The Fear, Part 1

I said I was going to get back to discussing The Fear.  Ironically enough, I’m sure it’s The Fear that’s been making me wait so long to write this post.  Here I am though.  Take that, Fear!

What is “The Fear?”

First of all, I want to point out that I don’t own The Fear.  Well, I own my version of it, but it’s something we all possess.  I think Seth Godin describes it nicely as the lizard brain.  Seth says the lizard brain is “the voice in the back of our head telling us to back off, be careful, go slow, compromise… [it] hates change and achievement and risk.”

The Fear is that moment you back out of a commitment.  It’s the silence when you should have shouted.  It’s the call you make to say you just can’t do something, when you know damn well you can.  It’s staying at a job you hate because you’re comfortable and know what tomorrow will be like, even if it will be horrible.  It’s the indecision and lack of action because you’re too concerned about what the outcome might be.

That’s The Fear I’m talking about.  And I cannot begin to tell you how many times it has gotten the upper hand with me.

Eyes Wide Open

Of course, I didn’t realize what The Fear was for a long time.  That’s probably why it had such a stronghold over me.  You have to recognize your enemy in order to take it down.  The Fear is good at disguising itself.  Not too long ago, it seemed like rational thought.  I wasn’t being afraid; no, I was being reasonable.  I was being logical, careful.  I was being (insert any word here that in the moment fooled me into believing I was anything except that which I would never have admitted to).  What was I?  Scared. To. Death.

What happened then?  How did I come to recognize The Fear for what it was?  There were moments here and there that I overcame it, but it was some time until I actually put a name to it.  I’m sure those moments did me some good.  And it was a combination of things that helped me to recognize The Fear.

I started by recognizing it in other people.  Like many, I’m good at finding fault in others before I see it clearly in myself.  You know how it goes.  You listen to a friend or family member go on about how they wished they had done something, but it never happened.  It will be quite clear to you they didn’t do whatever that something was because they were too scared to, but unless they have also come to recognize The Fear, they’ll have lots of pretty words to describe the “real” reason they couldn’t do it.  If this is some long past activity, you’ll feel sympathy for them about what might have been.  If it’s something happening right now, you’ll feel frustration in trying to get them to overcome their own fear.  Their lizard brain defense mechanisms will go up almost instantly.  I’ve found it virtually impossible to get people to see through this facade.  They just have to come to it on their own terms.  Hopefully they do.  But odds are many of them won’t.  The Fear is quite a force to deal with.

The next, even more powerful way that I began to recognize The Fear was by reading and learning about it.  I started soaking up books and blogs.   Of course, Seth Godin’s blog has been a big help.  I read quite a few blogs and many of them tackle this problem, in some form or fashion, on a pretty regular basis.  Bloggers like Karol Gajda, Chris Guillebeau, and Tammy Strobel have all touched on this subject repeatedly.  I’d highly recommend checking out any and all of their blogs for some great inspiration and practical ways to deal with your lizard brain.  I know they’ve helped me a great deal in making some drastic changes and facing The Fear head on.

Finally, like in any new pursuit, you reap the rewards of your studying and preparation by actually taking action.  I never learned as much or gained as much ground as I did by overcoming The Fear directly.  Unfortunately, I can’t say this has happened each and every time since I realized it was fear holding me back, but more and more when I am feeling that sense of apprehension, that desire to run away, I am pushing through it.  And behold, the grass really is greener on the other side!

The Beginning

Yes, there have been many instances in my life where I did overcome a bit of fear, but I think most of them pale in comparison to my decision to have a home birth.  That was monumental for me.  Not only is home birth in general unusual for an American woman (less than 1% of U.S. women give birth at home currently), it was almost unheard of among my family members.  Even to my then-husband, as much as he was into nature and spirituality, the idea of a home birth was insanity at first.  His first two children had been born in hospitals and with much complication.  He was very scared about the idea of not having immediate access to all the medical equipment.  He even went so far as to scream at me once when I was beginning to insist upon birthing at home, “Fine!  If our baby dies, it’s your fault!”  Imagine hearing that from the man you love.  I might have backed off at that point, but for whatever reason, I was really determined.  I did my research and dragged him to a home birth midwife to discuss the risks and benefits.  He still wasn’t entirely convinced until I called him on his hypocrisy.  “You say you walk a natural path and trust in Spirit, yet you want me to have our child in a Western hospital because you’re afraid of what might happen otherwise.”  That was the kicker.  I had hit the sweet spot and his lizard brain backed off.  We were going to have a home birth!

Or were we?  Understand, when you’re going to have your first child, it’s not just you and the child’s father that are involved.  You’re bound to hear many opinions on the subject.  After Savannah’s father, my mother was the loudest voice of opposition.  I remember her exact words when I told her I was going to birth at home.  “Oh Krissy (she calls me Krissy), surely not.”  Mom would come home from work (she’s a nurse and was then employed at Albuquerque’s largest hospital) with stories about how the doctors she spoke to about the home birth were horrified at the idea.  I tried to assure my mother with my research and the fact that my midwife was very qualified, but in the end, she’s a worrier, and that’s all there is to it.  I decided she couldn’t be at the birth; I was afraid her fear would be palpable to me.   And fear during labor and birth is not a good thing.

I’m happy to say that down the road, my ex-husband had another child who was born at home with his new wife.  I made him a believer.  As for Mom, she once said to me when Savannah was a little over 2 years old, “you know, I think Savannah’s so smart because you had her naturally at home and breastfed her for so long (2 years and 5 months, to be exact).”  I converted my two strongest opponents.  That’s the power of overcoming The Fear!

That was all about my family’s fear over the home birth.  What about mine?  Oh, it was there, believe me.  While statistically for a low-risk mom a home birth is just as safe as, if not safer than, a hospital birth, there is that ever-so-slight chance that something will go horribly wrong, and nothing short of an immediate, emergency Cesarean birth will save baby and/or mom.  I knew that.  Like I said, I did my research.  That fact was with me throughout the pregnancy.  And it scared me.  What if my baby did die?  Was I prepared to not only deal with losing a child, but also deal with the backlash that surely would have come from friends and family who had been hesitant over the whole idea?

I don’t think I would have dealt with either of those things well, so I tried my best to dismiss the idea.  I kept reassuring myself that the risk was low.  And I truly believed that the hospital posed a greater threat.  I will never forget working as nurse aide in the pediatrics department of a local hospital.  A woman was there with this beautiful baby girl.  Beautiful, though she was extremely jaundiced.  Her liver was failing.  Nothing short of a liver transplant was going to save this little girl.  When I asked her mother what happened to her, she told me it was during the time in the hospital following birth that she had become sick.  It was believed that a nurse or doctor hadn’t washed their hands and the child had in turn gotten a terrible infection.  I’ve worked in many hospitals.  I know the studies that say many hospital workers don’t wash their hands properly or often enough.  (If you’re ever hospitalized for any reason, insist that the nurses, doctors, and any other staff caring for you wash their hands in front of you.  They’ll think you’re a pain in the butt, but it will cut down on your risk of infection.)  Hospitals are dirty places full of many nasty germs.  And that threat was much more real to me than any slight chance of the need for a Cesarean.

What about fear of the pain?  You can’t have pain medication during a home birth.  Wasn’t I scared I couldn’t handle it?  Well, yes and no.   For a long time during my pregnancy, I was convinced it wouldn’t be that bad.  Near then end, when I was a good 30 pounds heavier, I realized I was going to have to get that baby out of me.  I started getting apprehensive about the idea.  Birth, however, is one area your lizard brain can’t do much about.  I had put the baby there, (well, me and one other person, anyway) I was going to have to get her out.

Luckily, along with The Fear, I also possess The Stubbornness.  I had something to prove with this birth.  Not only to family and friends, but more than that, to myself.  Not to mention the fact that I had an obligation to my baby not to drug her or subject her to other unnecessary interventions.  And besides, I figured labor pain is not like being stabbed with knife.  You’re not going to die from shock or anything like that.  The female body was made to do it.  All I had to do was go along for the ride.

And that’s what I did.  29 hours of facing The Fear directly in the face.  It was very empowering.  I highly recommend natural birth, even if at the hospital, to any woman, not only for the health benefits to you and your baby, but also for the empowerment it brings.  Once you have a natural birth, you very much feel that there’s nothing you can’t do.

It turns out that there are always things The Fear will try to deter you from, even if you have faced it down before.  It’s something to manage on an ongoing basis.  In part 2, I’ll tell you about my next big hurdle and how I once again dealt with The Fear.  Until then…

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