I’ve never been a fan of the term “natural childbirth.” It insinuates that any woman who has a baby with the aid of an epidural or through a C-section somehow had her baby “unnaturally.”
I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to go through unnatural childbirth and this is coming from someone who had both children “naturally.” I prefer to tell people that I had un-medicated births, but even when I disclose this information, I feel the need to preface it by saying that I’m not a tree-hugging, oil-diffusing hippie (although I have nothing against trees or oils.), who does yoga and makes her own deodorant.
In fact, I’ll let you in on a little secret: the only reason I had un-medicated births is because I’m terrified of getting an epidural.
That’s right, people; I chose to push a watermelon-sized baby out of my nether regions in order to avoid a small prick to the spine. But as crazy as this sounds, I can’t be the only person who gets sweaty palms at the mere thought of a needle going into my back, right? For as long as I can remember, I’ve been terrified of needles. I can still remember my mom having to literally hold me down for the meningitis vaccine….and that was the year I left for college.
When I was pregnant with Rory, my husband and I took 12 weeks of Bradley Method classes to prepare us for un-medicated childbirth. It was here that I learned that “natural” childbirth also decreases the risk of having an emergency c-section. Translation: my extreme fear of epidurals may also help prevent the need for major surgery. This only increased my determination to avoid the epidural, because if I’m terrified of needles, you can imagine how I feel about scalpels.
Every week at class, we would practice some exercises that made us look completely and utterly ridiculous, and then we would watch a childbirth video. (Side note: Can someone who recorded their birth in the last ten years, please submit it to these video companies? Every single video we watched was at least 20-years-old. I was totally distracted by the mullets and pleated jeans.) Anyway, I was fine bearing witness to random women screaming in pain as they labored and pushed for hours on end, but I almost passed out when they showed us a woman getting an epidural before her emergency C-section. And if the long, scary needle wasn’t enough, the anesthesiologist kept emphasizing how important it was for her to stay still. Later I learned that this is so that the needle didn’t hit the wrong nerve and cause permanent damage. Um, say what? You want me to sit perfectly still while I’m in labor, and if I happen to move, say DURING A CONTRACTION, I could become permanently injured?! Yeah, I think I’ll take my chances with the pain. One of the most frustrating things about being pregnant for the first time is that everyone explained contractions differently.
Some of my friends (probably the smart ones who asked for an epidural right away) said it wasn’t that bad and felt like really strong period cramps. Okay, totally doable. But other friends described contractions as your insides being twisted and torn apart. They told me horror stories that included cringe-worthy words like “tearing” and “ring of fire.” And yet, I still feared the epidural above all else. So throughout my pregnancy, I hoped and prayed that I would be able to tolerate the pain of labor and that I wouldn’t need an emergency C-section so I could avoid that long needle going into my spine.
I’m almost positive that whenever I told my friends and family that I planned to have a natural birth they made bets about how soon I would beg for the epidural. But if that’s the case, they were sorely disappointed because I did it!
I made it through 7-hours of terrifyingly painful contractions until I felt like “I needed to poop.” (To all you pregnant first time mamas, this is exactly what it feels like when you’re ready to push. You’re welcome.) Some woman visualize a flower opening or the ocean tides to get them through the next contraction, but not me. I just thought about that long scary needle, and I was able to ride out the next contraction until before I knew it, I had a baby in my arms.
When I became pregnant with my second daughter, I struggled with my birth plan. On one hand, I knew I was capable of an un-medicated birth, but on the other hand, I knew exactly how bad it hurt. So I briefly contemplated just planning to get an epidural, but then I realized that I wouldn’t be able to throw the hours of pain and suffering in her face when she’s being an impossible teenager. (I pushed all 8 pounds of you out of my body without pain medication, and you can’t even put your clothes away?! Totally worth it.) Plus, I remembered how long the epidural needle is, and the fact that it goes IN YOUR SPINE. So, I made it through another birth sans-medication, but more importantly, sans big scary needle.
My point in writing this (and yes, I do have a point), is two-fold:
- If you’re hoping to have an un-medicated childbirth, you can do it! Believe me, if I can do it, anyone can do it. I don’t do yoga or run marathons. I don’t have some crazy high pain threshold. I just have a totally rational fear of needles going into my spine.
- If you plan to ask for an epidural, good for you. Because the more I think about it, the more I’m unsure if an un-medicated birth is worth it. Don’t tell the people who fall into category number one, but pushing a baby out of your body hurts. A lot.