A friend messaged me today asking for some insight on childbirth without pain meds. As I went through everything that worked for me, I realized I would have loved similar tips before I had Eloise. So, below are some thoughts on what helped me to avoid having an epidural. I don’t claim to be an expert, nor do I expect what worked for me to work for everyone. However, I really do believe natural childbirth is more attainable than most women realize. And, if you fall into the “I just want an epidural” camp, no judgment, I get it.
I chose to avoid an epidural because I have a sensitive system and I did not want my labor to be slowed down by any outside interventions, (my biggest fear was needing a C-section). When I found out I would have to be induced because my water broke a few days earlier, I was really nervous. I had heard Pitocin changes the way contractions feel. While this may have been the case, I survived, and I want other women to know that being induced doesn’t mean you will automatically need an epidural.
Here is what worked for me (and, I will be honest, I was nervous about whether I could handle the pain):
1. Research. Before Eloise was born, I read as many natural childbirth stories as possible. I also talked to everyone in my sphere who birthed naturally and watched everything I could find on Netflix and the internet. The more positive stories I heard, the more I believed in my own ability to give birth without pain meds in a hospital setting. Among my favorites:
- The Business of Being Born (streamable on Netflix)
- More Business of Being Born (Netflix)
- Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin
- Baby Catcher by Peggy Vincent
- Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way by Susan McCutcheon
2. Established a birth team. For me, this meant hiring a doula and deciding that only my husband and she would be present at the time of delivery. While I had other visitors before everything got too intense, I knew it was important for me to maintain my focus if I was going to keep my momentum. While I love my family, I could feel their concern as soon as they walked into the room.
Hiring a doula ensured I received support from someone who had gone through the birthing process hundreds of times. According to studies, the presence of a doula reduces the use of interventions. I could definitely see why. Our wonderful doula advocated on my behalf throughout the process. She monitored how much Pitocin was given and spoke up when she thought it might be too much, something I would not have known to do on my own.
Most importantly, the calm presence of my doula reminded me of my goal. As she sat there listening to me curse and moan, I did not want to let her down. In retrospect, I know she would have had no judgment if I changed my mind about an epidural, but there was something about knowing she was there for the specific purpose of supporting me in my desire for natural childbirth that helped me get through to the very end.
3. Exercise. This is where I could have done a much better job, but I did enough to make it to the finish line. If I have another child, I will work even harder in this department as I used every last ounce of energy I had to get Eloise out. I was really worried I would need a C-section if I had to push any longer. Had I built more strength prior to delivery, I may have been able to use a different birthing position than the traditional hospital bed, which could have expedited the process and made some of the after effects a little less painful.
4. Relaxation and nutrition. As much as exercise is important, it is equally important to be rested and well-nourished. If you eat crap the weeks leading up to your delivery, you will probably feel like crap, which is not going to help you. Likewise, if you fill your pre-delivery maternity leave with as much activity as possible, you may be wasting some of the energy you need later. I rested, a lot. I ate carefully. I spent a lot of quiet time on my own. You get the picture.
5. Birthing ball. Don’t leave home without one! I was pretty nonchalant about using a birthing ball, but once I got to the hospital I realized there was no comfortable place for me to sit and labor. I ended up spending most of the 17 hours sitting on the yoga ball my mother-in-law graciously brought with her to the hospital because I had forgotten it at home. The bonus, it made a fantastic seat for laboring in the hospital shower.
6. Flexibility. I don’t mean the physical kind, although I am sure that helps too. Birth is not a perfect process. I had to adapt to Pitocin even though it felt like the end of the world for a few minutes. By the end of labor, I did not even care how they got her out anymore. Had they told me I needed a C-section, I would have been disappointed, but it would not have mattered. I just wanted my daughter out and in my arms. This is something I did not understand before I got to the hospital. At the end of the day, all that matters is a healthy baby and a healthy mama, whether this is achieved with drugs, surgery, or just a healthy dose of willpower.
So, there you have it! I am sure there are a million other secrets to natural childbirth, but those are the ones that worked best for me. Yes, I breathed through it, but my doula guided me through the process, I didn’t practice any fancy breath moves ahead of time. I didn’t use meditation or visualization. I just focused on surrendering to the process, remaining calm, and remembering my goal. I am stubborn but not particularly tough when it comes to pain or physical feats, which is why I want to share my experience. If I can do it, I am not alone.
Should you be contemplating a natural childbirth, feel free to contact me. I am kind of obsessed with birth. It is the most amazing thing I have ever done, even if it hurt, a lot.