Usually when I mention that I'm going to try for a natural, drug-free labor, most folks ask why. I guess in our day and age of advanced technology, many just assume that drugs are the way to go. Why experience pain when there's a simple way to avoid it?
Well, at first my answer wasn't so eloquent. I had a hard time describing what was really calling me to try to do this drug free. Mostly I'd say something like, "Well, if women did it for thousands of years before pain-releaving medicine existed, I can too!" Which didn't really help, because... "But we have the medicine now. Why suffer?" So then I'd try explaining that I wanted to listen to my body during labor, even if that meant lots of pain. That seemed to make a bit more sense, but still never quite did the trick.
After fumbling to answer the "Why drug free?" question a few times, I decided I needed to get to work and really figure out the benefits of a drug-free labor. And not actually because I wanted a better defense when the question came up again. While I finally have come up with a better response, my main goal in researching and preparing for natural childbirth was to give myself the answers I'll need to keep myself motivated and drug-free during the worst of my labor.
So before I dive into explaining our preparations, let's just throw a few disclaimers out there, shall we?
First, I have no idea how our labor and delivery will actually go, obviously.
And also, I've never done this before, so consider me a novice.
While I do have those two things working against me, I have done my fair share of research over the last several months and feel as prepared as I can be for something I haven't had the chance to experience yet.
One more important disclaimer: These are our thoughts birth. They are in no way a judgement of your thoughts on birth, how you've given birth in the past, or how you plan to give birth in the future. Please do what's best for you and your family!
Anyway, onward! Here's what we've done so far to prepare.
First, we found a doctor who's very pro natural birth. A friend of mine said once said of him, "If you wanted to labor hanging from a tree in a field, he'd be all for it." While we're not quite interested in that natural of a birth, we do love his approach to it all. We asked him recently what his c-section rate was and he estimated it to be around two percent. Yup, two percent. That's nearly unheard of today! The city of Memphis has a thirty percent c-section rate, as do most big hospitals in big cities in the US. So we know we're in the right hands. Another plus is, because he's in a practice all by himself, he does all his own deliveries. There ain't gonna be no surprise intervention-happy doctors attending my birth, nosiree! And just as another added bonus, he's also a NaPro doctor. We scored big time when we found him.
After securing the perfect doctor, we found some well-reviewed books and bought them. My two go-tos for natural labor and delivery have been The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin and Ina May's Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin. Both fantastic books, both highly recommended if you're even the slightest bit interested in natural childbirth. I've drawn on both quite a bit to prepare for labor and delivery and also to write our birth preferences, which I'll share just a little bit later. (I should also mention that this Ted Talk by Ina May Gaskin is what led me to her book. If you're not ready to invest in the book, this video is great starting point.)
The next step was finding a natural childbirth class. And it actually didn't take much work on our part at all. The class completely fell into our laps. I called our hospital to set up a tour of the labor and delivery floor and in the process was offered a spot in their 6-week Lamaze class and another spot in their 1-night breastfeeding class, both free. How's that for convenience?
This week will be our last Lamaze class, and so far, we've really enjoyed it. We're learning about the whole process of birth, from the start of the first contraction to the delivery of the afterbirth, plus practicing about 30 different positions and soothing techniques for labor at the end of every class. Practicing over and over again during each class will hopefully help us to remember to use several of the positions and techniques to relieve pain when labor finally does start. Our instructor has also included details on epidurals and c-sections, just in case things go those routes.
Our breastfeeding class did not disappoint either. I'm hoping I can draw on everything I learned there to make breastfeeding go as smoothly as possible once baby's out. But if not, I also have tons of resources now and am prepared to call on a lactation consultant ASAP.
Oh, and in case you didn't know, most hospitals offer these class for free, so if you're interested in taking a class but don't know where to look, call them up! Our hospital doesn't even require that you deliver there to take the class. If you can't find a hospital class, the next best place to look is your friendly neighborhood doulas. They usually offer classes too, but often charge for them.
Speaking of doulas, that's the another big thing we've done to prepare for our natural childbirth. We've hired a doula.
In case you're not in the know, a doula is a professionally trained childbirth companion who provides emotional, physical, and informational support to the mother leading up to and during labor and delivery. Her role is to help the parents have a safe, memorable, and empowering birth experience. Our doula, Amy, is well aware that we're interested in a natural childbirth and is going to do everything she can to support that. In fact, studies show that a doula's presence at birth tends to result in shorter labors with fewer complications, reduces the need for Pitocin, forceps, vacuum extractions, and c-sections, and reduces the mom's need for pain medications.
We started working with Amy a few months ago and have spent most our time together so far just getting to know each other. I mean, we are going to have to like each other by the time my labor starts, am I right? :) We're very much looking forward to seeing what tricks she has up her sleeves. Doulas are famous for their bags of labor "toys" such as birthing balls, massage oils, flameless candles, rebozos, essential oils... all great natural pain-releaving resources that come with hiring a doula.
In addition to all this, what I'm looking forward to most about having our trusted doula by our side during birth is that my husband gets to be just my husband during the whole process. While I'm sure he'll still be worried about how I'm feeling and how things are progressing and all that jazz, the pressure is off for him to be the perfect birth partner. That role goes to Amy. And since Amy has attended over 50 births, she knows what to expect, how to coach, what to do when mom isn't coping well, etc. All the things that normally stress a dad out will be off John's shoulders. Amen to that! She will be an invaluable resource to both of us during the labor and so we're definitely happy we hired her.
One final and very important step in my preparations has been convincing myself that a lot of labor is a big mind-game. Perhaps that's not always true, but from what I've read in our books and in other women's birth stories, your head really can get in the way of your labor. If you don't work with your body, you're probably working against it, against the contractions. And if you're working against the contractions, you're not going to progress.
When you don't progress, docs usually recommend interventions, and interventions can snowball into surgery. First Pitocin to speed things along, then an epidural when Pitocin makes the contractions too painful, then forceps or vacuum extraction to help deliver baby since mom can't feel what she's doing when she's pushing, and then when that doesn't work, a c-section. Or sometimes it goes straight from Pitocin to c-section, since Pitocin makes the uterus contract harder than normal and some babies don't respond well to that. Sure, those are some pretty dramatic examples of interventions, but they happen more often than you'd think. And mostly because OBs just aren't patient enough to let moms figure out how to work with their bodies in the first place. They want your baby to be born on their schedule, and so they intervene.
This is what I'm hoping and praying all our research and prepping will help us to avoid.
And now, after all our hard behind-the-scenes work, I do have a good answer for why I'd like to try for a natural childbirth.
I want to listen to my body. And I want to learn to work with it. I won't be able to do either of those things if we take the pain away. My body is made to do this. Labor pains are not a sign of something wrong, but a sign of my body doing everything right. So they don't need to be medicated away. They are made to be listened to. Contractions are beautifully designed to be intermittent, so that mom gets breaks throughout. It will not be unbearable. It will not last forever. So I can do this. My hope is that when I allow my body and mind to cooperate, I'll be able to bring this sweet baby into the world as easily as possible. No drugs, no instruments, no surgery, no unnecessary interventions. Just me and my beautifully designed body doing exactly what it was made to do. That should do the trick.
Keep in mind, I say all that more to convince myself than anyone else.
Now here's hoping!
Stay tuned for Preparing for Natural Childbirth, Part 2: Our Birth Preferences.