As a first time mom, I was relatively confident I would be able to birth naturally and efficiently. When birth day came, most of the “knowledge” I had acquired about birth during my pregnancy went out the window. Why? I felt afraid. I didn’t like the sensations I was experiencing and I really had no idea how to relax through them. The exercises I had learned were only helpful up to a point and I had not practiced enough with the support team I had in place. The result: an exhausted, fear-laden birth experience that thankfully brought into the world a strong, healthy baby.
Fear is a part of life and it’s also very common during pregnancy and birth. Over the years, and four more children, I have learned something very valuable about fear: it’s an important signal to honor. Instead of pushing it away, or thinking it is bad, we can learn to address fear as it arises while supporting ourselves through trust and true relaxation. This is especially important as we nurture ourselves in preparation for the entry of a new human being into the world.
Here are five effective ways to address fear and truly relax during pregnancy.
LEARN TO TRUST YOURSELF AND YOUR BODY
Trusting ourselves may not be easy, but it is essential to pregnancy, birth, and parenting because it nurtures a foundation for addressing the inevitable fears and challenges we will experience.
How do we trust ourselves, though? It’s obviously not just a mental exercise, although our thoughts certainly do contribute to our ability to trust. We can start by simply saying something to ourselves like, “I am learning to trust myself implicitly. In moments of question, I turn my attention inside to nurture trust within my own mind and body.” The simple act of choosing to meet uncertainty with an intention to nurture trust transforms the focus of the mind. If we do this while noticing what happens in the body through bringing attention to our breath and the present moment, we can cultivate the ability to feel what trust feels like – which is vital to being able to actually trust ourselves.
As we learn to trust our way through what we feel, we can begin to trust that our bodies are not lemons. I’m not sure who said that first, but it warrants a continual reminder for women – even beyond pregnancy and birth. Our bodies carry within them the amazing ability to birth new life. This doesn’t mean that if our bodies don’t do this naturally that we’re broken. It speaks to the body’s ability to birth with ease when provided adequate mental, emotional, physical and spiritual support.
RELAX DAILY AND OFTEN
One way to support yourself during pregnancy and birth is to relax daily – and throughout your day. True, deep rest in the mind and body is restorative. More than just sleeping or sitting down to relax, meditative moments of stillness and reflection nurture the reliance on something deeper than the entertainment of our latest challenges. If you are new to relaxing in present moment awareness, try a simple meditation of noticing the rhythm of your breath and sensations in your body before you get out of bed in the morning, during activity and before you sleep in the evening.
The most significant take away from my first birth was all about me: I had no clue how to relax through intensity. Since anesthetics were no longer an option for me, and I wanted to birth naturally and with less stress, I made learning how to re-lax while centering and trusting myself a goal –for pregnancy and life in general.
Another way to meet the need for trust during pregnancy and birth is to practice conscious relaxation when we are faced with emotional or physical pain. The body’s natural, instinctive response is to contract when we experience pain. When we meet uncomfortable sensations in the moment, through attention to the breath and space alive within us, we can choose to slow down a bit and relax into the experience some. With practice, this strengthens our ability to relax during the contractions of birth.
INDULGE IN ACCURATE, BALANCED INFORMATION
We often internalize information we read, listen to or otherwise come in contact with about pregnancy, birth and parenting. Even if we initially resist,something goes into the back of our minds and if we don’t address it head on with accurate, balanced information it can sneak up to induce fear during birth.
When you hear stories about birth gone wrong or fear the worst for yourself and your baby, find some information that offers a broader perspective on birth. Allow yourself to read plenty of positive birth stories and books that support your knowledge of the birth process and talk to friends who can share honest,informative and supportive accounts of birth. If you have had a negative birth experience in the past, consider rewriting your birth story to note what you appreciate and tell the empowered version.
What we soak up and entertain with our mind does matter. We do have a choice of what we focus our attention on. When you undoubtedly encounter the fear that may arise when you read or hear fear-laced stories, use it as an opportunity to tune into the inherent well-being of your breath and body in the moment. You could say to yourself, “In this moment my baby and I are safe.”
SURROUND YOURSELF WITH SUPPORT
Even the most introverted woman can benefit from plenty of nurturing support during pregnancy and birth. Seek out friends, family, support groups such as La Leche League International and moms you admire, to surround your-self with as you nurture your growing baby. If you feel hesitant to seek sup-port or you aren’t finding the support you feel you need, consider affirmative statements such as “I create supportive relationships. My baby and I are supported.”
Sometimes we need to point ourselves in the right direction to start experiencing what we need and want in life. Along with directing your mind, consider seeking the support of a doula during birth. Women who feel supported during birth, and after the baby is born – whether by a partner or others – are better equipped to handle and work through the natural changes of birth and parenting a new baby.
STRETCH YOUR BODY & MIND
Fear and stress can result from, as well as culminate in, tense muscles and thought patterns. While you open your mind to thinking some thoughts that help you sup-port and trust yourself, stretch yourself literally and figuratively each day.
I am not suggesting that you push past safe limits. I am offering that you can greatly enhance your ability to reduce fear and increase relaxation through gentle stretching of the body and mind, opening to new perspectives, creating goals that are achievable and adding in some yoga, walking or other form of exercise you enjoy.
Some moms fall into a habitual loop of either putting themselves on the back burner or backing themselves into a corner when it comes to self-care. Allow this time while you are nurturing new life to help you attend to your inner life. Choose how you respond to fear by meeting it in the moment, while you gently stretch yourself to notice what’s going on in your body. And you consciously relax into the loving presence that you are. If you struggle at any point, simply notice the struggle and choose to feel what you feel fully and safely. With just a bit of prac-tice you will likely notice a shift in how you perceive fear as well as in your ability to relax through the various intensities of pregnancy, birth and parenting.
Amy Phenoix is a gentle yet direct mom of five, a par-ent educator, and meditation facilitator committed to cultivating force free, trust full relationships. She shares resources to relax into parenting and life at Presence Parenting while she writes the book Force Free Parentingone blog post at a time.