The Gift of Fear
The fantabulous Mammy Doula wrote recently a brilliant blog post entitled Inducing Fear about the all too common series of events that occur within maternity care that transform an expectant mother or couples happy anticipation of their baby’s arrival into something quite different.
I think we can safely say that in some sense, FEAR is the single biggest issue that is facing us today with regard to birth and the challenges with changing birth culture.
For the doulas and childbirth educators out there, how many of you have seen clients make all kinds of plans for birth, and then drop them at the last minute (or in labour) not because a change of plan was medically indicated but because they are fearful? How often do less than scrupulous care providers play on that fear card?
Even among the scrupulous, fear is an issue for maternity care providers. I’m sure I’m not the only doula to have witnessed care providers acting in a particular way because they are afraid of stepping out of line, afraid of the judgement of their colleagues. And of course there are the big fears of ‘what if something happens and I didn’t do anything to prevent it’ and of being sued.
We all know what this attitude leads to, though perhaps those care providers don’t. It is the reason that we have a culture full to the brim with wounded women, wounded babies. And the rarely spoken of traumatised fathers.
But this can change, in some places it is changing. Doulas, midwives, childbirth educators, mothers who care about birth we are the front-line that can make a difference to the only people who can change this culture of fear – pregnant and birthing women themselves.
I want to invite you all to look at a pregnant woman’s fear in a new way, as a gift. I don’t deny her fear is a deep problem in one sense – but it is not the fear in and of itself that is the problem.
There is a book by Gavin de Becker called The Gift of Fear. It is a rather disturbing read in some ways (at least for me, since I had children I’m a lightweight around anything to do with violence and this is his area of expertise – understanding and preventing violence). His point is vital: the difference between someone who is stalked and survives is very often how the respond to the fear they feel. Ignore it? Tell yourself you’re being silly? Well, that’s likely the end of you. Listen to that gut feeling and take appropriate steps? You are much more likely to survive.
It is not different in with regard to pregnancy and birth. Fear is a problem because we are denying it rather than listening to the messages it is giving us.
So what can we do as expectant mothers or supporters of expectant mothers?
We can stop trying to pretend we aren’t afraid. Of course it scares an expectant mother if a care provider tells her a particular choice she makes might kill her baby. That’s frightening. No one wants that. We need to break the virtually automatic connection between that threat, the fear, the rejection of fear and compliance with a course of action, which in the vast majority of cases is rationally much more likely to lead to the injury or even death of her baby.
We break that link not by eliminating fear, but by embracing it, and seeking to understand it. We break that link by building the personal power and confidence of expectant mothers to the point here they can accept the real risks of birth and still make the right choices for themselves and their babies, understanding that birth is about more than walking away alive (and in truth no one can promise you that). Because in the end, birth isn’t ‘risk-free’ – no choice in life is ‘risk-free’. By fleeing from risk, we embrace the false promises that can lead to deeper risk and trauma.
Are you serious about making a difference on this issue? I’d love to hear what you are up to – your experiences and successes.
For those in the UK, if you are committed to understanding how fear impacts pregnancy and birth choices, to changing your mindset to embrace the gifts of fear, to acquiring tools for working with parents who are caught up in a risk-averse, fear-based mentality – whether you are a doula or a supporter of pregnant women in any other capacity – I’d like to invite you to join me and other committed, fabulous women for the next Childbirth International Study Day ‘Antenatal focus: Fear’. You can book now via this link – spaces are limited.