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One Woman Overcomes Her Fear of Pregnancy and Childbirth

The idea of being pregnant was something that always frightened me. I would sometimes dream of finding myself suddenly large with child, wondering how I could undo it without having to endure the unimaginable pain of childbirth. But all I had to do was wake up to solve the problem.

When I actually became pregnant, I was so excited that I managed to quell the fears by telling myself over and over that millions of women had done it before me. It helped that pregnancy treated me well. I had a few queasy moments in the first trimester, but the morning sickness that I dreaded never materialized. Other than my sometimes irrational emotional outbursts, to which my husband Allan and the doctors were sympathetic, and my swollen, misshapen feet, to which my shoes were not, I breezed through and reveled in the attentions and kindnesses generally bestowed upon pregnant women.

In the ensuing months, Allan and I spent time thinking about baby names, preparing the nursery (that was mostly me), and shopping for the overwhelming myriad of baby items that seem indispensable now, but many of which didn't exist when we were babies. We marveled at the increasing size of my belly and the lively being within. Our amniocentesis results came back normal, and we were thrilled.

During this period, one friend took the time to send me an e-mail outlining all the gory details of childbirth that most people don't talk about and urging me to get an epidural. Despite my fears, I imagined that I would be able to bear the pain and avoid all the invasive medical hookups that Allan and I learned about in the birthing class at our hospital. At my last few prenatal visits, I informed my doctors of my apprehension about labor, as well as my reluctance to have an epidural or an episiotomy. I was, at least philosophically, inclined toward as natural a birth experience as possible.

As my due date drew near, I began to panic about having every possible labor aid that I read about in my stack of pregnancy books. Certain that I couldn't do without a birthing ball -- one of those large rubber balls that a woman can either sit or lean on during labor -- I quickly ordered one online with only days to spare. I carefully selected my most beautiful, soothing, and spiritual music CDs for relaxation, while Allan purchased batteries for the mini stereo system we were bringing. By the time we were prepared to go to the hospital, it looked as if we planned to move in.

Finally, one morning I woke at about 3:00, feeling something akin to strong menstrual cramps. I was about to wake Allan, but they subsided and I fell back to sleep. When I got up in the morning, I felt fine, and we made a last-minute dash to the store to buy lollipops in case my labor outlasted my stamina. I ate a larger lunch than I should have, because within an hour, I started having contractions. At first they were tolerable and Allan faithfully timed the intervals. But suddenly a wave of intense nausea overcame me, and a strong downward pressure in my bowels told me that something was really happening. When I called my doctor and described what I felt, she said to get to the hospital right away.

Thankfully, our hospital was only a 10-minute drive from home. I was in a lot of distress and afraid of throwing up or having my water break all over the car. Happily, the towel under my seat and the plastic bag on my lap went unused. Sadly, by the time we were ensconced in one of the prelabor rooms, I realized that I wasn't going to make it on my own. I started shaking uncontrollably -- the worst convulsive shiver imaginable -- and the contractions were coming faster than I could handle with the breathing we'd practiced. The pain was like an ever-tightening vise wrapped around my entire lower torso, so sharp and consuming that it was all I could do to wait once I told the nurse that I needed an epidural now.

After what seemed like an eternity, we were moved to a labor and delivery room, and the anesthesiologist came to administer the epidural. That was somewhat painful and scary, but Allan was right beside me, offering comfort and reassurance. Once the epidural took effect, I could finally relax and enjoy my music, which of everything we brought along, was the only thing we actually used. Even the unending procession of staff entering the room commented on the beautiful music.

Of course, I was now entangled with the epidural, an IV, a heart monitor for the baby, a catheter, and who knows what else, but I was happy to be relieved of the pain. I'd read that epidurals slow down your labor, but by 9:00 that evening, just a few hours after we'd arrived at the hospital, the doctor told me it was time to start pushing. Because of the epidural, I had almost no sensation in the nether regions of my body, so I just made the motions of pushing and hoped that it was effective. The doctor did use a vacuum extractor to help things along, but she then instructed me to reach down and ease the baby the rest of the way out. The sensation of the slippery, tiny being in my hands was terrifying, but once we lifted the baby onto my chest, I knew I'd done it. With Allan cheering me on, I'd gone to the other side of that fear. I was now one of those millions of women, and Allan was as proud as could be. Our son, Jeremy, was born.

Little did I realize, this was just the beginning of my journey. The worst part for me turned out to be the recovery. While I managed to avoid an episiotomy, which my doctor promised would have been worse, I had a fairly substantial labial tear that took several painful weeks to heal. Additionally, I was determined to breastfeed and endured almost every difficulty from engorgement to latching problems to thrush to wincingly sore nipples that I didn't recover from until several months later.

My mother came to stay with us for the first two weeks, and though I don't know if any of us would have survived without her, my hormone-induced emotional instability was at times further exacerbated by her presence. I think I cried more in those first few weeks than I had in my whole life. I kept wondering what kind of system leaves you responsible for a completely helpless, needy baby when you are at your physical and emotional worst. However, with the help of a lactation consultant, my mom, and supportive family and friends, we managed to get through those difficult weeks and really begin to enjoy our beautiful son. I'm still not sure I could endure all of that again, but I wouldn't trade him for anything.

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