The author holding her newborn nephew. Photo: Courtesy of Alyssa Ashton
Please don’t tell me your birth story. It’s not that I don’t want to hear how your little nugget came into this world. It’s just that I will probably faint.
You see, this is my dirty little secret. I work at a parenting magazine, and I can’t imagine my world not surrounded by kids. But I am absolutely terrified to give birth.
I should preface this by saying I am not pregnant—I am too scared for that. I am sure that sounds pathetic to all the woman who have struggled through pregnancy and labour and maybe it is. But since my teens I have had a deep fear of blood and all things medical—two things that are inherent in being pregnant.
It started with a routine blood test—my first—and as the nurse took many vials of blood, I all of a sudden became intensely hot. Then came the urge to vomit, but before I could ask the nurse for a puke receptacle, the world went blurry and I fainted.
That day was the start of my fear. Now anytime I see blood, needles or step foot in a hospital, I go weak in the knees (and not in the romantic way). And that deep anxiety extends to birth stories. As soon as a friend starts telling me about their contractions and the pain, I feel myself start to buckle and I need to reach for a chair before I swoon like a maiden from a Harlequin novel.
I should mention I don’t pass out like most people. First, I faint, then I convulse (don’t worry this is totally normal, I checked with my doctor), and often I turn an alarming shade of green before I finally wake up and instantly burst into tears at the whole ordeal. And if I am in a particularly dramatic mood, I faint while standing and manage to hit my head on the way down. I make quite a scene.
If just someone talking about giving birth makes me woozy, how can I actually give birth? I am genuinely asking! The thought of stepping into the hospital makes me feel nauseous. And so does the idea of an IV—clearly getting an epidural is out of the question. A homebirth appeals to me because I can steer clear of the hospital and its unique smell (no offence hospitals), but that comes with its own set of terrifying possibilities. What if I can’t handle the pain and I have to writhe in the backseat of the car while we drive to the hospital? Worse, what if something goes wrong?
So how can I possibly give birth? Actually, how can I even get pregnant when that alone involves so many regular blood tests and distressing medical procedures? You can see how I am a tiny bit terrified of the whole pregnancy thing.
But it’s not just the medical part of labour that freaks me out, it’s the unknown. During a particularly anxious period in my life, I saw a therapist who told me that anxiety is spurred by two things—the past and the future. It's clear why my past behavior makes me a wee bit worried. But for us anxious folk, the future and all the unknown factors it harbors, can be too much to handle. And giving birth, well it holds a lot of unknowns.
I think I could maybe handle birth if I knew exactly what was coming. It will be six hours long, you will push for two and you will need three stitches. That doesn’t sound pleasant (obviously), but I could breathe through the anxiety knowing exactly how long things would last (only five hours, fifty-nine minutes and 33 seconds to go, Alyssa!). But labour isn’t like that. You have no clue how long it will take—or what’s coming next.
Since I work at a parenting magazine, I know about all the things that can happen during labour. Like a fourth-degree tear, a post-dural headache or (yelp!) pooping in front of strangers. I know too much about all the unknowns and I have sufficiently freaked myself out.
So as my anxiety rises (it’s very high right now), I also feel incredibly gutted. Gutted because I desperately want kids. I will see a pregnant woman walking down the street and I can’t help but smile at her belly, secretly imaging that’s me one day. I am that person who spies cute maternity clothes and styles them on myself in my head. I spend my days looking at adorable photos of kids and I can’t help but have a soft spot for little ones with soft blonde curls like I suspect my baby will have. Editing stories about the adorable—and sometimes frustrating—things children do, often makes me wonder what antics my kids will get up to.
I of course can adopt and I actually really want to. But I also would like to be pregnant one day. I would like someone to have my genes—though for their sake I hope they aren't quite as anxious as me. And I would like to experience the magic of growing a life in my body. Feeling those first flutters, watching my stomach stretch and getting to waddle around. I want all of that! Yet it also seems like such an impossible idea right now.
I know I shouldn’t let my fear stop me from doing something that will bring so much love. But it just seems like such an insurmountable mountain of fear to climb. And yet, I’m told parenting really is one giant leap into the unknown, where every moment you are completely terrified. So maybe I am already on the right track?