Fighting for a Peaceful Pregnancy—Despite the Scary Stories

Peaceful woman

Being pregnant is a bit like going camping as a kid—people love to tell scary stories. Us gestating gals must look like giant campfires, surrounded by marshmallows (which, well, we kind of are, if you think about the heat and puffiness). But instead of tales about that guy with the hook scratching at the car door, we get stories about women with 1,000-hour labors, horrific tearing, and sudden births on I-95.

I’m not sure why this is. So far, a few of the people who have shared these stories have closed their tales with, “It’s always good to have information.” To which I want to yell: “That is not information! This is passing along terror and fear! This is poisonous lady-bonding! There is nothing ‘informative’ about hearing about the women who had that bad thing happen during birth! That is not information, that is fear-mongering—it’s not about my body or my baby. Stop!” But usually I just stare in uncomfortable, stupefied silence.

So far I’ve gotten this from my OB (she is a big fan of the danger tale), my chiropractor, and many friends and acquaintances. I believe they do indeed mean well, but that they are in trauma themselves from hearing about or seeing these things happen. One of the ways we process trauma is by talking about it. That’s important. I would just say: Please, support us by processing it with a therapist or friend who is not pregnant or possibly about to be. Tell us instead how confident you are in our ability to tap into our body’s wisdom and have a beautiful, empowered birth. If you have a great class, book, film, or story to share, please do. Spread peace, not trauma.

This whole phenomenon reminds me very much of when I had cancer and people felt compelled to talk about friends and family who had exactly what I had, who died. My mother finally stopped telling people her daughter was ill because she couldn’t stand the barrage of horror stories. My friend Max, another cancer survivor, got into the habit of stopping people at “My friend Jenny also had…” She would say, “Does this story end in death? If so, please stop telling it.” I love her for that.

But pregnancy, being visible to every passing stranger bursting with a rough labor story, is a bit harder to conceal. So what are you to do?

3 Tips for Filtering Pregnancy Information

1)   Find the Good Stories

Since it’s so rare that I hear about the women who had a smooth, gratifying birth (though many, many exist), or who were heroes of their contractions, or who had beautiful, healthy babies, I’ve been deliberately trying to pump myself full of happy stories to balance out the fears in the ethers. (See here for some happy story resources in the books and movies sections.) Seek out the good stuff as much as possible. Ask women you love to tell you their favorite parts of labor and delivery—and have them save the scary stuff. Also, let them know if actionable tips (perhaps earned from hard experience) are welcome.

2)   Resist the Urge to Click

No matter how much that “Something bad happened to a woman in labor” link or article tempts the reptilian part of your brain, STAY AWAY. It’s not going to make you safer or better informed. It’s likely just going to scare you, which, in fact, could make birth harder. (Happy hormones and believing you can do it make birth better.) But those, “New study says this thing can help in pregnancy” links? By all means, click. That’s often actually information. Though don’t let yourself get too nutsy there either.

3)   Script It Out

I’m also working on a Dr. Phil-esque script to use with health-care providers. I see a new physical therapist this week for back pain and I plan to say something like, “I’ve had a lot of people tell me scary stories about how things can get worse, or things can go wrong. I’d love it if you only shared positive, non-scary stories about pregnancy and labor with me.” And with friends and strangers who start a “My friend…” tale: “I know you’re trying to help, but I’m taking a break from any scary stories, so if this is a story that might be frightening to a five-year-old, I’m not able to hear it right now. Thanks.”

Power to the peaceful pregnancy!