on the sacrifices
of a million women before me
what can I do
to make this mountain taller
so the women after me
can see farther
legacy – rupi kaur
Natural childbirth, just like breastfeeding, was never something I imagined myself becoming so passionate about until I actually experienced it for myself. It seems that, at least in the United States, natural (drug-free) childbirth is somewhat of a lost art. In Japan it is much more common but the amount of women choosing epidurals is increasing.
Now I will just preface this by saying that your birth is your own, no matter how it ends up. Take power over it. I actually really hate the saying, “there’s no medal for doing it naturally” or whatever else people say, because it discredits someone’s personal accomplishment. If you have a goal and you attain it, you do deserve recognition! And even if you don’t attain your original goal for whatever reason, you deserve recognition for doing the best you possibly could given the circumstances.
If you are considering natural childbirth, this post is meant to encourage you. If you are on the fence, there may be some information here that sways you one way or the other.
Why choose natural childbirth?
You go into labor naturally after your due date. You labor at home for a few hours and then get ready to go to the clinic or hospital. Things get intense, but your partner and doula are there to support you through the waves of contractions. You labor in the bathtub, on an exercise ball, a birthing chair, anywhere that feels comfortable. You don’t have any uncomfortable IV’s or painful needle insertions. The lights are dimmed and you focus and breathe through each contraction, slowly feeling yourself open up. You begin to feel like pushing, and your caregiver confirms you are at 10cm of dilation. You lay on your side and this is comfortable, but you feel better kneeling on the bed holding on to the back. Your partner and doula are still right there with you, encouraging and reminding you to breathe and listen to your body. You follow your instinctual urge to push during a contraction and rest in between. No one is yelling or counting down. After some time, your baby emerges and gets lifted straight to your chest. You soak up the moment as much as you can while the placenta is delivered. All of what happens after birth is painless because of the hormones going through your body.
You sit up a bit to hold your baby and offer the breast. Your baby is alert and healthy, not sleepy from any drugs. You are able to nurse for the first time. You feel tired but you’re not shaking or experiencing any side effects from the drugs. Your hormones are adjusting naturally to switch from a pregnant mother to a breastfeeding mother.
You are taken to your recovery room to eat a nutritious meal. Your baby joins you and you get to breastfeed again. You are filled with oxytocin which numbs most of the pain you may feel after birth. You have an incredible sense of accomplishment and the bond with your baby is indescribable.
This type of birth experience is not a fantasy. It’s the reality of many mothers across the world. And it can also be your reality.
Why someone would choose natural childbirth is up to the person. For many birthing parents, myself included, the fear of “pain” during childbirth was less scary than the risks associated with medical interventions. Epidural anesthesia, one of the most popular interventions during hospital births, is an injection that blocks the nerve impulses to the lower part of the body to reduce sensation. According to the American Pregnancy Association, some of the notable benefits of an epidural are: gives you a chance to rest if labor is prolonged or you are not coping well and in the event of an unplanned cesarean your pain relief is already in place.
However, there are also several risks associated with an epidural:
- Epidurals can cause a sudden drop in blood pressure, requiring more medications to stabilize you
- You could experience a severe headache from leakage of spinal fluid (1% of birthing people experience this)
- After your epidural is placed, you will need help moving from side to side while laying down and be continuously monitored for fetal heart rate changes.
- Your labor could slow down or stop because you are laying in one position.
- Some side effects are: shivering, ringing in the ears, nausea, backache, pain where the needle was inserted, and difficulty urinating.
- An epidural could make pushing more difficult, particularly for first time parents. This increases your risk of other interventions such as cesarean delivery or forceps.
- Your body will feel numb for a few hours after birth and you may need assistance to walk.
- Rarely, permanent nerve damage can be the result of the epidural.
- Higher chance of fetal complications due to reacting poorly to the epidural. Baby could also be sleepy upon birth making breastfeeding more difficult.
The reason I am sharing this list is not to scare you, but to make you think through every decision about your birth before making it. Many people think getting an epidural is a “given” and something you have to do, and it’s simply not the case. Part of being an empowered birthing person is doing your research and making decisions for yourself about your birth plan. That way, even if things don’t go 100% as you expected, you can still feel confident that you did your best to achieve your ideal birth versus relying on those around you (mainly doctors/midwives) to make it happen for you.
Tips for achieving your goal of natural childbirth
- Gather a support team and get them on board with your birth plan. If possible, this involves someone knowledgeable about birth such as a doula or experienced family member. Often times, our partners are just as inexperienced as us when it comes to birth, so asking them to be your only support system during labor and delivery is quite a big responsibility. Often times, especially in a hospital setting, you will not have nurses or midwives in your room aiding in your labor until you are getting close to delivery. That’s a long time to rely on just one support person! Having a knowledgeable extra person there can be just what you need to get through the intensity of labor.
- Find your “why” or personal motivation for having a natural childbirth and share it with others who will be involved in your birth. Knowing exactly what motivates you is so so important because it is what will keep you going when things get intense. Sharing your motivation with your birth team allows them to remind you of it during intense moments. You may also tell your birth team that because you do not want interventions, to not offer things like an epidural unless it is medically necessary so it’s not something you have to think about.
- Don’t give yourself the option of having an epidural or other intervention by saying “I’ll see how it goes during labor and then decide”. Doing this is a sure way to invite in tempting thoughts of choosing pain relief. It also invites others to offer it to you. There will most likely be times during labor when you feel more and less in control of the situation. It’s much easier to stay focused on managing labor naturally if you don’t even think about an epidural/intervention.
- Talk to other parents who have given birth naturally and fill your mind with tons of positive birth stories! If you don’t know anyone personally who has given birth without pain relief (unlikely though! You just have to ask around!) do a quick search on Youtube for natural childbirth videos or pick up a few books about natural childbirth. My favorites are Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin and Natural Hospital Birth by Cynthia Gabriel.
- Consider giving birth somewhere besides a hospital. There are many other options if you do a little research. I have a list of mama and baby friendly caregivers in the Tokyo area that may be useful to you if you are looking beyond hospitals. There are quite a few maternity clinics and birth houses on this list!
- Do some birth preparation focused on practicing ways to manage natural birth. Many birth prep classes educate you on the different stages of labor etc, but they don’t necessarily give you strategies to manage the intensity of labor. The availability of these classes varies by location, but in Tokyo, local doula Stephanie Kawai is one of the most active people offering classes. She offers both breathing classes and birth prep classes. You can find more information on her website here.
Are you planning a natural childbirth? How are you preparing?