How Fear and Anxiety Stalled My Labor

guest July 19, 2013

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Note from the editor: Today’s post comes from Jill Klaiber.  I am grateful for the guest posters who are allowing me more time with my newest little blessing!

As a mother of three, with a fourth on the way, I have learned something new with each consecutive labor and delivery, both from experiene and education. One of the most interesting and enlightening facts that my husband and I learned during our second round of birth classes with our doulas in Virginia Beach, was about the muscles in the uterus. I had no idea that the muscles in the uterus run vertically and horizontally. A mother has a primal need to labor and deliver in safety. When a mother feels safe, her body is most likely relaxed, and her uterus will contract vertically to push the baby out. When a mother feels unsafe, experienceing fear, anxiety, worry or any other negative emotions, her instincts tell her that her environment is not safe, and that her labor needs to stall until she is in a safe environment. Her uterine muscles will contract horizontally, keeping the baby inside, prolonging labor. Amazing, right? Have you ever heard the term “failure to progress?” Without doing the statistical research, does anyone else think that fear might just be a major contributor to medical intervention in delivering babies? It’s so fascinating.

This amazing factiod is the reason that I’d like to share a bit about the birth of my third child. Thankfully, I did deliver M without medical intervention, but I definitely assumed wrongly, that she would just walk out of my womb.  My first two came within 24 hrs of my first pre-labor contractions.  M took about 60 hrs.  Pre-labor lasted almost two days.  By the time active labor started I actually didn’t really think it was active labor.  Nothing was text book. With my first two, every stage of labor had its tell-tale signs, so I knew exactly how I was progressing, and how close I was to meeting my babies.  This third one was defintely strange.  My physical body was trying to have a baby.  I knew that because even though my contractions were never closer than 5 min, they were still productive. I was still dilating. They were definitely getting more intense, but not very close together.  My body was trying and succeeding for the most part, but it was not fully able to do what it was made to do… something inside me was preventing her birth. You see, my husband left for a seven month deployment eight weeks before M was due.  As a military spouse, we are unconsciously trained to be strong and courageous no matter what situation we find ourselves in. I was putting up a strong front of confidence and smiles, because I had given birth before, and I knew how it all worked, (including the amazing fact presented above.) Little did I realize until labor began that I was holding onto layers of fear, sadness and anxiety that truly caused my pre-labor to last so long and my active labor to be so atypical.

Facing Fears and Finding Peace

I had emailed my husband on a Thursday to tell him labor had started… then Friday came and went… with not much progress. So on Saturday, we tried all sorts of things to try to bring on active labor.  Finally by 3pm things were moving along.  Around 10pm, right before I left for the hospital, I called the ship to tell him I was heading in, but in reality, I just wanted to make sure I could get a hold of him.  And I did.  He encouraged me and prayed with me… And I cried.  Finally.  After weeks of holding it together, I cried and allowed myself to feel my sadness over him missing her birth.  Sadness over not experiencing this miracle together.  I cried realizing that I was afraid of giving birth with out my salty birth partner.  I was able to name my feelings and fears.  Seriously, once I cried, even the little bit that it was at first, my body responded and my labor progressed.  After I hung up, I told my good friend (who had come to help with the birth) about what had just happened, so we prayed again together, and I cried even more, just allowing my emotions out and being honest with myself, my friend and the Lord, naming my sadness and my fears.  I stood up after praying, and I had a contraction. My labor progressed.  This continued throughout the labor, the shedding of layers of emotions equaling progression of labor.  Each time I talked to or got a text from my husband, my labor progressed.   As I was updated on my dilation status, my labor progressed. When I saw the delivery equipment being brought in, the doctor was present and my husband was on the line for good, my labor progressed.  So much so, that when the doctor said I was at 9-9.5cm, and that we would just be waiting for some push contractions, something in my mind clicked like a switch.  I finally let go, and let my baby out.  One extremely powerful contraction occurred, then a few minutes later, one more that coupled and turned into a push contraction.  I waited for the ring of fire and tried to breath low and slow while she crowned and stretched me.  One more push and M was born.  Just like that.  Two pushes. My uterine muscles stopped contracting horizontally!

Until I recognized my fears and anxieties, my emotions, my thoughts and even my spirit prevented my body from finishing its task. Crying helped me to physically release the emotions.  Hearing my husband’s voice helped to calm my anxious thoughts and know that he wasn’t going to miss her birth completely.  Praying for the Lord’s peace and his intervention in my heart and mind helped calm my soul and reconnect me to my Rock. And finally I was in a safe place… and my body responded. I was then able to give birth to my daughter without fear. You too can be fearless in birth by recognizing when your thoughts and emotions could be hindering your labor. But how and where do you begin?

Practical Application

Today, start to think about what might be causing you any fear, anxiety, sadness, etc, and talk with someone about it.  The Lord, your husband, a friend, doula or midwife would be a great place to start. Once you are able to name the anxieties or fears, they can no longer have a hold on you as you head into the home stretch of pregnancy and into birth. Fear of the unknown, especially as a first time mom, is probably the most common. This is why it is very important to be educated about how your body works during labor and delivery, about your choices with your provider and birth location, and what tactics you want to employ to deal with and minimize pain. Fears about being a good mom, taking care of a newborn, who is present in the room at delivery or even things like finances can weigh on a mom. If you can deal with as many of these obstacles as possible before labor begins, the better. You will be free to labor in peace to bring your precious gift into the world!

photo-2Jill Klaiber is the wife of a naval aviator and mother to four children, ages 5, 3, 21 mo and due in December. She graduated with two Bachelors degrees from Miami University (OH), has lived in Europe and Japan, and is passionate about birth education and sharing her experiences with unmedicated childbirth.    She is most passionate about her relationship with Jesus Christ and loves sharing her faith through her daily living.  She writes about these topics and others on her own relatively new blog

Have you experienced a similar situation? What emotions, fears or anxieties have you faced before or during labor? How did you deal with them? Is any of this information news to you?

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  1. Hooray Jill! I’m so thrilled you shared this story with the world. It was such an amazing experience to watch you labor and to see, firsthand, just how powerful emotions can be during labor. I hope this post helps many mamas to realized and overcome their fears surrounding birth.


  2. It’s so cool to hear how strong the mind, body, and spirit connections are!! I’m so glad that you shared this with the world. It is so important to acknowledge your emotions. I can’t wait to explore your other blog posts!


  3. I am 38wks along & I came across this post after reading a chapter in a book about fears & labor and it really hit home. I believe God brought me here to see an example of how powerful letting go of fears is especially during labor & how important it is to him for us to put our trust and faith in Him during the process despite the emotions & fears we may have.

    Thank you so much for sharing your story!!!!


  4. Thank you for sharing your story~ it helps me so much! I have a 5 year old, 3 year old (both born unmedicated) and a 10 month old who I labored with quickly, but succumbed at 9 cm to an epidural out of fear and anxiety I had been experiencing for months. I am now newly pregnant, due in October and praying I can give it all over to Jesus, right from the beginning, and be ready to face labor and birth with Him by my side.
    Thank you again. Hearing a sister’s story is also an encouragement!


  5. I just wanted to thank you for this article! Our #3 was born last Sunday night after a very similar experience to what you described. I had false labor and random start/stop labor for about 5 days before. It was exhausting and very very frustrating. I was trying to figure out why I just couldn’t labor started and it occurred to me that I was afraid. Afraid of the pain and uncertainty of what was ahead. So I googled “can fear slow labor” and found your article. The information about the horizontal and vertical contractions was so helpful to me.

    I began to pray and lay my fears before the Lord and ask him to tell my body that everything was okay and that there was nothing to fear. Then I was able to use the vertical uterine contraction idea to start visualizing and mentally focusing on having downward contractions with each one. I started talking to my baby during each contraction and telling him that we had to go down.

    In a pretty short time, the contractions finally got going and he was born in short order. It was actually a really neat connection time for us. When he came out, I felt like, “Hey buddy, we did that together! Good job us!”

    So, thank you for sharing about this. I’m not sure when labor would have caught on if I hadn’t read it. It really gave me the tools I needed to “push” through (ha!)


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I’m Kate, mama to 5 and wife to Ben.  I love meeting new people and hearing their stories.  I’m also a big fan of “fancy” drinks (anything but plain water counts as ‘fancy’ in my world!) and I can’t stop myself from DIY-ing everything.  I sure hope you’ll stick around so I can get to know you better!

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