Natural Labor: Some Thoughts

I was planning on doing a natural delivery, even though I had had a positive experience with the epidural when I had Will. Its hard to explain why I decided I wanted to go all-natural. It annoyed me when women would be all "this is the ONLY way!", or when they would ignorantly talk about the epidural as a drug that made you less present to the delivery. In my experience, the spinal block that it was kept me totally clear-headed... in fact, it made me able to be more aware of everything because I wasn't in pain. 

But one day last fall, when Jason and I were trying to get pregnant but hadn't yet, when I was at my running peak racing down the Greenway over crunchy leaves for hours in the perfect autumn weather, pushing the BOB lightly in front of me, I found myself thinking (on mile 14 of my 16 mile run): "If I can do this, I can do anything. I could totally deliver a baby without the epidural."

And just like that, I had decided I was going to give it a shot. 

I wanted the challenge, but I also wanted the experience of needing my husband a little bit more during labor and delivery. One of the biggest reasons I had had the epidural with my firstborn was that I wasn't sure if Jason would be "into" birth... given his behavior in our Childbirth Prep classes, I expected him to be quiet and nervous and totally overwhelmed by the whole thing. I was nervous and overwhelmed as it was, I didn't want to put pressure on him or set myself up to be frustrated with my husband. 

To my amazement, as soon as I was in actual labor with Will, Jason had been this excited, totally-present and amazing birth coach. I however was totally unprepared for what labor would feel like, so after my water broke in the hospital and the contractions intensified for real, I panicked and started sobbing for the epi when I was a whopping - wait for it - 3 centimeters. :/

So! Going into this thing all over again, I prepared. I especially wore out two books that were given to me - one by my mama (who delivered all 6 of us naturally), and one by a sweet neighbor. 

The Birth Book by Dr Sears

Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, by Ina May Gaskin

Now - I am not as hippy as these books would suggest. ;) Although I know mothers whom I deeply admire who do this, attachment parenting is not for me. So I wouldn't go along with every Dr Sears book out there! But his Birth book was awesome - super straightforward and helpful in preparing for labor. 

Ina May kind of scandalized me. Quite a bit! ;) Be prepared for lots of pictures of full frontal hippies and totally uninhibited talk about the "primal, sexual nature of childbirth". However - when it comes to preparing a woman to feel totally confident and relaxed in her laboring, Ina May knows what she is talking about and the book really really empowered me! 

Going into this pregnancy, I wasn't sure that I had the doctor setup that I wanted. I had gone with a midwife/OB practice just by happenstance with Will (it was the closest practice that accepted my insurance)... in this practice, you can see OB's and/or midwives interchangeably throughout the pregnancy; but you will only be delivered by an OB if there are complications with your labor. But my midwife whom I loved with Will had moved away, and I just wasn't sure if I was "clicking" with the midwife I was seeing, Sage. 

However, the cool thing about midwives? They like to disappear into the background when you are laboring naturally. So they aren't like alot of OB's where they have really big personalities and basically see their job as helping you feel confident in their ability to get this baby out. The midwives want you to be the one in charge. You realize, you're the one having this baby; they are there for support, encouragement and gentle guidance. You are totally capable, and your midwife's attitude emphasizes this. 

my perfect birth coach with the only "push-present" I wanted

I described most of my labor experience in my last post, so I won't go into all that again. Except to emphasize that this go-round, I was laughing and walking around and joking with my husband up until I went into transition at about 9 centimeters. This was so drastically different from my last time of sobbing for that epidural at 3 centimeters... and you know why? I fully bought into Ina May's theory that childbirth doesn't have to be painful. Tough, yes. The hardest and biggest challenge of your body's life? absolutely. But not painful - not in the way breaking a bone or losing a limb would be. It is natural, your body was designed to do this. And contractions don't have to hurt. I was skeptical of this, but the more I read, the more I was convinced that she was onto something. (The Sears' echo this philosophy, by the way). 

Contractions go from uncomfortable to painful when you tighten up out of fear. I know this was true for me the first time around. But this second time, I practiced the relaxation techniques and they totally worked. I visualized labor this time as being like bodysurfing... you're out in the ocean and you start to feel that wave building behind you, and you have time to gather yourself and prepare to jump into it. If you don't jump into it, if you instead try to fight it and freak out trying to keep your head above water, you will be pummeled and tossed about, and end up with a ton of burning water up your nose. It will be as miserable as you were afraid it would be. However, if you jump into the wave fearlessly, you will have an incredible ride - and it won't hurt.

It sounds kooky, I know. But I found it to be absolutely true. I do not have a high threshold for pain, either. But I was so relaxed and so positive the whole time, that the contractions honest to goodness did not "hurt" me. They were no picnic, and I had to focus on relaxing with each one, but they were definitely not hurting my body.

The only time it got really hard no matter what I did was transition (which, you know, is also the shortest time of labor). If my labor was like bodysurfing, transition was like getting sucked into the undertow. It shook my body from stern to stem and no matter how I moved or what I did, I could not get comfortable or truly relaxed. I was restless, loud, and I did feel "pummeled". I don't know if I did something wrong here? Is there anyone out there who had a relaxed transition? It seemed like that part was just totally out of my control, nature taking its course, etc. Like the undertow. I just had to let it carry me to where I needed to be - ready to push my baby out. I feel like it had to be that hard to make pushing seem like a relief in comparison. 

Is this correct? Does anyone have a different (ie positive) experience to relay?

After labor and delivery, I was totally exhausted physically. I felt proud, yes; relieved, extremely... but also like, "Ok. I did that and I am never doing it again!"

But as time went on, the really hard parts faded effortlessly from my memory. I was left with the euphoria of delivery, and with the buoyancy of my body. I loved that I didn't have to recover from being pumped with the IV fluids. My first delivery, I felt bloated and weird from all that fluid for awhile. I remember my skin doing odd things. And breastfeeding was much harder - beyond the normal "fullness" which lasts a few hours to a day, I got engorged - where your breasts become rock solid, hot and painful to the slightest touch, totally swollen to their utmost with fluids. A lot of theories say this could be partly due to the IV fluids attempting to exit the body. I had this for 3 days with Will (I know people who had it for a week). It was absolutely miserable. It made latching on impossible for Will, and I felt feverish and sick. 

This time around, I recovered smoothly and calmly, and breastfeeding was seamless. I did get a lot of normal fullness (which isn't exactly comfortable, lol)... but nothing like with Will. Was this due to Henry being my second baby or was it due to my body being able to do its own thing more easily since it was a natural labor and delivery? Was it due to full-body exercising all throughout my pregnancy? Who knows. But I wouldn't recommend natural delivery to anyone solely based on my easier, calmer recovery because I honestly don't know if it would've been the same with my firstborn.

All this being said, labor and delivery are not easy. Despite my all-natural experience, I still had to recover. I had hoped delivering naturally I wouldn't feel at all weak or like a patient afterward. But guess what.? You still lost a ton of blood, and you still are incredibly swollen "down there". I also wouldn't attempt it if your hospital is going to insist on the IV and or Electric Fetal Monitor, or if you will otherwise not have total mobility. My midwife was able to monitor Henry safely without the EFM, she used external little doppler thingies that they strapped around my stomach to check my contractions and his heartbeat on the hour. I personally think being able to move around and not have all those things interfering is crucial to a positive natural experience. 

I believe that above all, you need to be flexible and willing to go with the flow. You have no idea how this labor will go - the best of doctors have no way of predicting that either! I think I had a largely positive experience because I was genuinely excited about this whole thing, and so was Jason. I wasn't just saying, "I have to do it this way, dammit!" Rather, it felt like this cool challenge that I was prepared for physically and mentally and could not wait to dive into.

 I am grateful for the beautiful experience I had, and I hope to have it again. But at the end of the day, I am mostly grateful that I have him:

... and this:

Actually, "grateful" doesn't begin to describe how I feel. 

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