Fighting the fear of pregnancy and birth

I always knew I wanted a baby, but for many years I had a fear about the whole process.

Everything I had seen and read about the process seemed like pregnancy and birth was scary. It’s not surprising, really, because everything I ‘knew’ about pregnancy and birth was gained from the media. Of course, nice stories about straightforward birth don’t make good telly or sell newspapers.

A few years ago I joined the NHS. I’m a communications person, and had the benefit of learning about all kinds of things. I was most fascinated about maternity, and got to know many professionals. I led health promotion campaigns about things like normalising birth and seeking to remove fear; getting new mums to feed back about their views about their experiences to make sure the service was the best it could be, and dispelling myths like women who have had a C section can’t try to have a vaginal birth for subsequent deliveries.

When a BBC TV crew were doing a programme about a young couple having a baby at the hospital I worked at, I sat in on all of the sessions to supervise them. The midwife was absolutely wonderful and explained the physiology of labour and birth. I was gripped.

I was in the delivery room for those long hours while the mother was labouring. It was such a privilege to be able to witness such a thing without being directly involved in the process. I could see that it hurt and that it was exhausting, but it was all calm and under control – no mean feat under the gaze of two television cameras. I was completely in awe of the midwife and of the labouring mum.

The labour seemed to be progressing quickly, and the baby’s head was crowning but it didn’t get any further. In the end, the baby was born by emergency C-section – the baby was back-to-back. I was so disappointed to not see the baby come into the world, but the main thing of course was that all was well for mum and baby.

So, when I got pregnant I was a card-carrying, t-shirt wearing, flag-waving member of the group that promotes pregnancy and birth as being perfectly natural, normal life events that are nothing to be scared of.

Me at 20 weeks

Me at 20 weeks

I thought I knew so much about pregnancy and birth. I thought I had read everything that was possible to read. I thought I knew all the risks of pregnancy and birth. I thought I had mitigated the risks by doing everything in my control, like eating well, exercising and going to my antenatal appointments.

I thought there was no such thing as a ‘normal’ birth, and was totally relaxed about a birth plan. I was relaxed in the knowledge that midwives and obstetricians know what they are doing and would do only interventions that were necessary for the safety of me and my baby.

Hugo

Hugo

So when tragedy struck me and my baby in the form of two conditions: one I’d never heard of (HELLP Syndrome) and the other (preeclampsia) far earlier in my pregnancy than I thought possible it was like being mown down by a truck. All my choices were taken away from me in the situation that was literally life-and-death for me and my baby.

I have said this before, but it bears repeating: I am unlucky this happened to me, but I am lucky to have been caught in time by my midwife because I had absolutely no idea I was so ill, or what the dangers were to me or to my baby.

The women I know who have had HELLP syndrome had never heard of it before, either. They are as lucky as me to be here to tell the tale. Thankfully, it is rare. Thankfully, because of the excellent antenatal systems we have in place, most mothers do live to tell the tale and everything possible is done to help the babies.

Sadly, some women have died from HELLP syndrome and from preeclampsia. I am determined that no woman or baby should die because of a lack of knowledge or information about any of the risks that can happen in pregnancy, and how to recognise the signs and symptoms.

Organisations such as the MAMA Academy, which I am a proud ambassador for, and Count the Kicks seek to empower pregnant women by teaching them about positive pregnancy. Positive pregnancy and empowerment, to me, means knowing all the facts so you can face pregnancy and birth without fear, whenever possible – or at least be able to manage the fear. There needs to be a greater awareness and proliferation of the work of these organisations, and others who are doing similar work.

What happened to me was extraordinary, but I do still believe in pregnancy and birth as a natural process. I’m heartbroken to have lost my baby, Hugo. I’m also gutted that should I get pregnant again I will be high risk with bells on and unlikely ever to have the sort of straightforward pregnancy and birth I dreamed of. Helping other women and babies is a way through the heartbreak.

There are still so many myths perpetuated about pregnancy and birth. Yes, it can be risky, and yes, things can go wrong. Some women (like me) have enduring psychological problems relating to birth trauma and/or loss of a baby. There are too many interventions that are unnecessary, and I’ve heard anecdotally that some women hold a fear that will happen to them.

Me and Hugo

Me and Hugo

However, so many pregnancies end happily, and the proud new mum is able to take their beautiful new baby (or babies) home.

All women need to feel empowered during pregnancy and birth. They need to know the facts, the risks, how likely those risks are to happen and how to mitigate them. They need to feel in control of their own bodies and have enough information to make informed choices. Being pregnant can be a stressful and anxious time because you don’t want anything bad to happen, so there does need to be a fine balance with not frightening expectant mums.

So, what’s the answer? Well, if I knew I wouldn’t be sat in my dining room writing this blog. Instead, I would be sat sipping cocktails somewhere exotic because I would be very rich.

The media is unlikely to change its tune, and not every woman will be able to  witness a birth.

But – I’ve always believed that knowledge is power, and knowledge can help fight fear. Knowledge is about communication.

It can often be about managing expectations. So, the answers might include being open, honest, sharing our stories and experiences. Treating women as individuals, with their own hopes, fears and expectations. Being open about what we’re frightened about without fear of judgement, so we can be reassured. Celebrating the positive birth experiences. Telling providers about the bad ones, and the providers listening so they can make necessary changes. Improving the information that is available to pregnant women. Acknowledging that while choice during labour and delivery is the gold standard, not all women will be able to have a choice if something happens such as preeclampsia.

For me, the key words are information and communication.

I hope that when I am ready, I will have enough information about the facts and risks to face another pregnancy with a manageable amount of fear – and I have to acknowledge that having experienced a loss, a certain amount of fear will be inevitable.

What do you think the answers could be to fight the fear of pregnancy and birth?

 

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24 Comments on Fighting the fear of pregnancy and birth

  1. Jenny
    October 10, 2014 at 9:05 pm (3 years ago)

    You are so brave to write this post. I am proud of you for being open and honest and sharing your experiences. I can imagine it would be very scary getting pregnant again. I think the best way is to have as much information as possible and be as educated as possible. Make a list of questions you have and go over them with a midwife or gp. Things like: can you get HELLP again with your second and preclampsia. What are your risks? Knowledge is power and I think if you know what you are up against the second time and what can be expected with your history it might help you make that decision. Thank you so much for linking up to Share With Me #sharewithme

    Reply
    • Leigh Kendall
      October 11, 2014 at 8:53 am (3 years ago)

      Thank you for your kind words and great advice xxx

      Reply
  2. Zena's Suitcase (@zenas_suitcase)
    October 8, 2014 at 10:51 am (3 years ago)

    Such a well written and balanced post from someone who has been through so much. The message your conveying is such an important one. Thanks for sharing #sharewithme

    Reply
    • Leigh Kendall
      October 8, 2014 at 3:01 pm (3 years ago)

      Thank you for reading and commenting xxx

      Reply
  3. Honest Mum
    July 30, 2014 at 12:30 am (3 years ago)

    Oh sweetie, counselling will no doubt help, I had a traumatic first birth and counselling meant I created a first aid kit, emotionally and physically (I was lucky not to get the liver condition OC again despite the high odds but was hospitalised at 14 weeks with a horrendous water infection)-I recovered and had a normal pregnancy with a scheduled section which was joyous (I blogged about it if you google Having a Happy C-Section).

    Had I not had counselling though, I wouldn’t have dealt with the first traumatic pregnancy and birth nor felt strong enough to get pregnant again (me personally)-I talked to my GP and was referred and it was the best thing I did-in fact some of the tools have helped me generally with life. You are a wonderful woman who has been through so much but you can and will have a healthy birth and pregnancy I am sure, sending love, hope and peace xx

    Reply
    • Leigh Kendall
      July 30, 2014 at 1:16 pm (3 years ago)

      Thank you – I’m going through counselling at the moment in relation to losing Hugo. I imagine I will need it to get through another pregnancy, too. I’m heartened to know that counselling can be successful, and hope it is for me too. Thank you for taking the time to comment, and for your kind words xxx

      Reply
  4. Susanne Remic (@Ghostwritermumm)
    July 29, 2014 at 6:36 am (3 years ago)

    This is a tough one for me. I know that birth needs to be normalised and yet I also know that for women who have been through a traumatic birth, the fear needs to be tackled before any of it can be seen as normal, or as something achievable. I sit here at 25 weeks pregnant, telling my husband, my friends and my midwife that I am going to go for a VBA3C and yet I KNOW deep down that I might not. Either the fear will get me or everything will go wrong again (and that is the fear talking). I sometimes wonder if what I am doing is even sensible. The whole thing fills me with dread. But I have my babies and I have my health, and in that I have so much more than others. I also have a body which is capable of doing this. What I need right now is for there to be a class, either group or individual, for me to attend to talk about what happened. I used to help run a local birth trauma counselling group here in Manchester but I need one for mums who are expecting again. I need to be able to talk about what happened, but I also need to talk again and again and again about the whole birth process, and what my body can do and how my baby will be born. For me, that is the only way that I will get clear in my head what I need to do and why writing about it all helps me so much.
    Unfortunately what went wrong with my babies births happens too often and twice for me, so I know there is a huge chance it could happen again. I need to make peace with that fact for this birth experience to be different.
    As always, your writing comes from the heart and you should be so proud of all that you’ve done to help women, and all that are you doing (and will continue to do) too. Thank you. And sorry for the essay! x x x x

    Reply
    • Leigh Kendall
      July 29, 2014 at 10:29 am (3 years ago)

      I don’t think anyone could blame you for having a feeling of dread after your previous experiences, Susanne. You’re brave for even considering a VBA3C. I think possibly the most important thing is to focus on the outcome – having a healthy baby, and you being ok too – rather than the method the baby is delivered by. That’s what I’m trying to tell myself if I am able to get pregnant again, anyway. The group sounds a great idea – I think a lot of mums who have had a traumatic birth could benefit from something like that. Getting our fears about another birth trauma out in the open, discussing the risks, how likely the are to happen and how to mitigate them could help take away some of that fear. Thank you for taking the time to respond, and for your kind words xxxx

      Reply
  5. olivia
    July 27, 2014 at 7:31 pm (3 years ago)

    My heart hurts for your loss. Thank you for being brave and sharing your story.

    Reply
    • Leigh Kendall
      July 28, 2014 at 8:19 am (3 years ago)

      Thank you for reading my story and for taking the time to comment xxx

      Reply
  6. debsrandomwritings
    July 24, 2014 at 6:22 pm (3 years ago)

    Hi Leigh, that is a really post and I am truly sorry for your loss and what you have been through. I hope that one day you find yourself strong enough to try for another child and that everything turns out well.

    I was always petrified of giving birth as natural as it is, just the thought of carrying and then giving birth to another human being just never seemed natural in my head, it actually put me off wanting children. Then I met my husband and I knew he wanted children so I had to face my fears.

    Giving birth did hurt…a lot….just as I suspected it would, but luckily for me the birth went smoothly.

    I am sure that by sharing your story, you will raise awareness of HEELP and preeclampsia.

    I will do my bit and share your post.

    Reply
    • Leigh Kendall
      July 25, 2014 at 9:04 am (3 years ago)

      Thank you for reading the story, for your kind words and helping to raise awareness of HELLP xxx

      Reply
  7. Merlinda Little (@pixiedusk)
    July 19, 2014 at 1:40 pm (3 years ago)

    It is so true that there’s power in knowledge and when we know all the possibility is will help mothers feel better about pregnancies and giving birth. As always an honest post =) #pocolo

    Reply
    • Leigh Kendall
      July 20, 2014 at 4:23 pm (3 years ago)

      Yes, information is so important to help pregnant women make informed choices. Thank you for taking the time to comment xxx

      Reply
  8. Amanda (@girlgonecoastal)
    July 18, 2014 at 10:22 am (3 years ago)

    Having had a high risk pregnancy and experiencing the horror show of my twins birth, all 3 of us almost died, I’m one of those who is scared to death of ever going through it again.

    Even with the best medical team, my pregnancy and labour still haunt me 5 years on, I’m not sure what could be done to fight the fear of something going wrong. I’m perhaps to jaded to ever think, if I was pregnant again, that labour would be a nice experience.

    Reply
    • Leigh Kendall
      July 18, 2014 at 10:36 am (3 years ago)

      I’m sorry to hear of your experience and I’m not surprised you’re terrified of going through all that again. Having suffered a loss and with so much mummy love to give, I hope to be able to fight the fear if I’m able to get pregnant again, not that Hugo can ever be replaced. Thanks for commenting xxx

      Reply
  9. Mel
    July 18, 2014 at 9:58 am (3 years ago)

    It must have taken a lot of courage to write this post. I am really sorry for the loss of your little Hugo. I do not have an answer to your question. The thought of getting pregnant again must be terrifying… I am sending you lots of virtual hugs. You are amazing for sharing your story and trying to help others. x

    Reply
    • Leigh Kendall
      July 18, 2014 at 10:35 am (3 years ago)

      Thank you. It is terrifying – but I hope I can fight the fear. I can never replace my beautiful Hugo, but I have so much mummy love to give I will give another pregnancy a go, if I am able. I’m so passionate about using my experience to help others. Thanks for taking the time to comment xxx

      Reply
  10. naistocks
    July 17, 2014 at 8:10 pm (3 years ago)

    I suppose there are two issues here: fear for those who haven’t had a difficult/traumatic previous pregnancy and/or loss and fear for those who have. Having had my first pregnancy become complex and difficult very early on, resulting in the prem birth and subsequent death of my son, I can only really comment on the later. So my fourth pregnancy (there were two v early miscarriages in-between my first and last) was terrifying. I operated on a scan by scan basis, but then that’s what my first pregnancy had been, so I didn’t know any different. Was it difficult? Yes. But what helped was the support from the medical team who cared for us during the pregnancy. Our Consultant and Fetal Med midwives had all been there every step of the first pregnancy so knew that certain events (e.g 20 week scan) would be particularly hard. They were able to discuss our case in that context and provide us with reassurances that things were better than last time. I had know even before the delivery of my first son that I would have to have a classical C-section (because of his size) and that would then rule out the possibility of a vaginal birth in future pregnancies. So at the last scan when it appeared the growth had slowed down and we had to bring the C-section forward by a few days, the Consultant did it in a manner sensitive to all that had gone before. Once Idris was safely delivered, I realised that I had practically held my breath for the past 8 months, my shoulders dropped and I finally relaxed. It was a hard pregnancy but Aneurin gave me the strength to get through it, and it was all worth it in the end. Also however fearful you are in a pregnancy following a loss, it isn’t as hard as that first year after you have lost. With the support of your medical team, family and friends it is do-able.

    Reply
    • Leigh Kendall
      July 18, 2014 at 8:27 am (3 years ago)

      Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. It is hugely reassuring to know it is possible psychologically to get through another pregnancy, after loss. Your medical team sounds amazing, and I hope I am as fortunate if I am able to get pregnant again xxx

      Reply
  11. Southwarkbelle
    July 17, 2014 at 6:57 pm (3 years ago)

    I think the important thing is to give women accurate and realistic information. Then to support their decision. I worry that attempts to remove fear by giving a relentlessly positive message about natural birth, while demonising all interventions and drugs can do more harm than good as it leaves those who do then find themselves having interventions completely unprepared and far more distressed than they need be. Yes there are probably too many interventions but we can’t solve that by terrifying people.

    I think the message should be that birth is usually fine but if you are unlucky then, here in the UK, modern medicine has your back and the chances are you will be ok.

    Reply
    • Leigh Kendall
      July 17, 2014 at 7:17 pm (3 years ago)

      Absolutely, women need information to be able to make informed choices. You’re right, scaring people won’t solve anything – there needs to be a balance, and about managing expectations so that women don’t feel demonised if things don’t go to plan.

      Yes, we’re very lucky that in the UK we have a great system and modern medicine that means mums are likely to be ok. Unfortunately it couldn’t also save my son.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment xxx

      Reply
  12. jasmineshei
    July 17, 2014 at 5:01 pm (3 years ago)

    Thank you for writing this and spread the information about HELLP and Pre-eclampsia! This should have been talked about more so you and I did not have to go down like we had.

    Reply
    • Leigh Kendall
      July 17, 2014 at 8:07 pm (3 years ago)

      It’s so important to get these messages out there xxx

      Reply

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