Pregnancy & Birth

Preparing for VBAC: Processing your birth fears

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This post is part of a blog series, 31 Days of Preparing for VBAC: my story of purposeful pregnancy, beautiful trial of labor after cesarean, and the healing repeat cesarean birth of my second child. To view all of the posts in this series, check out the landing page. To receive all posts in the series by email, subscribe here.

A lot of the work of birthing can be done during pregnancy – especially the emotional work. Take the time to consider your fears or anxiety about birth and work through those. This is especially important for first time mamas and mamas planning a VBAC. … As midwife and Russian birth pioneer Elena Tonetti-Vladimirova says “when you do the work in pregnancy, there is nothing left to do but give birth.” ~Kristen Burgess

One of the things listed on many “How to prepare for a VBAC” posts is that VBAC moms need to deal with the emotional and psychological affects of their cesarean birth so that those emotions don’t carry over to their VBAC attempt. Fear and grief are powerful, and need to be dealt with before attempting to have another labor.

I had processed Ezra’s birth over the first two years of his life with his midwife, through both talk therapy and EMDR, and by writing it all out in my posts about his birth story and my struggle with postpartum depression.

I felt like I had dealt with things as best and comprehensively as I could. But when it came to attempting another vaginal delivery, I wondered if there were some residual things I was hanging onto emotionally that could affect Little Brother’s birth. If there were, I wanted to deal with them. Yet there wasn’t clear instruction as to HOW to do this. (Remember, I’m a lists and instructions kind of girl.)

I stumbled across Alexia Leachman’s Fear Free Childbirth Podcast mid-second trimester. I was very drawn to her ideas of dealing with fear before birthing, and the connection between fear and pain in labor.

However as I worked through the first few podcasts, I became frustrated with her fixation on this method of “reflective repatterning” (a method of dealing with negative emotion that seems, from a cursory examination, to fall very close to emotional freedom technique – aka “tapping”) and her shameless promotion of her other podcast and website. Not to mention the insistence that birth can be fear-free and pain-free. It felt very gimmicky.

But one thing I did take away from her podcast was this:

She recommended that her listeners write down EVERY fear they had about their upcoming birth.

I sat down with some empty pages in the Birthing From Within Keepsake Journal and filled two pages in a matter of just a few minutes. I wrote down everything I could possibly imagine going wrong and everything I was scared would happen again that happened in Ezra’s birth.

I let it sit for a while and then took it into my personal counsellor. She recommended that I follow a Philippians 4:8 approach and thing on positive things, rather than negative things.

It was then that I formulated a plan of what I was going to do to “deal with” these birth fears.

processing your birth fears

After letting the list rest for over two weeks, I turned to the next blank page and rewrote every negative fear as a positive affirmation – a statement that was filled with faith instead of fear.

When I got pregnant with Little Brother, I asked myself this:

How do I think positively and not let fear derail my birth, while still recognizing that birth is outside of my control and being realistic about (and okay with) whatever the outcome is?

I feel like rewriting my fears as affirmations was part of this for me. Did I believe that every affirmation I have written would happen exactly as it was written? No. But I tried to be both positive and realistic (read: truthful) in what I wrote, framing even the most negative possibilities in an empowered, faith-filled light.

Here are some of my favorite examples:

Fear: I’m afraid I will give into unnecessary tests or interventions because I’m not strong enough to stand up against the care providers.

Affirmation: I am strong and have a voice. It is my decision what tests can be run on my body and my baby and what is in our best interests. Less is more.

Fear: I’m afraid I will resist the provider, say no to interventions, and end up with a hurt or stillborn baby.

Affirmation: I will trust both my intuition and my care providers. They will know if and when something is wrong. I will have peace when it comes to accepting necessary interventions. My doula will help remind me of my options and choices. Whatever decisions are made, I will trust that they will be the best for me and my baby, because they will come from a place of informed consent. 

Fear: I’m afraid baby will turn posterior and get stuck.

Affirmation: My baby knows how to rotate into the best position to give birth. With time, patience, gravity, and motion, I can aid him in his journey into a good position. I relax and we work together as a team to make this happen.

Fear: I’m afraid that labor will stall and I’ll need Pitocin or an epidural.

Affirmation: My labor will take as long as it needs to take. I stay relaxed and wait patiently, remember that things are happening that I might not be able to see or feel.

Fear: I’m afraid of having mean, rude, or unsupportive midwives who will bully me.

Affirmation: I trust that God is going before me to prepare a supportive staffing team for me. He knows what midwives and nurses will be there, and is in control.

Fear: I’m afraid that baby will go into fetal distress for no reason, and I’ll have no choice but to accept interventions.

Affirmation: I hold my birth plans loosely, knowing that ultimately, I cannot control the path that my labor and birth will take. My life and my baby’s life rest in God’s hands, and only He can see the outcome. If I or my baby’s life is at risk, I will accept necessary interventions with grace and peace, surrendering to a will that is higher than my own.

Fear: I’m afraid of needing another cesarean even though I tried to do everything right.

Affirmation: I prepare the best I can to avoid a cesarean, but I surrender to the path that my labor needs to take that is best for me and my baby. If a cesarean is needed, I trust that we will be okay and that the love that I have for my baby will help me overcome the challenges we may face. I believe that healing from a cesarean is possible. A cesarean birth is still a successful birth because a beautiful baby has entered the world.

I originally wrote these by hand, but then I typed them out and read them to myself frequently in the last ten weeks of pregnancy.

If you are planning a VBAC (or any kind of birth, really!), I encourage you to write down the things you are afraid of. This will help you come face to face with your fears. This can also help facilitate discussions with your spouse, your doula, and your care provider. If they are aware of your fears, they can also work to keep some of those things from happening, or at the very least help you to cope with those things if they do.


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