A note from Alice: Today, we have a featured guest on our blog! Beth is an amazing working mom of two girls (ages four and six). By day, she’s a consulting manager at a software company and by night she’s a blogging supermom. Beth blogs primarily about balancing work and life for moms of kids under 10. Which I think is a huge pain point for many of us moms. She helps moms out with everything from going back to work after maternity leave, to finding the right childcare, to career advancement. Today, she shares with us very important information regarding natural births.
My first baby was born on a snowy morning. The epidural made it SO peaceful.
My second baby’s birth was…nothing like that.
I actually intended to have a natural hospital birth with my second child, which was good because I wouldn’t have had time for pain relief anyway.
Would I do it again? I’m glad to have had the experience. To know I can do it. But was the natural birth experience better?
If you’re pregnant and thinking about whether to try to have a natural labor and delivery, you probably have a ton of questions:
Is it a good idea? Will it be better for baby? Can I even have a natural birth in a hospital? Will I be able to take the pain?
8 Things I WISH I’d Known About Natural Birth!
1. Don’t expect the best case scenario
I’ve seen some crazy long birth plans. Let this be your first lesson in parenting: you aren’t in control!
You can set yourself up for success by finding a provider you trust, researching hospitals and learning about childbirth.
What you can’t do is rely on your birth plan to go perfectly.
Something likely will come up that is not in your plan and it’s best to be prepared for in advance.
I didn’t make an in-depth birth plan with my second, but I had some preferences since I was planning to skip the epidural. First, I wanted to labor at home as long as possible.
I hoped to be free to move around at the hospital – walking around, changing positions and using the tub in the hospital bathroom.
In reality, I labored at home for only about an hour before I was told to come to the hospital. My contractions were immediately very close together (2-3 minutes apart) and the doctor wanted me to come in right away. I actually argued with my husband about this, but he didn’t budge and I’m glad.
My total diversion from the birth plan didn’t end there.
At the hospital, I was immediately hooked up to an IV because they thought I was dehydrated. And that’s where I stayed until my daughter was born. Admittedly, that was only two hours later but still…I never even went into the bathroom, much less filled the tub.
How many of my “birth preferences” was I able to realize?
Did I have an unmedicated birth all the same?
A note from Alice: It’s SO interesting to read other mommies birth stories! I had heard from so many that the second child will come so fast. I was in labor with our first for 26 hours. With our second, it was exactly the same timeframe almost to the minute! It’s HARD to plan the birth at all, but you CAN make things much easier on yourself by planning and preparing for baby coming home the right way: What I WISH I Had Known Before Bringing Baby Home
2. A doula isn’t just for natural births
I meant to hire a doula for my first, even though I was planning to get an epidural. My thinking was that a doula would by default have experienced more births than I had! And that couldn’t be a bad thing.
In the end, my first came at 36 weeks. I’d been finishing my graduate school research work until 32 weeks, so I hadn’t gotten a chance to hire a doula.
I lucked out with a wonderful nurse who provided a buffer from my really grumpy doctor. So it worked out fine.
I knew that for number two, I would definitely be hiring a doula.
Because my labor went so quickly, my doula was only with me for an hour or two during labor, but even so, it was worth every penny. I honestly do not know what I would have done without her.
My husband was a constant source of strength and support. He made me laugh, and he gave me sips of water.
My doula was the one who knew what was normal, and what wasn’t.
When all of the nurses were saying that my contractions weren’t productive, my doula politely argued with them (and gave me much-needed strength).
When I started feeling that the baby was about to be born and really freaked out, she was the one who calmed me down with a plan.
She did some counter-pressure and that was great as well. But for me, my doula’s knowledge and experience with birth were by far the most valuable contribution. I recommend that you hire a doula no matter what your birth plan!
3. It’s hard to describe the feeling
An unmedicated birth isn’t good or bad, but it’s definitely something.
It’s really cool to feel the contractions and the baby’s movement. It hurts but you also feel very, very involved in what’s happening.
From talking to other people, I get the sense that I had a pretty strong epidural with my first. After it kicked in, I couldn’t feel anything. I kept asking the nurse if I was still in labor until she told me I could look at the monitor to see the contractions.
It was such a weird feeling to go from active labor (major ouch!) to….nothing.
It was really unnerving. When it was time to push, I had to rely on the nurse to tell me when to push. This wasn’t my favorite part of the birth experience at all!
That’s why I really enjoyed being completely invested with a natural birth the second time.
I wasn’t watching the monitors or wondering when to push.
Natural labor was all completely instinctive, as natural as sneezing.
Don’t get me wrong, it hurt a lot more than sneezing! And my body probably had an easier time since my natural birth wasn’t my first.
But it was a pretty surreal feeling to know exactly what was happening and exactly when to push.
When people ask me how it was, the only thing I can think to say is…”It was an experience.”
4. It doesn’t stop hurting when the baby is out
I read so many natural birth stories. And inevitably they ended with the mother blissfully cradling her newborn, mere seconds after the baby was born.
That was not my experience at all.
Since I had an epidural with my first, the delivery of the placenta was pretty much a non-event.
With number two… not so much.
After the baby was born, I was shocked – SHOCKED – when another contraction hit me.
Wait a second. What? I already had the baby. What was this?
I’m not sure how I missed this, but you have to deliver the placenta and that requires contractions. And those contractions, at least for me, really hurt. It wasn’t as bad as the baby’s delivery, but they still took my breath away and prevented me from focusing.
Even after the placenta was delivered, the uterus kept contracting (and would continue doing so, occasionally, for the first couple of days). I also didn’t know that the postpartum uterine contractions apparently get more painful with each birth.
The things they don’t tell you!
A note from Alice: SO true! With the first, postpartum was a gigantic shock. I was so worried about the whole labor and delivery thing, I didn’t worry about postpartum. This was a gigantic mistake. Postpartum recovery and healing after birth was WAY harder than labor and delivery. Postpartum uterine contractions for baby number 2 were just as bad as pre-labor contractions. Make sure you prepare for postpartum!
5. There is nothing peaceful about this
Don’t feel bad when you pretty much lose it. There is nothing restrained, nothing clean, nothing calm about giving birth unmedicated. Let that go.
Your hair will be a mess. You’ll probably poop. You’ll use a voice that has never come out of your mouth before or since. You may say things you don’t mean.
If you’re typically a restrained person like I am, this is going to be an experience like no other. You’re going to have to let go.
When my first was born, I labored for about seven hours with the epidural. A friend of mine sat with me, and we watched The History Channel. For real. It was strangely relaxing.
Then it was time to push, and there were more people in the room, but it was still zen.
My second labor involved lots of talking, some grunting, very weird facial expressions and virtually no moments of calm.
When it was time to deliver, rather than just kind of doing it, I freaked out. Not in a “this hurts I’m dying” way but more in an “OMG there is a baby coming out RIGHT NOW” way.
None of it was particularly tidy or controlled.
This is going to hurt more than anything you’ve ever experienced (at least, I hope so). You can still do it, though. And the payoff…well, it’s the best payoff there is.
6. You might have trouble focusing on the baby at first
I really wasn’t expecting to feel so disconnected right after my second was born without pain relief. I felt so calm and peaceful during my first birth. With pain management, I was able to focus on the baby without really worrying about the other stuff that was happening.
After my natural birth, though, it was pretty hard to focus on my baby. I had to turn inward to work through the pain and the sheer intensity of what had just happened.
It took a good 20-30 minutes after my daughter was born before I could really focus on her. I was confused because everyone had always told me that their pain disappeared the minute they held their baby.
For a while, I wondered if something was wrong with me.
I felt like I’d missed some mystical part of natural birth that everyone else had experienced.
But as the years have passed, I’ve realized that everyone processes childbirth differently and my coping mechanism was to simply block out everything. (Not surprising since I’m a definite introvert!)
It took me a while to move past the raw experience of childbirth and actually start really appreciating my beautiful baby girl. And that’s completely fine!
7. In most cases, your birth choices are about you
Pregnancy decisions can seem incredibly heavy when your baby’s wellbeing is at stake. There are many choices you can make during pregnancy that will affect your child’s health.
The decision to get an epidural isn’t one of them.
Studies show that epidurals do not decrease the baby’s APGAR scores or increase fetal distress. Having an epidural doesn’t negatively impact your ability to breastfeed. Your baby isn’t more likely to go to the NICU, either, if you get an epidural.
So if you think that your decision to use pain relief (or not) during labor has an impact on your baby, you can put that idea right out of your head.
On the other, hand, there are a number of potential negative effects for you if you choose to give birth with an epidural. Your delivery is more likely to be assisted (with forceps or vacuum) and you’re slightly more likely to tear or need an episiotomy.
The pushing phase is typically a bit longer (15 minutes) when you have an epidural, but that’s not really much time in the grand scheme of things. After birth, you won’t be able to get up and walk around for a while as the pain relief wears off.
If you want to read about this, and many other pregnancy decisions in-depth, I highly recommend Emily Oster’s book: Expecting Better.
My two births were different but similar in the most important ways.
Pitocin was used for my first birth but not my second. (I’m not sure if there’s a negative effect from Pitocin.) I didn’t need forceps or vacuum assistance and had the same level of tearing in both births. The second birth was much faster than the first, but of course being the second surely sped things up.
I did really like being able to get up and walk around immediately after giving birth. The first bathroom trip was so much easier, and it was nice to be pretty mobile since I had a toddler when I gave birth to number two. Believe me, though, there’s plenty of postpartum recovery fun to go around, with or without an epidural!
Overall, although there are some minor negative outcomes that could result from getting an epidural, don’t overlook the biggest benefit: extremely effect pain management.
Whatever you decide, remember that this is not a decision that affects your baby’s health. It’s about your preferences, health and pain tolerance.
A note from Alice: Either way, natural or not, your choice as a mommy is totally okay! I had an epidural for both of our children (I just gave birth 17 days ago to our second!) because when I started feeling painful contractions, I threw up…A LOT. The pain of contractions paired with the vomiting was just too much. Depending on the anesthesiologist and your body, each epidural will be different. I was actually able to feel contractions and push, I was able to walk almost directly after labor, no forceps or vacuum was used and I had no tearing (and needed no stitches)!
8. Labor does not define Your parenting journey
If you’ve been married for any length of time, you’ve learned that the wedding was just the very first day of the journey. Flower arrangements and bridesmaids’ dresses have nothing to do with the fights you have, the joys you share or the decisions you make during your years of marriage.
Birth is just like that.
You can have a c-section and still breastfeed, cloth diaper and babywear. You can have a natural birth and use formula and Pampers! No problem.
The decisions you make during labor & delivery are just the tiniest part of the parenting decisions you will make in your child’s first day, week and month. If your baby’s birth didn’t go the way you wanted it to, do your best to process your emotions. At the same time, know that it was just one day.
The manner of your child’s birth doesn’t define you as a parent. It seems to have an outsized importance when you’re pregnant, and it is an incredibly meaningful day!
But the meaning comes from the birth of your child. Not from the way in which it happens.
Never forget that.
Deciding what’s right for you
If you feel that trying a natural birth is the right plan for you, that’s great! My recommendation is to hire a doula and put together a (very short) list of birth preferences. Finally, embrace the unexpected.
Make sure you’ve packed your hospital bag to stay comfortable after birth, and that you’ve got all of the postpartum recovery essentials you’ll need.
Your labor may go exactly according to plan and that’s AWESOME! Your labor may look nothing like your plan and that’s ALSO AWESOME! Remember, the use of pain medication is a decision that’s about you.
Focus on the final outcome: the birth of your sweet baby!
Beth Cubbage writes about career, parenting and all things working mom at Parent Lightly. As a full time consulting manager and mom to two girls, she knows firsthand how heavy being a working parent can feel. At Parent Lightly, she helps lighten that load for working moms using her love of data, obsession with simplifying and unfailingly positive outlook.