A labor nurse shares why you shouldn't be afraid of giving birth — and encourages women to stop perpetuating a fear of labor pain.

By Jeanne Faulkner

For most women labor hurts a lot, but not only can your heart take it, so can the rest of your body. You're going to be fine.

Why do women mess with each other like that? Why tell a vulnerable, pregnant woman that birth is the worst thing they'll ever go through and they're going to want to die? Maybe some women do it to draw attention to themselves and prove how tough and special they are because they've suffered.

Maybe it's their way of processing their birth experience. Maybe in some warped way they think they're helping prepare their pregnant friend or daughter for what's in her future. More likely, it's a way for them to cement their own story.

I hear these kinds of "let me tell you how bad it was" stories a lot from women who've been through a traumatic health struggle, whether it's birth, cancer or something else. Healing is a physical, emotional and spiritual process. While some women heal, accept their scars and move on, others bond with their trauma and keep it alive as part of what makes them special and unique. Not everyone wants to heal because remaining injured or a victim provides something they need.

Victim mentality (and for some people, survivor mentality) is a popular way to think about one's self in our culture, though I'd argue it really doesn't do anyone much good. When it comes to scary birth stories, it doesn't prepare your friend, daughter, or sister for her own delivery. It frightens her and that's not kind.

Let's set the record straight about the top fears around giving birth:

The Fear: Labor Pain

You have loads of options for managing labor pain. Sign up for a good prenatal education course that covers all your pain management options ranging from natural techniques to epidural. Then, study and practice the natural techniques that sound best to you. You'll use them during early labor and for some women (not most, but some) that's all they need to sail through labor. If breathing, relaxation, water birth or hypnosis techniques aren't enough to keep your labor pain manageable though, and you're delivering in a hospital, get an epidural. There's no shame in that. Millions of women get epidurals every year (especially first time mothers) and they work beautifully to reduce and even eliminate labor pain.

Muscle and nerve pain is what contractions cause. Contractions come and go. Pain starts out mild and becomes stronger through the course of labor, but pain subsides between contractions. Once baby is born, the pain goes away and most mothers are up and around (though tired and a little sore) the same day they deliver.

The Fear: Dying in Labor

It doesn't happen very often here in the US. In fact, about 99% of mothers who die in labor live in undeveloped countries like Africa, India or Southeast Asia. True, that means one percent of American women die too, but not because of pain. It's because of serious childbirth complications like infection, hemorrhage, or high blood pressure.

If you're getting good prenatal care, the odds you'll die during labor are extremely small. The odds you'll get through labor and birth just fine? Almost guaranteed.

The Fear: Heart Failure

Unless you have a serious heart condition, you don't have to worry. Your heart can stand the rigors of childbirth. If you do have a heart condition, your doctor needs to know about that and precautions will be made to insure your health and safety during birth.

If you've been traumatized by your birth, telling your story is certainly part of the healing process, but be careful whom you tell it too. A therapist, doctor, your partner or mother, a good friend ... all good audiences. First-time pregnant mothers who are already worried about labor? Not so much.

What should you say to women who offload their scary birth stories to pregnant women? Try saying something like this: "Excuse me, with all due respect, knock it off."


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