”You say that now but you just wait!! You'll be begging for all the drugs.” “Why in the world would you want to do that?!” “There's no reason to be a hero, just get the epidural!!” "You wouldn't have surgery without drugs, would you?!"
If you desire to have a natural (aka unmedicated) birth, and have mentioned it to anyone....chances are you've heard one of these responses! With epidural rates as high as 90% or more in some hospitals, it is no surprise that expressing your desire for a natural birth could be met with less than supportive comments.
At GR Doulas, we believe in supporting every birthing person in their desire to achieve the birth they are hoping for. While we all know that are never any guarantees in birth, there ARE steps you can take to increase your chances of having the birth you want. If the birth you are hoping for is a natural one, then this blog is for you!
For starters, let's define natural birth. I've heard it defined many different ways. Some consider any vaginal birth a natural birth, while others say that only home births can be natural. For the purpose of this blog, we will define natural birth as a vaginal birth without epidural anesthesia.
Some things to know about natural birth:
1. There are very real reasons to do it. GR Doulas’ co-owner, birth doula, and certified childbirth educator, Brenda Baar, describes some of these reasons: “Having a natural birth could help you avoid side effects from pain medications including allergic reaction, decreased blood pressure, fever, a slower labor, and more difficulty breastfeeding. There can also be significant hormonal interference from medication. If a mother cannot feel her labor, certain hormonal interactions are muted or do not occur at all. Without these hormonal processes, labor can slow and babies can become stressed. In addition, it’s helpful to think of the pain of labor as a message. When you are able to feel your contractions, you are able to respond to them my moving, breathing, being active, and finding what is most comfortable for you. Often, whatever position or movement a woman finds to be helpful for coping with labor also happens to be what her body needs to help guide her baby into a favorable position and through her pelvis. Sometimes the immobility and hormone interruptions that come with an epidural make it more difficult for a baby to rotate and move through the pelvis.” (For more reading on this, click here for a short article or here for a more extensive information.)
2. Natural birth is possible. You might not know any mothers who have given birth naturally, but we do! We have seen it happen again and again but with all the doubt that remains out there, it's worth repeating. For many pregnant people, natural birth IS a realistic option!
3. It’s not guaranteed and that’s OK. Of course nothing in life is guaranteed and it is up to each individual to decide whether the uncertainty of a particular birth outcome is a reason not to pursue it. We have witnessed many births in which the mother desired to go all natural and eventually decided to have an epidural or labor ended with a cesarean section. There are many reasons why these things happen; there's no way ahead of time to know how your birth story will end. Even when birth doesn’t go as desired, many of the mothers we work with still feel good about their decision to attempt a natural birth. We see people feeling proud of themselves for all the time they labored without an epidural and feel confident they made the right decision to accept medical intervention.
4. It is not crazy to want a natural birth! Some women find it difficult to explain their motivations. You do not have to justify your desire! It may be inadvisable to undergo surgery without anesthesia, but your body was not made to experience surgery. Surgery is not a physiologically normal process...childbirth is!
Personally, I have given birth twice, and during each pregnancy (not to mention the three years in between) I prepared for a natural birth. In the end, I gave birth to both my children via c-section. I still feel confident that working toward a natural birth was the right decision for me. With my first birth I was able to complete the first stage of labor without an epidural, before having my C-section. I feel proud of myself for what I was able to do, and as a doula, am grateful for the first-hand experience of what unmedicated labor feels like. My second birth was a planned C-section due to my son being breach after 3 1/2 years of planning for a vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC). All of the planning I did, carefully choosing the right care provider, place of birth, and doula helped me have a peaceful, joyful, and empowering cesarean. For me, it was worth it.
For more insight about the possibility of being left disappointed when planning for a natural birth, be sure to check out chapter 3 of Natural Birth In The Hospital by Cynthia Gabriel.
Of course labor doesn't always leave a person feeling empowered. If your birth experience has you feeling traumatized, discouraged, or sad please know these feelings are valid and deserve attention. Help is available, including birth debriefing with GR Doulas’ birth doula and Licensed Master Social Worker, Ginger Hollemans.
If you want to take some positive steps forward to having a natural birth consider these suggestions:
1. Take an out-of-hospital childbirth education class, if you are able. In a childbirth education class you will learn about the process of labor and how to prepare. An out-of-hospital class will likely be more holistic in teaching the process of labor and your non-medication pain relief options. Consider checking out GentleBirth with GR Doulas’ childbirth educator Brenda Baar.
2. Write a birth plan. I always tell clients the value of a birth plan lies more in the process of writing one than presenting it to the hospital staff in labor. While writing your birth plan, you will learn about options available and decisions likely to come up during labor. You’ll also have the opportunity to get questions answered from your care provider weeks or even months before the big day. This preparation will help you be more prepared to have the type of birth you desire.
3. Choose a birth location in which you feel safe and a provider who will support your desires. These decisions may make the difference in the outcome of your birth. According a Consumer Reports, investigation of more than 1,300 hospital across the US, the hospital where you give birth could be your biggest risk factor of having a cesarean section. Ask your doula about her experiences working with different providers in your local hospitals.
4. Hire a doula! According to Evidence Based Birth, doula attended labors result in a decreased use of pain medication and a whooping 28% decreased risk of a c-section. Your doula will help you prepare for labor prenatally and be there at whatever time you need her on the big day. She will guide you through positions to help your baby find an ideal position for birth, and comfort measures to cope with the pain. She will also be a support person for your partner and any other family members you invite on this journey. Of course one of the most important perks of having a doula is that she will be there with you no matter how the birth plays out. If you end up needing or wanting interventions and pain relief that you had not anticipated, she will help you make the most of the situation you are so that your birth can still be a positive, joyful, and empowering experience.
5. Expose yourself to positive birth stories. Remember what I said earlier - for many, many pregnancies a natural birth IS possible. If you don’t hear positive birth stories or stories of natural birth a lot in your daily life, seek them out. We’ve compiled a YouTube playlist full of them!
No matter how your birth unfolds, the GR Doulas team hopes that you feel empowered and supported on your journey to parenthood.