So, I’ve been on vacation from work this week, which, in theory, would make you think I would have tons more time to write and post. Actually, with my routine so out of whack, I spend my days making half-assed attempts at cleaning my house, and full-assed attempts at watching TV and eating crappy food. Just like when I was in college, the busier I am, the better I organize my time, and am able to stick with my usual late-night routine of writing.
Hence, I’m cheating right now with a re-post. I think it’s a worthy re-post, however, since so many of my fellow Club Preg members are starting to move towards leaving that club for this new club, Club I-Had-A-Baby. So in case anyone is interested, here’s my take on how to actually “do” natural childbirth.
I debated for awhile on whether or not to post this piece of writing. An awesome friend (Hi Kristin!!) recently asked me to explain just how I managed to get two human beings out of my body without the use of pain relief. Instead of replying, “Magic!”, I thought I’d make a quick list of tips that helped me along, and little bits of information I picked up and managed to remember through the fog of intense, irrational pain. Instead, I wrote this crazy-long thesis on natural childbirth.
The reason I debated about posting it is this: when it comes to having babies, women are very defensive over how they go about it. Either women are convinced that their method is the only way to go, or their birth doesn’t end up going the way they imagined it, and they either feel jaded about the experience, or guilty about the choices they made. I can understand both camps. I had an awesome experience with my first daughter, and a completely opposite experience with my second. It just goes to show you that you never know what to expect from babies — in the end, they are the ones in charge, not you.
So, while I may sound very opinionated in my feelings about natural childbirth, please understand that I know and agree that a natural birth is not always possible. Just like those wacky labor instructors like to say, your body’s in charge — and that means sometimes things just go haywire for no reason at all. It doesn’t mean you’re a wimp or a failure if you ask for drugs, have to be induced, or have a C-section. It means life is unpredictable, and thank God for modern medicine. However (get ready for the hippie, opinionated commentary), I think that more women would have a drug-free, intervention-free birth if they did so in an environment that was supportive of it. I feel like doctors, on the whole, are more into their own convenience and “treating” women in labor than just facilitating and assisting in a natural process. If a woman wants pain relief, by all means, provide it! However, restricting women from moving around and laboring unassisted because it’s more convenient for the doctor than for the woman, and otherwise making women feel like they can’t do it on their own creates a situation where the woman becomes convinced that she can’t get through the birth process without assistance, which begins the chain reaction of assistance after asisstance, intervention after intervention, not to mention making the woman feel defeated and helpless. On the whole, I think if doctors would just get the hell out of the way and let women do what they need to do, there would be way less medical interventions necessary in childbirth. Period.
Anyways, here’s the advice I gave my dear friend, and any other woman who would be interested in natural childbirth:
1) Take the childbirth class at the hospital. Don’t take one that focuses solely on preparing for natural childbirth, or if you do, double up and check out the hospital’s class, too. Here’s why: if you only take a Bradley or hypnobirth or whatever method class that only focuses on natural childbirth, and you go into the hospital and (God forbid) need a C-section, or decide you can’t (or don’t want to) handle the pain, you have no knowledge of what will happen next. Your mind is so irrational and incapable of decision-making in the midst of labor that anything out of the norm is going to be really frightening. Plus, you’ll feel so much pressure to go through with natural childbirth that if you decide against it, you’ll feel bad and really down on yourself, which is NOT how you should feel about childbirth, no matter how you get through it. If, however, you take the class at the hospital, you get a little taste of everything. If your hospital is at all open to natural childbirth, you’ll hear about anything and everything that can go on in a hospital birth, including pain relief options. Even the one at my not-entirely-enlightened hospital included practicing different breathing techniques to get through natural labor. When I went in to the hospital, I knew at least some breathing patterns, and knew that they had rocking chairs, birthing balls, etc., but I also knew what kind of pain medications they could give me IF I asked for it, and when they would give it to me, what would happen, etc. I felt a lot calmer and relaxed knowing what to expect.
2) Keep your options open. DO NOT get your heart set on a natural childbirth. I walked in to each one of my births with an open mind. I just told myself that I would just see how long I could go without the pain medication, and if I reached a point where I didn’t think I could take it anymore, then I would ask for drugs. You just have to acknowledge that you don’t know what the pain is going to be like, or how you’re going to react to it. That’s okay. In the same vein, don’t write out a birth plan. That’s just like asking God or Fate or whatever to do exactly the opposite. Don’t do it. Talk to your partner about what you do and don’t want, and what you want him/her to do, but don’t put anything on paper.
3) No one gets a medal for not accepting drugs. Seriously. No gold stars, no brownie points, they don’t even give you a stupid certificate suitable for framing. Natural childbirth can be your preference, but just remember that you’re not a failure if you ask for drugs around the 7-8 centimeter mark. Also, don’t be surprised if they tell you “No” around the 7-8 centimeter mark when you ask for them. That’s the beauty of this strategy. Most women, if they’ve prepared themselves, can make it to about this point. Nurses and midwives will tell you they can tell when a women has hit this point, or “transition” (are they the same thing? I think so), because even the most put-together women start asking for drugs and falling apart. It’s too late by that point, and you’re in the home stretch anyways. Just warn your partner about it and ask him to keep you calm. I didn’t ask for drugs at all with my first daughter. However, I had a much more supportive nursing staff the first time. With my second daughter, my midwife was out of town, and I was under the care of whatever dipshit resident was on staff. The nurses had to listen to HIM, and I had no rocking chair, no getting out of bed, etc. I asked for drugs at about 8 cm, and they told me no. I made it through just fine, though it sucked more. Which brings me to my next point:
4) See a midwife, not an OB. They are nicer, they are more supportive, and they are just as knowledgeable as doctors. Plus, if you give birth in a hospital, and something goes wrong, there will be doctors there to assist you, so don’t freak out about that. If you have any hope of a natural birth, see a midwife. As I said, when the nurses knew I was a midwife patient, they let me get out of bed and move, use a rocking chair, get in the shower, all that great stuff. When the nurses knew I was under a regular (asshole) doctor’s care, all that stuff was out the window. I was on my back, in a bed, and it was bad. Every single request I had was ignored, and to top it all off, he yelled at me during the last push or two. If I ran into him on the street, I’d punch him in the face. Most doctors aren’t like that, but you get my drift. They generally don’t see a need or reason for natural childbirth the way a midwife does. A midwife will support you either way, no matter if you choose drugs or not.
5) Use all the kooky shit you see on TV during labor that you think, “I’m not using that kooky childbirth shit”. I used to watch the baby shows and get embarrassed for the huge women in labor sitting in jacuzzis and bathtubs, thinking, “There’s no way I’m getting anywhere near water when I’m in labor.” I hate water and getting wet. I don’t like swimming, or baths, or even washing my hands (but I do those things; don’t worry), so why would I do something I hate while I’m in the most pain of my life? Because it works, that’s why. When I was really starting to fall apart during the tail end of my first labor, the nurse could tell. She said, “Why don’t you sit in the shower for awhile?” You can’t make any kind of decision when you’re dealing with heavy-duty contractions, so I just went along with it. It was the best thing I could have done! I was so worn down from the pain, but something about the warm water literally cuts the pain in half. I could feel myself coming back to some kind of rational thinking, and it really helped me recharge, relax, and start thinking I could make it through to the end. I stayed in the shower for so long the nurse came and got me — she was afraid I was going to have the baby in the shower! It helped me mentally and physically get through the rest of labor. Lesson: don’t knock it until you try it.
6) Take each contraction one at a time. You can’t think about, “How much longer do I have?” or “Only three (or five or eight) centimeters? I’m never going to make it to ten!” Just focus on getting through one contraction at a time. Each contraction is only temporary; it won’t last forever. Focus on your breathing, not the pain, and when the pain is gone, just shut down. You’ll reach a point where you don’t want to talk or even connect with the outside world between contractions. At a certain point I just closed my eyes and almost dozed between contractions; it wasn’t really sleeping, but I kind of just checked out for awhile, until the next one came. Time has no meaning at a certain point; it’s just marked by each passing contraction. One at a time; and the pain is not permanent.
7) Your body knows what to do. Just like the rest of your pregnancy, your body knows waaaaay more about this than you do. Just do whatever your body tells you to do. Body wants to stand up? Stand up. Body wants to rock back and forth? Rock back and forth. Body wants to sit down? Sit down. Body wants you to push? Do it, and fuck the nurses that tell you to wait until someone comes. You tell them, “You better hurry, then, because I’m pushing.” Your body’s in charge, not your mind, and certainly not the medical staff. When it comes to pushing, if you don’t have any drugs, you can try to push, but all of a sudden your body will go, “Oh! It’s time for this? Okay, I’ll take over.” It will be something you can’t control; you’ll feel your muscles kick into gear like a wave. It’s amazing. Just cooperate, and go with the feeling, and if you want to push for more or less than ten seconds,well, then just let them do their counting thing and you do your pushing thing. Your body knows what’s best.
8) Push past the pain. This should be your mantra if (and when!) you get to the pushing stage. Pushing isn’t really that painful until the actual moment the head starts to emerge and then, well, I’m not going to lie to you: it hurts. A lot. Remember, though, it’s not permanent pain. Sometimes the only way to get past something that really sucks is to just plow right through it and get it done, and that’s what pushing is. The trick is you’ll get to a point where the pain is suddenly so screeching that your body wants to pull away and stop, but you have to force yourself to keep doing what you know will hurt. If you do, it will be over quicker. If you resist, it will only last longer. This is the exact moment that makes you a hero for getting through natural labor, though. You will know it as soon as you get to it, and you will just have to make the decision at a certain point and go for it. Just as suddenly as it reaches the “OH NO FUCKING WAY!” point, though, it’s over. Except for the afterbirth, of course. Which no one talks about. It’s not pleasant, but definitely not the worse. Just a little uncomfortable. There. Let’s not talk about afterbirth anymore.
9) ASK FOR DRUGS AFTER. Listen, you made it through labor drug-free, but you’re not living in the 19th century. If you need stitches afterwards (you will), ask for pain relief. It’s not a big deal. Usually if you had an IV just for fluids (which you probably will), they can just put it in there, and you’re good to go.
Make sure you know when you can have your pain meds during the next day or two. The nurses will probably write it down, but sometimes you might have to remind them, or just ask them to check and see when you can have your next dose of Tylenol 4 or whatever. Also, ice packs for down-there are great too. However, you’re going to feel GREAT. It’s strange. You might have been up all night, just gone through the worst pain of your life, but you’ll be on such an adrenaline high it’s ridiculous. And you’ll be able to get up and move around, too, which you wouldn’t be able to do if you have drugs. Getting that baby out of you is like flipping a switch; your body immediately starts relaxing and feeling better. You’ll be sore, oh yes, the soreness all over is going to happen, but in general, you’ll feel like the toughest, most accomplished woman on the planet.
This is going to sound really cheesy, but here it is: whether or not you do it naturally or not, after you give birth to a baby, you will know deep down inside that no matter what life throws at you, you can handle it. You will be thoroughly convinced that you are the strong woman that you hoped you were all these years. It is such an incredible feeling of accomplishment, I can’t even begin to describe it and do it justice. If you go through natural childbirth, the feeling is multiplied exponentially. You will see yourself in a whole different light, like, “Whoa! I can’t believe I did that. I am not someone to be fucked with.” Your everyday handling of pain is irrelevant. I come close to tears if someone even slightly tweaks, taps, or hits my nose. Still. After having two children. So don’t worry.
On the other hand, some woman just look at childbirth and say, “Fuuuuuuck that noise. Give me drugs and a magazine, and let me know when the baby’s here.” And that’s their choice too. God bless America, that’s their choice, and who am I to question it? Just a weirdo hippie mom that uses aluminum foil balls in her dryer instead of dryer sheets, that’s who*.
*Editor’s note: I don’t aluminum foil balls anymore. I use wool yarn balls. Much less kooky.