Pain During Labor or an Ill Baby – What’re Your Birth Fears?

Its’ Hard to Plan for a Normal Birth When There are so Many Variables.

Whether you’re about to give birth to your first child or your fifth, you’re probably feeling some anxiety about labor and delivery. After all, things don’t always go as planned, and no two births are alike. And also, there’s #theinternet, which is brimming with the scariest birth stories. 

I like to mix things up so I developed new fears with each pregnancy. First I was certain I wouldn’t get to the hospital on time. If I did, I would unintentionally defecate all over the birthing table and have terrible pain during labor. In my second pregnancy I was sure I’d have a baby with special needs and that I wouldn’t be a good enough mom for her. At my last birth, I was ready for there to be something wrong and the NICU nurses to steal my baby from me and I’d never see him again for weeks. If ever. 

pain during labor

This is a peak into my hormonal, super pregnant mind. Wait, you thought I was talking about YOU? Because you’ve thought these same things??

Spoiler Alert: Your Birth Will Most Likely be Very Mundane (But Also Super Exciting)

I’m here to tell you that you most likely will survive your baby’s birth. So will your baby. Most births these days are completely average, with a beautiful, snuggly baby to show for it. I gave birth three times and nothing super exciting happened. Ever. (Except that one was born on Christmas so the nurses gave him a santa hat.)

birth fears

We reached out to Metro Health – University of Michigan Health OBGYN Brad Irving, DO, to discuss the fears he sees most often and how he reassures women who experience them.

This article is brought to you by Metro Health and is a collaboration between GRKIDS and Metro Health.

Driven by our passion to put you first, Metro Health – University of Michigan Health is changing the face of health care in West Michigan. Whether you’re seeing your family doctor for a physical or working with a specialist to treat a chronic condition, our integrated health care system is designed to give you easy access to high-quality, personalized care.

So Why are We Even Worried in the First Place?

“At the root of most of the fears about labor and delivery is loss of control,” says Dr. Irving. “In our on-demand society, we’re used to getting what we want when we want it. But in labor, women often can’t control how it happens, when it happens or how it impacts them or their baby.”

 Dr. Irving also notes that social media has had a huge impact on labor expectations. Moms detail their extensive birth plans and often discredit physicians when those plans veer off course, even if it’s for the health of mom and baby.

“It is the goal of my staff to provide an exceptional experience, a healthy delivery and a healthy baby. When adjustments have to be made on the fly, it’s not because we don’t respect the birth plan, it’s because we value the lives in front of us,” Dr. Irving stresses.

5 Common Birth Fears, and What Really Happens at Labor & Delivery

Dr. Irving’s list of the top five fears he hears from patients:

Fear # 1 – Something Will Go Horribly Wrong During Delivery

How many babies are born each day around the world, and how many of those stories do we hear? Unless we know the parents personally, the only births we hear about are the traumatic ones. The ones where something did not go to plan.

I was completely ready to give birth either in my bathtub, a car, or the hospital elevator. Because I know women who had done each of these. And of course if I did make it to the hospital on time, I’d have an emergency c-section, and probably my baby would die at birth anyway, and the whole world would end

Because when you have all these hormones rolling through your body, you cannot fathom a normal birth. Why should we be so lucky? 

“I tell my patients that the vast majority of to-term births are perfectly normal. The rate of complications is very low,” Dr. Irving remarks. 

Home births are often very normal, too. If this is your plan, Dr. Irving recommends that a person with medical training and knowledge be present in case of a problem. Though he believes hospital births are the safest option because trained physicians can intervene immediately if there is a complication.

Fear # 2 – Something Bad Will Happen to My Baby

Having or knowing of an experience where the baby was born with a previously unknown heart defect, genetic condition or not breathing can elicit a lot of anxiety. Even if you haven’t had that experience, it’s a very real fear

At my second child’s routine ultrasound, I learned that my baby could have a chromosomal defect. A second ultrasound ruled it out, but I carried that worry with me the rest of my pregnancy. I knew I’d love my girl no matter what, but was very scared that I didn’t have the skills or knowledge to care for a baby with special needs. What if I unintentionally hurt my baby? Thankfully, hospitals like Metro are full of specialists for every kind of developmental issue. 

“At Metro Health, our pediatric specialists are prepared for worst case scenarios and can address issues that arise after a baby is born,” Dr. Irving explains. 

“We also have a very collaborative relationship with other providers if the need arises. We do everything in our power to provide your child with the best care possible.”

I wish I had known that when I was pregnant with my sweet girl!

3 – I’m Going to be Mortally Embarrassed When I Poop on the Delivery Table or Scream at my Partner

Were you shocked when you heard that women poop on the delivery table?? I was. I had never heard any pregnant friend talk about that until I was pregnant myself. “Not me,” I thought. “I haven’t even peed my pants during pregnancy, and everyone does that.”

But yeah, I’m guessing I pooped on the delivery table at each birth. It was such a non issue though that no one even brought it up. If it happened, the nurses just dealt with it and moved on. 

Dr. Irving says the physicians and staff at Metro are always mindful of patients’ dignity and sense of privacy. No one leaves the room to gossip about patients and nothing is discussed that isn’t medically relevant. 

“You’re not the first person to go through this. You’re one of many going through it today alone, and we’ve seen everything,” says Dr. Irving.  

I know I yelled at the doc at my first birth. I yelled at her to do things that I decided she should do. That woman kept her cool and reassured that she knew what was going on and that this was all normal. And I’m pretty sure that once my baby was born, the obstetrician forgot the bossy things I had said. Because she has seen and heard everything! 

4 – The Epidural Will Cause Problems, not Overcome Them

I think this was my biggest freak out fear when pregnant. My mother got a horrible migraine when she received an epidural at my birth and the experience was so horrifying for her that she refused the epidural at her four other births. 

I’m not as hard core as my mom, though, and knew I’d use the epidural every time. But I didn’t want the migraine, and I didn’t want a wicked huge needle chilling in my spinal cord. That’s a very dangerous location! 

Guess what? Epidural needles do not go into your spinal cord. 

“The needle is longer than normal because it has to penetrate the fatty space we put it in, but it truly isn’t that big and is inserted in a space that is outside the spinal cord,” Dr. Irving reveals. 

Problem 1 solved. But then there were all the delightful horror stories of friends missing their epidural window. 

Noooo!!!

Those epidurals were the key to my mentally-stable deliveries. What if I was too late??

Most hospitals have an anesthesiologist on-hand 24/7—including Metro Health—and moms can get an epidural in a very timely fashion. So even if you roll in at 4 AM, there is an anesthesiologist who can help. 

But you know the coolest thing I learned about epidurals? 

You can control your epidural dose throughout the delivery.  

I’m telling you this now so you’ll know. I did NOT know this at my first delivery (making me wish I had delivered at Metro now…), and felt waaay more than I wanted to when it was time to push. 

But there’s this little button you can push when you have an epidural that lets you decide how heavy the level of medication is. If you don’t want to feel anything below the waist, that’s perfectly fine. If you just want to address the pain, you can still have the ability to control your muscles.

5 – The Doctor Won’t Respect my Birth Plan

Honest Abe here. I did not have a birth plan other than “give birth to healthy baby with the lowest pain possible.” But many women are passionate about this part of the birth journey. This is a super special moment in their lives, and they are responsible not only for themselves, but their perfect, sweet little baby. 

 “This fear really goes deep,” Dr. Irving acknowledges. “It stems from a mistrust of authority, a need to control and misinformation all rolled into one.” 

I think the biggest misconception is that their doctor doesn’t respect their plan. Your obstetrician should respect your plan. But they also respect your life and your baby’s, and that just comes first. 

“I make it very clear to patients that I want their birth experience to be a great one. I want them to have the birth they’ve always dreamed of. But you don’t tell a pilot how to fly the plane, and you shouldn’t tell your doctor how to do their job.” 

Thankfully I trusted my doctors completely. When my third child’s birth was taking for-EV-er, I worried that I’d need a c-section. My doc was very reassuring and said, “We can do this without a c-section. I know just what to do.” And she did. My 10 ½ lb son was born vaginally, and without any repercussions. 

If you do not trust your medical provider with your birth plan, I advise you to find another provider. We all have different feelings on birth, and there are so many options in Grand Rapids for obstetricians and midwives. Find someone you’re excited to help birth your child! 

Dr. Irving emphasizes there is extensive medical knowledge and experience behind everything he recommends. If a mother asks for something that has no negative impact on her or her baby, the physician will uphold that.

But if there is danger, or potential for danger, Dr. Irving asks that women and their families trust the knowledge of their physician. 

“Most women have built up a very trusting relationship with their care team prior to labor and delivery anyway, so when push comes to shove, they defer to the physician’s knowledge of their case. 

Giving birth isn’t a you-versus-the-world situation. We’re all in this together for the same goal, to send you and your baby home safe and sound.”

Metro Health – University of Michigan Health Childbirth Center is passionate about providing a better childbirth experience for moms and their families. Metro Health’s physicians, nurses and specialists provide expert care and personalized attention in a relaxed setting. For more information, visit https://metrohealth.net/childbirth-services.

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