothly. The L&D nurses and doctors are Godsends — my angel nurse was ALSO named Molly!! If you decide to give birth in a hospital, the L&D staff will absolutely give you everything you and the baby need and will be your support through everything. You can do this!!

  90. Kylie says...

    I just gave birth to my second kiddo 6 days ago. For the first I chose to not get an epidural, but for this birth I wanted to experience things differently but didn’t know exactly what that meant come birth day. I had a rather rough time in postpartum after my first with a colicky baby + PPA, so my plan for birth #2 ended up being to make the choices that set us up best for postpartum. For me that meant laboring at home where I’m comfortable, but then once at the hospital getting the epidural so I could rest and pause to think about what was about to happen. The epidural felt like relief and relaxation and I really liked the sensation. It took a quick hour after getting the epidural to dilate to complete and in that time I had space to connect w my husband (since the last month of pregnancy was just tense bt us w waiting for this massive change) and realize how excited I was to nurse again. It was calm. My sisters arrived full of energy and excitement. It was so calm. In 3 pushes she was out and I wasn’t exhausted beyond belief like I was when I didn’t get the epidural with my first. I’m glad I was intentional about thinking thru what was best for our family.

    I really enjoyed this post! Thanks, Erica.

  91. Kathryn says...

    What wonderful advice! I would like to take a moment to acknowledge that you are already doing a great job parenting by worrying about how your actions affect your child. Also, my 2 cents…I am an anxious person, and one of the hardest and most powerful parts of parenting is when I have to overcome my own fear (however it manifests) to be what my child needs me to be in that moment. Looking back, I am sure my mom did it for me, and now my gift is to do it for my children, it is not always perfect, but usually they don’t seem to notice.

    During my own labors, I experienced deep fear in the moment when it came to push, but each time, when I opened up and starting pushing there was an instant relief, and I try to carry this feeling through when I have other fear based parent challenges. One beautiful thing I learned in birth class is that the baby is also an active participant in the birth process, and you are working together as a team throughout. Good luck and honor your experience, there is not such thing as the right way to feel or the right process, it is just yours.

    • Claire says...

      I love everything you said here.

  92. Saundra says...

    By choosing home births for both of my pregnancies, I knew I was taking pain medication off the table. For my first, I was diligent about ONLY reading/listening to positive birth stories, which I found really helpful. I actually was far more terrified of giving birth the second time. All for not, because my Ruby came in less than two hours! It was so fast that my midwife hadn’t even arrived. So, you never know what your birth experience will be…but it will be YOURS! It truly is a wondrous process.

  93. Jo says...

    Such a great post! With my first child I was so terrified of giving birth (mainly the pain!) that as soon as I did the pregnancy test and it was positive I decided to get an epidural. I was still afraid and would often think “what if I’m the first women in the history of humanity who just can’t give birth?” Yes, now that is hilarious, but not at the time…
    Then, the birth was soooo long, and the epidural made me feel I wasn’t in total control of my body (which is also scary for a control freak), so for the second child I thought “what if?…”. I did a bit of research about strategies to deal with birth, read a lot of books, and I saw a lot of people mentioning hypnosis, but what really did it for me was the beautiful simple book from Ina May Gaskin “guide to childbirth”. I finished reading it just some weeks before the second one was born and the book made me feel was so calm, peaceful and empowered. And when the day came I rocked. It was crazy and painful and incredible as most births, but it was also the most amazing moment of my life. I was able to let go, listen to my body and let it work. I realised I had been afraid of my body, me, who overthinks everything, was afraid of the fact that my body knew better, and it wasn’t rational or intellectual, it was just nature. I’m done with kids now, and will not miss much of pregnancy or their early months (ppd) but once in a while I wish I could just give birth again!

  94. Jen says...

    I gave birth to my first baby last month. Just wanted to say Nurture, Erica’s book, is the best thing I read during my pregnancy. It is calming, reassuring, and full of gentle, judgement-free advice and acceptance. I continue to turn to it postpartum for support. Thank you for sharing her knowledge in this space!

  95. Moira says...

    I love this topic so much so I’m commenting again :)

    My doulas also passed along to me the idea that birth is not an emergency; it’s a normal biological function. It’s so often treated in our culture as an emergency but it can actually be a peaceful, minimally painful, calm experience. Reframing like this really helped for me. I also liked what someone else commented about how if you look around, every single person you see got here through someone giving birth. It takes away some of the fear since it’s literally happened to all of us.

  96. Anna says...

    I was really scared too!! I was not the mom saying, “let’s kick this baby out.” I was the mom saying, “mmm. I think I’ll stay pregnant forever.”

    Well that didn’t happen. I birthed my daughter. I did not have an epidural because my labor was very short- only 5 hours, only 2 of which were at the hospital, and I was already too far along when we finally got admitted to get one. That’s okay though. It was a very fast transition which helped.

    To be honest, I wish someone would have told me the contractions are what are the most painful and while the pushing *is* painful, it’s also relieving. The pushing and birthing felt most like taking a huge poop from my vagina. Or maybe like pulling out a tampon that’s really full. The ring of fire felt like if you stretch your lips on your face into a big “ah” and then take your fingers and stretch your lips as far as you can.

    Because I labored so quickly my contractions were very intense. I worked myself up into a panic during the worst of the contractions because i was so scared and didn’t know what was coming next. I had a few moments though where my nurse got me to do deep breathing and once I calmed down, it was a lot less scary. The pain was scary because I was panicking and not trying to be calm. When I had to calm down, the pain was more manageable.

    In hindsight, I wish I would have watched videos of women giving birth so I had a frame of reference for what it was going to be like.

    Once it was all said and done, it was the absolutely most powerful and transformative experience of my entire life. I would do it a million times over for a million times longer for my baby.

    • Akc says...

      ATtENTION THis COMMENT IS Not helpful to someone with anxiey.

      I find it so interesting to read how other women feel birth, and overall how humans feel and process pain. I have had three children, vaginal deliveries no epidurals or medication. I agree Ina may books were very helpful for me. However, I have to say birth hurt. The contractions were painful and Intensifying, but I felt like I could ride that pain out, kind of like when you are exercising through pain.
      The hardest scariest painful part for me was pushing, feeling the baby drop my body feeling split apart . It is interesting how people can feel and interpret things differently. I don’t regret not having anesthesia. Birth is amazing but I prefer those days when nursing becomes cozy and they baby naps with you.

    • Abesha1 says...

      Omg I loved pushing, with both of mine. It is so relieving, yes!!! And if you have a provider that waits for you, it just can happen almost on it’s own without you actually thinking about it. (It’s still effort, but it’s hard to explain how instinctive it can be)

  97. Emelie says...

    This is wonderful. I would also recommend listening to birth stories – I have been listening to the podcast The Birth Hour since before I was pregnant with my first child. Bryn, the host, always has a brief written description, so you can decide if it’s a story you’d like to skip. I found it so empowering to hear the voices of all these women who went through this rite of passage.

  98. The first time I was pregnant, giving birth was such an unknown that even though I was scared, there was a lot of excitement and curiosity. The second time around I was TERRIFIED because I knew what awaited me. I also had a difficult physical recovery postnatal the first time around and was scared of that. I will say like so many here, prenatal yoga was amazing (both times), both for breathing techniques and for centering your mind. The second time, my worst fear came true (could not get an epidural), and you know what happened? I still gave birth. It was a crazy, EFFING PAINFUL, amazing experience. The female body is an incredible thing. There wasn’t even enough time for my OB to get there. The doctor that delivered me high fived me after my daughter came out and said “You did this! You are amazing!” Like women throughout history, you will also do this, and you will be amazing.

  99. Mary Newman says...

    I had a dramatic birth experience very long and ending with an emergency c-section, best of both worlds I like to say, but honestly it was about 2 days of my life, a tiny drop in a vast ocean, that phrase kept me going and put things into perspective during everything.

  100. agnes says...

    I was so sure I would die giving birth (too many movies?), I was terrified. I did everything: yoga, courses, my partner was VERY supportive and that’s what helped me the most. I had a natural labour for 8 hours, then an emergency c section. At that point, there was not much I could do. I was still terrified. I didn’t die! My baby was healthy! I was well taken care of. I am sure I would be as scared today if I had another baby. You need to imagine the worst and work through it with a doctor. Only science (I feel) helped me, and the care and love of my husband. But I was still scared. So, if you think you’re alone, no. I was the most terrified, still am ;-) but you can survive fear, that’s what I learned. Fear is just fear. It really is like a dragon; there is not much you can do, but fear will not make things worse really, only you will feel it (my child turned out fierceless). The best: I was so scared about labour that every thing after that (nursing, sleepless night, etc), was SO easy! I enjoyed it so much. I am the most relaxed mum. So, let the fear be!

  101. Amy says...

    SLOW CLAP what a phenomenal answer. Wish I heard this when I was pregnant. I too was completely terrified. After trying for a baby for a long time, it was very confusing for my first feeling to be FEAR not the joy I expected I would have. I thought I must be a medical marvel- when the day came, I’d be the only woman who literally couldn’t do it. The good news is that when things get going, fear will give way to other things – determination, breathing, or just surrendering. You can do it!

  102. Kim says...

    Oooh this new column is so exciting and awesome!!!

  103. I hear you! My greatest fear was having a c-section. I absolutely did not want one and did everything I could, preparation-wise, to ensure against one … and then I had one anyways. But baby and I are both fine and I have a beautiful healthy baby girl, so it was all worth it in the end. So maybe it will help you to know that even if your “greatest fear” comes true, you’ll still come out on the other side and everything will be okay.

  104. Avi says...

    My friend who has EIGHT kids told me if you look around anywhere you walk, remind yourself all these human beings were once born to someone. And no, not all their mothers were braver, smarter, more capable, more adaptable, calmer, or less worried than you.

    I had legit panic attacks all 3 of my pregnancies. The first was the fear of the unknown. The 2nd and 3rd pregnancy was the fear of the known! I felt like each day getting closer to labor and delivery was taking a step closer to my demise. Certainly I didn’t think I would die, thank God we have great doctors and a great hospital. But something about ‘the big day’ felt like it would be some awful occurrence without being able so specify why. Having a doula my first 2 times got me through it and my 3rd pregnancy I was already working with a therapist and continued with her. Each time I waited with DREAD. Go figure my first was 9 days overdue and my 3rd was 11 days overdue. Every night I would take a bath and pray ‘please don’t let it be tonight, I can’t do it tonight!!!’ Just ‘pushing off’ the inevitable (yes it’s possible when your body doesn’t allow labor to happen)… but you know, I did it 3x and know I can (and would) do it again. these intense fears are part of a broader anxiety and obsessive thinking issue that I’ve had to work through. Recommend ongoing therapy and support and good luck!

    • Kelly says...

      YES! I did this too during both of my pregnancies and it helped so much with the anxiety in anticipation of birth. Everywhere I went, I would think “that person was BORN”, “that person was BORN”, “that person was BORN.” It really calmed me to think of birth as such a normal, mundane thing.
      Also, I found that when I finally did go into labor, a wave of calm came over me, and I was ready to go.

  105. Susannah says...

    Something my doula told me that still resonates with me in all aspects of my life: You CAN do it because you ARE doing it.

  106. Katie says...

    This is such kind, lovely advice. I love that Erica advocates for talking through your feelings with a partner, friend or your birthing team. There are many intrusive and stressful thoughts that can creep up during pregnancy and early motherhood, it’s so important to shine a light on them and let others help you through.

  107. Meaghan says...

    You’re totally not alone! My response to my first positive pregnancy test was to sob to my husband that, “I don’t want to push it out!”

    Reading birthing books freaked me out, so I didn’t read them. Hearing other people’s stories was scary, so I didn’t listen. I felt like when it came down to it, that baby was coming out, so there wasn’t much to be done by me being worried (and I’m a worrier by nature, for what that’s worth). I did know I wanted an epidural, so I asked for one loudly and often. I got it as soon as I could, and I’ve never regretted that decision.

    At the end of the day, the birth part is way shorter than the being a parent part. It’s just a blip in your parenting journey. Congratulations and best wishes!

  108. Anita says...

    While you might support the inclusive idea that “all birth is natural,” for confronting and conquering fear of childbirth it can be worth it to look into some of the literature on the stricter definition of natural birth. It had a huge impact on me. For my first birth (and I had three) I made “choices” that were very much in line with the hospital norm because I found (and many other women have also) that hospital environments don’t tend to support a lot of “choices” (epidurals reign). Strict definition natural birth (which I had for the next two births), on the other hand, really supports the idea that women have strong intuitive wisdom about childbirth. The idea that MY BODY KNOWS HOW TO DO THIS without intervention was very inspiring for me, and gave me strength and confidence. I know that the common retort to this is “not for everyone” etc. That’s fine. But I also think there is value in acknowledging that this (strict definition) natural birth discourse exists (which this post doesn’t) because it has the potential to be extremely empowering and transformative for how we think about and experience childbirth. It makes me very sad that celebrating natural birth has become taboo in some circles, as though the whole concept of natural birth is meant to make women feel bad. I am grateful to the women who champion natural childbirth and supported me through it; they gave me a tremendous gift, including a strong sense of courage.

    • Anna says...

      I agree wholeheartedly.

    • Jen says...

      Yes! I was going to say something similar. Maggie Howell’s book on hypnobirthing is thought provoking on this – childbirth is one of the most natural things that we can do as women and, for most of us, it’s possible to let our bodies do the hard work. The pain of childbirth was for me quite different to pain when injured, for example – it’s productive and you can understand what your body is doing. When you think of it that way it’s far easier to manage.

    • Kate says...

      What does “natural birth” even mean though? This recent NYT has a good explanation about how the term entered our lexicon fairly recently.

      https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/07/parenting/natural-birth.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share

      While I did find Ina May’s guide empowering to read when expecting my first child, I also know that maternal mortality rates used to be very high – and continue to be in developing nations with over 300,000 deaths annually worldwide related to pregnancy and childbirth. I sometimes wish staunch “natural birth” advocates would acknowledge the positive impact that the socialization of health care has had on women’s health overall. Interventions save lives.

  109. “I think that one of the most feminist decisions you can make is deciding how you want to feel during labor.”

    Thank you for this! I was unashamed about wanting an epidural, but in my group of friends and in my birthing class, I seemed to be the only one. I found out later that everyone in my class ended up getting an epidural, but was just hesitant to admit it. As Erica said, all birth is natural, and we need to stop making women feel guilty or as if they are somehow less for wanting pain intervention.

    • Michelle says...

      Ah – fear of childbirth is totally relatable. I felt like it intensified as my baby’s due date drew nearer. But! Once the pregnancy got so uncomfortable that I just wanted the baby OUT, I became way less afraid of whatever means would accomplish that!

    • Allison says...

      Preach! I still resist the urge to feel “less-than” because I “caved” and got an epidural. I appreciate this perspective v much!

    • Meghan says...

      Thank you for saying this, Sarah. I understand that home birth can be very empowering for many women. My husband and I did Bradley method childbirth classes — 12 entire sessions devoted to the horrors of episiotomies (which really aren’t done much anymore) and epidurals, etc. By hour 30(!) of my labor, I was like, I’d like an epidural – but by that point I’d convinced my husband and doula to that my dream was a “natural” birth and so they talked me into it! For my second and third labors, I got epidurals as soon as I could and now feel that they’re basically the pinnacle of human achievement. For me, natural birth was just a ton of pain that I’d rather avoid. When my mom — who had 3 home births — saw me joyfully laboring with an epidural, she said, “I wish I could do it again this way!” I do think, for the first birth, it can be a good goal to get to 5 or 6cm before getting an epidural so that labor won’t stall. But after that, live it up, if you want!<<and make sure they really turn that epidural up :) The funny/sad part of our bradley classes is that we spent so much time focused on the birth, we forgot to learn about everything afterward–diapering, swaddling, feeding, postpartum support, etc. That's where the real work begins, in my opinion. As for birth, honor every path, and just get that baby out! :)

    • Heather says...

      Meghan, I was similarly convinced that I wanted a medication-free birth and steeled myself for that the first time around. I ended up getting an epidural after stalling at 9cm for 10 hours because I was worried that I’d be too tired to push when the time came. Instantly, my body relaxed and I fell asleep. What a gift to be given that chance to rest in the middle of such an ordeal.

      With my second labor, I asked for an epidural as soon as I was admitted to the hospital, and I felt that it allowed me to get out of my body’s way. As the epidural kicked in and the pain melted away, I felt my body unclench, and I went from 4 cm to fully dilated in about an hour.

      I know that some people don’t have great epidural experiences or don’t want one, but I just wanted to speak up to say that getting an epidural doesn’t have to feel like weakness or giving up – it can be a gift you give your body.

    • Erin says...

      Absolutely! Every pregnancy, delivery, and child is different. You do you! I had an emergency c-section due to HELLP syndrome (as my Dr. called, it “preeclampsia’s evil stepsister”) for my first (who just turned 6) and we are both just fine (thank goodness for modern medicine), and I had a VBAC with my second 25 months later, complete with epidural, and I have NO regrets. In both cases I was surrounded by fantastic doctors and nurses, who were hugely supportive. I also do remember talking to my father (a retired surgeon) before my second regarding epidurals, and he was like, “why wouldn’t you?” Case closed.

  110. I was also anxious about giving birth. Mostly I was afraid about being in such a vulnerable position. Everyone told me that, in the moment, I’d get past the vulnerability. That was completely the case for me. My labor did not go as planned at all – I had to be induced as I was high risk due to a blood clot and then I ended up needing a c-section our son wouldn’t descend down the birth canal thanks to his 96th percentile head. Ha. But I look back on the birth and have nothing but warm, positive emotions. So just know that there can be beauty in the moment, even if it doesn’t go at all like you hoped/wished.

    I would also consider talking to a therapist if you are in the position to do so financially. When I was pregnant I remember thinking that my anxiety would subside once the baby was here and I didn’t have to worry so much because I could see him/feel him/hold him and not wonder what was going on with his development. I told this to a friend who is a psychologist and she said she hated to break it to me, but the worrying doesn’t stop when they are born. There’s just always something to worry about, especially if you are prone to anxiety/worrying like I am…

    Hang in there, mama! Everything will be ok!

  111. Jessica says...

    Hollywood tends to play up the pain of birth so it’s easy to take for granted what a powerful experience it is. I was in awe of what my body was doing, what women are built to do. It was also very cool to see what an impact watching me birth a child had on my husband. I distinctly remember standing in the bathroom after in nothing but a pair of those massive stretchy hospital underwear, a giant pad from midback to belly button, a nursing bra, my hair a sweaty mess and still covered in the sweat and goo that comes with child birth. I turned to my husband and said “pretty sexy, huh”. And I’ll never forget his response. With absolute sincerity, he said “I’ve never been more attracted to you in my life”.

  112. Jaclyn says...

    Here is what my beloved ob-gyn (who died last year, after nearly 40 years of delivering babies) said when I told him I was terrified of giving birth:

    “Nothing to be afraid of. The baby comes out one of two ways, no matter what.”

    His simple, honest answer put me at ease!

    • Sarah says...

      This is oddly comforting to me, too!

  113. Jeanne says...

    One of the strategies I used was to refuse to let anyone tell me “horror” stories. I didn’t want that negativity in my head. I also did hypnobirthing and spent a lot of time reading hypno birth stories because they are so peaceful and joyous.

    The other thing I did was look around at all the other mothers I knew and say to myself, “Honestly, if all these people have managed this, I certainly can.”

    And finally, I went back to the wisdom of our child birth educator. We spend a lot of time preparing for the birth, but really, it probably won’t be longer than half a day. We can do anything for half a day. We should focus our thoughts on what happens after that day because the parenting part is the long part.

    • Anna says...

      I told myself the same thing!!!! So many people birth babies and are just fine. If they can, I can too!! Good thought for a lot of situations, actually.

    • Diana Alvarez Gorby says...

      Agreed ! Google positive birth stories. Better yet, read Joanna’s birth story. I read it from time to time and brings me such joy every time i read it :)

  114. Rachel says...

    You are NOT alone! The day I found out I was pregnant with my first child I felt a shadow looming over me – this baby was a ticking time bomb. She had to come out at some point! I was terrified. I received a beautiful piece of advice that I focused on consistently throughout pregnancy and while I was giving birth.

    Since the beginning of time women have birthed babies. Your body was made for this. Focus on the strength and power of your foremothers. Your way ahead has been paved by all mothers in the world, since the beginning of time. They’ve fought to allow you to give birth on your terms. They have cradled human existence – allowing you to be here. You will join these legions of women. You are strong. Your body knows what to do.

    • Bex says...

      I Love this!! I was telling myself something similar and it made me feel powerful and was also kind of spiritual.

  115. K says...

    I love this. You’re not alone at all! For me, in addition to writing down each of my fears, I made a list of all the resources I had should that fear come to be, medical, social, internal. I realized several of my fears were centered around how I would feel if x,y, or z happened so I made lists of not only practical resources for various scenarios, but also mental reframing for how to tell the story of my experience to myself in a way that would result in feelings of empowerment and gratitude. I kept the piece of paper with these lists on them and looked at them when the fears arose.

  116. Jessica says...

    I was quite anxious going into labour (been thru 2), but now being on the other side, I found it to be a very empowering experience. I was amazed at what my body could do. It was tiring but well within the limits of what I could handle. If you don’t handle pain well, I HIGHLY recommend epidural. I found it took the edge off my contractions enough to let me rest before the pushing.

    Controlled deep breathing was another helpful tool for me. I do yoga occasionally, and I found that kind of focused breathing helped me stay centred and push well.

    And I know it’s a bit of a cliche but by the next day, you really do forget what it felt like. There’s such a rush of adrenaline and emotion, the labour is over and forgotten before you know it.

    Trust yourself, you can do this!

    • Jessica says...

      One other thing: I found it helpful to read up on proper pushing technique before going into labour. There isa right way to do it to most effectively and efficiently push the baby. Focus on pushing thru a spot on your perineum, much like for a tough bowel movement. You push with the contractions and rest in between. As you feel a contraction building take a deep breath, and while holding it, push thru that spot with all your might. Then take another deep breath and repeat until the contraction has passed. Then close your eyes and breathe deeply and rest in between contractions. Have someone put a wet cloth on your forehead, it will feel good.

    • I second reading up on proper pushing technique. Or if you can, ask other women to describe how they pushed. When you’re actually pushing, ask your care provider to tell you if it looks like you’re pushing right, and if you’re not, ask for suggestions on what to do differently. I pushed for three hours with my son, and part of it was because it just took me a long time to figure out exactly how to do it! Once I started asking my midwife for some constructive criticism, I got the hang of it and started making progress.

  117. Rachael says...

    It took me six babies before I finally learned that however I wanted to give birth was fine, and that I didn’t need to feel like I was less of a woman or a mother because I needed to be induced every time and I wanted an epidural! My sixth (and final) labor was the best because I just stopped caring about what other people thought and did what I needed to do to manage the pain. Epidurals are absolutely your friend and you do NOT need to feel bad about asking for one if the idea of going for a medication-free childbirth is terrifying! I did find Hypnobabies very helpful for early labor. Last but not least, just cut people off when they start to tell stories of their nightmarish labors and ask them to please only share the positives. Women often get into a competition about who had the worst labors and it’s totally terrifying if you’re a first-time mom. And last but not least, the last month of pregnancy is pretty rotten and always helped me a lot when I was dreading labor…I was just SO ready to be done with pregnancy that labor was totally welcome. 😉

    • Vance says...

      I beg to differ about not reading so called “worst labor stories.” I had a fairly traumatic labor and delivery after a flawless pregnancy. For me, the PTSD I had after I gave birth was far greater because I hadn’t been mentally prepared that what happened was possible. I’d read comments similar to the ones here from women suggesting doulas (I had one) or sharing that they too feared birth but then it was wonderful and that really skewed in my thinking. I would have preferred to have been armed with a more realistic sample of birth stories. For this reason, I have loved listening to the Birth Hour to help myself feel “normal” after my delivery and I give them a lot of credit for helping me heal.

  118. Linda says...

    I was also nervous about childbirth with my first, but now I’m pregnant with my 2nd, and I’m looking at the hospital stay like a hotel stay. You have an entire team of professionals looking after you. Hot meals that you don’t need to cook. Someone to help you shower. No need to clean anything. And nurses to hand your baby off to if you need sleep. You won’t get this level of attention when you get home. Postpartum was 100x harder for me than childbirth. Don’t be scared to ask for help.

    • Not all nurses will take the baby if you want to sleep. Baby Friendly Hospitals strongly encourage rooming in, to the point where nurses are trained to actively discourage moms from sending the baby to the nursery. (As was documented in this fantastic Philly magazine article.) If the idea of having your baby in your room 24/7 doesn’t sound like a good fit, definitely read up on your hospital’s policy ahead of time so you know what you can expect after giving birth.

      https://www.phillymag.com/news/2019/06/22/baby-friendly-hospitals/

    • Hannah says...

      Hypnobabies! HYPNOBABIES! I did the home study program with my second, and I’m still shocked that more people don’t know about this amazing course. A lot of people get it confused with hypnobirth. While similar, Hypnobabies gives you concrete tools to manage both the physical and emotional aspects of labor. You listen to audio tracks and practice self-hypnosis to clear fear, create hypno-anesthesia (look it up! People who are allergic to anesthesia medications can effectively use it during dental work and SURGERY!), and encourage your body and your baby to work in tandem. There are lots of other aspects I could get into, but in the interest of time, just know: it works! I’m not a paid promoter or anything, just a big cheerleader.
      The other tool that I’m shocked isn’t used more widely (that I used with both of my births) is nitrous oxide. It has no effect on the baby, can be initiated or stopped at any time during the birthing process (many people use it only during transition, or pushing) and is highly effective at managing pain. If you want something in between nothing and an epidural, ask your OB or midwife about nitrous. And if they don’t offer it, you might ask them to consider thinking about it.
      I also had a huge amount of fear pre-birth (for both) and found these tools helped me a huge amount.

    • Linda says...

      Thanks, MaryGrace for sharing such a fabulous article! We didn’t deliver at a “baby friendly” hospital, but my first child also had issues w/ dehydration from bilirubin/jaundice. When we brought baby back to the doctor 2-3 days after discharge, we were sent straight to the ER. Baby’s 5 day NICU stay could have been prevented if the discharging pediatrician would have told us to supplement with formula (esp for a 1st time mom) rather than brushing it off. I’m all for breastfeeding, but the way formula is stigmatized and how breastfeeding practices are implemented in healthcare settings, we’ve swung too far the other way.

  119. Cheryl says...

    I was afraid too! I did Hypnobabies with great success although like anything it’s not for everyone. My first baby being born was one of my powerful accomplishments.
    Most fear management encourages you to think of a happy place. Instead of designing a relaxing beach in my imagination, to my own surprise, I immediately conjured a large daybed outside by a river in a village of comforting mothers. In other words, women who have done and seen it all before and have endless wisdom and experience. I have no idea where the thought came from but it was very grounding. My happy place was the reassurance I’m not the first and will not be the last woman to give birth.

    • Katherine says...

      Same- I really felt like Hypnobabies helped me face and deal with my fears and gave me so many different tools to manage them. There are so many deeply held negative beliefs about birth- its how we are socialized- and the program gives you many options for addressing them. The “Fear Clearing” session was so immensely helpful. After the program I went into my birth with an amazing attitude which I completely credit for helping me process a birth that could have left me much more traumatized. Also, frankly the pain management portion worked brilliantly for me.

  120. Elle says...

    “One of the most feminist decisions you can make is deciding how you want to feel during labor”–amen to this, and deepest thanks to Erica for being such a brilliant advocate for pregnant people’s health, well-being, and autonomy. Reading her work has been transformative for me in reclaiming my birth experiences (one without meds, one with) from the overpowering judgment surrounding these choices. She is modeling what radical feminist care can look like, and I am so deeply grateful.

  121. Joanna says...

    My greatest fear is that of pain. I live in a country where any pain relief during labour is practically unattainable. Are there any ways to work arond this kind of fear, knowing you can’t avoid its cause?

    • KL says...

      Hi Joanna, what helped before and during my labor was knowing that a contraction comes in waves, and that it’s not terrible the whole time. The contraction starts, becomes more intense, but then backs away. DEEEEEP, deep breathing through that initial gaining of intensity (which doesn’t last very long) goes a long way.

    • Margaret says...

      I found it helpful to remember that the pain was really just my body doing the work of getting my baby out to me. We are so used to thinking of pain as a symptom of something wrong, but labor pain is a lot more like the pain of a hard workout—at least in the sense that it’s productive pain. And also in the sense that it goes away after delivery, and you feel suddenly much better! Good luck!

    • Eve says...

      I don’t know if this will help, but have faith in your superpowers. Create a mantra to that effect. It helped me immensely to know that billions of women have given birth without pain relief, and most survived ;) But seriously, have faith in your womanly superpowers. You’ll probably also hear a lot about using your breath to help. I found that so hard! It would have helped if my partner coached me on my breath throughout, I think, because I couldn’t remember to focus on it at the time.

    • Matty says...

      Each contraction only lasts 60 seconds. To train for a labor without an epidural, I did wall squat sits for 60 seconds. It hurts, of course, but breathing through it and knowing each contraction gets you closer to meeting your baby help mind over matter. Congratulations!

    • Anne says...

      I gave birth to 2 babies without pain relief and do not deal well with pain generally. Here’s 3 things that helped me manage.

      1. Breathing techniques. I scoffed at this at first, but it truly did help me through those tough contractions.
      2. Pushing techniques. Focus on your pushing (when they say to) and not the pain. Don’t be afraid to ask if you are doing it right.
      3. Resignation. It is happening and there is no going back. Gotta toughen up and get through it. As someone said earlier – birth lasts a day/half a day. You can handle anything for a day.

      You’ll do great!

    • Jacque says...

      I have had three unmediated births and I will fully own that I felt varying degrees of terrified before all of them. They were all different, all intense and all made me feel (afterwards) like I had climbed Everest: I wanted to scream from the rooftop with pride that I had gone further than what I thought I was capable of and discovered just how strong I am!

      Here are some things that were helpful to me:
      – As much childbirth education as I could get on laboring positions, coping strategies, etc. I would have never expected how helpful being in a tub would be and I was glad I had read up on it along with other options I didn’t think I would be interested in.
      – A doula. Worth their weight in gold.
      – Reminding myself that ~1,000 children are being birthed every day around the globe. I am not alone.
      – I kept repeating the mantra “I CAN do this and I AM doing this.”

    • Merideth says...

      Hypnobabies

    • I gave birth without access to pain relief, and I kept myself busy mentally by thinking of things like poems I’ve memorised, reciting interesting facts to myself, and going over my foreign language vocabulary. Absolute nonsense, but it helped.

    • Julia says...

      I learned in my birth class that it’s a different kind of pain than anything else you’ve experienced: you get breaks. The time between contractions is immensely helpful for gathering yourself and the pain miraculously stops, even if just for a moment nearer the end. Hope that helps!

  122. Angela says...

    This is so wonderful! I was completely terrified before the birth of my first child, and I think that the anxiety I felt and didn’t deal with was a contributing factor to my postpartum depression and anxiety. Every time I mentioned how worried I was to the team of midwives who provided my care, they brushed it off completely. It made me feel so hysterical and ashamed – I figured that everyone else could do it, so I just needed to suppress my anxiety – but that didn’t really work out! Also: regarding managing pain during labor and delivery – I love this response so much! All birth is natural, regardless of the interventions YOU decide to use. YOU get to choose! And whatever you choose will be the best choice for YOU! There is so much judgment around this.

    • Diana K. says...

      Ugh, I’m not pregnant or anything- just a general ball of anxiety, and everyone around me is so dismissive of my anxieties that it makes me feel so alone and crazy. Sending you hella support and letting you know that I see you so hard.

  123. Jenna says...

    I remember the idea that helped me the most, before giving birth to my first child, was to think about the fact that the pain of the contractions could not be stronger than me because it was coming from me. That thought was so incredibly eye-opening and powerful for me and by focusing on it during labor it really helped me to stay calm. It made me realize that the pain wasn’t something that was being done to me from some outside force, it wasn’t something I needed to fight against. It was my body doing what it was supposed to do.

    • Blythe says...

      OH JENNA I LOVE THIS! Thank you so much for sharing! About a month out from giving birth and I’m approaching the process with cautious curiosity and excitement. This framing is SO HELPFUL! Thank you thank you!

    • n says...

      YES THIS! I wish I had this thought with my first birth. The second time around, it all happened really quickly (no chance for an epidural), and even though it hurt like hell, the contractions were a guide. It felt very primal – all of a sudden my body knew I had to push this baby out.

  124. Mb says...

    The thought that helped me stay calm the most was knowing that women have been giving birth for thousands of years! If a woman 500 years ago could give birth surely I can now especially with modern medicine.
    Also just a word of encouragement, a lot of times all you see and hear are the horror stories or even just the normal but sometimes rather unpleasant recounts of the pain or length of time it took to get the baby out. But with my first birth especially, it was the most MAGICAL experience I’ve ever had. I was terrified of the pushing process for some reason but that ended up being one of the best parts because everyone in that room is rooting for you and that baby. They are all there to help you and get you through it in any way they can. It’s a beautifully human experience where a nurse, who’s never met you, before becomes your greatest advocate and biggest supporter (besides your partner). And then that baby comes out and *snap* your life changes forever. So was my birth perfect, absolutely not, in fact I unfortunately pooped way more than I would like to admit but the magic and excitement of it all made it an experience I fondly go back and remember.

  125. Michelle says...

    Hypnobabies! The Hypnobabies program is SO GOOD. I’m not particularly “woo woo” and didn’t ever experience deep hypnosis but it was an excellent program for relaxation and anxiety calming. It helped me so much with the birth of my first child.

    At 9 months you won’t be able to get through the whole program but they have a few free relaxation exercises you can download on their website (https://www.hypnobabies.com/free-mp3/). Note that you do NOT have to go the natural childbirth route to benefit from the relaxation exercises.

    Rarely do things go according to plan or expectation with childbirth or raising kids; learning to relax into the journey is part of the journey. You won’t be perfect but you will be good!

  126. Andrea says...

    When I was pregnant and anxious about giving birth, I found it very comforting to read positive birth stories. We hear so many scary things about labor & delivery (and are almost exclusively shown women screaming while delivering their babies in movies) so it’s nice to hear more details around the good and bad parts.

    Yes, it does hurt but, for me anyways, it was also really empowering! The one time in my life where I felt 100% focused. Plus, you get a baby at the end :)

    • Jessica says...

      Agreed! My birth experience was actually very quiet and controlled. I don’t think I screamed once. Just lots of deep breathing and the occasional grunt. It was a very powerful experience, not the shit storm Hollywood often makes it out to be.

    • M says...

      Hearing other’s birth stories was incredible for me. I highly recommend “the birth hour” podcast – it’s so awesome to hear the wide variety of experiences that woman have during birth. Also, the gentle birth app was great for pregnancy specific meditation.

  127. Cassandra says...

    I just gave birth on June 27th! I said a mantra to myself as I went around the city the last few months– I would look at each stranger and think “that person was born by a woman. And that person was born by a woman.” etc. The only way I could get out of my head about labor was that it is how EVERYONE has arrived here, one way or another. It’s not unusual. That made me feel a lot less anxiety!

  128. Moira says...

    LOVE this post….it’s so important! I struggle with anxiety generally and was worried about how I would be during pregnancy. I got a birth doula who I found through DONA and also did a 6 week course called Hypnobabies, which may sound hokey but is actually am amazing, evidence based practice that teaches you to go in to self-hypnosis during birth. Even though I ended up having an unexpected c-section, I felt like the daily practice of hypnosis and affirmations they give you to listen to daily really helped my mental strength for accepting the uncertainty of birth and postpartum. Highly recommend!!

  129. Amanda says...

    Yes, it is completely normal to be fearful of the pain of labor. That pain can also be a tool for you during labor. During my two labors, the biggest difference between 30+ hours and 3 hours was my attitude toward the pain – resisting it versus embracing it, knowing that it was a sign of progress towards by dear one in my arms. It’s never too early to begin practicing, and I found a local prenatal yoga class the perfect spot. Good luck to you. You’ve got this!!

  130. Tina says...

    Erica’s advice is spot-on, we are all lucky to be privy to it. I agree with GG that talking to your physician or midwife as well as your doula (highly recommended) and partner if there is one is key. One thing I will add is that the things one may be anxious and fearful of may not happen, and to be aware of the fact that childbirth is surprising and largely not in our control. I spoke to my doula and husband about my fears and concerns, pain being number one, which we managed and addressed. But my labor was long and complicated and ended with a c-section after 36 hours, and I was not mentally or emotionally prepared. Everything I had fear and anxiety about regarding giving birth never came to be, and I abruptly faced an emergency set of fears with no preparation. In the end me and my daughter were perfectly fine, but I was very shaken. Know and address your fears and anxiety, but also know what you fear may not happen, or what may happen may not be something you prepared for.
    Lastly, it helped talking with women who had given birth somewhat recently. My mother and sisters, who are much older than me and had grownup children, glossed over what labor pains feel like, and dismissed my concerns with “You don’t remember the pain.” That wasn’t helpful. My friend gave birth three weeks before me, and she spoke honestly to me about it. That helped. She too had a complicated birth ending with a c-section. Her matter-of-factness was revelatory. Real talk with people who really listen to your concerns and address them is the most helpful.

  131. Alba says...

    COJ, I have been reading every single post of yours for the past 8 years or so and though I have related to so many of you previous posts none have spoken to me like this one.
    I’m going through the exact same thing this person is, 8 months pregnant, second baby and for some reason although I had a good first delivery, this one feels so terrifying. Thank you so much for covering such a breadth of concerns and questions.
    You all rock!!

  132. sbe says...

    What a fantastic response, Erica, with great resource options! I carried various fears with me throughout my pregnancy, and I finally opened up to a good friend/midwife about them, and it helped eased my anxiety immensely. My favorite advice given to me, Monica: Trust and Surrender. Happy laboring, Mama!

  133. Kristy says...

    Monica – you’re not alone! My baby was late, and I was very okay with staying pregnant because I was terrified of giving birth and how I would handle taking care of the baby afterwards. But it helped me to think about giving birth as one day. You can handle anything for one day. Keep reminding yourself that you are close to meeting your baby and however your baby gets here is just fine. You are strong, you are capable, and you can do this!

  134. Rachel says...

    I’m 8 or so months pregnant with my second child, and I went through these extreme fears BOTH times. This time what helped was having an A, B, and C plan for childcare, packing my hospital bag very early, attending a Yoga for Labor and Birth workshop, and talking to my therapist. My therapist also told me to call her at the time of birth. Having this option made me feel so much better- I have someone to talk me down from my anxiety when labor begins. Good luck, and remember your body is made for this- and you have a team of professionals to help you when you need it.

  135. Blythe says...

    I don’t know if the question-er is into crystals, but I made myself a Birth Mala with crystals that are helpful for pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. I’ve been meditating with it daily and it feels to good to be spending time with a piece that I will take with me into the labor and delivery process. (And can wear postpartum). I wear it during meditation, yoga, other places where I feel good. I’m trying to infuse it with as much positive energy as possible.

    Mediation + yoga has been incredibly helpful for me during pregnancy. (35 weeks on Wednesday!!!) I had a practice before getting pregnant and it has been a lifeline on the days that I feel anxious/sad/fearful. Something that also occurred to me when I was feeling fearful is that EVERYONE is here on earth right now because a woman went through this process. Literally everyone. Blew my mind a little.

  136. Gina says...

    I’m due in a month and even though this is my second birth, I share your anxiety. Some things that helped me last time and I’m doing again this time:

    – The “Fear Clearing” audio track from Hypnobabies.com
    – Positive birth affirmations hung on my fridge–lots of ideas for these online!
    – reading through birth stories on birthwithoutfearblog.com– beautiful stories about everything from home births to planned C-sections helped me realize birth is normal and demystify (and therefore de-scary) the experience
    – prenatal yoga

  137. Stephanie says...

    I would add: talk to your OB about how you’re feeling. Addressing the mental and emotional aspects of pregnancy is part of their job as well.

    • Stephanie says...

      Whoops, looks like a PP already covered this point :)

  138. GG says...

    As a physician I would add, please don’t be afraid to talk to your OB or midwife about how your are feeling. We really do want to know how your are doing, and not just physically. We have a wealth of knowledge and experience that we are happy to share. Many of us are also mothers and have been in your shoes (just because we are doctors does NOT mean we are immune to anxiety in these situations).

  139. Kirsten says...

    Gosh, what a thoughtful kind response. Erica you are awesome!

    • May says...

      Agreed, I came here to say exactly this! Amazing answer, Erica! Thank you so much :-)

  140. Natash says...

    I’m so glad to see this. I am SO scared of this, and part of me wonders if this fear is keeping me from getting pregnant. I have nightmares about pregnancy and giving birth. It’s paralyzing. And I was just saying I feel like I’m the only one who feels this way. Add to that the fact that my mom passed away, the one support I always thought would be there to get me through it, and I’ve felt very very scared and lost.

    Thank you so so much for publishing this post. It’s so timely with how I’ve been feeling, and for the first time, I feel okay, that it will be okay.

    • Stephanie says...

      I just wanted to say (as someone who’s now given birth to 2 kids) that I also used to feel very freaked out about the possibility of growing and birthing children. And in some ways I did find pregnancy and birth a bit nightmarish, to be honest! There are lots of great ideas here for getting through it and finding support – for me, the easiest thing to do was to focus on the end point and remind myself that the pregnancy and childbirth wouldn’t last forever.

      I also lost my mom, years before I had kids. It’s terrible not to have her around for this, there’s no two ways about it. But in my case, it’s also been really nourishing and healing to have kids. I just wanted to share some solidarity and support – if you want to have kids, it won’t be easy (physically or emotionally!), but you can totally do it and others have walked this path too.