This has been on my mind a lot lately. I hear it quite often from women who choose to have an epidural. In fact, I used to ask the same question just a couple of years ago. Who in their right mind would go through childbirth without readily-available pain medication? And why on earth would anyone choose to do that? Or even birth outside the hospital setting? There are probably just as many reasons as there are women choosing to birth in a different setting than mainstream America. Some don't want to expose their babies to unecessary drugs (and yes, epidural medication does reach your baby). Some feel that it's "pain with a purpose". And some feel that birth isn't inherently painful. That it is possible to have a pain-free birth. Mind over body. I have come to firmly believe this, based on my own experience. I think one of the reasons why women experience pain beyond what they feel they can handle is socialization. What do you hear when you go to a baby shower? Horror stories of women giving birth in excruciating pain. Women exclaiming how much they loved their epidurals, and how they were madly in love with their anesthesiologist for "saving" them. So women approach birth with the mindset that it's going to hurt, and that they had better ask for the epidural the second they arrive at the hospital. They faithfully read "What to Expect...", and are well informed about all of their pain relief options. They attend a hospital childbirth class, where they are taught how to "hee hee hee" and "haa haa haa" until the anesthesiologist has a minute to put the needle in their spine. Heaven forbid you should experience any more discomfort than you absolutely have to. For my first birth, I went into it with the "we'll see how it goes" attitude. When the dr broke my water at 5 cm, and I went straight into transition, I literally thought I was going to die. Looking back, I think my reaction was typical for someone going through transition. But instead of trying to get me back into a relaxed state and helping me refocus, the nurse ran out to get the anesthesiologist. Who, of course, saved me. And I was determined never to be so silly as to try natural childbirth again. No, with my next baby, I demanded an epidural just as soon as I reached the magical 3 cm. Got the needle in my back, and then hung out on the bed for a few more hours until I felt pressure and knew it was time to push the baby out. Really not so bad, but, something is missing I thought. So with my third baby, I chose to go for natural childbirth. Dave thought I was crazy, of course. But I went on my merry way, reading about NCB, asking questions, talking to others who had chosen NCB. I decided that I wanted to use hypnobirthing, and did the Hypnobabies homestudy course. Best thing I could have ever done. Dave was very skeptical at first, and thought some of the things in the book were a bit "out there". I just went with it, though, and it was wonderful to learn how to completely relax every part of my body. In fact, after the first couple of weeks of practicing, I would usually fall asleep while listening to my hypnosis scripts. Came in handy those last few weeks of pregnancy when it's difficult to get comfortable anymore. :o) Anyway, long story short, learning how to completely relax my body, learning about different techniques I could use during my birthing time, and also knowing what I wanted/didn't want during labor helped me have a wonderful experience. Kaylee's birth was so peaceful and special. It was intense, but never really painful. I felt in control the whole time, and catching her as she was being born was the most amazing thing I've ever done. Never mind the endorphin/adrenaline high I was on after the birth. My birthing time had lasted almost 24 hours, about half of that active labor. I hadn't slept hardly at all during that time. Yet I felt so refreshed and energetic, I literally felt like I could go run a marathon. :p I had a hard time sleeping the night after she was born. That "high" lasted for another 2 or 3 weeks. It was almost like I couldn't stop smiling, and it wasn't until the sleep deprivation started catching up with me that I started coming off the "oh, I want to do that again" feeling. :o) It was simply wonderful, and quite different from my first two experiences. So, after my own experience with NCB, and reading lots of good books, I've come up with a list of things that I feel influence whether a natural childbirth will be a good or a "I don't ever want to do THAT again" experience. Not a complete list at all, but maybe the Top 10 things I think women should consider before deciding to just plan on the epidural.
1. Read good books, such as Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, The Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth, Pregnancy Childbirth and the Newborn - The Complete Guide
2. Carefully consider the risks involved in using pain medication. Consenting to an epidural brings with it a host of other interventions, such as IV fluids, a catheter, and continuous fetal monitoring. It can also slow down labor, requiring pitocin augmentation (and all the added risks of pitocin). Furthermore, it can cause a severe drop in blood pressure, leading to decreased oxygen supply to the baby while the mother's bp is brought back under control. And the list goes on...
3. Take a childbirth preparation class. Often, the ones offered by the hospital will be insufficient. I personally suggest hypnobirthing or hypnobabies, or Bradley. There are others, such as Birthing from Within, but I haven't done enough research about them to be able to recommend them.
4. Hire a doula. Having a professional labor assistant can be invaluable, especially since dads are not usually all that helpful. ;o)
5. When your birthing time has come, stay out of bed!!! Move around, walk, sway, slow dance, sit on a birthing ball, sit on the toilet, get in the tub or shower. These are all methods that can be used to help a mother relax, and ease the discomfort of contractions.
6. Choose a care provider with a low c-section, induction, and episiotomy rate.
7. Believe in your body's ability to give birth. Birth was NOT meant to be so painful as to be unbearable. Having a positive attitude about birth makes a huge difference. Break the "Fear, Tension, Pain" cycle. The less you fear birth, the less tense your body is, the less pain you experience. Being able to relax is invaluable.
8. Refuse induction unless there is a compelling medical need for it. Remember, 37-42 weeks is all considered "full-term". Some women gestate longer than others. Pregnancies can safely go beyond 42 weeks, as long as they are monitored closely and the baby is doing well.
9. Refuse AROM (artificial rupture of membranes, "water breaking"). Contractions are much easier on you and the baby with the amniotic fluid providing a cushion.
10. Be informed, be informed, be informed. I can't say it enough. Don't listen to horror stories, but surround yourself with positive birth stories. Do your research!
While natural childbirth may not be for everyone, I firmly believe that if more women were more educated, we would hear many more positive birth stories rather than "I was in excruciating pain" and "the epidural saved me." Why go through the pain if you don't have to? Because there doesn't have to be pain, or if there is, then it can be manageable. Not something to "go through", but something to experience, leading to a wonderful and amazing experience of bringing a baby into the world. Not to mention a crazy "after birth" high. :p