Anxiety About Giving Birth


Every birth story is unique. In our series, My Birth Story,” we’ve asked moms from all over the world to share their experiences of how they welcomed their little ones into the world. Here, you’ll find a range of stories, from moms who delivered vaginally or via C-section, alone or surrounded by family, even some moms who gave birth in under an hour. Their perspectives may all be different — but each one powerfully illustrates the emotion and beauty of giving birth.

I had the worst childbirth phobia of anyone I knew.

As a sufferer of generalized anxiety disorder, I’m familiar with nerves and fear, but nothing compared to my terror of pushing out a baby. The very thought made my pulse speed up. Birth stories made me clammy. I hated labor and delivery scenes in movies. When I imagined my own delivery doomsday, I expected panic, desperation and lingering trauma.

So I scheduled an elective C-section. I was even willing to pay gigantic bills if insurance wouldn’t cover C-sections without medical cause (though I maintain that anxiety is a medical cause). I started my “C-section fund” with a chunk of change earned on a big freelance project.

This plan felt right from day one. I enjoyed my pregnancy. I looked forward to my boy’s birthday. If I’d been anticipating labor, I would have wasted those months envisioning nightmare scenarios and surviving panic attacks.

But “the best-laid plans,” as they say…

Five days before my procedure, the nurse practitioner finished my pelvic exam with a wry look on her face. “This baby isn’t going to wait five days,” she said. I was three centimeters dilated and my cervix was thinning.

I knew if I went into labor early, they’d perform the C-section when I got to the hospital, but now my nurse practitioner asked a question that annoyed me: “If you go into labor and it’s easier than you think — if you show up here really rockin’ and rollin’ — would you change your mind about vaginal delivery?”

I’d rather drop a toaster into my bathwater, I thought. But I said politely, “It would have to be really, really easy.”

And that wouldn’t happen, because first-time labors are always long and hard. Because no one gets through labor without feeling like they’ve gone through a physical and emotional meat grinder. Right?

At 3:30 the next morning, I woke up and visited the bathroom. As I settled back in bed I felt something for the first time in nine months: a little uterine cramp, like starting your period.


The little cramps continued every two to three minutes, getting stronger over the next hour. I woke my husband who sprang into action getting our hospital bags, but I hesitated. No way this was active labor; it felt no worse than Aunt Flo. But the cramps came so regularly that I went downstairs to shower, “just in case.” In the shower, the cramps got strong enough to make me pause, close my eyes, and lean against the wall.

Well, all right, I thought. Hospital time.

Contractions intensified during the forty-minute drive, and I expected to be in an operating room soon. I gritted my teeth and breathed through even stronger contractions as we registered at the hospital and were transferred to the labor and delivery floor. By the time I was in a bed waiting for an initial exam, every squeeze in my pelvis burned deeply and made me curl my toes and groan. I recall rocking back and forth at one point to give myself something else to focus on. But I felt calm and in control, because I was about to get my C-section and be done with this. It had only been two and a half hours since that first twinge in my belly, and the majority of those hours had been very light pain indeed.

I expected the nurse to tell me I was at four or five centimeters. She examined me. Her eyebrows shot up and she turned a shocked expression to a second nurse. “She’s at seven centimeters,” she said quietly, “with a paper-thin cervix.”

I became an object of fascination to everyone in the room. Then they repeated the question that just 12 hours ago seemed ludicrous: “You’re a textbook case of how we wish every woman labored. Are you sure you don’t want to try vaginal delivery?”

It did seem perfect, even to me. More than halfway dilated in three hours? All the way to seven centimeters with zero emotional breakdowns? I could keep my sanity and skip the whole “major surgery” thing?

Still, I refused to make a decision until the epidural was placed and working, since I’d have one whether I ended up on an operating table or a delivery bed. The anesthesiologist placed the needle and had me roll over. “Now,” he said as I settled onto my side, “it may take ten minutes for the pain to fully go away.”

But it was already gone.

The on-call doctor had the C-section vs. labor discussion with me, repeating what the nurses had said: everything was going so well, he recommended I deliver vaginally — but he would still do a C-section if I wanted it.

And because he said that — because he respected my wishes and put delivery decisions in my hands — I felt the final push of confidence needed to say, “I think I can do a vaginal delivery.”

I couldn’t believe I’d made this decision. I couldn’t believe I’d gotten this far into labor without feeling that I was suffering. Most of all, I couldn’t believe that my body, which had already presented me with several medical problems in life, turned out to be such a lean, mean, human-producing machine. The rest of labor was sitting on a bed in a sunny delivery room, searching in vain for HGTV on the television, and waiting for the pushing stage.

“Give these pushes everything you’ve got,” the doctor said, and after nine months of treating myself like a fragile figurine, the request felt fantastic. I closed my eyes, pictured my beloved 5K route, and put all the determination I used for hard runs into my push. “Wow,” the doctor said. “That was a great push.”

Great indeed.

I’m aware that I was incredibly fortunate to have an easy labor. But my positive experience was due to more than just a fast progression. The doctors and nurses who respected my choices played a huge part in my birth story. If my doctor had refused to schedule a C-section, I would have suffered nine months of anxiety. If the L&D nurses had argued with my wishes instead of offering perspectives and options, I would have been frightened and angry while waiting for that epidural, and probably stuck with the C-section out of stubbornness. Obviously, medical concerns and safety must sometimes override our preferences, but my son’s birth taught me to value a woman’s choice about delivery whenever possible. I now fully support mothers who want a scheduled C-section, mothers who want to labor without medication, and all moms in between — and I hope others will, too.

After two hours of pushing, the baby vacuum was called in to help my little boy get into the world. I was closing my eyes for every push, the epidural still so strong I could feel nothing from belly down.

I vaguely registered someone saying, “Here he is!” A pause, then, “Rachel, look!” I opened my eyes to a baby, beautiful and wet and wriggling and from my body in the most intimate way possible, no matter how he made the trip out.

I took my son in my arms and said hello. He turned toward the sound of my voice, which melted my heart on the spot. As I peered into his curious blue eyes, there was no more room for fear. There was only excitement about my boy’s crazy, incredible birthday, and all the parenting adventures to come.

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