Disclaimer: Everyone’s births are so different. By this post, I’m not trying to say going natural is the way to go for everyone.
Up until I was around 6 months pregnant, I was all about the epidural. Even though my three older sisters are all major natural supporters, I didn’t get it. I figured after a long pregnancy, I was going to welcome any help with open arms. We do live in the 21st century after all, and we don’t need to do it the old fashioned way! But more than anything, I had no idea how I would deal with pain of that kind of magnitude, and it scared the living daylights out of me.
And honestly, I felt like some people who went through with natural births were obnoxious about it. Like they were above the “weak” majority that accept pain medications, and you should do it too. Or you’re selfish. That is probably too harsh, but that’s the vibe I would get. And it bugged me.
A big part of my decision to go natural was the fact that I’m living in Brazil, which has one of the world’s highest rates of cesarean births. For instance, the hospital I birthed in has a 90% c-section rate. For this reason, hospitals are really geared for this- and doctors are most comfortable with this method. However, that is something I most definitely didn’t want. I was worried that having an epidural would start a domino effect of interventions that would lead to a c-section.
I also did a lot of research that changed my perspective. But I'm not going into why- that isn't the purpose of this post. I'm writing this for women who are looking for more help in preparing for a natural labor. Because I know that I wanted all the advice I could get!
- Educate yourself. Once I decided I wanted to have a natural birth, I studied everything I could and took pages of notes. First, I read The Bradley Method. Even though it seems a bit outdated, I full heartedly recommend it. A lot of the techniques I used were found there. I also watched lots of videos, browsed other books, and read through countless natural birth stories. Even though each birth is so different, these gave me a sense of confidence that every pregnant woman has to go through the birth process- and I can do it too.
- Involve your husband/partner. I made Alex read The Bradley Method with me. We would read a little bit at night, and if we were going for a long car ride I’d bring it along. Even though he wasn't very interested, I insisted. And it was worth it! Once I hit the transition phase and pushing- Alex was everything. I relied on him so heavily, and he was such an amazing support when I was about to lose it. It sounds funny, but after the birth I felt like I loved him 10x more than before. Going through an experience like that and seeing him in that role- of being so strong and comforting to me when I was incredibly desperate, still gets me emotional just thinking about it! I think Alex would have been great either way, but I’m sure the preparation helped him. Because it is a difficult time for them too.
- Having a doula. For me, this was crucial. At first I was hesitant. I didn’t really want a stranger in my home coaching me through it. But my doctor really encouraged this, and I figured being my first baby it would be nice having someone who was very experienced around. Not to mention someone who spoke English. It ended up being one of the best decisions! Especially because I had Liam before my mom got here. Alex was fantastic, but also having someone that knew exactly how this process works was very reassuring. It also enabled me to spend the majority of my labor at home, otherwise I probably would have gone in unnecessarily early. With my particular hospital, this would have made a much more stressful experience.
- Relaxing atmosphere. If possible, being at home for as long as you can is best. You’re in your own environment and it is easier to relax. If not, you can create this at the hospital too. Dim lighting, calming music, etc… Whatever soothes you.
- Mental imagery. This was my saving grace during labor! I was never the type of person that could do this. I had tried meditating many times before but could never maintain that type of concentration. A big mantra for me was, “this isn’t pain, it is progress”. I tried to relax as much as possible during contractions as well, by relaxing any tense muscles (particularly in my back and shoulders). I visualized relaxing everything so that I could work with the pain, not against it with a stressed body.
Another was visualizing that I was surfing over a wave during the contraction, picturing riding the top of the wave during the climax and slowly riding down as it lessened. The key was to be on top of the pain, and not let the pain take over me. (Reading through this sounds looney, but trust me- you need something specific to focus on.)
- There were some contractions where I would lose concentration and the pain would overwhelm me. It was when I would break this focus, and say things like “it hurts so bad!!" These were the moments that I felt like I couldn’t handle it. Luckily in between contractions is a time to gather yourself for the next one.
- However, there comes a point (transition phase) when this mental imagery became too difficult. From this point on, I was completely focused on just breathing in and out and nothing else.
- Try different positions. A lot of my preparation was in a lying down position, which the Bradley Method highly recommends. However, for me I found lying down to be the worst type of torture. I used an exercise ball, walked around, took long showers etc… This also goes for pushing. It baffles me how the majority push on their backs. I couldn’t imagine doing that- for me the pain would have been too much to bear! So instead I pushed on a chair designed for that type of thing. This felt so much more natural to do, and gravity is on your side that way. Basically, allow your body to be in charge and do what feels right.
- Stay hydrated. And if you can, eat light snacks. You need all the energy you can get!
- If comfortable and able to do so, stay at home as long as possible. If I showed up at the hospital when is typically recommended (3 min apart) I would have been there for nearly 12 hours! A lot of women have that experience, but the hospital can’t do much more for you than you can do at home (unless you have certain medical needs, of course). Except give you pain medications or stress you out. For me, I’m sure the nurses would have encouraged me to lay down, gotten impatient with my slow progress, and I definitely would have been more tempted by the epidural. You’re in the candy store, after all.
- Pray. All the time.
- Finally, trust in the process. Countless women have done this before, and our bodies were virtually designed for this. The more you can relax, the better your body can do what it is supposed to do.