Perspective: Why I Support People with Anxiety

Fear 

Fear is an emotion that strips us of control. Fear paralyzes people. The fact that there are so many unknown factors in birth can evoke fear in people. However, fear can be controlled. Fear can be overcome using the right approaches and support. 

It is weren't for fear, many people would do things differently. I like to turn fear into power. I like to connect with current thoughts and perceptions and then acknowledge fear. There is a different experience out there, but you have to birth in an entirely different way. 

Why I Support Parents with Anxiety

As a fellow sufferer of anxiety, I know all too well how change can bring about unwanted emotions. Emotions that are big (even if only to you) and unprepared for. Sometimes, these emotions can be too big to cope with on your own. As someone who has learned over the years how to appropriately navigate the emotional strain that life in general can cause, I empathize with parents who find it challenging to assimilate to the changes brought on with pregnancy, childbirth, and life with a newborn.

When change happens, human nature tells us to resist. It tells us to stand strong, hold our ground. Some people are able to cope with change better than others. I am not, for one, one of those humans. Change is hard for me. It challenges me. It sometimes stretches me so thin that I think my whole body may just split right down the middle. This is where I find my strength to serve and the compassion to support expectant and new parents who are fearful of what's to come: the rest of the pregnancy, childbirth, and being 100% responsible for a tiny human that is completely dependent on them to survive.

What bigger change can come about than receiving the news that you are going to have a baby? Your or your partner's body will soon be changing (yet more changes!), your home must change to accommodate a new baby, your relationship will change, your finances will change, and your priorities will change. This list is endless. As a doula, I have one favorite change to tap into. Perspective. Perspective is everything. It can change the approaches we choose to use, how we react to situations, reframe our internal monologue, and impact the way we think about ourselves and those around us.

I work really hard to help my clients find the headspace that is positive, yet comfortable for them. I always start by reframing negative things in a positive manner and then finding the balance of reality with expectations. Just like with everything else, humans range all over the spectrum of how realistic they choose to be when approaching change. Not everyone is going to drink the Ina May Gaskin Kool-Aid and not everyone will believe that if they tell themselves birth doesn't hurt, then it wont. However, not everyone will go into labor thinking that the pain will be unbearable, either. Some people will enter birth with low expectations, some high. Some parents will have a detailed 5 page birth plan, some no plan at all.

The clients who are nervous, concerned, anxious, even fearful, yet open to learning and can dig deep and harness that inner-energy to trust birth (maybe for a second or third time) and their body are among some of my favorites to support. Sometimes this looks like a birthing parent who is paralyzed with fear, or a partner who is consumed with anxiety, or maybe a couple who has experienced a traumatic past birth. These parents have walked a very particular path that has led them to this crossroad where we meet. I am coming from the East and they the West. I love to take a look behind them and let them tell me about the rocks, valleys, mountains, creeks, oceans, and desserts they've walked through to get to this point. Then, I have them turn to look behind me at the less rocky, greener grass, blue skies, and possibly a rainbow or two that I know exist. I assure them that they don't have to walk the whole road, but even one mile seems better than where they came from.

Now that our roads at come to an intersection, let's go together.

Lets Walk This Journey Together-Hand in Hand 

Language

Language is the body of the car. It's the thing that will get us from point A to point B. It is a more efficient way of navigating the road than walking. Just as some types of cars are more efficient than others,  some types of language are more efficient than others in birth. 

First up: reframing the way we talk about birth. I recently supported a mother that requested all of her birth team (including medical staff) refrain from using the word "pain." She preferred we used "pressure" instead. As any other request, I willfully obliged. Little did I know, this mother was going to have a lasting impact on me. The way that we speak about something can have profound impacts. Using pressure as a description of each contraction was a way for us to keep the energy positive and upbeat is briliant. It was also a way of encouraging this client. She knew (and we had talked previously about) that you can breathe through any pressure, but sometimes pain is unbearable. Pressure is temporary, where pain can be lasting. 

I encourage my clients to use the terms "waves" or "surges" as a way to describe their contractions. It can be a deep wave or a shallow surge. These waves and surges are bringing your baby closer to being in your arms. I once heard of a doula who used the term "waters releasing" rather than "breaking" because how tragic is something breaking, yet your waters releasing is a joyous moment. These things let us know that your body is working. The process is working. Birth is working (because birth works!). We speak a lot about embracing the surges and the waves--working with your body. Letting your body lead. This can be challenging in a society where we are taught to always stay in control and not always listen to our bodies. Embracing each wave means letting your body guide your motions and noises. 

Headspace- Left or Right?

On this journey, headspace is like the steering wheel and seatbelt. It can come at any point on the adventure. It's better if it is present from the get-go, but putting on our seatbelt at the end of the ride is better than never at all. Your head space is there to guide and protect you, but you are responsible for using it. 

Headspace is a tricky one because it is the most different from client to client. It has so many factors. What's your current headspace? What's your past? What triggers do you have? Do you have any "heavies"? (These are things that may not be triggers, per se, but may be things that your birth team need to be aware of such as "preference of a female OBGYN" because it makes you more comfortable or "prefer to have cervical checks as little as possible" because they make you anxious, but not because of a history of sexual violence) Concerning fears and things that cause anxiety, I like to start with exploring if the fear is based on misinformation or stories of other people? Does the research say that whatever it is that is worrying you, is really something to be worried about or were you misinformed on the facts? Lastly, I encourage my clients to find their energy in their new role--whatever that might be: mom, dad, parent, co-parent, or any other way to identify. Embracing your new title and finding your energy through that can be a joyous adventure. 

Finding and connecting with the right headspace can be difficult for some people, especially those of us who are easily filled with anxious emotion. For my clients (and myself) I focus on self-care. This self-care piece started with the language we began using. We set the tone by using only positive (yet realistic) terms and we address the way in which we talk to ourselves (the inner monologue). Self-care can and does look different for everyone. For some, it is setting aside time to be with people who are energizing to them -a partner, a night with friends, lunch with your parent. Some people find physical self-care such as acupuncture and massage therapy immensely helpful. I have partnered with practitioners around the city of Boston to help serve the parents I support. Finding a practitioner that is trained and able to support expectant parents, as well is difficult, but imperative. Meditation and connecting with your body, your uterus, your placenta, and your baby can all be methods of self-care, too. It can be helpful to set aside 5-10 minutes of each day to just sit, breathe, and clear you mind (while remembering to talk to yourself and about yourself in a positive way).

Your children will see how you take care of yourself and will learn from that.

Battle the Body-Shamers  

The ever needed review mirror. Surround yourself with people who are encouraging to you, who build you up, and help you keep your eye on the goal. People in the rearview mirror are in the traffic behind you. They haven't been forgotten, but you know space is best until the birth of you baby, for whatever reason.

For me, it is absolutely mind-blowing how an expectant parent's body becomes a free-for-all in society. People feel that is it okay --almost entitled-- to talk about a pregnant person's body. They touch it, discuss it, how big or small it is, how high or low it is, whether the baby is a boy or a girl (based on their very educated opinion). It's okay (and almost needed at this point) for expectant parents (and their partners/support people) to kindly tell those body-shamers to stop. Let them know that this is your body and you're proud of your body.

Which brings me to my next point, you earned this body. Don't lose sight that you are growing human life in your body. There is a tiny human inside your body. Your only job is to care for that baby and part of caring for your baby is caring for yourself. Your new body is sexy. Your curves and stripes (stretch marks) are awards you have won for carrying a baby around with you every single day for 9 months. Find your new sexy and own it! Your body is a baby-growing temple, a maker of human life...don't lose sight of that.

Trust the Process

The gasoline. This is the fuel that will keep your birth going. Trusting that your body knows what it is doing if allowed the correct amount of time can be all the fuel some parents need. 

Birth works. I will say it one more time, birth works. This isn't to say that birth works like we want it to every time, but birth works. Your body knows what to do if we allow it the time and space to navigate labor patterns and the journey of birth. Along this journey, you have choices to help you stay in control (for an event that otherwise feels very out of your control). A doula can help here, too. Your doula will be able to provide you with evidence-based practices that help you choose what is right for your family. Your doula should know the in's and out's of the surrounding hospitals including which hospitals are "mom and baby friendly" (their terms, not mine). 

If you are feeling anxious regarding your birth or labor and delivery, connect with someone who is calming. I recently saw a quote that said, " Keep those who feel like sunshine close." This is what I try to be for my clients-- a ray of sunshine. A calming, warm embrace that says you are not alone, trust the process and trust your body. Remember pregnancy is a state of health, not a state of disability. 

(Em)brace for Impact 

Ahhhhh, the end of the road. All good things must come to an end, but it's not a crashing end. After the birth of your baby, you will not need me to constantly ride with you anymore. That doesn't mean it has to stop all together and immediately--I love the occasional joy rides! 

Keep your eye on the goal. Your goal is to have a beautiful birth and a healthy baby. In order to achieve this goal, you have to focus on health and wellness during your pregnancy. This means eating healthy, exercising, and keeping in the right headspace. Rely on your support people to keep you accountable. This is where a doula can be very helpful. Your doula is your personal cheerleader. They will help keep your thoughts positive and your body moving. They might even go on a walk with you--I have with my clients! They are well-versed in foods that are safe and not safe during pregnancy as well as remedies for common challenges such as heartburn, indigestion, sleep problems, and Braxton Hicks. 

Pregnancy is like a marathon--it's long, it's physical, it takes immense endurance, and the high at the end makes it all worth it. Imagine running a marathon without ever having practiced or prepared. It would be one of the most difficult things you've ever done. Runners prepare for months for a marathon and you can do the same for your birth. Studies show that health habits made during pregnancy are more likely to stick even once the baby is born. Take this time to make changes that will impact the rest of your (and your baby's) life.

Hopefully by the end of our ride together, you were able to connect with our preconceived perspectives about birth and face them in an empowering way. Hopefully you were able to gain control over your fear and turn that into power. 

Tranquility by HeHe, A Concierge Birthing and Doula Service in Boston, Massachusetts
"We can't wait to pamper you."

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