If you are interested in an unmedicated birth, but not sure how to make it happen, this story is perfect for you! Here, I will tell you what I learned during my second birth, and how I used that knowledge to have an empowering third birth. Preparation for natural birth can make a huge difference!
This is a guest post from Samantha at The Evidence-Based Mommy.
My First Birth Experience with Medication
When my oldest daughter was born nearly six years ago, I got an epidural. I had just decided at the beginning that pain hurts and I really had no interest in trying to do it any other way.
The birth itself was fine, but when I first got up after her birth, I had extreme dizziness and nausea.
I laid there for twenty minutes afterwards while my mother held my new baby girl. At that point, I was so miserable that I didn’t even care that I had a new baby!
In addition, my baby was very sleepy and had a difficult time latching for a few days. Her second day of life, I fed her colostrum from a spoon. Fortunately, she got the hang of nursing by that evening, but it was still a little unnerving that she wasn’t eating much at first.
My First unmedicated Birth
When my second due date was approaching, I was interested in going drug-free, but in a wishy-washy, not really committed kind of way. I knew unmedicated birth is better for breastfeeding success and other outcomes, so I liked the idea.
At the same time, I didn’t know how to actually pull off birth without an epidural. I read a few natural birth stories on the Interwebs, but that was the extent of my preparation.
(By the way, don’t let the beginning of this first birth story put you off of your idea to go natural. It gets better, and the third one is completely different!)
I was still breastfeeding my oldest when I was pregnant with my second little girl. While this practice won’t make you go into early labor, it will kick your contractions into high gear if you nurse while you’re already in labor!
The morning of my second little girl’s birth, her big sister woke up around 6:30 AM to nurse. I had some contractions, but I’ve always had strong Braxton-Hicks (“false labor”) contractions, so I didn’t think much of it. I nursed her, feeling the contractions intensify, until I couldn’t handle it anymore. At that point, I told my husband I thought this was the real deal.
I remember cutting up strawberries for my daughter between contractions while he took a super quick shower. We dropped my little girl off at daycare, and we rushed to the hospital.
By the time we got there, I was in pretty intense labor and had decided there was no way I was going without an epidural. We told the nurses I wanted one as soon as I got in there.
The anesthesiologist came in and the nurses had me sit up. As he was cleaning off my back, I went into transition.
Transition is the most intense part of labor. Contractions are about 60-90 seconds long, and only 1-2 minutes apart. For me, it was just nonstop, wave after unrelenting wave.
I panicked. There was a lot of screaming, I think I nearly broke my husband’s finger… It wasn’t pretty.
Plus, with all my writhing, there was no way they could get the epidural placed!
And then, my water broke. All of the sudden, I yelled, “I need to push!!”
I know the doctor came in to deliver the baby. Apparently like ten medical students also came to witness my birth, but I literally never saw them (btw, I’m actually okay with that, as an educator myself. These students have to learn somehow!). The doctor made me look into her eyes, told me I could do this, and instructed me to push.
So I started pushing. As my daughter started crowning, I felt an intense burning sensation (yes, down there). Fortunately, I had read about the proverbial “ring of fire” during my Googling just the day before, and knew that soon after, I would become numb.
And that’s what happened.
Everything numbed just a few seconds after, and birth was easy after that!
My baby girl was born at 9:17 AM, after only a three-hour labor (I told you nursing during labor would really ramp up the process!).
The doctor immediately threw my newborn onto my chest, and she was latched and nursing within ten minutes of birth.
And the next best part: NO nausea!
When it was time for me to get up, I did, no problem. Even days later, my recovery continued to be much easier than with my firstborn.
My Empowered Natural Labor Experience
When I became pregnant a third time, I knew I wanted to go drug-free. After all, I had gotten through the second birth! I now knew that the part where I freaked out (transition) was really short-lived, and I knew that with preparation I would manage my pain much more easily.
Preparation for Natural Birth
I made a point to start prenatal yoga by my second trimester. While I certainly got physical benefits from my practice, the most important lesson was how to approach life more mindfully.
Even something simple, like rocking my toddler to sleep, was a chance to practice mindfulness. Before, I would sit there stressed out, wondering how long it would be before she went to sleep. Now, I took that time to feel my feet on the floor, feel the contact between my arms and her little body, to simply pay attention to my breathing…
This change, this ability to sit with impatience or even discomfort and not get frustrated, played a huge role in my third birth’s success.
In addition, I picked up a copy of The Hypnobirthing Book. (You can get your copy here on Amazon. There is even an Kindle and audiobook version!). The basic premise of hypnobirthing is that most of the pain associated with birth is due to fear. If you can eliminate your fear through deep relaxation, you can have a calm, (mostly) pain-free birth.
I knew without a doubt that fear of the unknown and my panic heightened my sense of pain during my second labor, so I was very interested in this ideology! While there was no hypnobirthing class near us, I was able to read the book four times during the last few months of my pregnancy.
In addition, I used the relaxation track that came with the book (at the time it was only available as a CD, but now you can download it instead). I would turn it on each night at bedtime and fall asleep listening to birthing affirmations.
A little less than three weeks from my due date, I began to feel mild cramping that afternoon. As early as it was, I chalked it up to Braxton-Hicks, although I told my husband about it. He begged me to come home from work, so I did after wrapping up a few tasks.
All that night, I had occasional contractions. I went to bed that evening, but woke up at midnight. I wasn’t able to go back to sleep because every time I dozed off, I’d have another contraction!
So I spent a lot of time on my labor ball. I rolled around, I moved, I did hip openers…
By 4 the next morning, those occasional contractions had moved up to one every twenty minutes. Not often enough to go to the hospital, but often enough to believe that something was happening. I started counting contractions in earnest, and by 6 AM they were coming every five minutes. So my mother-in-law came to our house to watch the girls and we left.
We arrive at the hospital
When we got to the hospital, I could tell the doctor was a bit skeptical that I was in real labor, but he agreed to hold me for an hour and see if I made any progress (I had already decided that if they tried to send me home I was just going to stay in the hallway until they admitted me, but I digress).
I spent some time dutifully bouncing on my exercise ball, but eventually I decided I just wanted to rest.
We explained to the doctor that I was using Hypnobirth and that I would have a soundtrack going. The doctor said he was willing to try anything. My nurse had previously worked at a birthing center, so she was supportive too!
I turned my self-hypnosis audio on loop and laid on my side. Even though I was having contractions every 3-4 minutes, I really did “zone out” at times so that I wasn’t even aware of all the contractions!
And when I was aware of contractions, I made a point to relax my body.
Instead of fighting them, as I did with my first two labors, I allowed them to happen, and instead tried to keep myself as limp as possible. And it made a huge difference!
I was much calmer and much better at tolerating labor than I ever was before. My husband was very impressed by the difference!
Re-positioning the Baby
After several hours, the doctor came in and said that since my child had been transverse (side-lying) a week or so before, they needed to bring in an ultrasound to check whether it was head down now.
I’ll be honest, I lost a lot of my zen very suddenly. I asked him, “What if it’s not head down?” and he replied, “We’ll have to do it the other way.”
I said, “But I don’t want to do it the other way.” The doctor agreed that he knew my wishes, and that we would try to avoid a Cesarean.
But when he brought the ultrasound machine in, he looked around for a bit and then said, “I don’t see a head.”
Of course, my response was, “What do you mean ‘you don’t see a head?’ There has to be a head!”
So he passed the ultrasound wand to the labor nurse (who was more experienced than him simply because he was young). She very quickly found that my son was lying diagonally. His head was tucked behind my left hip.
When I asked what to do, she simply replied that I needed to get up onto my knees, facing the back of my bed (the ability to get on my knees is the biggest reason I’m grateful I faced this labor without an epidural. I don’t know what they could have done if I was numb and unable to move from the waist down).
Within a few minutes of changing my position, I felt my baby’s head move into place (no, I can’t describe it. But I know that’s what I felt). I immediately went into transition.
This was the first time that the pain got intense. I was trying to say “Ommm” through my contractions as the doctor suggested, but the “Omms” became more “OHHHHHH!” by the end of each one.
And yes, I had a moment of thinking, Screw this. I want an epidural. This hurts too much. But I also realized this time (unlike during my previous labor) that I was in transition.
Honestly, the only thing that kept me from asking was knowing that it was too late anyways, but at the same time, I also knew I was almost done. So I kept working.
Minutes later, it was time for me to push. The baby came quickly (so quickly, in fact, that the “ring of fire” effect didn’t have a chance to kick in!), and within about ten minutes, I met my new son.
This birth was the most empowering experience I’ve ever had. As I told my friend, my first two births happened to me, but I accomplished my third birth.
Suggestions on Preparation for Natural Birth
So if after reading all this you are still interested in a natural birth, here’s my suggestion:
Make sure you prepare!
Don’t just waltz into the hospital thinking you’re just going to not have an epidural. You’re setting yourself up for a really difficult time.
But if you find a class or book (or both!) that teaches you how to breathe through your contractions and to sit with discomfort, you’ll have a much easier time and a much more empowering experience.
No matter how your new baby comes into the world, there’s nothing like meeting him or her. Congratulations and Happy Birthing!
About the Author
Samantha Radford is the mommy behind The Evidence-Based Mommy. She has three children of her own, so she has a vested interest in learning all she can about parenting. In addition, her PhD and Public Health background gives her the resources she needs to learn science-based parenting information. Her passion is sharing her expertise in maternal-child health, mindfulness, and related topics in a way that’s helpful to other moms.
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More Resources for Preparing for Natural Birth
- 7 Tips for Having a Natural Childbirth
- Red Raspberry Leaf Pregnancy Iced Tea (Plus Labor Tea Recipe!)
- Positive Birth Stories for Every Type of Birth
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