Giving birth has always been one of my biggest fears.
There are plenty of more significant things to be scared of than a happy occasion like bringing your child into the world…like when you think a thought – but don’t even say it out loud – and suddenly an Instagram ad pops up that’s directly correlated to your thought.
THAT, my friends, is frightening.
But childbirth was the big, scary thing looming in my life. I was terrified of everything about it, causing lots of tears and sleepless nights and general unhappiness. Other than breaking my arm as a child (two days before we went to Disney World, how traumatizing), I’m lucky to have spent basically zero time in hospitals, which is potentially why I’ve developed such a debilitating fear of all things medical. My mom actually came to my college (a five-hour drive) to drag me to the doctor’s office to get a vaccination. (Meningitis? Maybe? Was that the one they made you get if you lived in the dorms?) Sorry to be such a
18-year-old baby diva, Mom.
And now that I’ve had a baby? I can honestly say that I enjoyed labor. I enjoyed giving birth. I 100% CANNOT BELIEVE I’M SAYING THAT. WHO AM I?! Knowing how scared I was…hearing myself say I enjoyed it is unbelievable. (And I’M NOT LYING I SWEAR.) Here’s the birth story, if you’re into that!
Imagine my dismay when, at the end of the day, I realized I let fear control my entire life for 9+ months.
Fear, you’re a sneaky thing.
At their core, our doubts and fears have one thing in common – we want to avoid failure, pain, embarrassment, rejection. I’m not perfect (duh) and although I wasn’t able to eliminate my fear until I faced it, toward the end I noticed a few things I was doing unknowingly to help shift my focus to go into it with a lighter attitude.
Whether your fear is childbirth or running your first 5K, I share my experience with the aim of helping you learn to feel grace and joy in moments of doubt and fear. (And if you ARE a first-time expectant mama, I’m hopeful this will be comforting for you!)
Get your support system on board right away. Tell your friends and family what you need right away – before they get a chance to react. ( Like, “I signed up for my first 5K! I’m excited for the challenge but nervous about it, so I need your support”.) Because what you don’t need is an initial reaction that forces you to sink into the “I can’t do it” cave. Our friends may not mean to drag us down, but their reaction can still feel hurtful when it’s about a goal important to us (for example, a common reaction like “but you don’t even run!”). Sometimes when it comes to healthy goals, you don’t need to hear someone else’s opinion, you just need their support. I, for example, needed to hear positive birth stories, so I asked for those directly. Save the scary experiences for another time, please.
Think about the words you use. There are a few things I’ve told myself for practically my entire life. Example: “I’m terrified of doctors and needles.” (Therefore, “childbirth is going to be horrifying for me”.) My brain was full of thoughts and judgements and negativity about doctors and needles, even though I’d always leave every appointment saying “that really wasn’t that bad”. Because I believed this about myself I wasn’t able to access my own “wisdom”, so to speak.
What’s one thing you 100% believe about yourself? Reframe it in your head and when speaking out loud. Make the positive the familiar thought in your brain instead of the negative. For example, I told myself “My body is strong and knows what to do. It treats me well and rarely lets me down. I don’t need to be worried.” Embrace it, even though it feels unfamiliar, even if you don’t believe it yet, until it’s normal. Be aware of those limiting beliefs – whatever you believe might only be “true” because you believe it. Examine the stories you tell about yourself (especially out loud) and what you’re scared of – and work on changing your mindset. (Be patient!)
Remember that someone else’s story is not yours – especially when you feel like everyone says the same things. Afterwards, I realized that most things people told me with such conviction about giving birth weren’t true for me. It reminded me that my fear originated from the experiences of others. I never felt very empowered because I put so much weight into their stories – I wasn’t able to dream my own story; it felt like certain expectations coupled with fear were being drilled into me. Even with events like marathons; we have so many limiting beliefs about ourselves when really, we’re letting other people’s experiences or opinions shape our own instead of figuring out how we can make it happen on our own terms.
My favorite example is Kacy Catanzaro – when I interviewed her, she explained how everyone told her she was too small to be an American Ninja Warrior, but she went on to defy all expectations by doing what worked for her, not what everyone else did.
Multiple times, I heard that the entire childbirth experience would suck; the only saving grace being “but when you hold that baby in your arms, you forget everything else!” I’d like to think I’m smart enough to remember that everyone’s experiences are different, but I heard the same things so many times I questioned it.
My friend Sam was one of the only ones who told me she enjoyed childbirth. She compared it to the high you feel when finishing an endurance event…only better. Which I can now totally relate with.
(I, of course, had accused her of lying to me.)
Have a mantra to cut doubts off when they creep into your brain. When my brain started spinning, I’d say “now is not the time to worry about this” and it helped me move on from those scary thoughts. I’d set a time to address them, which was usually with my doctor at my next appointment. (Maybe you have a friend or coach who can remind you why you’re prepared to face your fear.)
Redefine success. What values are important to you? Courage is one of mine. So, when I think about doing something at which I might “fail”, I circle back and ask, “if I do this, will I have been courageous?”. If yes, success! My reward in this case (besides Cecilia, of course!) is living in a world in which I conquered a fear and showed courageousness. Knowing I would no longer have this fear once childbirth was over was the most significant factor driving me. “I can’t wait to conquer this fear and be released from it” is something I repeated to myself over and over.
I’m not saying facing your fear wont be scary or hard. It certainly won’t be easy. But you can make it easier on yourself. We can’t control what happens, but perhaps we can teach our brains to focus more on imagining a positive experience as opposed to a scary one. Facing this fear taught me about tapping into the emotions I want to feel, instead of waiting for the circumstances to change. I’ll still have fears of course, but I’m better equipped to handle them now.
One day old and Baby Cecilia had already taught me to appreciate the joy that can come from facing your fears. I know it’s easier said than done, but I think I finally finally understand what that means and I know I’ll reflect back on this memory often as a reminder.
Last thing: Don’t forget to have a little compassion for yourself. If things aren’t going your way or you’ve been crippled by the same fear for years, don’t beat yourself up. IT’S OKAY. You’ll get there.
Tell me, tell me! What’s a fear you’ve overcome? What helped you get through it?