Natural childbirth has nothing to do with your pain tolerance, and everything to do with your mental stamina.
I should know. I’m incredibly stubborn (thanks, dad), and it paid off.
Up until I got pregnant, I assumed I would do what every other woman I knew did, which was to have an epidural during childbirth. No judgement on that. Everyone’s birth story is different, and that is to be celebrated. From what I’d heard so far, childbirth sounded like complete torture. I had one co-worker who described her organs being removed from her body during her C-section – what?!
I could never imagine my body bending and shaping to the forms required for producing another living being.
But then it happened.
And it wasn’t that bad.
I’m NOT one of those women who love being pregnant. Let’s just get that right out in the open.
I had morning sickness that felt like a permanent hangover through my first two trimesters, and that no amount of puking would cure. The flutters of movement inside me were weird, albeit comforting. I didn’t notice the swelling at the time, but photos (and my shoes) tell a different story. Overall, I had a “normal” pregnancy.
In addition to my aforementioned stubborn streak, I also insist on making (mostly) well-informed decisions. So, since I’d never been pregnant or given birth before, I had a lot of catching up to do.
My husband and I took at least five classes on various pregnancy/birth-related topics (except breastfeeding – WHAT was I thinking??). I read a dozen books (I’ve listed a few I love below), downloaded several apps, and enlisted the advice and encouragement of a doula with the ultimate goal of natural childbirth.
I learned that I have a right to determine how I want to birth, from what I wear during labor to the positions in which I labor. If danger or risk arose, I had expert advice from my OB, as well as my experienced doula, who knew my goals.
In choosing natural childbirth, I didn’t want or need to “prove” anything to anyone. That’s not me.
To be honest, I was more scared of a needle in my spine than an unmedicated birth.
I’ve always had very strong, very negative reactions to painkillers throughout my life. They make me terribly sick. That, coupled with a healthy fear of needles, was all the motivation I needed to avoid an epidural.
I was also determined to let my body guide my birth, so 1.5 weeks past my due date, I woke at 1:30 a.m. with contractions. We were admitted to Integris Baptist Medical Center, where we met my mother and my doula and got down to the beautiful, brutal work of birth.
I had printed copies of my visual birth plan (Overachiever, much? Check it out at this link.), which included (among other things) no interventions, intermediate monitoring, freedom of movement, minimal checks, low lighting and no students (if it’s a teaching hospital, keep this in mind). I wore my own super-soft nightgown. Music played as I swayed in my husband’s arms and focused on making it through each contraction. One at a time, until the grand finale.
I didn’t even have time to think about asking for an epidural, and nobody suggested it. Looking back, I don’t think I could’ve sat still long enough for it to be placed.
I can remember saying out loud “I can’t do this. I can’t do this.” My support team simply replied, “You can, and you are.” Fifteen hours later, when my son Alden was placed on my chest, my first words were “I did it.”
I have never experienced pain like that in my entire life. I’m not going to sugar-coat it. It was BRUTAL. But it’s a different kind of pain…
All our lives, we’re taught to run from pain, whether emotional or physical. We medicate it away; we inflict it on our enemies; we sometimes inflict it on ourselves in moments of darkness. But the pain of childbirth is pain for a PURPOSE. Don’t run away. Lean into it. It’s pain with the ultimate goal of bringing new life into the world as it was intended to arrive.
None of us would be here if a woman hadn’t endured that pain, sometime, somewhere.
I knew I could do the same, and so I did.
Resources for Natural Childbirth: