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What Are Your Worst Fears in Pregnancy?

Sometimes the Facebook Queries take a deeper turn than others. This question in particular struck a chord with many women. Fears in pregnancy aren’t often delved into beyond momentary glances followed by reassurances that everything will be fine. Sometimes the feelings need to be held for a little longer than just a moment, but promise me, ladies… you won’t take these fears and wear them like a new cloak you’ll worry about every day. 

 Here, without even initials, are the fears women bravely shared on my Navelgazing Midwife Facebook page. Feel free to add your own to the list. We’ll hold them tenderly. 

(Some comments edited for clarity.)

- My biggest fear was a baby with a cleft palate or something like that. I remember feeling so guilty that I was being so shallow. I wasn't afraid of a cesarean or my baby dying.

- Unresolvable shoulder dystocia is my irrational worst fear. Until the baby actually comes out, I'm scared every.single.time that s/he is stuck.

- Cord accident, hands down.

- Stillborn, late term miscarriage, due to hyperemesis, low birth weight, breathing difficulties, a heart issue, hemorrhage; I was pretty much a basket case of worry.

- With my first baby, it was probably something that required an NICU stay or lengthy separation. With my second (as I was planning a homebirth), it was having to transfer emergently to the hospital for a C-Section. With this pregnancy, I'm not really sure. I'm more afraid about after the baby is born and how I will handle 3 kids, spaced closer than I ever planned on, and if I'll have to go back to work.

- After 4 miscarriages, it’s always loss.

- Shoulder dystocia is my nightmare. I have bigger babies with line backer shoulders and my first did indeed have SD (shoulder dystocia) although that was likely due to position/epidural/being induced early and was fairly easily resolved with McRoberts. Still, it's a scary thing to be in the middle of and I always feared it would occur again without being able to get him/her out. I was also scared of breech with my twins...and you know how that worked out. (She had a breech and it went fine.)

- NgM - I know we all know this, but I really, really hope women don't judge their own fears as being appropriate or not. Just because one woman has death fears doesn't mean a baby with Down syndrome isn't equally terrifying. Even when something is correctable like cleft palates or other "cosmetic" issues, I know those can be just as horrific in the head.

- That someone would take my baby from me. I had nightmares about it in my second pregnancy, where I was hiding the baby so no one could find him. After he was born, I had PPD (Postpartum Depression) and was convinced that something horrible was going to happen to them and they would die, so I was planning their funerals in my head. My psychiatrist promised me that no one was going to take them away or commit me, to help me trust him and open up about my symptoms.

-  I think I feared a mentally disabled child the most, having been brought up to think intelligence was all important. My father taught mentally handicapped children and achieved great things with them, teaching many to read, write and do simple math even though they were only supposed to be able to, by the classifications of the day, to be only 'trainable' not 'educable.' He also taught them to work with tools and with many other things in the world. For instance, having an enormous aquarium in his room filled with local stream life. He behaved with devotion towards them, but always grieved at their limitations beyond which his efforts could not take them, and feared finding any such thing in his children. I believe in the worth of all people, not dependent on their intelligence, but the values I was brought up with were also strong in me.

- With my UC (Unassisted [Child]Birth), being responsible for my baby's death.

- Dead baby. Always, the constant fear of a dead baby. Waking up and frantically poking my belly ‘til I could feel baby wake up as well. Every morning.

- I also had similar fears for probably the first year of my first child’s life. That he would die.

- I was afraid once because I ate the potatoes which had parts which had turned green and read that this might be a cause of spina bifida or anencephaly. It seemed impossible to get through any pregnancy without doing or encountering something which one could fear might have harmed the baby.

One fear I think was real. I was taking anatomy and physiology and we were doing dissections without gloves and pickling our fingers in formaldehyde. I read that in a long list of teratogens and went to my teacher, who told me to stop, not to do any more dissections. That baby was born with a minor degree of hypospadia, and I think that could have been the reason.

But most of the rest were merely dark shadows of fear finding some form to cling to.

- With my third, I had an intense fear of pushing. It hit me suddenly during transition. I felt better once I verbalized my fear of pushing with my midwife. I don't know why, but just saying that I was scared of the pushing stage made me feel better and less scared.

- My fear during pregnancy was of the hospital staff being pushy and not allowing us to labor peacefully and birth how we wanted. Grateful that in the end it didn't matter at all!

- To be honest I didn't even have a reasonable degree of fear that anything would go wrong during birth. I had tiny pricklings of fear about my C-section scar for the first few home births and then I really totally forgot about it. Other than that, I just didn't expect that I would have any problem giving birth. Not saying this is reasonable but that is where I was at.

- My first child was before my "birth enlightenment". Because I have always had horrible constipation, I thought my body would not be able to push a baby out. "If I can't push out a little poop without pharmacological help, how can I push out an entire person" was my very real fear. It seemed so private and scary, I never told a soul. Turns out my body knows exactly what to do - 3 contractions of pushing and he was out. But my fear made me push too hard, and I prolapsed my uterus. A good reminder that 1) no fear is to silly to talk about before birth, 2) fear can truly effect birth and 3) to take seriously any fear that women discuss with me during pregnancy/labor.

- That I would have to be transferred to the hospital. And then all of my defending of homebirth would have been out the window. But it went well and we birthed at home 5 weeks early!

- Scared that I'd be transferred to the hospital. Scared about tearing or being cut again. Phobic about the ring of fire, after the consultant made out she did me a HUGE favour by giving me a local and a cut and using forceps. She fed me lies about the baby emerging being the worst pain ever, just couldn't shake that fear.... Stupid woman! It could have been easier and smoother if she hadn't given me that worry to hold me back!!

- Having to have a c-section. The first pregnancy I read that What to Expect When You are Expecting book and was in fear of everything.

- I had a strange fear of dying when I was pregnant with my first. I looked around at all the women in my life who had survived giving birth and realized that odds were firm that I would too!

- I was petrified of induction or c-section. Induction became a reality at 42 weeks, but I fortunately still had a vaginal birth. Will never willingly birth in a hospital again.

- My biggest fear with #1 was cleft lip, cleft palate. I watched a lot of infomercials about it during that pregnancy.

#2 my biggest fear was premature labour (because of #1)

#3 my biggest fear was going into labor far from home, thankfully I was home because my labor was 30 minutes that time.

- This sounds like the silliest thing in the world, but my biggest fear when I was pregnant was that I wouldn't take care of her umbilical cord stump properly. By the time she was born, I had worked myself into a full tilt over it, convinced that I was going to somehow kill my baby because I messed up her cord stump.

- Oh thank you so much for asking this... some of these still haunt me and I've never really been able to tell anyone! I had a fear that my oldest son would drown complete with nightmares about it. I feared something apocalyptic would happen and I wouldn't be able to get to my mom's 200 miles away. I also had fears about how I would be able to get all the kids out of the van if I crashed into water.

- I am so worried about a prolapsed cord. And having to transfer to the hospital. And that my baby will die. Scary stuff.

- NgM - When I was pregnant with Tristan (#1) back in 1982, ultrasounds were archaic, barely able to display a shadow, much less anomalies. They did one at 7 months because I'd already gained over 50 pounds (ended up gaining 70 pounds). I got to watch the screen (rare for that time) and when I saw his hands, I freaked out that he had stumps for hands, his hands curled into tight balls like claws, deformed and ghastly. The doctor told me it was nothing to worry about, that everything looked normal, but I obsessed about it the rest of the pregnancy. When he was born, I didn't care about the gender, I just wanted to see his hands. Of course, his hands were in balls because that's how baby's hands are!

I was so, so green back then and this memory helps me with newly pregnant moms scared of something or other, that explaining things, not just reassuring them, can make all the difference in the world.

As we all see, of course, even the most knowledgeable of us can have enormous fears, rational or irrational; doesn't matter which.

With Meghann, I was terrified of a cesarean; she was a UC with a gnarly shoulder dystocia.

With Aimee, I was worried about shoulder dystocia (of course), but more worried about having to endure hospital protocols when I knew better. (I was a doula and having a homebirth.) My water broke 7 days before labor started, leaving me in the hands of the CNMs at the military hospital. I finagled signed birth plans from docs re: my desires. In the end, labored alone and had Aimee in the car. Because of my birth plan, however, we stayed a mere 3 hours then went home. It was the BEST birth of all three.

- Water breaking preterm before 37 weeks and therefore not being able to have my homebirth.

- My fear? - my baby's death, either as a miscarriage, a fetal demise, during birth, or as a baby.

- Having another stillbirth after losing my first baby to PROM (Premature Rupture of Membranes) at 20 weeks. I was terrified of going into preterm labor before 25 weeks and being told they couldn't help me again.

- I'm so glad I had my daughter before I was an NICU nurse. I just had those vague fears that something might be wrong.

- Going into labor prior to 37 weeks or having to transfer to the hospital. I did transfer to the hospital after 36 hours of active labor (6+ in transition), but birthed a beautiful 40-weeker vaginally after 44 hours. I had random fears throughout pregnancy of my son dying.

- I'm 34 weeks with my first and am still in shock that nothing has happened and everything has been text book. I've had bizarre health issues since puberty so I don't have a lot of trust with my body. I am trying to work through the fear of waiting for the other shoe to drop. The unknown is what's most terrifying. That I am going to have a child for the rest of my life and cannot guarantee it's protection is terrible.

- I had nightmares about having miscarriage or stillbirth. During labor all I was worried about was a c-section, it was a constant fear.

- So, I am not afraid of another c-section. I am not afraid of a stillbirth (not that I want one), or a miscarriage or congenital defects - in the end of the 3rd trimester and during labor death seems to be walking with me. Not death of the world, MY death, my end, to me birthing is bringing life and death. I am not normally morbid nor morose but it makes my hair stand on end and I do think death was holding me close during my c-section, and I remember being given a choice (in my head) after he was born and I didn't care at all. So I do what I can to avoid death before, during and after pregnancy but I know that will be there next time too.

- I honestly didn't have many fears with baby 1 or 2. With my 3rd son, all I could think was I am tempting fate. I've never had a miscarriage so until I reached about 15 weeks the fear of that was in my mind. I worried about still birth after that. When I finally put that fear to rest, I thought I'd conquered the notion that I could not be so "lucky" as to have another healthy child and birth, but the stuff my doctor said throughout the latter part of my pregnancy seeped in. About 25 weeks he was first hinting at big baby. Then by 30 weeks, he wanted to schedule my induction (which I flat out refused). He scheduled one any way, which I didn't show up for. I went a few days overdue feeling perfectly fine, but when it was time to push my baby out, very briefly, I felt fear creep in (I’ve never felt fear pushing my baby out before). I thought I was a bad girl and didn't listen. My baby will get stuck and die and it will be all my fault for not listening and tempting fate and getting pregnant again. I think my boyfriend sensed my hesitation, because he whispered in my ear, “If you need to push, think of the reward you are getting when you are done. We will finally see our baby.” I pushed our son out in less than 15 minutes after that. slowly, on my own terms, and it was beautiful. He did weigh over nine pounds, but I had no trauma because of it. And neither did he.

- I am pregnant with #4, 39 weeks on Wednesday and those silly fears of tempting fate have popped up again. I addressed them all early on with my midwives. Now I focus on positivity and strength. The strength is to be able to deal with whatever comes my way. The positivity is basically knowing I can do this. My baby can do this, even though it's a first home birth for me; I feel more relaxed because of it.

- I don't remember many with my first 3. I guess the biggest was #2 and I was afraid I would end up with another cesarean. I was scared a lot of my pregnancy with #4 that something was going to happen to her. She was not planned by my husband and I and I knew if something happened to her it would be hard to cope with because I had just decided to go back to school and we were struggling as it was. She's 22 months now and the biggest blessing ever!

- I was scared I’d develop preeclampsia –again- and scared I wouldn't make it to term… again (x2). I didn't and I did and it is the greatest feeling of pride and competency to be able to say that my body CAN do what it’s supposed to. I CAN carry a pregnancy to TERM.

Having to have a c-section. It's honestly the main reason I wanted to go/went med-free, to give myself the best chance at vaginal birth. (It also meant I was doing every trick in the book from 37 weeks on to get baby into a good position and encourage labor.)

That being said, I had to come to terms with the fact that a c-section was a possibility and it might be beyond my control. Being HSV+ (Herpes Simplex Virus), my biggest fear was losing my chance at a vaginal birth with a late pregnancy outbreak. Despite taking prophylactic Valtrex in the last month, I got a lesion a week before my EDD (Estimated Due Date). Probably due to stress/anxiety/hormones shifting with labor on the horizon. At that point, I was having regular periods of BH (Braxton Hicks contractions), so I was terrified of going into labor before I was healed. Let me tell you, I am now a firm believer in positive thinking, and it doesn't hurt if you also have friends praying for you. I firmly told my body to hold off on labor until my EDD. The BH stopped completely. I commenced with a lot of self care to heal as quickly as possible. Wouldn't you know, my water broke spontaneously shortly after midnight on my EDD, contractions started 15 minutes later, and 12 hours later I had a beautiful med-free hospital delivery.

Interesting moment from labor: I had just made it through transition and was told I could start pushing. I had been way deep in labor-land, but the second my midwife gave the green light for pushing, I snapped into clarity and had my first RAWR MAMA BEAR moment and asked her to double check and make sure I was completely healed (even though I knew I was) just in case because I couldn't handle the possibility of hurting my baby girl.

- NgM - Wow, everyone. Very, very powerful, these thoughts.

As you women spoke about luck running out, I totally remembered that after you said it. I'd never had a miscarriage (still haven't), really didn't have any problems during the pregnancies, no bleeding or anything... and I was a doula pregnant with 2 and 3, so knew way too much at that point to be non-chalant. I was so scared something was going to smack me upside my head and I would be one of most who've experienced so many things going wrong.

My things that went wrong (shoulder dystocia, post-dates, SROM [Spontaneous Rupture of Membranes]  for days) were not anticipated, so didn't terrify me. Much scarier were the unknowns. I think it's part of why I play out the worst-case-scenario with clients; it can really help name the fear and put it in its place.

I see it like this.

The fear is the mouse in the corner, but all you can see is its huge, long, ugly shadow on the wall. Talking about the fear gives mom a flashlight to peer into the darkness and, hopefully, see the scary thing really isn't that giant shadow, but a small mouse that's lost its way. Please don't think I'm diminishing the fears' grasp, but offering a way for moms to face the worst and then be able to put it in a box and set it aside when they can. If that helps someone here, I'm glad.

- During my 1st, when I was about 16 or 17 weeks, I remember a woman telling me that she lost her 1st baby at like 24ish weeks. (And side note--I have no clue why she would just volunteer such information, in great detail, to a women who was newly pregnant!!) And that became my greatest fear -that I would lose the baby in some rare, pre-term labor type situation. And then my greatest fear came true. (Due to cervical incompetence @ 19.5 weeks.) As my cervix was dilating prematurely, on the surface I was in denial. But in my head, before I even went to the hospital, I knew it was cervical incompetence. I just knew it. I had no history or anything else that would've suggested to me that it was cervical incompetence... I just knew it in my heart.

Something happens to people when they've already experienced their greatest fear realized. It can make you stronger or it can paralyze you. During my 2nd pregnancy, it paralyzed me. I was terrified of losing another baby in the same way. I kept telling myself, "I'll be more relaxed when I make it to 24 weeks, 26 weeks, 28 weeks, etc." Yet as I reached each of those milestones successfully, I found all sorts of new things to obsessively fixate upon. I most certainly carried all that fear into my birth.

Thankfully, I was able to fully grieve the loss of our 1st baby before we conceived our 3rd pregnancy. This pregnancy was totally different. I was far more educated, empowered, but most of all, I was free from all the painful baggage I carried into my 2nd pregnancy/birth. During my 3rd pregnancy, my greatest fear was a c-section, or rather anything completely out of my control that could lead to a truly, medically-necessary c/sec. I believed in myself and I was very confident in my abilities to have an unmedicated birth. Then my baby was breech and stayed that way through all my attempts to encourage her to flip!!! And I ran out of time trying to find a care provider who had experience w/vaginal breech (which I was willing to consider). So I decided to embrace my birth and my baby and carefully laid out a positive c/sec plan. And in the end, because I worked through my greatest fear, it didn't become my worst nightmare. A c-section is always a c-section; it can never, ever come remotely close to resembling a normal vaginal birth. But for what it was, I was able to make it as positive as possible.

- I was worried about being stressed and the baby picking up on it. Stressing about being stressed. Worrying that my baby would be a worrier. Any less than pure thought in my mind was undermining my baby's future. I was mostly scared about becoming a parent.

- My biggest fear was AFE (Amniotic Fluid Embolism). Which was really not something I could do anything about.
Now, my biggest fear would be abuse/intentional harming/disrespect and disregard. This is, of course, because of what did happen with my last birth.

- Losing this baby, very early on after 3 miscarriages. I set a milestone and would get excited when we met them: 6 weeks, 12 weeks, 20 weeks, and now 28 weeks.

- Bleeding to death in labor. I used to have strange dreams about this when I was young, long before I was ever pregnant. Someone (of a more mystical bent than I) once told me that I had died of PPH (Postpartum Hemorrhage) in a previous life! This fear completely disappeared after the first labor went smoothly.

- Carrying the baby to term, just to have it be still born. Or dying in childbirth... I think that scared both my husband and myself.

- I'm interested that you remember your fears so clearly Barb, or anyone else with adult kids. I don't remember any at all, although I'm sure I had them. In fact I know I had them, because I remember an important task of my first pregnancy was learning how to box up the fears of things I could not control.

I always thought of it as putting them in a box and putting the box on a shelf. Trying to make the fears just go away wasn't really do-able, but putting them in a box on a shelf meant I could take them down and have a look at them from time to time, but put them away again so that they didn't drive me crazy. I no longer remember what was in the boxes. Perhaps they got lost in a move somewhere along the line.

- Shoulder dystocia. Ever since I learned about it at about 5 months, I couldn't stop thinking about it. Once I decided on a home birth, I had a fear that there would be more than one client in labor at the same time.

I'd like to note that both of these things happened. He was a dystocia and thankfully I was able to move around because I was at home and my midwife handled the situation with such skill. Amazing. Also, there was another client in labor! She went into labor before I did, and had her baby after I did. Two Valentine's Day babies!!! I kept a pregnancy journal. It's so weird to go back and read it now.

- Still birth is the one thing that really makes me stop. Most other things I don't worry about. I guess I just don't let myself worry about them.

- NgM -Thank you, all of you. May all your fears vanish in the wind... or at least, maybe they'll stay put in that box on the top shelf of your closet for the duration of the pregnancy.