“How did you navigate being nervous about labor? I am really starting to feel worries creep in…it’s so intense!” This text popped up on my phone from a friend of mine who was expecting her first child.
A few months prior, I confronted the very same thoughts and emotions as I anxiously awaited the arrival of my first baby. Hearing the concern in my friend’s question made me reflect on my labor experience and what I had learned from it.
When I look back on my pregnancy, I realize that I was most nervous at the very beginning and the very end. In the beginning, I feared that something would go wrong and harm the child I bore within me. At the end, I feared that I wouldn’t have what it takes to bring my little one into the world.
Ultimately, I was afraid of the unknown.
But in the face of that fear, I learned something invaluable about trust, courage, and love.
Towards the end of my pregnancy I learned that my daughter was breech. In a big effort to encourage her to flip I went to a chiropractor weekly, practiced “spinning babies” exercises almost daily, and went to the extreme of having an external cephalic version (aka when the doctor pushes really hard on your belly to try to get the baby to flip…not fun!)
Despite these attempts, our little one was showing a bit of a stubborn streak and was letting us know that she was quite comfortable right where she was. This meant I had to come to terms with the likelihood of needing a c-section.
My first born daughter taught me to be flexible, that there is no such thing as a “perfect” birth and that each birth is beautifully unique. She taught me that the most important thing I could do was to make peace with the unknown and to keep joyfully anticipating her arrival.
When early labor started, I learned how to trust my body and to receive my husband’s encouragement and advice. I had been having intense pain for over an hour and he reassured me that no, these were not Braxton Hicks, they were contractions! He confidently assured me that yes, my water did really break and no, I didn’t just pee my pants. And finally he firmly said, yes, we should call the hospital and pack our bags, and no, I wasn’t being overly dramatic.
On the drive to the hospital that early morning, fear came creeping in. I focused on staying relaxed by breathing through the pain and leaning on my husband’s support. Every time I reached the height of the pain, I could feel my husband’s hand on my knee. I concentrated on his reassuring and motivating words. As each contraction passed, a wave of triumph followed it. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the love I felt from the man sitting beside me.
Upon arriving at the hospital, I learned how strong I was mentally, physically, and emotionally, as I walked into the operating room without my husband. I had to do this alone, because my husband wasn’t allowed into the O.R. until after they put in the epidural. His words of love gave me courage, and I was surprised by my own fortitude.
So here is what I shared with my friend who was trying to mentally prepare for labor and delivery:
Women are so much stronger than we think, and sometimes it takes bravely facing the unknown with peace and love to find out just how capable and courageous we are.
Regardless of how nervous you might feel about what will take place in the delivery room, love can help you realize your own courage and strength. Love felt through the warm palm of your husband’s hand on your knee on the drive to the hospital, the tight squeeze of his hands through building contractions, and his tender look of awe as you catch your breath between them.
Then, in time, the moment will come when you and your spouse hear your child cry for the very first time.
It is a moment when your heart feels like it is bursting out of its chest. When you lock eyes with your partner at that moment, you’ll know you are looking into the eyes of your lifelong teammate. And when you see your baby for the first time, you’ll know they will continue to teach you how to be peaceful and joyful in the face of the unknown.
And when all is said and done, mama, you’ll realize that you are stronger than you know.