Tokophobia is the extreme fear of pregnancy and birth. It affects around 14% of women so you would think that it was reasonably well known and that help was available. But it isn’t, and help or support is hard to come by.
Overcoming tokophobia is the kind of thing that can change your life, and yet for many it seems out of reach, impossible almost. But this isn’t the case.
I’ve heard many women talk about how they need to find ways of coping or handling their tokophobia. Some dream of artificial wombs, while others talk of having their tubes tied. Both of these sound like quite dramatic solutions. And they also reveal how women feel about their tokophobia; like they’re stuck with it. That nothing can be done about it.
But that’s not the case. Tokophobia can be overcome.
There is more research into tokophobia now and we know much more about it. We are also fortunate to have a new breed of modern therapies that are delivering remarkable results and positive changes in mental health. Many of these new therapies work quickly which means that we can expect to experience changes on a much quicker timeframe. That’s not to say that this is guaranteed or that everyone will be able to see a positive change.
The challenges in overcoming tokophobia
There are so many variables at play for me to be able to say with certainty that anyone can expect to overcome tokophobia. I think it’s only fair to be completely honest on this point. While I and many who I’ve supported have overcome tokophobia, it doesn’t mean that this is possible for everyone.
Here are some of the factors which may affect the likelihood of you experiencing success in putting tokophobia behind you.
Anxiety and tokophobia are commonly found together. It’s difficult to say as whether one causes the other, but they certainly feed off each other and make each other worse. In the women I’ve worked with, when there has been an underlying anxiety problem, it’s been less straightforward. We’ve had to tackle the anxiety before being able to seriously tackle the tokophobia, so it’s meant that things have just taken longer.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is another condition that is often found alongside tokophobia. As with anxiety, it can exacerbate the tokophobia and could lead to women obsessing over their fertility cycle or birth control.
Trauma is often a contributory factor to tokophobia. Some traumas can be cleared relatively easily, especially in using some of the modern therapies. However, sometimes trauma is more complex and deep-rooted. This may prevent the tokophobia from being overcome until the trauma has been dealt with more effectively.
Challenges aside, I think it’s worth re-iterating the point that is IS possible to overcome it. We shouldn’t be thinking of it as something that is permanent and impossible to overcome.
Overcoming tokophobia is possible
Unfortunately, many sufferers of tokophobia simply do not know that it’s possible. It’s not their fault mind. They might not even realise that the feelings they have are related to a known condition that has a name. And this lack of awareness around tokophobia is not just limited to those who suffer with it, it’s the healthcare professionals too.
Even if you choose to speak to a healthcare professional about your tokophobia, they might not know about it or understand it, let alone be able to point you in the direction of help or support.
I overcame my tokophobia
When I succeeded in overcoming tokophobia, I didn’t realise that what I had done was such a big deal. It was only after my second birth, that it started to dawn on me. I received emails from women I didn’t even know who were asking me how I did it.
Answering these emails wasn’t a quick task. Within a short space of time, the emails became a bit too much. So much so that I decided that writing a book to explain myself would be quicker. So I did. That book is Fearless Birthing: Clear your fears for a positive birth. It was once that I’d written the draft that I decided to launch the Fear Free Childbirth podcast as a way of getting my message out until the book was ready to be published.
Clearing fears is easy
I’ve since worked with lots of women all over the world in helping them to clear their fears and prepare for birth. What’s clear to me is that a fear of childbirth isn’t just limited to those women with tokophobia; a lot of women have it. It’s just that the women with tokophobia have it much worse.
But the good news is that when it comes to clearing fears, fear-clearance techniques aren’t choosy. A fear is a fear, whether it’s a strong one or a weak one. The clearance technique is still the same. Overcoming tokophobia is possible and there is hope. So if that’s you, then let me share with you how that might look.
Overcoming Tokophobia – the practical steps
The first important step is to want to do this. This might sound a silly thing to say but it’s important to state. I come across a lot of tokophobic women who are fearful of their fears and don’t even want to go there. You have to want to overcome your fears, and this means facing up to them.
I know that this can sound like a scary prospect and that’s why I offer my Tokophobia Support Program with differing levels of support. Some women are happy to crack on with clearing their fears with just a bit of guidance. Whereas others, need someone to be there with them while they face up to them. I think it’s important to offer choice for something like this.
If you’re up for it, then brilliant. The next bit is to unpick your tokophobia. What are your fears? Are they linked to events that have happened to you? Write them out and explore all this. The thing about tokophobia (and indeed any other big fear or anxiety) is that we can find it quite hard to break it down at first because it can seem so overwhelming.
Once the phobia has been picked apart, we can move on to fear clearance. I use the Head Trash Clearance Method to clear fears. It’s a technique I developed as I was striving to overcome my own tokophobia. Of course other emotional clearance techniques are available, but I’m wary of talking about them in relation to tokophobia.
I come across a lot are women who feel they have tried everything and it’s just not worked. So I’m only happy sharing techniques that I know work for this. The Head Trash Clearance Method is the one that I used and it’s what I use with my clients.
Overcoming Tokophobia Success Story
I run support group for women with tokophobia. The Tokophobia Support Program is a paid 4-week program where we work as a group in overcoming tokophobia. I created this because I know that not all women can afford my private sessions. But I also know that some need support and accountability on their fear-clearance journey. This might be because their fears feel so scary or simply because they need someone to help the keep going.
The Tokophobia Support Program is the best of both worlds; an online program that teaches how to clear tokophobic fears with support from me along the way though weekly group calls.
Here is Nicole’s experience of taking part in my program and overcoming tokophobia in three weeks.
Nicole's experience of overcoming tokophobia - YouTube
If you would like to be alerted the next time I run the Tokophobia Support Program, then pop your details below and I will keep you posted.
Overcoming tokophobia does not have to follow this trajectory. I know of some women who have been committed to ridding themselves of tokophobia over a number of years. During that time they’ve tried many different things (and spent a lot of money doing so). Some of the things have included education, journalling, meditation, couples therapy, and personal therapy. It’s been the culmination over several years that has eventually lead to them being able to free themselves of it.
If you would like to have a no-obligation chat to find out whether we might be a good fit in working together then click the link below to book some time.
Feeling scared of birth is very common and is not necessarily something to worry about. It’s a time of massive change so it’s normal for us to feel fear on some level. Fear gets a bad rep, but actually it’s a good thing. Our fear is alerting us to possible danger and this forces us to face up to the situation we’re in and take appropriate action to protect ourselves.They alert us to the things that we feel threatened by. Our fears help us to survive. They focus our attention on the things that NEED attention.
If you’re feeling scared of birth, Ignoring your fears or denying them is not helpful. Trying to bury them and hope they go away is also not helpful.
Instead you can use your pregnancy and birth fears to guide. By doing doing so you can learn a lot about yourself. And once you take the time to acknowledge them and face them, they become your friend. Why? Because they’ve shown you what you’re capable of achieving. And it’s this that gives us strength.
Problems arise when our fear response is a little out of kilter. When we experience a high level of fear or a phobic response, then our fears are no longer really serving us, but holding us back. They can change our thinking and limit our choices.
Whether you feel your fears are at the “normal” end – whatever that is – or at the extreme end, it’s possible to clear your fears and put them behind you.
What is it to be fearless?
When I say ‘fearless’ what I mean is that you’re no longer being controlled or limited by your fears. Yes, you are aware of them, but you’re in control of them rather than the other way round. You move forward despite them and they don’t hold you back.
This might mean that you can acknowledge them and put them aside. Or it could mean that you are able to overcome them so that they are no longer a fear for you.
Let’s take a fear of pain for example.
A lot of women who are scared of birth have this fear. When you’re fearful of pain, the very thought of it will probably trigger you in some way; make you tense up your shoulders or give you a sick feeling in your stomach. You’ll also probably be looking to take any measures you can to avoid you experiencing pain. This is what I mean by “limiting your choices”. Any situations that include possibilities of pain, will now be eliminated from your list of options. So, you might think – as I did – “I’m going to have a c-section because I can’t face the pain of birth”. Aside from the fact that c-section recovery is not exactly known to be pain-free, this is a choice driven by fear.
When you have cleared your fear of pain, you might still not like the idea of pain, but ’not like’ is a far cry from ‘hate’. In not liking it you’ll be much more able to accept that sometimes it’s going to happen. And, when it does, you’ll be able to take it in your stride.
If you have what is thought to be a painful experience, you’ll probably experience less pain than someone with a fear of it. We know this because science tells us that those with a fear of pain have a stronger experience of it than those who don’t. Scientists are able to demonstrate that that pain is mostly in the mind and is predominantly an emotional experience.
How can I stop being scared of birth?
There is a very important first step here that is rarely taken seriously and it’s this.
Decide to take action.
If you want to be free of fear it’s not enough to simply state this as a vague wish. Not only do you need to WANT IT, but you need to TAKE ACTION.
And taking action is not simply talking about your fears. If this worked, you’d be free of fear already. It doesn’t.
Your fears aren’t going to go away on their own.
Once you’ve made the commitment to yourself that you want to be free of fear, then it’s about doing “the thing” that will reduce and clear your fears.
So what is “the thing” that will free you of your fears?
4 Things you can do when you’re scared of birth
There are many ways you can reduce or overcome your fears. The best option for you will depend on a few things;
how strong your fears are
whether you feel you can do this on your own (you just need to know how!)
if you think you need someone to help and support you
how urgent this is for you
Here are some things you can do to be free of fear
1. Educate yourself on the thing you fear
Something as simple as getting savvy on the focus of your fears can help massively. This works particularly well for those with mild to moderate fears.
So, if you have a fear of birth, then learn about birth. Many women aren’t educated when it comes to birth and their fears are based on birth as it’s portrayed in the media. We live in a fear-based culture, so if this is how you’ve learned about birth, then its’ time to educate yourself. Start by watching birth documentaries or home birth videos on YouTube.
“I’m trying to overcome my fear of tokophobia.
I think I might’ve unintentionally made a little progress today. I don’t remember how I stumbled upon it, but I began to watch some Pregnancy and Childbirth vlogs on YouTube. Surprisingly I think its helping, because I saw real women having their own experiences, and a clearer picture of what it’s like versus what you see in the movies, etc.
It’s like what I’m seeing in the vlogs is counter-attacking all of the negative scenes I’ve watched and visualise in my head based on stories I hear too. You can edit video, but the scenes don’t lie. What you see is what you get especially in those vlogs.”
This approach might not work for everyone though. Many women with tokophobia find birth education difficult as it can be very triggering for them. So if that’s you, tread carefully.
2. Seek support from a professional
I know, really obvious, right? But here’s the thing. Clearing fears is totally possible and there are lots of professionals out there who can help you. I help my clients do this all the time. Sometimes I clear their fears for them and sometimes I hold their hand while they clear them.
Find a therapist or birth coach who can help you to get past your fears.
3. Use a fear-clearance or emotional clearance technique
There are many emotional clearance techniques around for you to choose from and there are far too many for me to list here. They don’t all work in the same way and what works on one person might not necessarily work on someone else. Some require you to visit a professional and some have DIY versions.
My favourite is the Head Trash Clearance Method. The reason why it’s my favourite is because it works. And quickly! I use it loads and it’s what my clients use.
Here’s what Claire says about it
“What’s even better is that I didn’t have to set aside hours upon hours to work through my fears.
When a fear popped up during my pregnancy I spent about 5-10mins using the head trash clearance method & the fear was gone.
It was incredibly empowering to know I could successfully rid myself of a fear in such a short period of time.”
If you want to try using the Head Trash Clearance Method then you can access it here
My book: Fearless Birthing: Clear Your Fears for A Positive Birth
What I mean here is to make choices that mean that you get to avoid the thing that’s making you scared of birth. So, if birth itself terrifies you, then ask for an elective c-section. If pain scares you then decide to have an epidural.
I don’t personally recommend this because the fear is still there and has the potential to affect you again at some point in the future. But for some people it works and sometimes, you just have to do whatever it takes to get you through. For some people doing whatever it takes to free themselves of fear is too much. They prefer to just avoid the thing they fear.
Tokophobia is a pathological fear of pregnancy and birth. The word comes from Greek ‘tokos’ meaning childbirth and ‘phobos’ which means fear. Phobias are a type of anxiety disorder that typically involve an intensely irrational fear of an object or situation that poses little or no danger. We often associate phobias with things like spiders or closed in spaces so it can come as quite a surprise to many that there is one for birth and pregnancy.
Tokophobia is linked to the avoidance of pregnancy, pregnancy termination or requests for c-section for non-medical reasons. But it doesn’t stop there. Depending on how severe it is, it can spillover into day-to-day life;
Relationship problems. The pressure for a woman to have children from her partner, friends and family can take its toll on her relationships.
Intimacy. Some women find it difficult to have sex because of the risk of becoming pregnant. This is despite using birth control, which for them, doesn’t offer a sufficient level pf guarantee in terms of protection.
Easily triggered. For some, the sight of a pregnant woman (especially her bump), or scenes of labour or childbirth can bring on panic attacks or strong feelings of revulsion or nausea. This makes it hard to be out and about or to watch TV or films. They never know when they might be triggered.
The different types of tokophobia
A distinction is made between the two types of tokophobia, primary or secondary tokophobia;
Primary tokophobia occurs in a first time mother who has no experience of being pregnant or has not given birth before. This fear may begin well before she has reached childbearing age, perhaps when she is a child or teenager.
Secondary tokophobia usually occurs in women who have had previous traumatic pregnancy or birth experiences. This trauma may relate to negative experience with hospital staff, feeling they or their baby was going to die, stillbirth, late-term miscarriage, pregnancy termination, or hyperemesis gravidarum (a debilitating form of morning sickness).
Another way to think about the difference between primary and secondary tokophobia is this; one is a fear arising from a direct experience of birth. Whereas the other comes from indirect birth-related experiences; seeing them in films, hearing about them, medical or sexual experiences.
What makes this a difficult condition to measure is that many women simply don’t realise they have it. It can take them years to find out that what they’re experiencing has a name. This was my experience and I’ve heard many of my clients say the same.
The causes of tokophobia
It’s difficult to say what causes tokophobia, but most phobias tend to have a trauma at their root. This does’t necessarily make it easier for us to identify a cause for tokophobia, because a traumatic incident isn’t always the big dramatic incident we assume it to be. It could also be that the person experienced the trauma as a very young child or baby and so they don’t have a conscious recollection of the trauma.
The physical and psychological symptoms of tokophobia vary but can include:
Sweating and shaking
Panic and anxiety attacks
Crying (triggered by sight or even words)
Nausea and vomiting
Thoughts of death or dying
These are quite general symptoms and can affect many people who don’t have tokophobia. I’ve written about the 7 signs of a woman with tokophobia which might be helpful to read if you think you have it.
Seeking help for tokophobia
Women who suffer with tokophobia don’t find it easy to obtain the support they need with many feeling that people simply don’t understand what they’re going through. This leads to women feeling isolated or alone in experiencing this fear.
Unfortunately due to the lack of awareness of this condition, many doctors and GPs aren’t able to sign-post women onto sources of support. They simply don’t realise that a phobia of childbirth exists and that help is available for it. Many women report that doctors don’t take their fears seriously. This makes it hard for women to find support for how they’re feeling.
Some women approach therapists or psychologists for help and a similar story is common. Again, due to the lack of awareness of the condition, many women find that their fears aren’t being understood or taken seriously. From my work in helping women who suffer from tokophobia, they’ve told me that being able to work with someone who understands how they’re feeling is monumental for them.
Treatment for tokophobia
Treatment for tokophobia will very much depend on where you are in the world. Here in the UK, some NHS trusts have very good perinatal care departments which can support sufferers in overcoming it. But these are not consistent across the UK and they’re not always accessible to those who aren’t yet pregnant. A good resource on the UK options around tokophobia can be found in the Tokophobia best practice toolkit.
It is also possible to seek out private support for tokophobia. This is usually via psychologists and therapists. I believe it’s important to find a professional who is familiar with the condition and who understands it. Beyond that, I believe it’s important that they are using techniques and methods that have a good success rate with tokophobia.
Here are some techniques and therapies that are worth considering in overcoming tokophobia
Tapping therapies such as Thought Field Therapy (TFT) or Eemotional Freedom Technique (EFT)
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
Different approaches will work on different people, so if one thing doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean it cannot be achieved with something else.
Overcoming it is possible and women don’t need to live with this for ever. Here are two women sharing what they did to overcome it.
This lady used cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help her;
“I switched to a psychologist specialised in cognitive-behavioural therapy. I knew it was proven to be the most effective approach.
It was the best decision I’ve ever taken, got totally into it, worked extremely hard, followed the instructions to the letter and got fantastic results.
As I didn’t want to have children, the goal about tokophobia was to be able to read about it or hear women talking about their childbirth without having a massive panic attack and faint. I’ve reached this goal.”
This lady used EMDR;
“I was referred by my GP for counselling and they focused on EMDR therapy. This really did help but they also did some work on bereavement issues that I had. They said this was the root cause of my phobia.
Once I’d had my quota on the NHS I sought out private counselling. So far I have had hypnotherapy and NLP, which has really helped me but still got some issues to work through.”
Personally, I was able to overcome it using a combination of Head Trash Clearance Method and Tapas Acupressure Technique (TAT). I help my clients to overcome tokophobia using a combination of the Head Trash Clearance Method, Psy-Tap, Havening and TAT.
Find out more about tokophobia
Here are some other blog posts and podcast episodes that you might find interesting;
If you would like us to work together on your tokophobia, then take a look at my Tokophobia Support Program. In this online program I teach you to clear your fears and work alongside you to support you in the way that you need. There are three options depending on how much support you would like: group support, one-to-one support and therapeutic support. You can find out more here.
Do you want to know one the main things I was obsessed with when I was pregnant?
Post Natal Depression or PND.
When I think back to my darkest days, I could barely keep myself going. The thought of being in that state AND responsible for a little human being was enough to make me take this seriously. I think it’s something that all pregnant peeps should take seriously.
According to the World Health Organisation, up to 20% of mothers experience clinical depression after birth. That is the kind statistic that you can’t brush off with “oh it won’t happen to me”.
Having already wrestled with depression, anxiety and then tokophobia, I figured I’d be at risk. When I looked into it I was right.
Well, a quick glance through that list confirmed my worst fears. I was at risk.
And that was before I had even given birth.
It was clear from that list, that if my birth went all wrong, then I was even more at risk.
Our attitude and approach to birth can have an effect too
But it wasn’t just the birth experience itself that could affect me. My attitude and approach to my birth could have an effect too.
When I looked at the risk factors I realised that it was not all hopeless. I *could* do something about this. I could try and protect myself against getting post natal depression. I knew it wouldn’t be guaranteed, but I had to try.
I was determined to do whatever I could to reduce my risk of Post Natal Depression (PND).
The thought of NOT trying and then something happening was enough to motivate me. I couldn’t bare the idea of a life of regret of me thinking “if only I had done more”. When you do your best, you know you’re doing your best and you don’t kick yourself as much.
So, I decided to start with the easiest one: birth disappointment
I say ‘easy’ because compared to the others – like solving relationship or financial problems – it felt much easier.
My attempt to reduce my risk of Post Natal Depression
I made sure that when I prepared for birth that I prepared for not getting what I wanted. Too many expectant parents leave this bit out.
This is why it’s an essential step in my Birth Prep Classes.
My Birth Prep Classes online course takes you through my 9 Essential Steps of Birth Preparation. Step 7 is all about preparing for the birth you DON’T want. If you want to find out what the other steps are you can sign up for my free download here
Preparing for birth disappointment is more than just simply packing a hospital bag if you’re planning a home birth. For me preparing for birth disappointment has two important aspects;
Getting practical about it
The practical element of preparation can be fairly straightforward. It can be as simple as ensuring you have a birth plan for other birth outcomes and that you’ve thought them through.
My Birth Prep Classes walks you through all this to ensure you feel as prepared as possible for all birth outcomes from a practical perspective.
If you want to read about how you emotionally prepare for birth disappointment then read this.
My obsession with Post Natal Depression is one that I was grateful for. In seeking our information about it, I learned so much. But it also guided me in my own birth prep.
All the preparation that I did for my births was focussed on mindset. I did very little reading around pregnancy from a practical perspective.
I was pretty clear on the kind of birth I wanted: a birth that I felt positively about. How I got there was less relevant. Of course, I had preferences – a home birth – but I didn’t want a traumatic home birth. So it wasn’t a home birth, at whatever cost.
For me, focusing on how I felt about my birth would help me to feel that I had done my best to protect my longer term mental health and happiness. This is what would help me to be a good mother.
Birth is a mindset event. If you focus on your mindset, then you can come out smiling. And that’s what I want for every new mother, YOU included!
Having a new baby is so precious and wonderful. Hard work too! The last thing you want is something like Post Natal Depression to get in your way.
Let me start by saying that I don’t believe in birth failure … or that you can ‘fail’ at birth. But that doesn’t stop women everywhere saying that’s how they FEEL.
Nurturing a new baby into the world with a sense of birth failure looming above you is the last thing you want. So is there anything we could to help us avoid this sense of birth failure?
Or, to put it another way… Are you setting yourself up to ‘fail’ at birth?
Birth failure and birth disappointment
For me birth failure is intrinsically linked to disappointment. If we are to avoid feeling like we’ve ‘failed’ at birth, then a good place to start would be to avoid feeling disappointed about our births.
To get a sense of what I mean consider these two scenarios that are inspired by true stories (where names have been changed*)
Scenario 1: The ‘healing’ VBAC
Alana* had a difficult first birth which ended in an emergency c-section. For her next birth she’s aiming for a VBAC. One of the reasons she wants her VBAC is because she really wants to experience a vaginal birth. On some level she feels like her body ‘failed’ her and that she didn’t ‘birth properly’. This VBAC is going to be a healing experience for her.
A large part of the emotional component that we’re dealing with is all about the meaning we attach to things.
In Alana’s scenario above, we learn that
a c-section birth equals ‘failure’, whereas for her a vaginal birth would mean ‘success’
she can’t heal from her first birth unless she pulls off the VBAC
It’s quite possible that Alana would never say these actual words, but this is what she is FEELING and this is the emotional bit that has got the potential bite her on the bum if she’s not careful. In this situation, Alana is putting quite a lot of pressure on herself to have her VBAC.
How do you think she would feel if she wasn’t able to have her VBAC? I’m guessing that she would really struggle with that.
A simple change could change everything
How about if she changed how she thought about her future birth. Let’s say….
She equated a c-section equally to a vaginal birth in terms of the success of her body. After all, her body has grown her baby for 9 months, it’s not really fair to judge her body based on the last bit of when the baby actually exits the body.
The body hasn’t failed. Maybe it just ran out of steam.
If a marathon runner manages to run the whole race, but crawls over the finish line, like this lady, do we think that she’s failed the marathon. No we don’t.
She still made it and she’s still done an amazing job. We don’t say that her body has failed her – she still ran 26 bloody miles! That’s not a failing in my book!
Now let’s look at Alana’s need for her birth to heal her previous birth. I think that many women experience a birth that helps them to heal from a previous birth. But just because this is something that happens as a side effect, doesn’t mean it should become an objective.
Going into your birth with the expectation of your birthing being a healing one is likely to pile even more emotional pressure on. Healing can occur without the VBAC. It can just take a different route. In fact, the healing could have happened BEFORE her birth.
There is no need to wait for a subsequent birth to heal a previous birth.
There are many wonderful birth professionals who can help you to heal from birth trauma. You don’t need to be in labour to do that. Goodness. Why wait that long to seek healing for birth trauma?
There’s another scenario I’d like you to consider. Well, it’s a true story that I share in my book, Fearless Birthing.
Scenario 2: The ‘final’ home birth
This one is about Rachel*, a mama who desperately wanted her final birth to be a home birth. She had her heart set on it. When the time came she wasn’t able to have her home birth. For some reason, she was transferred and ended up having a hospital birth.
The birth went well with no problems (her words) but afterwards she felt traumatised by it. For the month that followed the birth she said that she couldn’t look at her baby without feeling traumatised. Rachel shared how it really affected her ability to breastfeed and bond with her baby.
The thing is, the event itself was fine. The problem came from the fact that the event wasn’t what she wanted it to be. She had put so much meaning and expectation on the home birth that when it didn’t happen, she experienced loss.
This reminds me of the definition of weeds. Weeds are simply plants that are growing in the wrong place. There isn’t a type of plant that’s a weed. A daffodil could be a weed if you wanted a field of tulips.
Just like birth.
There isn’t a wrong birth or a ‘birth failure’.
We make it so with judgement. WE do. No-one else.
Rachel’s birth went well; it just wasn’t where she wanted. If she had been able to let go of her need to birth at home, she may well have enjoyed her first few weeks with her new baby. Instead, she experienced deep grief and loss for an experience she wished she’d had and didn’t.
If you can make peace with not having your ideal birth before you go into labour, you can save yourself a heap of emotional heartache later.
Great expectations are bad thing
A sense of failing at birth comes from our own expectations around birth. These expectations come from people we know – our friends and family – and the cultural narrative around birth. Sometimes it’s other people judging us, maybe from the depths of the internet.
Let me tell you something about people judging you.
It’s happening all the time. You’re being judged for your profile photo or your clothes or what you say.
It doesn’t mean you have to pay attention to any of it.
Just ignore it. Set your own agenda. Mind your own business. Be your own person.
It’s not your business what nonsense is going on in other people’s heads. We’ve all got head trash to wrestle with. And them being judgmental and critical is their head trash. You don’t have to pick it up and make it yours too.
When preparing for an upcoming birth, I always recommend preparing for more than one birth outcome. Two of these will inevitably include your preferred birth and your birth nightmare.
In between both of these is a HUGE space that we can label as birth disappointment.
Preparing for birth disappointment is crucial. The obvious reason is that because no-one wants their birth experience to be this thing that makes them feel crap every time they think about it. Another equally compelling reason is that birth disappointment is a risk factor for Post Natal Depression. And who wants that?
I think a great place to start with birth prep is to focus on how you want to FEEL about your birth and not what the actual birth outcome is.
My home birth was not the destination I was aiming for
Even though I was hoping for a particular birth outcome – a home birth – that wasn’t my objective. My objective was to come out the other end feeling positively about my birth. The home birth in my mind was HOW I’d go about achieving that. But, if things needed to change en-route, then I would be more than happy to throw my home birth plans out the window.
During my first birth, it was looking that it would go that way. At some point I remember my midwife saying to me that we might need to transfer. She told me that she wanted to call the ambulance so that we could have them ready just in case.
I remember her saying this to me and thinking “oh ok, no probs”. She later told me how my response surprised her, like it was no big deal. She said that usually when she says that to women that they have some sort of reaction and that fear or stress come over them. My midwife told me how she was amazed that I just took it in my stride and didn’t ‘react’ to it.
I believe that I was able to do that because I had not fixated on a home birth. I was ready to let it go. If I needed to transfer to hospital, then so be it.
Preparing for birth disappointment is more than just simply packing a hospital bag if you’re planning a home birth. It’s much more than that.
Preparing for birth disappointment
Sure the practical aspect will play a part. So having thought through the practical elements of alternative birth outcomes will be useful, for sure. But It’s the emotional preparation that will really make the difference here. The extent of this emotional preparation will depend on a few things;
Your current level of emotional resilience
Emotional resilience is what gives you your bounce-back ability. It’s what allows you to roll with the punches and still come out smiling.
How fixated you are on a particular birth outcome
If you’re obsessed to achieve a certain birth outcome, then you’re more likely to suffer emotionally when you don’t get it. You might feel let down, disappointed or that you’ve failed. You may even grieve for it. It’s your emotional resilience that will help you to let go of what isn’t going to be and accept what is now presenting itself.
How determined you are to avoid a particular birth outcome
If you want to do whatever you can to avoid a certain birth outcome – an induced birth say – then the minute it looks like it’s on the cards, you might start to stress, worry or cry. Any of these will affect the hormone mix that support labour and could take your labour in the direction you want to avoid. It’s your emotional resilience that will help you to just accept and go with it.
How much meaning you’ve lavished on any particular birth outcome
You may not realise, but you might be layering a load of meaning onto various aspects of your labour and birth
‘a vaginal birth is the ONLY way to birth; a c-section isn’t a real birth’
‘if i can’t birth vaginally, then my body has failed me’
‘’f I can’t birth my baby naturally then I’ve failed’
Take some time to consider whether you’re inadvertently adding meaning to particular birth outcomes. If you are, you might want to check in with yourself because these have the potential to come back and bite you.
I hope I’m not scaring you with all this. There is good news though.
Reduce your risk of experiencing birth trauma
If you put some time and effort into avoiding birth disappointment, you’re also doing quite a bit to help you to reduce your risk of birth trauma.
That might sound like a wild statement, but let’s just take a quick look at what the contributing factors to trauma are;
the event itself
current level of emotional resilience of the person
the meaning the persona associates with the event (and aspects of it)
a sense of lack of escapability around the event
You see? Our good friends ’emotional resilience’ and ‘emotional meaning’ are in there. Two things that we can work with in advance of the birth.
You might read ‘lack of escapability’ and think that we can’t do much about that. Birth after all is a like a train that you can’t get off until you reach the end of the journey.
But feelings of being trapped don’t just relate to a physical reality. Like being stuck in a locked toilet cubicle for example. People also feel trapped in relationships and jobs. They don’t leave because of how the FEEL; there is a huge emotional component too. So we can work with this too.
All the preparation that I did for my births was focussed on mindset. I did very little reading around pregnancy from a practical perspective.
After my second birth, I was approached by lots of women – women who I didn’t know – women who’d somehow heard about how I’d been able to overcome my tokophobia to have two wonderful birth experiences. They wanted to know how I did it.
So when I came to share how I prepared for my births, I included everything that I did.
Of course, I did lots of fear clearance. When you have tokophobia, you have a boat load of ridiculously strong fears that you’d rather not have. But my emotional preparation went further than that. I also did work around birth disappointment and birth trauma because I was determined to have a positive birth experience.
My Fearless Birthing program is where I share all of the aspects of the emotional preparation that I did. Not only do I share it with you, but I show you how to do it, step by step.
Here’s what my Fearless Birthing program helps you to do in terms of the emotional preparation around birth;
Identify and unpack your fears
Our fears are not always obvious, especially the deep-rooted ones that are more likely to crop up during birth
How to clear your birth fears quickly
I share the Head Trash Clearance Method (and 2 other emotional clearance techniques) so that you can clear your fears, stresses and anxieties quickly. There is even a quick fear clearance technique that you can use during labour in between contractions if necessary (that’s how I used it!).
How to emotionally prepare for the birth you want
Lots of birth prep programs help you with this, but my focus is on the emotional preparation. I help you to let go of your need for it. That way, if your birth goes down a different route, you can just go with it and surrender.
How to emotionally prepare for the birth you don’t want
This is what gives you your bounce-back ability. So that you can go with the flow without triggering stress or fear if things go differently on the day.
How to boost your emotional resilience
Here we focus on non-birthy aspects of your life so that you feel emotionally stronger. Feeling emotionally stronger will help you to
find your voice AND USE IT
feel more confident
calmly defend your boundaries and desires
feel in control of yourself, and therefore your birth
Let me start by just getting this out the way. I’m NOT about laying on the guilt. At all. And this post is not a let-me-beat-you-into-guilty-submission kinda post.
It’s more along the vibes of… here’s how things *could* go…. please listen and try not to repeat someone else’s mistake.
Ok, now that I’ve got that out the way, let’s carry on.
It’s very possible that you’ve heard people say “Don’t prepare for birth… there’s really no need. We’re built for this, you’ll be fine”. Hmmm… that’s not really great advice. It’s times like this when a true story helps.
What happens when you don’t prepare for birth
I cannot even begin to guess how many emails I’ve received from mamas who wish they had done things differently for their first pregnancy and births.
Like this one;
“I had a pretty terrible experience first time round. After listening to your podcasts, I think I put all my faith in the medical team which was great because my little man got here safe and sound but in the meantime I felt like I wasn’t informed and that a lot of the choices were made for me.
I am really trying to have a better birth experience this go around. I did a birth center birth with my son that ended in a hospital transfer and a very sloppy, upsetting delivery. I’m thankful I was able to birth my son vaginally, however, the whole thing really affected me negatively. I find myself quite fearful this time and am trying to sort out and prepare as best I can.”
This is a common story that I’ve seen recounted too many times on social media too.
Let’s take a closer look at what she says to try and understand what really happened. Because it’s only then you can learn from her mistake
“I put all my faith in the medical team ….”
Putting your faith in the medical team isn’t a bad thing and often we need to do it. But as a general rule, it shouldn’t be the starting point for the pregnancy-birth journey.
Pregnancy and birth isn’t a passive experience where you can sit back and let other people take over. You need to step up and take control of it. Ultimately, it’s your responsibility. The medical team are there to support you, not to lead. But unfortunately many women don’t realise this.
This is the kind of thing you learn when you prepare or take a class. You learn more about the kind of birth that you want, and the kind you don’t want;
Where you want it – hospital or not?
Which hospital or maternity unit?
When to have it … should you accept that induction or not at 40 weeks?
What type of pain relief you will want
So many things to consider… some of which you might not have thought about.
“I felt like I wasn’t informed and that a lot of the choices were made for me.”
We have the right to make ALL the choices during our pregnancy and birth. But it’s hard to make choices when you don’t understand the question being asked, or the various options available to you.
If faced with a question that you don’t know how to answer, you will usually defer to someone else… someone who knows more than you.
During pregnancy or birth, this is usually your care provider. So if they ask you a question you can’t answer and you defer to them, you immediately hand over the power to the medical team.
Often, a decision needs to be made, and because you couldn’t make it, they did.
This can often feel like things have been taken out of your hands (and this feels like losing control of things).
Of course, sometimes you get some really horrid healthcare providers that simply don’t ask you and make a decision without you.
But if you’re savvy, you can usually spot this happening and, with your partner or birth companion, put a stop to it before it’s too late.
Asking questions if you’re not sure about what you’re being asked, is totally fine by the way. But thinking things through like this in the middle of labour isn’t ideal. You might be tired and exhausted – not the ideal state to be making important decisions. Much better to make them when you’re feeling calm and not under pressure while you’re pregnant.
You might feel you need more time to think things through, and maybe you don’t have the time you need, so you feel pressured to give an answer. An answer you may later regret.
“[My] birth ended in a hospital transfer and a very sloppy, upsetting delivery… the whole thing really affected me negatively.”
It’s such a shame that her birth has affected her so negatively. But this happens a lot.
The negative effects of birth have a tendency to ripple outward into other areas of your life. The negative feelings could affect your ability to recover from birth, your willingness or ability to breastfeed and how you feel about your baby. They could also affect your relationship. Individually, these are all important aspects, but it could be that they ALL get affected, in which case things could be quite a struggle emotionally. Not a great start to the motherhood journey.
She finishes by saying
“I find myself quite fearful this time and am trying to sort out and prepare as best I can.”
This implies that she didn’t prepare as best as she could the first time around… and that she wished she did. She’s making up for it this time.
This is why she’s preparing .. to avoid a re-run of her first birth.
Please don’t be this person.
There is nothing worse that filling your head with ‘what ifs’.
I’m not saying that preparing or going to classes will guarantee that you avoid a situation like this, because it won’t. But it will definitely help to stack the odds in your favour that it won’t.
So if someone tells you “don’t prepare for birth” please ignore them.
This is the kind of birth that lots of women say they want. But often, they might not fully appreciate what it takes to be able to make it happen.
Beware of planning for a natural birth
Now before I go any further i need to share with you a couple of **** HUGE DISCLAIMER ALERTS ****
1. You don’t always get what you planned for
Just because you ‘plan’ to have a certain birth, doesn’t mean it will happen. But that’s not to say that you can’t stack the odds in your favour to increase your chances of success. But it’s important to have flexibility in your plans. Which leads me to my next point;
2. Don’t obsess over it
Being obsessed over wanting a natural birth is not a good thing. Sure, it good to have an outcome in mind, but not if you are blind to the alternatives. With birth it’s also important to plan for, and be OK with, other birth outcomes. If you cling rigidly to your dream of a natural birth then you could be putting yourself and your baby at risk if things start to veer off plan. You might decided to reject certain medical interventions ‘for the sake of the natural birth’ when actually, that might be the most sensible thing to so. So BEWARE!
Having said all that, let’s say that you’re cool with other birth options AND you’re not going to obsess over your natural birth. What can you do to stack the odds in your favour of having your natural birth? What does it mean for you RIGHT NOW in your pregnancy?
What will it take?
What can you do to increase your chances of it being a reality for you?
People who know things like this are midwives and labour & delivery nurses. I came across this comment on social media and I want to share it with you because I found it quite interesting and thought you might too.
A expectant mama wrote a post about a conversation she had had with a friend of hers who’s a Labour & Delivery nurse. She asked her how many mamas had a natural birth at the hospital she worked at. And this is what she said;
“She laughed and asked if I wanted to know how many moms say they want to go natural vs. moms that succeed. My friend explained that about a quarter of all moms say want to go natural, with half of those saying they want to ‘try’.
She said the half (an eighth of all moms) that succeed are prepared… they have a method they have practiced, whatever it may be… hypnobirthing, Morgan Method, Lamaze or whatever. The ones that think they can just tough it out without any work or preparation before are the ones that give up and get epidurals. She said it’s hard for her to see them be disappointed, and she’s too nice to point out that they didn’t prepare, which is often why they gave up.”
Don’t you find that interesting?
I’m not so much concerned about the percentages quoted because a hospital environment is more likely to attract women who are comfortable with a medical approach to their birth. What I’m more interested in is what the labour and delivery nurse said about those that succeed.
The 3 things it takes to succeed at having a natural birth
What she said boiled down to three key things
Preparation. They’ve spent time preparing. Preparation is power!
They have a method. It doesn’t matter what method as long as they have one. Any birth prep method will do.
They do the work. They are committed.
The moral of the story is this: if you want to have a natural birth, mean it!
Do some prep work. Take a class, practice what you’re taught and be committed. That was her advice for success.
I would add to that: be open to walk away from it if you need to.
We shouldn’t obsess over a natural birth at the risk of having a crappy birth experience. For me the ultimate birth is the positive birth. It doesn’t have to be natural for it to be positive.
If you want to prepare for a natural birth and learn some brilliant mindset tools to help you cope during birth, then check out my Fearless Birthing Birth Prep Classes. These online classes will help you to prepare for birth and work on your mindset too so that you’re better able to cope with how things might unfold on the big day.
Are you wondering if you need to do pregnancy classes?
I’d love to be able to give you a a YES or NO answer to this, but I can’t. Only you can judge whether you do.
We are all starting our pregnancy journeys from different places and what’s right for one person could be completely different for another.
I like to think of the pregnancy journey as having a few different dimensions to it;
Physical: Birthing a baby is pretty physical. It will put epic demands on your body and if you don’t regularly exercise then you might find this harder than someone who is used to breaking out a sweat and pushing themselves physically.
Mental: This is about knowing about birth. A first time mum will not necessarily know as much about birth as a mama with 2 kiddos. This can mean a huge learning curve for the first time mum. Also for the second time mama if she didn’t make the effort to learn anything the first time around, or its been a while and she’s forgotten.
Emotional: We don’t all feel the same about birth. Some women are terrified about it and will anything they can to avoid it, while others love the thought of it and can’t wait to experience it.
Your need for pregnancy classes will depend on where you fall in terms of the above dimensions.
What’s right for one person, might not be for another
People who don’t have any negative, pre-conceived ideas about birth and instead feel positively about it might be fine with reading a few books and watching few YouTube videos.
On the other hand, if you have deeply entrenched feelings, beliefs and thoughts about birth, then they’re unlikely to be shifted by simply reading a book. Someone like this will need much more support and guidance.What’s fine for one person will not necessarily be fine for someone else.
But while we’re talking about books, who could get away with just reading some books to prepare for their birth?
You can forget about pregnancy classes if…
I don’t think everyone needs to go to pregnancy classes. But I do think a minimum level of preparation is required and for some this can be found through books. So let me just be super clear as to who I think this applies to.
Ditching pregnancy classes and just reading a book will be fine for you if
You have no negative preconceived ideas about birth that are scaring you
You inherently believe that birth is a positive thing and that women are designed for it
You’re emotionally resilient and know how to bat away fears and stresses with ease
You know your own mind and how to bring your head space back to a positive place easily
You’re confident in your ability to cope with whatever comes your way
You have no problems asserting yourself, and asking for and saying what you want
You’re naturally curious and are not afraid to ask (what some might say are) silly questions
You believe in your own ability to be able to learn something and succeed at it (you have high levels of self-efficacy)
You are able to trust your body
I mentioned at the beginning that we are all starting our pregnancy journeys from different places. The truth is that we don’t all want the same from our births either, and this will determine whether pregnancy classes are for you or not.
Is the idea of being preparing for birth important to you?
Some people don’t place much importance on preparing for their birth and think that“I’ll be fine – it’s a natural process” when in fact doing some pregnancy classes can be the difference between a great birth and a not-so-great one.
This could be the same people who don’t really give much too much thought to “preparing for the birth” until they start maternity leave, at which point they start seeking out books and classes. IMO this is leaving things pretty late in the day!
We all have different needs and priorities.
Decide how important your birth experience is to you and how much you want to invest – in time, in effort, in money, in energy etc.
To help, you might fancy reading this post to help to figure out what kind of birth you want.
Read : How fabulous do you want your birth to be? ADD LINK
In thinking about your upcoming birth, where are you at?
Take a moment to figure out where you are now when it comes to your birth
Do you feel confident about your upcoming birth?
Are you knowledgeable about what to expect during labour?
Do you believe that you can do it (birth your baby)?
Do you feel ready for birth and in control of things?
Have you decided on what your position is on being induced?
Have you thought through the various potential questions you might get asked during labour?
Do you know what your coping techniques will be?
If you’ve answered no or don’t know to any of the above questions, the chances are that you could benefit from doing some pregnancy classes.
If you’re looking for some classes to help you to prepare for your upcoming birth, then the Fearless Birthing Birth Prep Classes might be just the thing. Combining sensible practical preparation with emotional preparation, these classes have been designed to help you to prepare for the right birth for you. They include expert interviews, lots of super useful downloads including a gorgeous Birth Prep Planner, as well as some affirmations meditations and loads more. Find out more about the Fearless Birthing Birth Prep Classes here.
This might seem like an odd question, but it’s one worth thinking about.
What do you want from your birth?
Some have a very straightforward aim for childbirth: to make it out the other side with a healthy baby.
But what if you want more than that?
What if you want a positive birth experience?
In other words, you want an experience that you will look back on positively. Some women don’t even think this is on the table as an option.
I remember when I first found out I was pregnant, I had no idea that birth could be a positive experience. I didn’t even want it to be an ‘experience’. I was so scared of it, I would have been happy to have been knocked out for the whole thing and woken up at the end with a baby in my arms. I literally had no idea!
I think a lot of women are like this – maybe not as extreme as me wanting to be knocked out the whole time – but in thinking that it’s something to be survived, rather than experienced.
So the idea of birth actually being a positive experience was a HUGE leap for me back then. I’ve come a long way since then, obvs!
What does ‘positive’ mean, anyway?
Just because you can look back on an experience as a positive one, doesn’t mean it was positive the whole way through. When I think back to some of the highlights in my life – like trekking up the mountains in Pakistan – they weren’t joyous from start to finish. They had tough bits. A few tearful bits. Some hugely challenging bits. And then some!
For me, the positive feeling comes from me having overcome the challenges and still have a smile on my face at the end. So now when I look back, I remember the good bits, gloss over the tough bits and think of the whole thing as a hugely positive experience. Birth can be the same.
This doesn’t mean that your birth might not have its ups and downs, of course it can. The important thing is that on the whole, you want to be able to look back on your birth and think – “Yes. That was great!”
More importantly, when you get reminded every year on your kid’s birthday, you want to have positive memories, and not memories that will eat you up inside.
Do you want an experience that will bring you and your partner closer together?
We could assume that all birth experiences are going to do this, but that would be foolish and naive.
Some birth experiences come between a couple. However, it doesn’t have to be a difficult or traumatic experience for that to happen.
It could be that the way your partner behaves (or doesn’t) during the birth upsets you. This could be something that you find it really hard to let go or move on from. It could be as simple as that.
Or it could be that a difficult birth holds tricky memories for both of you to deal with and be reminded of on every kiddy birthday.
Or it could be the complete opposite. Where you unite together as a team and come out stronger than ever.
What if you want birth to be a positive experience for you AND your baby?
It’s not just you having a big day, your baby is having a big day too; they’re coming earthside! Unfortunately many babies experience their own birth as traumatic. That doesn’t mean the mother did, it’s just how the baby experienced it.
Birth trauma (of our own birth) can show up in our adult lives in lots of ways that are difficult to predict. In my work with women with tokophobia, many of the women discover that it’s the trauma of their own birth that’s at the root of their tokophobia.
If you’re interested in finding out out more about how babies experience birth, listen to these two podcast episodes
They are essential listening if you want to find out more about what it takes to create a positive birth experience for your baby.
But let’s get back to you. What if you want it to be MORE than just an overall positive experience?
Do you want an experience that you will remember with fondness and joy?
Earlier I talked about you being able to remember your experience positively. If your birth had some ups and downs, it’s quite possible that are bits about your birth that you’d rather forget. Maybe the way the hospital staff treated you, or perhaps you agreed to something you wish you hadn’t. Or maybe you wish you’d spoken up about something and didn’t (because you didn’t know you could).
Any of these instances could tarnish your positive birth experience and give you niggles that over time could build up into emotional toxic yukkiness. Nobody wants that.
So, what if you don’t want any of those things? Instead you’d prefer it was more like this …
… You remember how lovely all the staff were
You shared with them your expectations of your birth and they were really understanding and supportive. You felt like they cared.
… You had thought things through in advance
You prepped and had answers ready to any questions or decisions that cropped up. And you felt REALLY good about that.
… Your partner knew what you wanted
They made sure that the care providers knew your wishes and intentions. You felt looked after and loved.
… You knew your rights
And when something came up that you weren’t sure about, you questioned them and, together with your partner, you made sure that the decision rested with you. You felt in control and supported by your partner.
Imagine how different that experience would feel?
And, how would that experience make you feel TODAY?
It might make you realise just how strong and resilient you really are.
Knowing you were able to dig deep and carry yourself through, could give you an unshakable level of strength and confidence.
Birth as a bringer of confidence and empowerment
The confidence from your birth could spill into other areas of your life.
Motherhood for starters.
We hear many parents say that parenting is the hardest thing ever. Imagine heading straight into that after a birth experience that’s drained you emotionally. No wonder so many people struggle with parenting. Their emotional resilience reserves are depleted and they have nothing to give.
But it could be different.
Instead of tentatively stepping into the biggest challenge of your life on the back foot, you could be jumping in feet first powered by the strength and confidence of your birth.
You might even decide to tap into this confidence and inherent creativity that birth is and start a new venture in your life – a new business or project maybe?
You could be unstoppable!
Why not demand a birth that will empower you?
I wonder how many approach birth wanting it to be an experience that will show them just how strong and powerful a human being they really are.
Why aren’t ALL women working towards that?
Are we afraid we won’t be able to pull it off?
Sadly the narrative around birth doesn’t exactly help on this front.
We hear how birth is the most painful experience you can ever live through.
We are told not to expect too much… in case our delicate little beings can’t cope with not getting it…. as if we’re toddlers.
It’s implied that birth isn’t our experience to own. Instead we have to fight to take control of it.
In many countries, the birthing system doesn’t want to give us the power that is ours to start with. Many women are duped into thinking that birth is passive and that they just have to put up and shut up. They are told that they’re not allowed to do otherwise. Not allowed? NOT ALLOWED???
Seriously? We need to press reset.
Birth is our moment
It’s our body and they’re our babies
If we want a fabulous birth that infuses us with unshakable confidence and inner power, why can’t we have that?
So what if we miss and ‘only’ get the “fucking brilliant birth that fills me with oxytocin bubbly joy every time I think about it” birth.. well, that’s cool.
We can live with that.
We can even live with the “bumpy birth experience that I still feel brilliant about” birth.
And what if the shizzle really hits the fan on the day and it’s a shitstorm of a birth?
We can recover from that too.
Because we are strong.
So back to my first question to you: what kind of birth do you want?
Think carefully about your answer, and don’t play small.
Don’t settle for less.
You know in your heart of hearts what you really want. Don’t be afraid to go for it.
Let’s press reset together.
Let’s make birth fabulous for all of us.
If you want to prepare for a fabulous birth.. you know the kind where you come out the other end feeling confident, empowered and ready to take on the world.. yeah one of those births! Well let me help you with my online Birth Prep Classes. They are just the right mix of practical prep with emotional resilience training so that you feel fearlessly fabulous heading into your birth.