Natural Birth Does Not = Torture


For all of those mamas out there who want a natural birth, there will come a day when you will think to yourself, “Am I sure of what I am getting myself into?” or… “Am I insane?”

This is absolutely normal and shouldn’t be a reason to doubt yourself — for years, our society has led us to believe that childbirth will be the most excruciating moment in our lives. That the degree of pain is unbearable and it is a miracle that we have drugs to help us through it.  Just watch any movie or television show. Does any woman ever have a “positive” birth experience? The stereotype is one we all know: water breaks, everyone panics, she get rushed through the revolving hospital doors wailing at the top of her lungs like her baby will explode out of her at any minute. No wonder all women are secretly terrified of giving birth.

(First off, only about 15% of women experience a rupture of membranes (aka water breaking). There are very defined stages of labor: early, active, transition, and pushing. For first babies, it could take hours (even days) to get to the final stage. You can therefore relax: you will not deliver in the taxi cab.

So, my natural mamas: if a drug-free, natural birth is truly what you want and you are adamant about it, I would suggest finding a midwife as early as you can in your pregnancy. Don’t be like me, switching practices at 31 weeks! Talk about stressful…

Now, careful: having a midwife deliver your baby does not mean you have to have a home birth. This is not mandatory. Many midwife practices will deliver babies in hospitals (in my case, Phelps Memorial Hospital.) This can be comforting to some mothers who want the support, but not the potential risks (if any!) associated with home births: basically knowing that if (God forbid) anything arises, there is an obstetrician on call.

If you decide to go with a doctor and not a midwife, this is not the time to be shy. During your appointments, ask as many questions you feel are necessary. Remember that the doctor is taking care of you… You’re entitled to it!

Ina May Gaskin has a great list of provider questions in her book, “Guide to Childbirth.” Some important ones are:

– if my water does break, how long are you willing to wait before inducing me? Do you have any natural methods to move things along?

– what is your cesarean rate?

– how often do you perform routine episiotomies?

– have you worked with women in any other positions besides on their backs during labor? Are you comfortable with this?

You should not just listen to the doctor’s answers, but the way he or she answers. Is he giving you examples? Does he or she seem familiar with these examples? Is he/she resistant or defensive? Watch out for any red flags. You are in control and if it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Another reminder is that you might need to meet with more than just that doctor. Most practices have 3-5 doctors that rotate at the hospital. There is no guarantee who will be there that day or night to deliver your baby. You will need to interview each one and hope (pray!) that they all respect your birth plan and philosophy. If it doesn’t work out, consider it a blessing in disguise: you’re lucky you realized it early on.

A few things to keep in mind for a happy, positive, natural birth experience:

1.) Take a childbirth class that meets your needs/labor goals. That’s what we did and it helped enormously. Don’t get me wrong, some of this information you can definitely get from pregnancy/birth books. However, the advice and comfort are priceless — you will most likely e-mail your childbirth instructor many many times over the course of your pregnancy. You will be relieved to hear women going through the same things as you are. You will get recommendations and feedback that books couldn’t give you, based on your local hospitals, providers and practices. I couldn’t recommend it more. (If you are located in Westchester County, New York – Katherine Anderson is incredible!)

2.) Find the right hospital. Not all hospitals will be the same. Some might not let you drink and/or eat in the labor room. Others might want you monitored throughout your entire labor. If you want a natural birth, it is essential that you visit your hospital. Does it have birthing tubs? showers? What is their policy on eating and drinking? How many support persons do they allow in the room? Will you be allowed to move around as you see fit? Do they have birthing stools, mats, and birthing balls available to use? These are all important questions that you shouldn’t hesitate to ask about.

3.) Watch/Read about a bunch of positive births. Ladies, this is essential. We are all human… we are allowed to get scared. Reading case studies and watching positive experiences will bring you a lot of relief. I mean, A LOT. You will end up telling yourself, “I can do this too.” These are powerful words and I guarantee you that you are capable of it.

4.) Make sure you have a good support system with you. If you feel it is right for you, look for a doula in your area. She can be a great support system for you and back you up during labor if the doctor chooses not to respect your birth plan. She will assist you throughout labor and offer support in as many ways as she can (massage, hot towels, etc…) I decided to have both my husband and mom in the labor room. I know they will both be supportive and offer me exactly what I need. You want to be as comfortable as possible. Surround yourself with the right energies.

5.) Practice your breathing. Think of birth like a marathon: you need to train for it. Luckily, I have some background in yoga and meditation and am able to connect with my breaths. This is something to practice as often as possible. It might be a life saver for you during labor! For some help on this:

6.) Birth Ball and knowing a few positions. Katherine recommended the use of a birth ball for back pain during pregnancy and as a great relief method during birth. You can lean over it, sit on it, whatever works. If your labor isn’t progressing, you’ll be happy you’re familiar with a few positions other than lying flat on your back. Midwives will be familiar with this, doctors not so much. Here are a few options you can practice:

7.) Perineal Massage. During your third trimester, help the area stretch to its full potential. This will possibly prevent any unnecessary episiotomy. Again, most midwives swear by this — doctors, not so much. They have been trained to believe that this area will not stretch beyond a given point… It is your responsibility to ask about their philosophy during your appointments. For more information on how to do it:

Think you might want to skip the perineal massage? Make sure you drink your raspberry leaf tea, invest in some Evening Primrose oil for the last 5 weeks of pregnancy and a bottle of arnica oil for labor.

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Johanna Riehm teaches in the department of Communication and Media at Manhattanville College and in the department of English at Mercy College. She teaches courses in the history of communication, public speaking, and social media, as well as creative and technical writing workshops. Johanna’s work has been featured in Graffiti Literary Magazine, The Write Place at the Write Time, The Bangalore Review, Cactus Heart Press, and the LaMothe Review. She is working on her first longer work, a creative nonfiction novel called We Carved Our Names in Tamarind Trees.

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