There’s no doubt about it—pregnancy can be an intense, often puzzling time. From one’s rapid body transformation (and identity transformation) to planning for the seemingly un-planable (birth) to figuring out what life will be like once your little one is Earth side. Along the way, the questions can pile up…some of them perhaps too embarrassing or shame-inducing to ask even your closest friends. Enter Bailey Gaddis. As a certified birthing doula, hypnotherapist, IVF coordinator, and mother herself, Bailey has fielded all the queries and has put together a handy guide in response—Asking for a Pregnant Friend: 101 Answers to Questions Women Are Too Embarrassed to Ask About Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Motherhood. Below, Bailey takes on 5 burning questions about pregnancy with her signature thorough, thoughtful answers. (Stay tuned for a Part 2 later this month!)
1.) I just found out my baby’s sex and am so disappointed. I desperately wanted a boy/girl and don’t feel like I can raise the opposite. These feelings are making me feel like I’m betraying my baby. How can I move past them?
I immediately felt detached from my baby when I found out he was a boy instead of a girl at the 20-week ultrasound. I had been connecting to the idea of a girl. I had been thinking about how I would parent a girl. I had been wanting a girl.
I mourned the baby girl I wasn’t having. Waves of disbelief washed over me. And then it happened. The guilt struck. I still had a healthy baby inside me. A sweet little boy whose mother was devastated he was not a she. I started crying, apologizing over and over again to my boy.
When the tears stopped and rational thinking returned, I realized the sex of my child wouldn’t change the way I connect to them. It wouldn’t change the way I parent them. It wouldn’t change the fact that I was going to put them in ridiculous outfits. And heck, I didn’t know how I would connect with or parent them, regardless of their sex, because I hadn’t met them. I didn’t even know what the baby’s gender would actually be. If it had been a girl, maybe she would have identified as a boy, or as neither. Same for my boy. I just didn’t know. The only thing I did know was that I would love them completely. Whatever the sex, whatever the gender, whatever the personality, they were my child and I was beyond blessed they had chosen me.
But even after my realizations, it took a few days before we were ready to share the baby’s sex. I didn’t want there to be even a tinge of disappointment in our voices when we said, “We’re having a boy!” (We practiced saying it at the same time but could never get in sync.)
So I feel you, mama. It throws us for a loop when we find out we’re having a baby who doesn’t have the sex we’d hoped for. And I don’t buy it when people say, “I don’t care what the sex is, I just want a healthy baby.” I believe every person expecting a baby has a sex they’re rooting for, even if it’s just a tiny bit and at a subconscious level. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Maybe you have two boys and desperately want a girl. Or maybe you grew up in a household of only women and want the experience of raising a boy. Whatever your reasoning, it’s totally understandable. You get to wish for a certain sex. And when it doesn’t come true, you get to mourn. You get to freak out. You get to wish the ultrasound tech got it wrong. And then you get to move past the regret and find peace.
What to do: Be upset. Get to a private place and cry. Or scream, “What the [bleep]!” Don’t hold back; let your honest emotions and thoughts flow. Write a letter about how friggin’ upset you are and rip it up. Then, begin stepping toward acceptance, and even joy, by trying the following:
Remember that you’re growing a unique human. As I mentioned before, no mother has any idea who her baby will be, or what gender they’ll identify as. Even if the sex had been the one you hoped for, your baby probably wouldn’t have perfectly fit into the visions you had of raising a boy or girl.
Begin connecting to your baby as the wholly unique person they’ll become by listening to this meditation.
Explore the reasons you wanted a certain sex. As you envisioned your life with a boy or girl pre-ultrasound, you likely had fantasies of going on certain outings with your girl or boy, maybe guiding them through milestones or connecting over a shared love of literature, pop culture, or whatever your thing is. Write it all down. Then look over those dreams with a new lens—a lens that will help you realize that just because you’re having a child that isn’t the sex you had hoped for, doesn’t mean you can’t do the same things with them. The only exceptions I can think of are teaching a boy to not get urine everywhere and to put the seat down, and guiding a girl through her first menstrual cycles. Beyond that, there’s really no bonding experience you can have only with a boy, or a girl.
Write a letter to the baby. If guilt over your disappointment hits, write a letter to your baby explaining how much you love them. Gush over how excited you are. Do whatever you need to do to fill your womb with love as you explore your feelings on the page.
Know that your disappointment will fade, but it may take a while. For many, the disappointment after That Ultrasound will dissolve in a few days, after you get used to your new reality. However, some mothers may feel lingering regret until they deliver their baby. But when you’re finally holding your baby in your arms, you’ll be shocked you ever wanted anyone who wasn’t that exact child.
2.) I’m feeling so turned on and want to masturbate all the time. But when I do, I’m consumed with shame because I’m so aware of my baby being right there. Is there a way to stop the shame? Or should I just hold off on masturbation until after childbirth?
Do not, I repeat, do not deprive yourself of the deliciousness of masturbation during pregnancy. Because of the increased blood flow to the vagina, the surge of progesterone and estrogen upping your vaginal secretions, and uber sensitive breasts and nipples, your body is ripe for the pleasuring. Beyond being a totally normal activity during pregnancy, masturbation can actually elevate your health by soothing stress through a release of endorphins, improving blood flow, minimizing pregnancy pains, and helping you slip into a restful sleep. Baby also reaps rewards, as they can be comforted by the rhythmic uterine contractions triggered by the orgasm.
Fun Fact: The beloved G-spot often becomes more accessible during pregnancy. And did you know you also have an A-spot and a U-spot? The A-spot is located above the cervix (so don’t go there during pregnancy), and the U-spot encircles the urethral opening (go there).
In regard to baby being right there while the deed is being done, know that they have no idea what you’re doing. They’re busy floating in a warm waterbed and breathing in amniotic fluid. They couldn’t care less.
What to do: Masturbate! Find a comfortable, private space, pull out your inspiration materials or tools of choice, and go to town—downtown. If you have a hard time reaching that special spot, invest in a vibrator or dildo—just make sure they’re clean before use by washing them with soap and water. Don’t be shy about exploring various areas of your body—for example, those plump breasts.
Before you begin the fun, minimize the chance of scratches during fervent rubbing by cutting and filing your nails.
If thoughts of baby triggering a flood of shame come up during masturbation, remind yourself that you’re doing nothing wrong. It’s healthy and natural. You can also close your eyes and envision floating away to another realm where only you exist—we’ll call it Pleasure Town.
Note: If you have special circumstances, such as a risk of preterm labor, placenta previa, or uterine infections, confirm with your care provider that masturbation is a safe choice. And if you’re embarrassed asking about this, know that they’ll likely be relieved you trust them enough to ask this personal question, and that this is likely far from the strangest question they’ve received.
3.) My vulva is so swollen you can see it through my pants. Why is it like that and what can I do about it?
Almost every pregnant woman gets a puffy moose knuckle, primarily because blood volume increases by nearly 50 percent to support the uterus. This is caused by an elevation of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. In addition, as the uterus enlarges, it can block the flow of blood, intensifying swelling in the vulva and legs.
For many women, this surge of fresh blood can up your libido and create an almost constant state of arousal. After all, blood also rushes to the vulva and introitus (the lower area of the vagina), and it causes swelling when the body is preparing to orgasm.
However, if you’re experiencing pain, burning, or redness instead of pleasurable pulsations, check in with your care provider, as this could be a sign of infection, certain skin disorders, or low estrogen levels. In addition to the swelling, you might discover a web of varicose veins creeping across your vulva. Yay. These are also caused by the abundance of blood and will likely go away a few weeks after birth.
Another fun change this extra blood may cause is a darkening of the skin covering the labia. The skin could also develop a bluish or purplish tint. But as your blood volume returns to normal after birth, the coloring and swelling should minimize, or completely go away.
What to do: If you’re one of the lucky ones experiencing throbs of bliss, relish it. But if you’re not, check in with your care provider to ensure the discomfort isn’t a sign of a special circumstance that requires attention. Then, try the following:
Soothe the ouch. Slip back into comfort by applying a cold compress, elevating your hips, and wearing a compression garment (after getting the go-ahead from your care provider). To minimize varicose vein annoyance, take a warm bath, lie on your left side, and elevate your feet. Light exercise can also do wonders for many vaginal issues, as long as you remove that moist underwear and shower as soon as you’re done.
Buy the right undies. Lessen excess irritation by using 100 percent organic cotton, Goldilocks panties—not too loose and not too tight. And for the love of your crotch, skip the thongs.
Wear loose lower-duds. Opt for roomy bottoms, as the friction from tight pants or skirts can increase discomfort—or constantly distract you with stimulation. (No judgment if you’re intrigued by that idea!) Loose clothing also hides the bulge if you find it embarrassing. However, you don’t need to be embarrassed. For example, a mom in one of my classes had the superpower of finding the chicest fitted maternity jeans. These jeans showed off everything—her toned legs, juicy booty…and enlarged vulva. But she didn’t care, saying, “It’s a product of this amazing process that’s happening inside me, and I have no desire to hide it. And I get a kick out of seeing people’s faces when their eyes land on it.”
4.) I don’t want my partner at our child’s birth. Is there something wrong with me? Should I just get over this feeling? Do I even have a say in whether they’re there or not?
Oh, partners. They can be lovely, but they can also fudge things up during birth. So it’s more common than you’d think for women to not want their partner present during childbirth. However, few women admit it, even to themselves, because not wanting a partner present at birth makes many moms-to-be think there might be something fatally wrong with their relationship. But not wanting your special someone there while you birth your other special someone doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed.
There are numerous reasons women might want their partner to support them from a distance during labor—and they’re all totally legit and worthy of attention. While your partner is of course an important part of the equation and will be likely a huge part of the child’s life, childbirth is all about what makes you feel most comfortable. While it’s monumental in many ways, birth is also a drop in the ocean of the child’s life; if your partner isn’t there, it doesn’t mean their connection with the baby will be scarred.
What to do: If you’re feeling like you might not want your partner with you during labor and delivery, do this:
Spend time exploring the reasons behind this feeling. To start, ask yourself, “In what scenario would I be most relaxed?” Then, through good ole meditation, journaling, or talking with a trusted friend whose eyes won’t widen when you tell them your thoughts, get clear on what that optimally relaxed scenario will look like. Who is there? Where are you? What does the room look like? How are you being supported?
As you explore this scene, pay attention to whether or not your partner is there. If they are, how does their presence make you feel? What are they doing that does, or does not, make you feel relaxed? If you don’t see them there, examine and write down the reasons behind their absence.
Talk to your partner. If the previous exercise makes you realize you don’t want your partner at the birth, or want them present only during a certain phase of labor, summon the courage to talk to them. While this may feel like the last thing you want to do, know that having this conversation will seriously lighten your emotional load and help you have a more positive birth experience.
If the reasons you don’t want your partner at the birth strike deep chords in your relationship, it could be beneficial to have this discussion with the support of a counselor. You can even see the counselor alone first to talk through your concerns and make a game plan for how this request for nonpresence will be presented to your partner.
However, if your reasons are more basic, as with the queasy husband or overattentive partner I mentioned, you’re probably safe just having a sit-down with your person. You can start the conversation by asking, “Have you thought about how present you want to be at the birth?” See what they say. You might find that they’re also hesitant about being there. Or they might be full of ideas about how they’ll coach you through breathing and get you into squats. Either way, exploring this topic together will either help you become more resolute in your decision to not have them there, or dissolve many of your initial concerns.
After the first phase of this discussion, decide whether you’re good to move forward with the “This is what I want to happen during birth” portion of the talk, or need time to process what was shared.
Make a plan for partner’s involvement. When you’re clear on what you need from your partner, make a plan for how involved (or not involved) they’ll be during birth. While it might be tempting to make concessions in favor of their feelings, make sure to not make compromises that limit your comfort. This conversation could be uncomfortable on the front end, but you will feel so much better when it’s all out in the open and you can move forward.
5.) Why am I so afraid that I’ll die during childbirth?
You probably feel that way because a culture of fear has permeated childbirth. It bloomed when childbirth actually was a dangerous endeavor—when women weren’t able to get quality care if a special circumstance came up, when doctors didn’t know they needed to wash their hands between treating patients. Those women had good reason to fear death. But many of the risks those women faced are gone, and modern medical advances have made childbirth an incredibly safe experience. There is now effective protocol for even the most dangerous circumstances. And the great thing is, most women don’t even need to receive medical care during childbirth, they just need a trained care provider observing them in case intervention is needed.
So now that we’re covered for worst-case scenarios, we can relax into childbirth, right? We can let go of the fear of death. But that’s easier said than done. Our conscious minds can know that death is a highly unlikely outcome of childbirth, but the subconscious mind still holds onto the belief. There are a few reasons for that. Media is one of them. Think about every depiction of childbirth you’ve seen in mainstream media. I can almost guarantee those images consisted of angry women screaming in pain. Each time you saw one of these images, a seed of fear was planted.
And then there are the scary birth stories. Some women wear their traumatic birth story like a badge of honor and love to tell pregnant women, “Childbirth will be the most painful experience you’ll ever go through.” I’ve even heard some say, “It’s so painful you’ll want to die.”
In addition to these inaccurate, harmful messages, a fear of death during childbirth can be triggered by our mind trying to wrap itself around the process of a human coming out of our body. Many women in my classes have reported a fear that their body will “rip open” during childbirth, or that their heart will give out because of the strain. Even though these are not things that will happen, women still believe it on some level, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Much of this fear comes from the unknown. They’ve never had a baby, and the mind takes them to the scariest place it can imagine. Or maybe they’ve had a baby and the birth was traumatic. Even though they survived the experience, a part of them believes the second time around will be even more traumatic.
When this fear is at its most intense, it has a name: tokophobia. According to an article published in Industrial Psychiatry Journal, tokophobia—a morbid, pathological fear of childbirth—can lead to avoidance of birth and sometimes results in a woman requesting a cesarean section. The authors report a number of circumstances that could trigger tokophobia:
Hearing traumatic birth stories: This is a big one. When women we trust go on and on about traumatic birth experiences, we start to think, “If it happened to them, it could happen to me.” And sometimes, we take it to the next level, thinking, “But I probably won’t be as lucky as they were. I’ll probably be the one that dies because of those complications.” But the likelihood of that is really, really rare.
Concerns about the competency of medical professionals: Fear is an understandable by-product of not trusting that hospital staff or midwives can keep you safe. If you’re convinced you won’t be properly cared for if you require medical intervention, it’s likely that you have experienced some form of negligence regarding medical care, or heard stories of those who have. Whatever the reasons, the “What to do” notes below will provide ideas for working through this.
Low self-esteem: If we don’t think highly of ourselves, it’s hard to believe our mind and body can withstand the rigors of childbirth. (But it can!) This wavering belief in our ability to birth can water those aforementioned seeds of fear.
The good news is you don’t have to just grin and bear this often-debilitating fear, regardless of where it’s coming from. There are ways to face it, then move past it.
What to do: One of the most crucial steps to overcoming this fear is realizing it’s not a sign of what’s to come. Even if your mind believes on the deepest level that your birth will not have a good outcome, it doesn’t make it so. Keep reminding yourself that the fear is a false construct of your mind, built by outdated information and stories that are part of someone else’s false constructs or need to impress. And above all, know that you can overcome the fear. Know that the fear doesn’t own you. Know that you are stronger than the fear. The following steps will help you believe that:
Find a care provider you feel safe with. Few things are as reassuring as hearing a care provider you trust tell you that they’ll keep you safe during childbirth. They can explain the protocol for all the situations you’re afraid of, and they can share uplifting stories of births they’ve attended.
The key here is that you trust them. If that trust isn’t there, their reassurance won’t mean much. So interview care providers until you find one who makes you feel safe. While it’s common to have to interview a few before finding the right one, you might also discover that you don’t trust any of them, regardless of how many candidates you interview. If this is the case, you might need to work with a mental health specialist to unpack and examine your unique trust issues with medical care providers. (Ed Note: If you are a Black mother-to-be, read these expert tips about Black maternal health).
Write about what you’re afraid of. An interesting thing about fear is that when we name it, it loses some of its power. So write down why you think you’ll die during childbirth. Can you pinpoint where that comes from? Are other fears about pregnancy or childbirth fueling your fear of death? Write it all, letting the words flow until you find clarity. Then, make a list of the primary fears and discuss them with your care provider and/or a mental health specialist.
Carefully select the prenatal testing you’ll undergo. The testing that can be utilized during pregnancy is a double-edged sword. On one side, the testing can offer reassurance if it confirms everything is fine. On the other side is anxiety that can be triggered while waiting for test results, in addition to the fears that arise if results are abnormal. Because of this, it’s crucial to be selective about the testing you agree to. Speak with your care provider about what is available, and what they recommend, then carefully determine what tests are ideal for your unique situation and comfort level.
Avoid scary birth stories. If someone tries to tell you their birth story, stop them and say, “I would love to hear your story if it’s not traumatic and won’t scare me. If you think it will, I would like you to wait to share until after I have my baby.” In addition, if you come across an article, television show, or other media source that portrays birth in a scary light, skip it. You don’t need to be an expert on worst care scenarios; that’s why you have a doctor or midwife.
Reach out to loved ones. The aforementioned study published in Industrial Psychiatry Journal found that there was a 50 percent reduction in elective C-sections when women experiencing severe fear of labor and delivery told trusted friends and family members how they were feeling and asked for support.
Hire a doula. Because feeling heard and supported is such a big part of unraveling your fear of death during childbirth, seeking the support of a doula can offer significant relief. To make sure you find the right person, ask friends for referrals, and keep interviewing candidates until you find the one who is a giant “yes” for you. You can also get a feel for how they’ll support you through your fear by bringing it up during your initial meeting. How they respond will be indicative of how they’ll support you through it during birth.
Count to 90 when you feel the fear. Any emotion takes 90 seconds to pass through you if you don’t stop it. So when you feel that fear of death gurgle up, think, “Oh, look at that. There’s that fear. I’m not going to ignore it. I’m going to sit with it.” Then set a timer for 90 seconds, and feel the fear until the timer beeps. Anytime you feel the emotions attached to the fear come back, repeat this exercise.
Create an arsenal of relaxation techniques. In addition to the 90-second fear release, collect practices that soothe you. For example, you could take deep breaths, envisioning calm, trust, and comfort flowing in as you inhale, and fear, tension, and dread flowing out as you exhale. You could also repeat a mantra, such as, “I’m releasing this fear because it doesn’t own me. It is not real. I choose love and trust instead.” Or you can simply repeat, “I am safe.” As an added resource, download this guided meditation that was specifically crafted for releasing the fear of death during childbirth.
Birth in the location that makes you feel safest. If the idea of birthing in a hospital freaks you out, consider birthing at home or in a birth center. But if you can’t imagine feeling safe anywhere but a hospital, go to the hospital. And it doesn’t matter what your partner, mom, friend, childbirth educator, or whoever thinks you should do. Do what makes you feel most secure.
For many more questions—and answers!—about pregnancy, motherhood, and beyond, be sure to scoop up Asking for a Pregnant Friend: 101 Answers to Questions Women Are Too Embarrassed to Ask About Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Motherhood.
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