Little gosling was my first pregnancy, my first childbirth. I felt really scared about childbirth for a long while during pregnancy. I don’t know if a professional would have actually given the diagnosis of childbirth anxiety, but it felt like such. The internet told me just now there is even a word for it: tokophobia, the fear of giving birth.
I spent virtually all of my pregnancy in a new country (South Africa), very far away from everyone I knew, adjusting to my new life and trying to make friends. Throughout pregnancy and after birth what I missed most was a present, loving and trusted support network that I could share all with. I had friends who had been pregnant before me, but conversations never really went into much detail. And no one ever mentioned fear of giving birth. I didn’t know to ask any specifics and they were never shared. Feeling fear about giving birth was not really the most appropriate conversation opener with people I had barely known and as for my friends back home, I didn’t really know how to reach out. Towards the end of my pregnancy, I did poke for some birth stories of women I knew, but they were general, for the most part. My husband and I found other ways to cope with it. And this is me sharing – starting to, anyway.
By the time we had found a doctor and had gotten an appointment (around 12 weeks of pregnancy), I was nervously reading about childbirth. And nothing that I read made me feel comfortable. I remember asking the doctor at the end of the consultation when we would discuss childbirth. She just said it was too early for that, we’d have time later on.
I have a deeply entrenched fear of needles, injections and the sort ever since I can remember. I need to prepare mentally days in advance for any blood tests or vaccines, otherwise there is a good chance I will have a meltdown. Neither me nor my close family had ever been seriously ill or spent any time in hospital. Soo, an elective C-section, which is extremely popular both in my home country and in South Africa was completely out of question. Natural birth was for me, but reading about it, vaginal tears and episiotomy appeared as almost inevitable.. Brrrr…And the thought of the epidural needle in my spine and staying connected to machines just did not resonate. I felt scared and stuck… I felt there was no “better” option. The thought of giving birth brought tears to my eyes every time, and made me anxious. I wished I could just spit the baby out.. Not possible, I was told…
Sometime after week 28, I found ways to feel more relaxed and confident about giving birth: hypnobirthing, puzzle-making and finding a care provider that I trusted would do its best to make childbirth the experience that I wanted to have.
At that point, I had only heard about hypnobirthing from one source, but it was one I was attached to and trusted: a health coach I had seen some years before. I dug out the information about her hypnobirthing experience and felt immediately it was something that could work for me. It was around the same time that the doctor recommended we should visit the maternity ward and sign up for pre-natal courses. I quickly found the only hypnobirthing coach in Pretoria (at least, the only one that showed up in my internet searches) and we signed up for a pre-natal course starting immediately. We never did the hospital pre-natal course. I found in hypnobirthing everything I needed and my husband was incredibly supportive.
The different relaxation techniques, including breathing, affirmations, massage and visualisation, worked for me. From the first class onwards I listened religiously to the two tracks (one with affirmations about childbirth, the other a colour visualisation) we could download (maybe. 40 min in total) every night before going to sleep. I found them soothing and relaxing, so much so that I never managed to get to the end of it awake before labour started. I fell asleep every time. I felt more relaxed, more accepting of the process, childbirth seemed less frightening.
It gave me an understanding of the workings of my body during childbirth, of how I could help my body along and of how me being relaxed would benefit the entire process. It made me focus on how to make childbirth the experience I wanted to have, on the positives, rather than on the things that scared me. I felt empowered and eager to make my own choices.
I liked that approach. I knew that childbirth was unpredictable and it could go in many different ways; but it was clear to me that in the event of a complication, it would matter little what I knew, that I would stop having any say, that medical staff would do what they had to do. Therefore I decided there was no point in thinking about that or going through all the possible scenarios of what if I am in that X percentage of women that get a complicated birth and instead, concentrated on my ideal childbirth.
I started on my first puzzle (a 500 piece image of a German castle) around the 25th week of pregnancy, as a way to relax and develop patience, not one of my strong points. I had never done puzzles before (if one doesn’t count the baby puzzles 30 something years before) and it only took me a couple of days to finish it. I was doing a bit every evening, after dinner, when we sat down and listened to music and whilst squatting on my otherwise very little used Pilates ball.
I enjoyed it immensely; it absorbed me as much as a good book would, found it so relaxing, that I got two more puzzles. A 1000 piece of a mostly black and white image of Amsterdam and a 1500 piece image of an Italian village street. I finished the second one in five days, only two days before giving birth. I have built up quite a stock of bigger puzzles since, just in case…
Moved from a doctor-assisted hospital birth to a midwife-assisted birth
I liked and trusted my doctor, she was very professional, but I missed a personal connection. She had been recommended to me by colleagues who had given birth with her and she was known as pro-natural birth (quite a rarity in town, apparently). The trouble was that when we visited the maternity ward in the hospital where she worked, it just did not feel right for us. We just did not trust that they would give natural birth all the chances, especially with the doctor physically present only at the very end. Fair enough – if all went well, what was the point of a doctor being present, but it just felt uncomfortable. Later on, before we parted with her at 35 weeks, she told us she would be on holiday around my due date and that a colleague would take good care of us…
Around the same time, we heard from multiple happy sources about the possibility of giving birth with the midwives as primary care providers. We decided to visit them, understand how they worked and compare. We did that around the 28 weeks mark and a wonderfully calm and warm young midwife met us. My husband interrogated her about her qualifications and experience, just like a proper job interview.
What she described sounded like a more flexible approach (in case all went smoothly), a more personalised care plan, the possibility to be in touch via wapp anytime, a commitment to do things as I wanted them, insofar as that did not affect health of mom or baby. They were paired with a doctor that we met weeks before birth, that was to step in if needed. We saw her at 36 weeks and she cheerfully wished us not to meet again. They had a dedicated ward in a good hospital, just around the corner from the maternity ward, free of all the cables and medical equipment we had seen in the hospital, of any paperwork, and with inviting and homey labour rooms, a pool and a huge king size bed, perfect for the three of us to cuddle up when together.
We came out of that meeting excited. We had found the right match. I had found the guarantee I was looking for that an intervention (needles or cuts) would be the last resort and I found a warm, personal connection with the health professional. So, we parted with our doctor. Our ideal scenario would have been having the doctor paired with the midwives, as back-up. But it was not something that she did. And I got to think about and design my own birth preferences, which kept me busy and positively focused about childbirth.