Making the most of your prenatal journey

This is excerpted from An Easier Childbirth: A Mother's Guide for Birthing Normally , by Dr. Gayle Peterson, Family Therapist with ParentsPlace.

Preparation for Labor

"I secretly feared the trials and tribulations of parenthood when I was pregnant with my first child ... yet now that I have become a mother it is almost impossible to describe the pleasure and depth it can bring to living ..."
--Renee, mother of four

Becoming a mother is a life transition, which our culture greatly underestimates. Few other life changes are as complete and irreversible, and few life events provoke as much ambivalence. I know of no other experience that simultaneously stimulates two powerfully divergent fantasies: the promise of ultimate fulfillment and the threat of selfless sacrifice. Somewhere in between lies the reality of motherhood.

Pregnancy is a journey. At the end, a woman gives birth not only to a baby, but also to her own identity as a mother. Pregnancy is therefore an emotional and psychological as well as a physiological transformation.

Your adjustment to pregnancy and labor is enhanced when you express your anxieties about motherhood. If your concerns remain buried or denied, or if fears about childbirth are ignored or minimized, the inevitable natural stress of labor and delivery may intensify these anxieties.

Gershon Levenson and Sol Shnider at the University of California at San Francisco School of Medicine found that anxiety during labor decreased oxytocin, a hormone that stimulates contractions, resulting in dysfunctional labor patterns. Fear in labor may also contribute to a reduction in the supply of oxygen to the baby. Many scientific studies have documented the impact of emotional variables on the labor process, yet medicine has almost never offered women a means for coping with these natural anxieties, perhaps assuming that fear was abnormal, and therefore beyond normal prenatal care. In fact, anxiety during this transitional period is common, but women are seldom given the opportunity to discuss the meaning of this transition. Prenatal care providers rarely recognize that the physical process of childbirth is intertwined with a woman's concern not only about labor, but about the changes that having a baby will bring to her life beyond the delivery room.

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