I was gung-ho to have an all-natural birth for my child. What the natural birth advocates don’t bother telling you is that all the books, videos, philosophizing, meditations and mantras are an exercise in highly educated naiveté. The truth is that until you personally experience the labor process you have absolutely no idea how your body will respond to that particular type of sheer agony.
My idea of a natural labor meant no pain medication whatsoever. Having dealt with my share of kidney stones and related surgeries I felt sure I could handle the pain I’d encounter. After all, many women have told me throughout the years, “Oh, you’ve passed a kidney stone? That’s worse than birth!” Here’s the raw fact: No, it isn’t. The pain generated by a little granule in your ureter (or a not-so-little one in my case) has absolutely no relation to the overwhelming ache, stress and pressure of a body exiting your own. Myth busted.
Despite being told by every one of my midwives that my water would not break before I went into labor, sure enough, the flood came hours before any contractions arrived. My husband and I walked like maniacs to get labor going to no avail. Eight hours in, the first of many interventions began. Cervidil was applied in order to thin my cervix and the walking continued. Twelve hours and roughly 2 centimeters worth of dilation later, my cervix was officially “pulled” (let’s just say I’d rather have a kidney stone) and the dreaded Pitocin drip began.
Pitocin is synthetic oxytocin, the chemical your body produces to induce contractions. Good idea in theory, terrible in practice. Why? Because the drug induces contractions that are so powerful and close together you suddenly feel your entire body turning inside out. My husband and I began using all the birthing techniques we learned to help me manage the pain. When birth balls, walking, dancing, bending, stretching, singing and visualizing didn’t work, I simply resorted to screaming everything from profanities to simple prayers like, “Oh God, help me!”
Five hours later I’d gotten one more centimeter under my belt. I’ve never felt like a bigger failure in my life. The first resort was IV pain medication, ironically the kind you’d get in the ER during a kidney stone attack. Here’s the sure sign that kidney stones and birth have nothing in common: the IV drugs lasted all of an hour before I returned to wretched, unbearable pain. Four hours after that I hadn’t progressed. “Your body is tensing up and fighting the contractions,” my midwife explained. Hearing that I gave in and requested a consult for an epidural.
At the 29-hour mark, my husband, who by now was the hero of the labor ward for sticking by my side throughout this entire experience without breaking for so much as a drink of water, burst into tears. “This isn’t what you wanted! I’m so sorry! You’re so brave,” he exclaimed, “I would’ve given up hours ago!”
Natural labor advocates scare you out of epidurals with stories of catheters being shoved up your numbed bladders, the inevitability of vacuums and tearing, or worse, an episiotomy because you’re too drugged to push, and stoned babies unable to breathe at birth. For the record, my midwives worked with me to successfully avoid the use of a catheter and any tearing. Neither vacuum nor episiotomy were needed, not only because of my midwives’ amazing work, but because I keenly felt when it was time to push and all the pressure and pain down to the ring of fire that goes along with it. And my baby was born fully alert without the need for more than a standard back rub from the nurse to start wailing.
Natural labor advocates also claim that you won’t be able to experience the true joys of birth. Liars. The epidural simply did what the natural birthing techniques could not: relax my body to accept the contractions. Not only did I feel the actual pressure and pushing from head to toe, I felt the adrenaline rush and euphoria associated with the push-phase as well. At the same time, I was fully aware enough to watch it happen via a large mirror aimed at ground zero. It will forever remain the most amazing experience of my life.
Two hours later I was in my room for the night, fully functioning and ready for a shower that I technically wasn’t advised to get until the next morning when the medication would finally be out of my system. Less than a week later I was receiving compliments from natural birthing mothers at a breastfeeding clinic. “Your baby is only 6 days old and you’re out of the house? I didn’t leave the house for weeks after I had the baby! You look amazing!” And while I certainly wasn’t up to full speed (my husband did the driving), I felt amazing considering I’d just spent the past week functioning on 2-hour intervals of sleep after a 38-hour labor process.
Some women can give birth naturally and kudos to them. I’m simply not one of them. More importantly, no one should have to. Go to whatever class you like. The reality is that you won’t know how your body will react to the pain of labor until you begin to experience it. Instead of allowing the well-meant (if not completely accurate) advice of natural labor advocates to dictate how long you’ll lie there in agony, you need to follow a course of action that will successfully get your baby out of you and into this world. In the end, the most valuable bit of wisdom I received came from the veteran nurse who assisted with my labor: “Now you know why second-time moms show up in labor and just say, ‘Bring me my epidural!’”