Why do people run marathons? Climb mountains? Swim great distances? So they can say they did?
They do it to prove to themselves that they can.
They do it to push their bodies to their fullest potential.
They do it to explore the limitations of their minds.
They do it because they feel it will make them stronger, healthier, and more satisfied.
It’s the same for unmedicated labor and delivery.
I never understood why everyone had such a strongly adverse reaction to my choice to try for a natural labor and delivery. The most common reaction I got was, “Why?”
“Why would you do that to yourself?”
“Do you have a really high pain tolerance?”
“That’s what medical advancement is for- to make things easier! Why fight progress?”
“Isn’t that dangerous?”
And my favorite responses (which still make my blood boil):
“You’ll be begging for the epidural.”
“You won’t last two hours like that. Trust me.”
And I’ve figured out why. I know why people react this way: uninformed fear.
Because yes, labor and delivery is extremely physically painful, but it’s not pain that a woman’s body is not made to endure.
“I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Psalms 139:14
People (especially those who have never been in labor) believe that labor and delivery is like what you see in movies and on television- lots of screaming and yelling and writhing in pain, laying in bed on your back with your feet up in stirrups and an angry mother spewing countless threats on the clueless father’s life for “doing this” to her.
What they don’t picture, is this. This is my friend Kristen’s labor and delivery video, created by her husband, Shaun, a very talented videographer. It is not graphic. It is not cut to remove reality.
This is birth: Real. Raw. Beautiful. Painful. Calm. Focused. Birth.
Kristen was clearly a total rock-star at labor and delivery. She prepared herself well with education classes and utilized the techniques she learned there to have a successful, unmedicated vaginal delivery.
And that’s the key: education.
To think you’re going to show up at the hospital and “just have a baby” does not arm you with the knowledge to know what you can say yes or no to. (Because yes, there are things you can safely decline.) It does not give you the insight to see when the medical staff’s next steps are due to a time crunch and not due to a medical necessity. (Because if you think it’s due to medical necessity, you’ll be scared into agreeing to something you might not need/want.) And the more medical intervention you have, the more likely you are to end up with an unplanned cesarean section.
Because labor and delivery in a hospital is a business transaction: you have come in for a service; they will provide that service in a timely manner so as to serve more customers in a way that is convenient for them and in a way that they make the most money. Now, I’m not saying doctors and nurses do this at the expense of you or your baby’s health or well-being because that’s not true at all (in most cases). But a hospital is a place of business; they do have protocol to follow; they do have expectations to fulfill; they do have to have beds available to get more patients in to serve more people to make the hospital more money. That’s just fact. And if you know better, you can do better. That’s true in many parts of life.
So, please, if you are preparing for labor and delivery and you think you want an unmedicated birth:
1. You are not crazy.
2. There are many, many, many, medically valid reasons for doing so for both you and baby.
3. Please educate yourself on why you are making this decision. Take classes. Read books. Ask questions. Feel confident in your choice. There are tons of educational classes/programs out there (Bradley Method, Hypnobabies, etc) so choose one you feel fits your needs.
4. Make sure you have chosen a doctor (and hospital) who fully supports your choice. And if you don’t have one, switch. They work for you– not the other way around.
5. Consider hiring a doula. They can help manage communications with medical staff to advocate for you, and having someone who knows you and your body while you’re in the moment is so valuable.
You have the right to determine what you do with your body and how you want to bring your baby into this world. Do so with confidence and adequate support and preparation, and no matter if you choose to do so unmedicated, medicated, or you opt for a cesarean, you will feel at peace with how hard you worked to be informed for the health of yourself and your baby.
I labored 19 hours without intervention: 6 hours at work, 8 hours at home, and 5 hours in the hospital after my water had broken. My baby’s heart rate kept dropping. I wasn’t progressing. I finally made the choice to get the epidural because the pain in my back was crippling me, and I felt like something was wrong. The epidural only worked on half my body, but I progressed from 4-10 in an hour. He was born a little over an hour after that.
We later discovered he was face up (so his head was in my spine) and the cord was around his neck. The intense pain from his positioning wasn’t allowing me to relax enough to dilate. I didn’t have a doula there to tell me how to change my positioning to get him to change positions so that I could continue. I hadn’t chosen a hospital with a labor tub the way I now would since the shower was the only thing that helped me during that time.
But I had taken Bradley Method courses. I had successfully labored for 19 hours. I had successfully delivered very shortly after that. I knew what was going on the entire time. I understood all of my options. I didn’t hesitate to ask for the epidural when I knew I actually needed it and not before. And when it was all over, I had a healthy, happy, baby boy, and I felt like a warrior. I was proud of myself, of my body. My body had grown and nurtured and delivered this incredible gift…
…this little boy who was fearfully and wonderfully made.
Happy healthy birthing no matter how you do it, mommas,