The other day a young friend of mine, pregnant with her first child, posted something about her desire to have a natural childbirth on her Facebook page.
Uh-oh. You know what happened next, right?
When a woman states her desire to have a natural childbirth experience, sometimes other women come out of the woodwork to discourage her.
If a woman doesn’t want to experience unmedicated birth, fine. And sometimes there are complicated pregnancies and births that require special circumstances. And I’m surely grateful we have the technology to help women and babies when it’s truly needed.
But please. Why discourage a mother who does want a natural birth?
If an engaged woman told her friends she wanted to have a happy marriage, would she be regaled with tales of her friend’s unhappy marriages or subsequent divorces? “Well that’s nice, but it’s not realistic. Have a lawyer handy, just in case. Nobody has a happy marriage, half of marriages fail and most people cheat and blah blah blah blah then my uterus exploded.”
See what I’m getting at? It reminds me of the proverbial barrel of monkeys. The monkey on top tries to escape but the other ones pull him back down into the barrel.
So this post is dedicated to my friend. I’ll call it:
How To Have Natural Childbirth
Read, read, read.
In order to have natural childbirth you need to normalize birth in your mind. Most people these days have a medical concept of childbirth. They think of pregnancy and birth as dangerous.
Yet for a healthy woman having an uneventful pregnancy (morning sickness is not an event by the way), birth is as safe as life gets.
Birth is what our bodies were designed to do, just like they were designed to digest food and walk.
One exception: DON’T read What To Expect When You’re Expecting. That book will have you waking up with night terrors at all the obscure nobody’s-ever-heard-of-it-pregnancy-and-birth-complications. You don’t need to feed your brain on that.
Read books that support natural childbirth and alternative birth options. Ina May Gaskin’s books are wonderful. Read birth stories, especially ones on a website with a pro-natural childbirth stance. Read Compleat Mother magazine, if you can get your hands on back issues.
Birth with a midwife.
A lay or direct entry midwife is preferable, but a Certified Nurse Midwife is also an excellent option over an OB. Why?
An OB is trained to deal with complicated pregnancies and births, and are needed… for complicated pregnancies and births. But for a healthy woman having an uncomplicated pregnancy, an OB is overkill. You know the expression “When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail?” Umm, yeah.
Midwives have a different worldview. They believe that birth is natural and normal, and they also minimize the amount of tests that you will be asked to take during your pregnancy. Tests that have a high rate of false positives that can freak you out totally.
Exercise and stay as active as possible. It’s good for you, good for the baby and helps make labor easier and shorter. Keep having sex too. Women who are sexually active at the end of their pregnancies are less likely to deliver prematurely or to go post dates.
Exercise also makes you feel good about your body and more confident, two qualities that are essential for natural childbirth.
Close Other Options.
Consider homebirth. Since medication for pain relief is simply not an option, you won’t be able to choose it. A professional midwife will be able to help you manage pain naturally. She might encourage you to labor in a pool of warm water, use essential oils that are analgesic and relaxing, take herbs that strengthen the uterus, use massage and other comfort techniques.
Even if you wouldn’t consider homebirth, simply decide that you won’t use medications. If that is your goal and determination, you’ll hit it. If you have a “wait and see” attitude, you’re aiming at nothing… and you’ll probably hit it.
My first child was the only one born in a hospital, but I posted a labor plan on the wall and politely grunted and pointed to everyone who came into the room to read it. I wasn’t going to let stuff just happen to me. I had decided ahead of time and was determined to stick with my plan unless a true emergency came up.
Educate yourself on the risks of interventions.
Yes, there are risks to every birth intervention. Yes, the medication does affect the baby (and you). Sometimes pain meds don’t “take”. They also complicate labor, leading to a slippery slope of interventions. When your body is drugged it can’t labor as effectively.
Watch natural childbirth videos.
Along with reading stories of normal, intervention-free births, watching videos of natural birth will also normalize it for you. “If she can do it, so can I” kinda thing.
Keep it in perspective.
One of the most helpful things anyone did or said to me during labor to help me deal with the pain was two sentences my Aunt-In-Law said to me on the phone when I was in labor with my first.
“Remember Carrie, billions of other women have done this before you. You can do it too.”
That totally puts it into perspective, doesn’t it? A laboring woman isn’t special. She isn’t climbing Mt. Everest. She’s doing something that billions of other women have done, without painkillers, since the beginning of time.
Yes, it hurts. Yes, you can do it. The pain of childbirth actually serves a useful purpose: it sets you up for a lovely cascade of endorphins as soon as the pain ends. When the baby is born these feel-good hormones help you bond with your baby and fall in love with him. What’s more, not all women describe labor as painful. Some describe it as “interesting”. Some describe it as merely hard work. Some have called it pleasurable or even orgasmic. If you ask me, it feels a lot like bad period cramps. Painful but not intolerable.
Talk to other moms who have had the birth you desire.
You probably already know who these women are but if you don’t have them in your own community, seek them out at places like La Leche League meetings, Holistic Moms groups, etc. Ask them about their birth and what they did to prepare themselves physically and emotionally for natural childbirth.
Avoid the topic with women who you know are negative about birth, mothering, breastfeeding or just whiny negative types in general. Steer the conversation away. You have to understand that some women feel guilt about their birth experience and their negativity is coming from that place. It’s a good thing to try to honor their feelings without getting sucked into their fear and guilt. (This is especially true of your female relatives.)
What about you? If you had natural childbirth, what helped you have the birth experience you wanted?