This blog is addressed to any parent who is interested in natural childbirth.From what surfing I’ve done, it seems a popular topic is blogging about pregnancy and writing up birth stories. This is great.
I do become concerned when I see a perpetuation of the normalization of traumatic birth. If all you knew of birth came from movies and tv, you would “know” that every woman screams in agony, curses horrible things at her partner, and is at the mercy of the medical staff. If you add to this the testimony of people who are voluntarily steeped in modern medicine exclusively, you will end up with the conviction that childbirth has to be the most painful thing ever, that epidurals are necessary, and that whatever can go wrong probably will.
I want to put my testimony out there as respresenting a large community of women who have given birth naturally and lived to tell about it joyfully. It can be done, and you do not have to be superhuman to do it. You can be a big wimp like me and it is still possible.
I will tell you that for me and many, many other women, the experience of childbirth can be described as intense, huge, requiring total focus at times, requiring the help and reassurance of support people at times, but, when compared to migraines, broken bones, and other severe injuries and maladies, not very painful.
I do not mean to contradict any individual’s experience. I understand that there are times when a person’s tolerance for pain is low, or when special, rare conditions result in more pain. I know there are complications; I am grateful for modern medicine and painkillers for emergency situations and I appreciate that it is difficult to get the support you need to do things with minimal intervention. The doctors and nurses have a lot of nifty gadgets and procedures at hand, many of which become lifesaving in certain rare events, and they are eager to make sure no one goes without a contraption or a test that they might possibly require.
The problem is, most of these gadgets and procedures will lead to the very events that require further intervention, so if they can be avoided in the first place, they should be, in my opinion.
We are getting so far away from a normal birth experience that people are beginning to see no problem with scheduling a C-section just to avoid dealing with the birth all together. Is there nothing valuable in submitting oneself to the bodily process begun with the initial act of intimacy, trusting that nature can function properly? Even if something, by some slim chance, goes wrong and the medical staff must intervene, the birthing parents will be living inside the experience, facing what is happening together. To just turn it all over to the drugs and the instruments at the outset is to admit a “defeat” that is extremely unlikely to occur.
My first suggestion to parents wishing to go the natural route is to commit to it wholeheartedly, knowing that it is desirable and preferable both for its physical as well as its emotional health benefits. Get a midwife if you can, and if available plan to give birth in a birth center rather than a hospital. Or even at home, although this possibility is even more rare. If you must have an OB, find one that seems to favor and prefer very minimal intervention, and who can guarantee that neither s/he nor anyone else will be offering you epidurals constantly. (If I had someone in my house offering me heroin all day, I would certainly succumb eventually, especially when the day got tough, though I am quite committed to never, ever touching the stuff.)
This leads to my next point, which is that you need support for your decision. Not only from your partner, your midwife or your OB and the nurses, but from family and friends. Refuse to hear the horror stories from people who are convinced that birth must be horrible so yours will be too. Surround yourself with people who believe that labor and delivery are usually positive experiences, even if theirs didn’t happen to be. Find, listen to, read and re-read testimonies of perfectly sane and imperfectly courageous parents who nevertheless survived a natural birth, even ones that didn’t turn out as perfect as they initially imagined (what in this life ever does?), stories that inspire you and give you confidence.
In late pregnancy, make friends with the Braxton-Hicks or “practice” contractions. Each one is an opportunity to relax, to revel in the body’s proper functioning, to link the feeling of a contraction to a positive attitude. When the pregnancy has gone past 37 weeks and all systems are go, the contractions can trigger the visualization of opening up, of progress. Relaxing is the key, and the woman riding out a contraction is allowed the ultimate luxury of complete self-centeredness, of focussing on her own self to the exclusion of all else. There should be people immediately available to her who can get her whatever she needs, who can look her in the eyes and, if they see the slightest glimmer of fear, tell her honestly that she is doing a great job and that she is definitely strong enough to get it done. Not a nurse or doctor breezing through to offer drugs, or a partner distracted by the tv.
I feel as though I am resorting to dictating what I think are the ideal conditions. This is not my intention. My whole point is to aim for the birth you want and not be influenced by the mothers who insist that you must be crazy to go without an epidural. I am disheartened by the plethora of frightening birth stories that do not leave any alternative but more of the same for everyone. When I read an account that says, “I know I could not handle doing it naturally” it makes me sad. Why are we hellbent on perpetuating this terror? It does not have to be like this. And how can I say that it is not the most painful thing ever without discounting other women’s experiences, which I do NOT want to do? I just want to contribute what I, and many other women I have shared stories with, have experienced, so that expectant mothers and fathers have another perspective.