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Fear Factor

I've kind of become a woman obsessed -- obsessed with labor and all of the fear, anticipation, and unpredictability that it entails. Pretty much the only thing I can think about lately is the fact that it's coming soon (I'm due March 17th), it could happen at any time, and I can't know ahead of time how it will all unfold.

I constantly wonder things like: How will I first feel it (contractions, water breaking, back pain)? When will I be able to tell that I'm in labor (will the pain be obvious or start slowly)? Will my labor be long or short? Will my husband and I remember the pain-coping techniques and positions we learned, and will he be able to stay awake through the whole thing? Will I be able to handle the pain or will I decide to go for the epidural after all? Will there, heaven forbid, be any complications or will things go relatively smoothly? What time will it start (middle of the night when my husband is with me or during the day when we're not together)?

I can barely think about the part after childbirth because that part involves a whole other set of overwhelming questions: How will I know what to do with the baby? Will I be able to breastfeed at first? How will I know what clothes to put her in? Will I be able to soothe her? I could really delve into all of those issues and more, but for the sake of my sanity -- or maybe because I simply can't get past the major roadblock in my head of the idea of labor -- I'm not allowing myself to think about that TOO much. I've got to focus on the first task at hand.

To that end, I've been watching every birth DVD and reading every birth book I can get my hands on (and since I work at Parenting, believe me, I can get my hands on a lot of birth DVDs and books!). Sometimes I find watching these things or reading about labor and birth to be stressful -- I mean, I really did learn all of this stuff in my childbirth classes and too much of this can make my head spin. So in those instances, I shut off the DVD or put the book down. Other times, though, I find it very reassuring -- kind of like a refresher of what I've already learned, and I often pick up a few new tips, or learn how to think about some aspect of labor in another helpful way. Granted, my reaction often depends on my mood and the book. That's also how I respond to hearing other people's birth stories. For instance, if I'm in the mood to listen and the person isn't telling me about her horrendous 72-hour labor, then often, I enjoy hearing the story and it makes me feel more comfortable about the range of birth experiences. My mom's birth stories, for example, about my brother and me (she didn't have an epidural for either birth and found that Lamaze and my dad got her through well), are also hugely calming. On the other hand, if I'm freaking out about birth at that moment, then usually no matter what anyone tells me, I don't want to hear it.

As for the books, one of the most reassuring ones I've read is The Birth Book: Everything you need to know to have a safe and satisfying birth by Dr. Bill Sears (one of our contributing writers) and his wife, Martha Sears. Dr. Sears kindly sent me this book, and I found it so empowering, reassuring, and helpful, that I practically read the whole thing in one night. He and his wife support unmedicated births, which is what I'm planning should everything go smoothly. One of the things I found remarkable about the book was that because Martha gave birth to seven children, she was really able to get past the fear involved in the process -- after so many births, it wasn't the great unknown for her. While obviously this will be my first birth and it will feel unknown no matter what I do to prepare now, what they wrote made me feel I could incorporate a little bit of their attitude into my own experience. I hope so, anyway.

Another book my husband and I have found very helpful is The Birth Partner: A complete guide to childbirth for dads, doulas, and all other labor companions by Penny Simkin. It's a great one for your partner to read since it may really help him understand what you're going through and how best he can be there for you.

Still, no matter how calm I'm able to feel at times (which I know is the best state for me to be in now and during labor) I can't seem to avoid my moments of panic. Fortunately, I've just started my maternity leave so I can try to settle into this next phase emotionally and physically while resting on my couch or continuing to prep the nursery. As I do these things, I also keep reminding myself that no matter what happens during labor and childbirth, all that's ultimately important is that my baby and I are healthy in the end. When I think about that, it really does tend to wipe away my fears about labor and doubts about myself. So, I'm going to keep my eye on that beautiful end goal -- the reason I began all of this nine months ago.

One other thing that I never expected to be reassuring but oddly ended up offering profound perspective? The Pisces horoscope (what my baby's sign will be if she's born before March 21st) I read in the paper on Friday as I was on my way to work my last day before maternity leave. Here's what it said:

"Push forward with your plans, don't wait a moment longer. You don't have to have every detail worked out. Leave room for miracles."

So regardless of what I have and haven't worked out, I'll be here waiting -- and ready to push -- for my little miracle.