It is difficult to find active birth teachers where I live, they get booked up quickly, so I thought I’d give
the local clinics antenatal class a try. It left me furious for a week and I decided never to return! Why the
anger? I knew I wanted a drug free home birth, and I knew the best way to get what I wanted was to trust in
myself. The class set up such a fear of labour that one woman was wincing every time the word itself was
mentioned. The emphasis was on how to control and stop the pain with drugs.
Labour is nothing to fear, Websters dictionary describes it as ‘to do one’s work under conditions which make it
especially hard’. It is hard work and it can hurt a lot, but being scared of it will only make it hurt more. Dr.
Grantley Dick-Read coined the phrase ‘fear-tension-pain cycle’ in the 1930’s and that’s exactly what happens.
You fear being hurt, you tense up and blood and oxygen is drawn away from organs that are not needed to flight
or fight. Dr Dick-Read said that a scared woman in labour has a white uterus, and a blood free womb just
doesn’t have the energy of a nice rich red one, so it hurts.
I don’t know why I wasn’t scared, it might have been just sheer contrariness. It may have been that I was
immune to birthing horror stories, because it seemed as if every mother on my street wanted to tell me about
their 48-day labour, or how the midwife had to chainsaw them open to get the baby out! I was probably not
scared because I truly believed that normal childbirth is a natural process instead of a medical one. I was
also busy being truly terrified of how to deal with the baby itself when it arrived.
I think I discovered the fear-tension-pain cycle for myself at the dentist after a root canal job. I realised
afterwards that I had made the whole thing so much worse for myself by being so stressed. The next time I went,
actually to have the tooth out, I recited in my mind the Litany against Fear from Frank Herbert’s book ‘Dune’
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind killer.
Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
It worked, I kept myself calm and the tooth came out with a slight twinge.
I am not saying that childbirth for me was just a twinge, I had a quick labour but there wasn’t much time for me
to collect myself between contractions. It did hurt, and at times it was nasty but it wasn’t a terrifying pain.
It felt hugely productive and as soon as the baby was out, all sensations other than overwhelming love and
bewilderment were forgotten. And I’m not good with pain, I cry if I bump my elbow, get stung or trip up. I am
self-confessed wuss! But I trusted in myself and in the amazing resources and stamina a woman giving birth can
have. It was a beautiful birth, an amazing thing to do and it turns out I’m not scared of the baby either!
copyright Lisa Cole www.lactivist.co.uk 2005
This article was first published in The Mother Magazine, issue no. 8; Winter 2003/2004