Just breathe through it…. right?

“Ah, so you feel for the fontanelles?”

While the midwife was busy chatting away with my obstetrician, I was getting to the business end of delivering baby #2, despite having arrived in the birth suite just twenty minutes earlier. The doctor had been urgently summoned as things were moving quickly. As he and the midwife started to prep for delivery, he suddenly looked up at me and said “Was that a contraction? Did you just breathe through it?”

I sighed and gathered my thoughts. “Um, yeah, it was”.

He shook his head in disbelief, then smiled. “So this baby is about to be born any minute and you can just calmly breathe through a contraction like that, but I can’t put a needle in you?”

“Yeah”, I mustered a wry smile. “One of life’s great mysteries…”.


See the majority of appointments late in both my pregnancies had been focused on “drips” and needles…  and how I was going to avoid them. It’s not that I have any philosophical objections to cannulas or interventions in pregnancy. Twenty minutes earlier I’d been begging for pethidine (only to be turned down because baby was coming too fast. Damn impatient children).

Nope, just a plain old-fashioned phobia. A phobia so strong that the last time I’d needed a drip (to administer penicillin to halt the spread of an infection rapidly moving through my body), it was only the fact my panic attack led me to black out that I failed to rip the needle out myself. A phobia whose basis I’ve never really identified, and that doesn’t impact me day to day, but sure can pose some challenges for a pregnant lady.

Throughout my two pregnancies I’ve come perilously close to needing drips for induction of labour, to administer antibiotics, for fluids and for a c-section. But each time, often at the last minute, a solution has presented itself (my breech baby turned herself around; my husband held a straw to my mouth for hours on end and gave me no choice but to keep hydrated; labour started spontaneously after arriving at the hospital for a scheduled induction). I’ve definitely dodged a few bullets!

The doctor was well aware of my phobia – we’d spent many appointments going over the ways in which it might impact me and that fact that there may well be situations where a cannula was absolutely – life-savingly – necessary. And I knew that if that happened, things were almost certainly going to get ugly, and that no amount of calm breathing was going to cut it.

I completely understand, however, the doctor’s observation. He knows I’m not really the mantras-and-hypnosis type, and yet through both my labours I was able to avoid panic, almost instinctively and just by breathing calmly and focusing on the goal and transient nature of the contraction (despite how blooming painful they may have been!). Yet despite that facade of calm – “hey I can just breathe my way through super-intense contractions y’all, ain’t nothing can faze me” – I swear if someone comes at me with a cannula I’m still going to be sprinting in the other direction. If that’s not possible, I’ll be a pathetic lump of tears, curled up foetal position and/or aggressively warding off the poor person charged with cannulating me. Fun times.

See that’s the thing with anxiety (and mental health in general) – it can seem completely irrational. It often IS completely irrational. I know my fear of a cannula is irrational, I know it won’t actually harm me, I know that if a medical professional wants to put a cannula in there’s probably a very good, very important reason. My rational self knows this. But my anxious self couldn’t care less.

Our minds are weird and wonderful places, and sometimes they don’t make sense. I like to remind myself of this whenever I get frustrated or confused by someone else’s behaviour or attitude – who knows what lies beneath it? There’s a good chance it’s something completely irrational – and it’s not like I can judge them for that! If nothing else, my anxiety has made me more compassionate and empathetic… but still a massive wuss when it comes to needles!

I  know that one day it’s almost inevitable I’m going to have to face the cannula phobia, and I’m not sure who I feel more sorry for – Myself, or the poor soul who has to do the deed! I suspect there’ll be a lot of calming breathing required by all in the room that day….!

Did you know it’s Mental Health Week 2015? Check out https://1010.org.au/ for more information about the week and Mental Health in Australia!


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