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Fear of Childbirth

Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > Pregnancy & Childbirth > Fear of Childbirth



Fear of giving birth to a second baby

Sept 2006

We have a 1.5 year old and we are ready for another one. The problem is that my first labor and delivery were extremeley difficult and long (LONG story) and my recovery was very very long, painful, and frustrating. According to the doctors, physical therapists, doula, and other moms it seems that I had it significantly worse than most (Im saying this so you know I am not just a drama queen. I do realize that childbirth is painful for everyone). I am still not fully healed (still have some muscle damage and sex is still painful). My medical care was good and I trust my OB. So, the problem is that I cannot bear the thought of doing it again. How do I deal with this? Any other moms gone through this? Are there any (reasonably-priced) therapists who specialize in this? Is therapy even the way to go here? I really really want to bear another child for many reasons (we are planning on adopting for our third), but honestly, the thought of delivering a child makes me want to cry. -wishing the kid would be delivered by FedEx instead of me


The best way to deal with fear is to confront it and try to move on. Therapy can be a great release to help this process along. Fear of birth is a very normal thing - whether with your first or your 10th. Several clients of mine have had great success with hypnotherapy for this type of fear/concern. There are many techniques in hypnotherapy to help release the fear and move forward.

Beyond traditional therapy traumatic birth experiences can often be resolved with the help of a support network. Even though it was over 1 year ago a mom's group or new mom/baby group may be a great resource for you to explore. Check your area for groups with women who have had similar experience, or even those who have not but want to share their positive birth experiences.

A first traumatic birth does not equal or sentence you to a second similar experience. You can have a wonderful, healthful birth this next time around. Good luck to you and your family in this ongoing journey. Mom of 2 and birth professional


Would you consider having a C-section? After a nasty first delivery, I had a wonderful C-section experience ( required because the baby was breech) and healed beautifully, even tho' it is surgery. Perhaps something to consider? Good Luck with #2
Not knowing the details of your story, I can't really advise...but I can tell you my experience.

First labor: 56 hours, no epidural, pitocin and cytotec (ouch), 4th degree tearing. Long recovery, had pain for a long time!

Second labor: 3 hours, no tearing. Virtually no recovery time.

Obviously not everyone is so lucky, but it does seem that the second one tends to be faster. And all births are different, so its hard to predict one from another. I understand your fear, though Lucky the second time


I just read over some responses to the last post about fear over second labor. I want to put in a plug for not scheduling a C section as a way to deal with a difficult first labor. First labors are MUCH more difficult than subsequent births.

I just gave birth to my second child 4 months ago. The first labor was long, baby was mal-positioned, she finally came out with a vacuum assist in the OR.

And I had some complications post-partum. It was traumatic, I was pretty disappointed that I didn't do it naturally, and I feared the same would happen with my second. But my second labor lasted all of 90 minutes. I put down my toddler for a nap, labored and gave birth before she woke up! (I was in the hospital) That's not to say it was easy. In fact, the precipitousness of it all caused problems for the baby, who was 2 lbs larger than number one, by the way, but all was and is fine. What I want to say is that my second birthing experience helped me heal psychologically from the dissappointments of my first experience. I can't believe how many people suggested that a scheduled C section is the answer to this dilemma. You absolutely can have a smooth second labor. At the very least it will be shorter. And shorter is always better.

Go into it with the courage you did with your first labor and the knowledge that you came through it with a healthy baby and you will be empowered by having a second baby Fear not!


I am going through the exact same issue, except my baby is only 5 months old and we would like to conceive again in about a year. I have just chosen to see a therapist and only gone to one session so far, so I can't say how effective it is yet. I have a list of therapists in the Berkeley area that do specialize in these topics. If you are interested, feel free to email me to get the names of the therapists I know. I feel for you because I've had a very similar experience and the thought of going through it again really scares me. I'm even having dreams about my fears. I wish you the best in your healing process. Mollie
definitely get yourself a doula. I had Judy Balinger for both my children's births. And read Birthing from Within. its the only book I know of that helps you deal with the anxiety and fear of giving birth. Learning about the birth process is what most books do and that is fine but it doesn't really help you feel more comfortable about the process. Do as many of the exercises in the book as you can. I was lucky in that my husband also did them with me at my request - so I wouldn't feel dumb, I said - but it also helped me not feel alone in the process. It's natural to feel anxious, especially if you've had a bad experience. Unfortunately, I believe the medical community preys on the fears of pregnant women to justify its place in normal healthy birth process and often causes as many or more problems than it solves for us. I'm lucky, as a nurse I know when I can tell them to go to hell and I know what questions to ask and how to put all the information into context.

The trick is not to rise to the bait, to use your anxiety to help you focus but not to let it take over. a good doula will help you ask the right questions and make the right decisions for you. She will also help you work through your fears and envision a different result for yourself and your family. doula fan


I know exactly how you feel. I had a long, arduous labor with my firstborn, and ultimately had to have a c-section or the baby never would have been born (and I probably wouldn't have lived).

And because the labor was so long, the recovery was much longer than normal. I was terribly frightened of the second labor, and there was more at stake this time: I had a two-year old daughter at home. Rather than going through the whole thing again, I scheduled a c-section. I did not consult a therapist about this, but I did discuss it with my obstetrician. I have never regretted my decision. My second daughter was delivered safely, without the terror of the first labor, plus the physical recovery was easier. This was such a relief I can hardly describe it.

There is no reason to suffer more than you already have. It is your body, your family, and your choice. Good luck - I do sympathize brie brie


I was very afraid of my second labor and delivery - and couldn't sleep through my 2nd pregnancy due to the anxiety. I was afraid of a repeat of my first L&D - which was long and painful. Nancy Friedrich, a hypnotherapist, helped me work through my anxiety. Prior to becoming a hypnotherapist, she practiced as a midwife for 20 years. She has the experience and knowledge to help work through issues of L&D. She is also very kind, reassuring, and caring! She can be reached at NGbeginnew[at]aol.com

Intense fear of birthing second baby

Feb 2006

I am the mom to a wonderful nine month old daughter. On that front, things couldnt be better. But we have always wanted a siibling for her, hopefully about two years younger. After a VERY difficult labor with a lot of challenges, I cannot bear the thought of doing it again. I was at Alta Bates and felt that the care was good. The labor was over 50 hours long, and because of a uterine abnormality that i have, she was positioned really badly and didnt want to come out for anything. She was also posterior, had a huge head, and I tore really badly when she was born. My recovery was very difficult - I had to use a wheelchair for a month, and sustained some pretty good damage to my back and legs which is supposed to be healable but isnt all the way better yet. I had an epidural, relunctantly, and that made a huge differemce in the last couple hours but it was still very very difficult. According to my OBGYN, my labor and delivery was unusually hard, my recovery unusually lengthy and my injuries more sever than most - just so you know Im not making it out to be more dramatic than it needs to be. My husband and I still havent had sex because though Im not in pain, i still dont feel quite right and a bit sensetive. I just cant bear the thought of doing it again. I know that there are many factors that could be different the second time around - the length of the labor, the size of her head, the fact that she was posterior. I also know that because of my uterine abnormality, its possible that things are just as difficult. By the way, I know that I coudl always have a c-section but I am aware at how over- prescribed c-sections are and i dont want to have a c-sectiojn unnecessarily, just to make myself more comfy. Birthing is hard, and im comfortable with that. The advice Im looking for is this - 1. Are there others who experienced anxiety about giving birth a second time because of a difficult first time and how did you deal with it? 2. Should I try to seek some therapy or something or am I making too much out of this and 8 months postpartum, this anxiety is normal? Should i give it more time to subside? Thanks in advance. anon


If you definitely still want a 2nd child, why don't you just get a C-section? Yes, C- sections are over-prescribed and some people like Britney Spears request them for no good reason, but it sounds like you have good reason! You should not have to have another vaginal delivery that is going to put you in a wheelchair for weeks! Have you talked to your doctor about whether it would be reasonable for you to have a planned C-section? My guess is that it is. good luck!
I was in your shoes 10 years ago. I had a very hard time birthing my first child. I finally found out that I had post- traumatic stress syndrome and got myself to a therapist who works with post-partum depression and post-traumatic stress. Please don't give yourself a hard time about your feelings. Your baby is only 9 months old. What you need is time and an opportunity to talk about what happened to you, and talk about it a lot. After working on my experience in therapy, I finally had an ''A-hah'' moment when I realized that I was willing to go through what I went through and MORE if it meant having another baby. Then I knew I was better. We now have 2 beautiful girls. But it happens differently for different people. So give yourself time, enjoy your first baby with lots of cuddle time, and get someone to talk to like a therapist or a mom's group. Best wishes. Jeanne
Sorry to hear of your ordeal with the birth of your first child. I thought my first birth was rough! wow. You should definitely give yourself the time to heal both mentally and physically before you decide whether you really want to do it again. If you do want to have more children here's what I did to overcome my fear of the birth of my second child. After I got pregnant I spent a while talking with my midwife about what went wrong with my first birth and what my fears were. She strongly recommended I go to a woman named Carolyn Schaffer. She is a therapist in Berkeley who specializes hypnosis and has a particular speciality in hypnobirthing. I was a little wary -- and be forewarned it is a very weird experience -- but I went for 3 or 4 sessions and WOW it was amazing! The first session my husband came. The others were just for me. We spent a lot of time talking about what I wanted, and what I didn't want in my birth. And then through mild hypnosis she helped me delve and face my fears from my first birth. After that she helped me craft a plan for childbirth. I spent about a half an hour each day listening to my tapes and focusing on deep relaxation. All was geared toward creating a positive outlook on the experience.

The results were phenomenal! The birth of my second child (drug free) was almost pain free and the tools she gave me really contributed to my ability to work through the pain. My second was 3 lbs. bigger than my first so it wasn't exactly an easy baby to get out.

But more than anything the birth was actually enjoyable. At one point I turned to my husband and told him I was actually loving the process. I NEVER would have imagined that. Additionally, the process allowed me to connect with my second child while he was in utero that felt very special. I highly recommend Carolyn. Even if I decided not to have a second child (or chose cesarean over vaginal birth) her process helped me put to rest my fears, the lingering sense of trauma, guilt and sense of failure of my first birth. I highly recommend Carolyn. Her number is 652-1498. anon


I think you should schedule a C-section for your second baby--your uterine abnormality is sufficient justification, and it sounds like it would be less stressful for you. Mother of two (both C-sections)
I was an RN at Alta Bates, although not at that time....I have been a L&D RN for years and a doula for over 20 years. I even wrote a book about birth trauma! (unpublished) My advice to you would be, that if your birth trauma was that real, that significant that it would cause you this much pain and this much hesitation about whether or not to actually have another child, I'd say that you need to sort our your priorities. Number one: how important to your view of you as a woman, human, etc. is having a vaginal birth? Because the only argument I heard you make about cesareans was that they are over used. Personally, if I needed a hysterectomy, or painkillers, for a real reason, I wouldn't turn them down just because they might, in other cases, be overused. A cesarian is medicine for a condition just like any other medicine. I'd say, months of pain, a hellish birth, and hesitancy to make love and have another child are some of the best reasons to have a cesarian. I had three kids at home and STILL say that! You could hire a doula, or some sort of consultant to assist you with this decision, and/or accompany you to the delievery to help with decision making. You could set some limits in terms of how long and how much pain you are willing to go without trying something else. A vaginal delivery is not the point. There are many things to consider, and as a mother of two young children, you aren't going to have the energy to deal with them AND pain and a long recovery. Best of luck. Elizabeth
I think you are being much too hard on yourself. As you clearly stated, you had an extraordinarily difficult delivery, from which you are still recovering. In my humble opinion, you should PLAN to have a c-section, and you should find a doctor who supports you in this choice and will help make your second experience of childbirth as painless as possible. Your situation is not at all like the run-of-the-mill delivery, and it is not helping you to apply the ''common wisdom'' to your specific circumstances. Wishing you all the best, anon
Just because C-sections may be ''overprescribed'' does not mean they are not sometimes necessary. Neither of my children would be alive today if it hadn't been for timely C-sections. And frankly, it is amazing to me that you didn't have one the first time around. It might have spared you a lot of agony and kept you out of that wheelchair. C-section recoveries aren't much fun, but they are a whole lot easier than what you described. Frankly, I don't see much point in giving birth if you aren't willing to take advantage of medical technology to give not only the baby but YOURSELF the best possible start on life together. What is the point of being in a wheelchair for a month and having all the injuries you described? How is that making your life better? How is it making you a better person, wife, mother? Unless you are willing to come to terms with some of this, you are probably better off not having a second child. Sara
Have a c-section. I did, and the recovery wasn't that bad. Within a week, I was pretty darn mobile and going up and down stairs, etc. A friend had a natural delivery and opted for a scheduled c-section for the 2d b/c she couldn't bear the thought of going through child birth again. She was happy with the decision. It sounds like you've been through enough! Lynne
Oh, my. You poor thing! C-sections may very well be over- prescribed, but it certainly sounds like it would be justified in your case. Not that they're easy to recover from, either, but probably easier than what you've already been through. anon
Your intense fear of a second birth is very understandable given the significant trauma you sustained with your first, and it is definitely possible to feel better and have greater confidence going into a second birth. Because trauma gets held in the body and the nervous system, therapy approaches which address these aspects tend to be particularly effective and direct. Two approaches you might find particularly useful are EMDR and Sensorimotor Psychotherapy. I would be happy to help you with referrals for therapists trained in either or both of these approaches, or to meet with you myself (I am an MFT Intern with advanced training in trauma (both EMDR and Sensorimotor Psychotherapy). I also used to be a birth doula and specialize in birth-related issues. Rachel Zamore, MA 510- 594-4090). In any case, it's great that you are reaching out for support and please know that you can get some relief. rachel
I had a pretty good first birth experience. I don't remember any pain (I had no pain meds) and active labor only lasted about 7 hours. BUT, I ended up with a birth injury that will never fully heal which caused me a lot of grief and pain in the months following the birth (and continues to do so 6 months later). I think women need to process their birth experience- good or bad-especially one as intense as yours. After the birth the focus shifts to the baby but in talking to women, I found that many are haunted by their birth for months and never feel resolved. I would go to therapy if I were you to talk about what was clearly a traumatic experience. I think you are very brave to consider going through another vaginal birth but--as someone who is militantly pro-vaginal births and against the medicalization of labor, I think if it seems like your second labor is going to be that intense, I would have the c-section. I will tell you that the women I know who had c-sections recovered faster than I and are not suffering chronic ill- effects as I am. Good luck. anon
I had *major* anxiety prior to delivering my first (and so far only) baby. What worked for me was reading ''Birthing from Within,'' working with a doula beforehand, and writing about my fears and my strategies for coping should they come to pass. This last strategy is taken from cognitive-behavioral therapy, which I've done forr other fears, and it really works. I bet short-term CBT would help you a lot (see archives for info). Nicole
Wow. Sounds like you have had a really traumatic experience. Here's my advice: if you have the love for a second child, and the capacity to carry the pregnancy, then don't make such a big deal out of the birth itself -- it (can be) just a few short hours in your life -- with a c-section, and then it's over. I had three children, all by c-section. I have a mis-shapen uterus and the first two children were breech. The first was an emergency c-section 7 weeks early -- due to bleeding from placenta previa. That was traumatic, but not the birth -- I was out cold and when I woke up, I had a beautiful, small, healthy baby -- now a beautiful 11 year old. Baby #2 was breech and was a scheduled c-section, that had a few blips but ultimately it was just a weird hour in my life -- and now I have fabulous child # 2 who is 9 years old -- what a joy! Then, baby #3 was not breech, but with two c-sections already, I chose not to take the extra risk to the baby of attempting a vaginal delivery -- and voila -- beautiful baby #3 is out in 1 hour and now she is 7 and another joy to behold!

Yes, c-sections have been over-prescribed, but let's not loose sight of what a miracle they can be! Throughout history, and even across the earth today, childbirth is the single most dangerous thing a woman will do in her life. We have the gift, the privilege, of medical help and intervention. Your situation sounds like it was the perfect occasion for a c-section. Just because it wasn't warranted in another person's delivery doesn't mean it wasn't -- or shouldn't -- be warranted in yours. Talk to your OBGYN about a planned c-section before you get pregnant, and focus on getting your health and relationship together so you can move ahead with the second child you want.

Of course, I don't want to sound like c-sections are ''nothing.'' They do require careful recovery. My point is -- if it's the BIRTH that is freaking you out, don't let that stop you. SKIP IT, and have a c-section, GUILT FREE, instead. 3-Cs and full of gratitude


Have a c-section and get everything you want. Second child, no pain, fear, trauma. Who cares if there are too many c-sections. It's you that counts, not some statistic. My wife was having a terrible labor with our second child- blood, pain, crisis. Western medicine may be overused- but it sure has its place. Fifteen minutes and a c-section later all was well. Who needs additional stress (terror?) during pregnancy. Get a date for delivery and have a guilt free addition to the family. love my family (and the anesthesiologist)
So sorry to hear that your first labor was so difficult. Mine was half as long but was pushing for about 4 hours before he could come out. I had my 2nd baby 3 yrs later and the memories really don't fade. I had many of the same fears that you do. However, my body kind of knew what to do the 2nd time. I was more relaxed and learned from my mistakes. Gave birth within 3 hrs of arriving at the hospital. However, I know a few friends with similarly difficult first labors as yours and they opted for a C-section. Given your enduring injuries, I wouldn't feel guilty about it at all. anon
I highly recommend the book ''Birthing From Within'' for some insight on processing your past birth trauma. I would be very nervous too!!! Adelina
My first birth was a bit difficult (baby got stuck) and we finally had to decide between forceps and C-section. My second and third babies were much easier (and faster). The most important factor for me was my ob/gyn. When things got difficult my doctor, Jim Nishimine, was in control. He said I was getting too tired and the baby had been in the birth canal long enough. I can't tell you how much I trust him. I would suggest having a doctor who will make sure you and the baby are okay. Shelly
My first reaction to your posting was ''what do you think you have to prove?'' Your first labor sounds horrific. Why are you beating yourself up about requesting an epidural or c-section for your next child? Get yourself well-educated about assisted birth options and choose something that your are comfortable with medically (for you and your child) AND will ease your very understandable fears. I tried to tough it out my first child and felt like a failure for finally assenting to a little morphine to help me work with rather than tensing up with my contractions and yes I tore as well. After really thinking about how so many well-meaning folks guilt trip women for using modern medicine responsibly, I studied my options for my 2nd child and asked up front for a non-narcotic drug to be administered early enough in my labor so that my internal organs (not the baby's) would process the drug and to help me stay focused. I also studied further assisted birth choices and felt that I could intelligently make a decision if my least choice wasn't enough to get through my labor. What a difference. Mostly because I felt in control of my choices and my labor rather than doing what I though was expected or politically correct. Because I let myself be free to choose, it was actually easier to bear the pain and choose NOT to do more than the non-narcotic. Labor is VERY personal, deciding that you need help to get through it does not make you less of a woman or mother. anonymous
I Understand your fear. I am pregnant of my second baby, and my first baby is just 15 months. ( I had a pretty long labor, but no pain - I used epidural at the beginning of my labor) But I just would like to let you know that, I think, the negative feelings about having a c-section is pretty much cultural. I am from Brazil and mostly of my friends with kids had c-section. They had a easy recovery, peace in mind and beautiful kids. Even considering that maybe it is too soon for you to decide it,I think you should be more open mind about de c-section. If is that what you need to have another child...why not? It is not that bad at all! especially with it is not an emergency one. Talk more about it with your doctor and good luck! mom expecting #2
Hire a doula! My second birth was so much easier with an extra support person. mom of 2
I have wanted to post a similar question, so I don't have any answers for you since I am currently going through the exact same thing, but wanted you to know you aren't alone. I still cry at random times while replaying my labor and the fear and conflict I feel around deciding whether or not to plan a VBAC or c-sect for my next birth this summer. I pushed for over 5 hours unmedicated with rapid pitocin contractions - it was scary like running on a treadmill with a noose around my neck while exhausted - and just can't bear doing it again and ending up with another c-sect. For a while I thought a VBAC with an epidural would be my answer, but am finding that the epi may cause baby's heartbeat to drop indicating false alarm that scar is rupturing. My babies will be 17 mos apart, so the memory is very fresh. I alternate between being sure I need to talk with a therapist and feeling I am making too much of it. But in listening to you it was clear to me that we aren't making too much of it, we have reason to be anxious - a form of post traumatic stress. I think emotional risk needs to be weighed into the vbac/c-sect debate...it's a difficult choice isn't it with risk on both sides and fear of both? I wish you the best and happy safe births to us both! Anon
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