Here's Why Women Believe Birth Is Scary

As a Doula who teaches prenatal classes and has helped hundreds of families through labour and birth, I hear quite a lot that birth is scary. Many pregnant women and their partners find that the idea of their impending labour and birth is terrifying. So, what exactly is making people so scared of birth?

For many, it's the pain aspect. When you get pregnant, your friends who have already given birth will automatically jump to tell you stories about how incredibly painful birth is.  They don't mince words about the graphic nature of pain that they experienced either. I personally feel this is unfair of them to place such a story in your head; but unfortunately, I don't see the trend ending any time soon.

There's a theory about pain in labour that was put forth by an American doctor named Dr. Grantly Dick-Read, and is also available to read about in his book Childbirth Without Fear. The book is based on his experiences as an army doctor stationed in Europe during WWI. During his time there, he attended the births of several woman. One woman in particular was labouring in her kitchen. Birth was still primarily home based during this time, as opposed to North America where birth had moved primarily to the hospital. As this woman was labouring, Dr. Dick-Read tried to administer chloroform to her- as that was the pain relief of choice at the time- but she refused it. After the birth, she asked him what he was trying to give her and he explained that it was for pain relief. Her response was, "It didn't hurt.  It wasn't meant to, was it doctor?"

This response confused Dr. Dick-Read, as women in North America were experiencing undeniable pain in labour. Being a scientist, he set out to find out why the experiences were so different between North American and European women. After some time, he concluded that for women in North America, their fear of birth caused tension to the body. That tension caused pain- which caused more fear, more tension, more pain and so on. This is known as the Fear-Tension-Pain cycle.


Dr. Dick-Read and many others after have concluded that reducing the fear of pain can ultimately reduce the amount of pain experienced in labour. It won't eliminate it, but rather make it more manageable. This leads us back to reducing that fear.

My suggestions include:

  • Limiting fear-based stories from friends who have given birth before you. Explain to them that you only want to hear positive aspects of their birth. Hearing the negative side of things isn't helpful and will plant seeds of doubt in your head. Remember, those stories are not your stories- your story hasn't been written yet.
  • Stop Googling or watching YouTube videos on birth. Again, they're not your story either.
  • Read good prenatal books such as The Mother Of All Pregnancy Books by Ann Douglas or The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin.
  • Spend some time each day practicing meditation or mindfulness. There are many apps such as Calm or HeadSpace, where you can get a 10 minute guided meditation to just relax. Not only will you enjoy the time spent relaxing, but so will your unborn baby.
  • Go for a walk, put on your ear buds and just let go of everything.
  • Take a prenatal class that's either outside of the hospital or taught by a doula within a hospital setting.
  • Hire a doula who can help you and your partner plan and execute a realistic birth journey that can be comforting and empowering.

Another way that birth can be scary for the newly pregnant is that the media portrays birth as dramatic, an emergency or highly comedic. But here's the good news. Emergencies in birth only occur about two percent of the time. On television and in movies, 100 percent of births are emergencies.  This paints a picture in your head that birth is something that will mean untold horrors and the near death of you or your baby.  Now don't get me wrong- emergencies do occur.  In fact, my first birth was a classic traumatic birth.  But when my second birth was a breeze, I almost felt that I had missed out on something.  After the 10th beautiful birth I attended- where no emergencies occurred- I felt disappointed that I wasn't able to save the day. But then I began to examine birth, the intricacies of the the hormones, baby's movements and the birthing parents movements. That's when I discovered that birth is something to experience with support and love and knowledge, not something to have happen to you like a medical procedure.

So don't take what you see on television, in movies or on social media as a true reflection of what birth is really like. What you're seeing in those media circles is there because it makes for good viewing- we're drawn to drama. Don't let it enter your birth because that's the vision you have in your head of what should happen.

Finally, lets talk about the perpetual stories that we hear about how scary birth is.  These stories began back at the turn of the last centur,y when birth moved from home to hospital and- because of unsanitary conditions- women were dying in childbirth. Doctors weren't washing their hands from patient to patient or even from autopsy to the birth bed side. As a result, the idea that birth could be a death sentence began. Over the next several generations of birthing, it's snowballed to the point where if you have a calm and uncomplicated birth, you almost don't want to share that story because it doesn't have the drama that your friend's story had. However ,those are the stories that we need to hear.  Those are stories I want my daughter to hear so that as she grows and considers having a baby, she won't be inundated with visions of birth as something to be saved from.

14 Doulas Tell Us Their Best Birth Stories 

If you have thoughts of fear about birth in your head, seek out different ways to change that narrative. Gather the support team you need to have a calm and empowered birth.  Birth can be beautiful and that's what I wish for everyone.

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