When it comes up in conversation that I had an unmedicated birth with Fox, people usually respond in similar ways, "Wow, you're my hero. That's amazing." It's certainly a nice sentiment, but I usually respond with "That's very kind, but if there is one thing being pregnant and giving birth taught me, it's that there's no easy way to bring a baby into your family. Whether natural, epidural, c-section, or adoption, there are hard things about all of them."
Having a baby is a special and intimate experience, unique to each woman, child, and pregnancy, and while an unmedicated birth was a great path for our family, I don't consider "natural labor" to be the sainthood of childbirthing that its sometimes treated to be.
The truth is, while its valuable to be educated and have plans (or hopes) heading into giving birth, we simply cannot control it. I am so grateful that my body and my baby cooperated with a natural labor, but I know that's not always the case.
It can be hard not to have hopes or expectations about how birth will go, but what I try to keep at the forefront of my mind is that I want a healthy mom and healthy baby most of all. Also, while there are some medical interventions that would not be my first choice, I'm so very glad I live in a time and place where those options are available and safe.
Before I continue, let me also say that nothing in this post is intended to offer medical advice. This is simply my thought process and my story. As always, you should definitely consult a medical professional for any of your birthing decisions.
My mom had both me and my sister without medication. When she had me, she said that the hospital wouldn't even give her the epidural until she was dilated 7.5 centimeters, and at that point she figured she might as well just go all the way. With my sister, she had a natural labor with a midwife and home birth. She says that if she had ever had another baby, she would've chosen a home birth again. My sister and I are 10 years apart, so I remember a lot about the beginning of her life, including my mom's birth plans.
Having always known my mom had natural labors, it was an option that stayed at the forefront of my mind. In the months and years leading up to getting pregnant, and certainly once I was pregnant, I really had to do some digging into my motivation for choosing a natural labor.
Was it to "fit into a club?" Reach a goal? Impress myself? Impress others? Do what I think was expected of me?
Deep down, I was scared that I couldn't do it, and that maybe I didn't want to. However, over time, and through research, I realized that a natural labor actually was the most appealing to me. If I could help it, I preferred not to undergo the surgery of a c-section, and the epidural didn't sound appealing to me either. I didn't like the idea of the needle in my back, not being able to feel what was happening, being numb after birth, or the possibility of it not taking at all or only partially working, all of which I only knew about from friend's experiences or what I learned in birthing class.
Probably the thing that confirmed my decision the most was that I did not talk to a single person who'd had a natural birth who wouldn't choose to do it again. Having never given birth, I wasn't sure what to expect, but that caught my attention. On that note, I certainly had many friends sing the praises of the epidural so I wasn't completely closed off to that either (again, with no experience in giving birth, you can only think about it so much because you just don't know the full story!).
So, my plan going in was to go natural as long as I could, and if at any point I felt like we needed to get the epidural I could. Also, if I ended up needing Pitocin to help my labor progress, I was pretty certain I would elect to have the epidural because I've heard contractions on Pitocin are very intense with little break in between, adding another factor to going natural. And, with my main goal of healthy mom and healthy baby, I certainly would not deny a c-section if it were the best way to keep both me and my baby safe.
My labor was long, but healthy, and Fox never showed any signs of distress. Now that we know his personality (calm and content), that is not surprising at all. Unmedicated contractions and pushing were certainly intense, and I do remember asking Woody, "why did I say I didn't want the epidural?' and at one point telling my nurse that maybe I should just get it. Both of them, very in tune with my heart in the matter, were so supportive and encouraged me to keep going, and looking back, I'm glad I did.
Fox had a healthy arrival, and once he was here, any pains or discomfort from my labor seemed to fade into the background. All of the sudden, what had felt so intense and all-consuming seemed like a small thing compared to the enormity of meeting our baby boy.
As for our Baby Girl due this October, I'm hoping to have an unmedicated labor again. My heart is in the same place as before: healthy mom, healthy baby is top priority. I'll labor unmedicated as long as my body and baby cooperate, and from there, we will pray and make the decisions necessary to safely deliver our daughter into our arms.
If you're pregnant reading this and considering your own birth options, I don't know that I feel qualified to offer advice, but I can share the things that help encourage and prepare me heading toward labor and delivery:
- Ask questions, gain knowledge: The more I know going into it, the more equipped I will be to ask the right questions and take the best steps for me and my baby.
- Don't compare myself to other women: My story is my story, and I know God has a plan for this baby and this birth. As much as I may be familiar with other people's stories, I don't know the whole picture, and making such important decisions out of comparison will not be helpful.
- Be empowered: I trust the doctors, and I also know that I am my best advocate. I don't have the knowledge or experience they do, but I can ask questions like "what would happen if we don't take that route?" or "can we wait to decide for 30 more minutes?" or "are there any other options that are safe to consider?"
- Be flexible: We just can't control all the aspects of childbirth. Being informed, empowered, and asking questions will help me, but at the end of the day, maintaining flexibility is so valuable in staying calm and focused on the priority of delivering my baby in a safe, healthy way for both of us.
I hope my story helps encourage you as you think through and prepare for labor and delivery. It truly is a beautiful thing and an amazing gift. God made our bodies to carry and deliver babies, and I believe there is nothing to be afraid of. As always, to the new mommas, longtime mommas, hopeful mommas, expectant mommas, and future mommas, I'm cheering you on!
All photos from the day Fox was born by Mary Margaret Smith