Think about it
Toss the notion of an ideal birth experience. The Hollywood images are heartwarming -- a woman labors a few hours; then, after a valiant pushing effort, she's shown sweaty-faced and glowing, cradling her newborn. But childbirth doesn't always unfold this way. Many women labor for hours and fail to progress, or complications develop. Ironically, it's not just filmmakers who overlook these scenarios. "Childbirth education classes can sometimes give women the mistaken impression that there's an ideal way to have a baby, and that women have complete control over the birth, when this just isn't the case," says Alexis Menken, Ph.D., cofounder of the Pregnancy and Postpartum Resource Center at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City. "It sets a huge number of women up for disappointment, which can trigger anger, resentment, anxiety, and feelings of failure." In fact, having a c-section delivery can be a risk factor for postpartum depression. "To avoid self-blame and disappointment, women need to focus on choosing a doctor they can trust, while also working on their own willingness to go with the flow during childbirth," adds Menken.
Discuss your fears. "Unlike with my emergency delivery, I was very nervous before my planned c-section because I had so much time to think about it," says Karen Baratta, 37, a mom of two boys, 3 and 1, from Cranford, New Jersey. "I lost sleep imagining the pain I might feel during the surgery. I also worried about something going wrong and what would happen to my older son." Baratta's concerns are very common -- and normal. To allay yours, have your doctor, doula, or midwife explain all of the reasons a c-section may become necessary. You can also ask your obstetrician to walk you through exactly what happens before, during, and after surgery.
Prepare yourself mentally. Regardless of how you deliver, learning how to put your mind and body in a calmer state can be a powerful tool during pregnancy and birth. You can enroll in a prenatal yoga class, pick up a relaxation CD or DVD, work with a therapist who specializes in stress-reduction techniques, or simply take 10 to 20 minutes each day to focus on your breathing.
It doesn't really matter how you de-stress, say the experts, as long as you practice at it, which trains your body how to react. One popular method to try is called the "Relaxation Response," from Harvard-trained cardiologist and mind-body expert Herbert Benson, M.D. First, choose a word, sound, or phrase that's aligned with your beliefs (for instance, "peace" or "love"). Then, sit quietly with your eyes closed, and while breathing naturally, repeat the word silently each time you exhale, continuing for 15 to 20 minutes. (For step-by-step instructions, go to the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine's website