Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Midwifery Today, Issue 126, Summer 2018.
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Fear of labor is an interesting phenomenon. In cultures seldom touched by the outside world this does not seem to be an issue—that is, until Western ways move into that culture. When I had my first baby I had no fear of labor. I had taken a lot of anthropology classes as part of my major and it seemed to me that women had been having babies for a long time and I could, too. I am not sure when or how fear of labor became so prevalent, and I am quite happy that Debra Pascali-Bonaro and Elizabeth Davis have opened up the consideration of orgasmic birth with their book and movie by that name. I hope the idea changes the paradigm for many birthing women.
Because of my own labor experiences—which were the most important experiences of my life—I would tell women to not have any expectations for labor. After I had my first homebirth I felt that I had never done anything more important. I was high on that labor and birth for years afterward. I told my husband after my homebirth,” I feel sorry for you because you never get to experience that!” He was incredulous and said, “It didn’t look like that much fun!”
After attending many labors and births, a few have stayed in my mind as utterly fascinating and great learning experiences. We served one woman who lived about 45 minutes from us. She was a nurse and a first-time mom. She was “in labor” for three days. We went back and forth to her house because her progress wasn’t much, she had support, and she didn’t need us to stay—but she did appear to be in deep pain. I thought, “Whoa. This is really a hard labor; I wonder what she is going to think of it?” The first words out of her mouth were, “That was fun. I want to do it again.”
Another three-day labor was also interesting. That woman was also a first-time mom. She lived quite far from us, out in the country but on the other side of town. It was about an hour to her house. My partner and I went out each day to check on her. She was laboring but also was fine. On the third day heavier labor hit and she labored for nine hours in a very straightforward way. As soon as her baby was born the first words out of her mouth were, “Now I have paid for that abortion!” Wow. We were amazed by that statement. I don’t even know if she knew what she said and we didn’t tell her. When she had her second baby we headed right out to her place without dallying. She was crowning when we got there. Another wow moment!
Another very memorable learning experience was a woman who had just gotten married in her mid-thirties. She acted so fearful during every prenatal visit. She asked a lot of questions and needed a lot of reassurance. My partner and I were fairly new midwives at this time but could tell by her fears that this labor would be very long. When she called in labor we hurried over to a baby that had just been born. What we learned from this birth was to never predict and to let go of all expectations. Each birth was going to be unique, completely unique, and we just could not figure it out ahead of time.
We gave each of our families a copy of Dr. Gregory White’s Emergency Childbirth, just in case the baby arrived before we got there. The book is very encouraging and, in this case, it was a good thing!
Sometimes a laboring woman is just having too much fun to have it end. A very special birth was with a mom we had become really good friends with. She labored with her fifth baby. We slept on the bed with her and encouraged her. Her labor went on for quite a long time. When we showed concern that she wasn’t moving forward, she said, “I can have this baby anytime I want.” We encouraged her to go ahead and have the baby. So she did. I know she was enjoying it so much that she did not want it to be over.
Every labor and every birth is a beautiful and unique event. It is so special that we as midwives have the privilege to serve, attend, and love families in this way. Although we cannot remove all fear, I always thought that an important part of my job as a midwife was to help make the experience as joyful and beautiful as possible.
Toward better birth,