I wrote the following in response to a 19 year old girl asking for advice on her first birth. Although my advice centers around reasons to choose natural childbirth, my underlying hope is that each mama explores themselves and their own values as they consider how they will embark on the exciting adventure of motherhood!
Having read other peoples stories about birth, the girl I wrote these words for had gotten herself a bit worked up. She wasn’t just nervous, she was caps lock NERVOUS. Always the one to offer verbose assistance, I couldn’t help but reply to her request for advice. Looking back on it now, I realize that I was as much gunning for her as I was for myself. I guess my words were just what I needed to bring out the last bit of courage for the big day. Here’s what I wrote:
It’s great that you’re investigating this question early! How you decide to go ahead with your birth will depend largely on your own outlook. It’s completely natural to be nervous, both because birth is such a momentous event, and because the stories we hear about birth in movies, etc. make it sound like such a big scary thing!
What I would recommend right now is research — whether you buy a couple books or check out a whole bunch of them at the library. I myself come from the “natural birth” side of things because it relates to how I view the world in general, and because I personally get more chills from the thought of shots and surgery than I do from pain!
Personally, I can tell you that for my first birth the sensations without medication or pain killers were intense but gave me a great sense of power and accomplishment. In my journal after the birth, I wrote about feeling like a proud tiger with my baby. We worked together and were powerful and fierce! Some women report having out of body experiences and even orgasms during natural childbirth!
But it is really up to you, your relationship to your body, your values, and your support system! Some really great books to look into are Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth (aff) by Ina May Gaskin, and HypnoBirthing (aff) by Marie Mongan. Although “hypnobirthing” sounds kind of out there, the method basically revolves around learning to relax so that your body can perform effectively. It also includes visualization exercises much like that used by high performance athletes before a game or competition.
As far as the subject of “pain” and the process of birth, most natural methods, including Hypnobirthing and the Bradly Method are based on the work of Dr. Grantly Dick-Read, who noticed that cultures that do not teach women to fear birth tend to have amazingly smooth, stress free births — in the same way that animals giving birth simply go to a quiet, private place, relax, get into a zone, and “just do it”. Most midwives agree that most women in our culture do experience what they would call pain, but in those women who look forward to birth and learn to relax, the pain is much less and is often accompanied by a euphoric feeling. It is true that some women, especially those well-prepared for childbirth relaxation and visualization, do not experience what they would call pain at all!
Whether you experience your uterine surges during labor as pain or muscle tightening, they basically work to open your cervix, so they are essentially the act of your muscles gradually opening the big uterine sack around your baby. They are longer and more intense as labor progresses. When you get almost done, they get really intense. Then it becomes a situation where you just have to know that this intensity is a sign that you’re near the end! It’s a blessing in disguise. This is usually called transition. I guess you could say it’s an out of body experience no matter what! I have to admit this is the part I’m scared of it myself (I’m due any day now and it’s been 11 years since my first baby). But here’s the beauty of natural birth — I’m also looking forward to it! As both a spiritual person and a strong woman I want to experience the deepest parts of life and be there wholly when my baby comes into this world!
As you do your research, you’ll see that there are a lot of opinions about how birth can and should proceed. My final point of advice would be to recognize that, for better or for worse, a lot of the reasons behind medical decisions made in the United States center around our litigious medical and insurance system. In other words, Doctors are very worried about getting sued. This means that in many cases they tend to choose more interventions, such as medications and surgery, than in other modernized countries. However, the United States does not show a corresponding positive result in terms of healthy babies. CNN reports that the U.S. has the second worst newborn death rate in the modern world. In fact, the countries with the lowest infant mortality are countries like Sweden, Dennmark, and Finland, which also have lower cesarean rates! Some interesting childbirth statistics: “In the five European countries with the lowest infant mortality rates, midwives preside at more than 70 percent of all births. More than half of all Dutch babies are born at home with midwives in attendance, and Holland’s maternal and infant mortality rates are far lower than in the United States…” (Caroline Hall Otis, Utne Reader).
If you do not choose a natural delivery, doing the research into natural birth methods will still prepare you mentally for whatever choices you, your partner, and your doctor make. This is because natural methods like Hypnobirthing and the Bradley Method center around preparing your mind to accept things as they are and allowing your body to do its work. Valuable skills!
Find out about your choices and make a decision based on who you are as a person. Learn about the medical decisions that can be made — induction, pain killers, episiotomy, and Cesarean section — but don’t focus too much on what can go wrong. Find as many positive sources as you can! The more you believe that your personal experience will be a good one, empowering for you and your baby, the more uplifting it will be and the more you will believe in yourself as an excellent mom all around! Good luck!
Guess I’ll just keep trying to follow my own advice!