When I got pregnant early this year (2016), I already had an idea that I wanted to attempt a natural, drug-free childbirth. I’d seen the Business of Being Born documentary years ago, so I had some notion of the consequences of giving birth in a hospital setting. However, I knew that on some level this documentary was a bit skewed towards natural childbirth, so I wanted to take the time to find out whether or not natural childbirth was practical and safe for me and the baby.
Something else that was important for me to realize was that, I definitely had a deep seated fear towards childbirth. The image of a woman freaking out when her water breaks, screaming bloody murder while on the hospital bed, her husband fainting in the operating room, etc, etc, etc…. All of these pictures were burned in my brain from years and years of television and movies depicting birth. Along with that – I hadn’t heard a single happy story of childbirth from anyone I knew personally – not my mother, who went through a grueling 14 hour labor with me before the doctors told her she would have to have a c-section – not any of my friends, one of whom went into labor very premature with preeclampsia, and ended up with a baby who was in the NICU for 4 weeks.
Honestly – these stories scared the sh*t out of me a bit – and although I did want to have a natural childbirth, there was a seed of doubt in the back of my mind saying “but what if something goes wrong”.
Now – I knew from all of my experiences over the past 6 or so years, that if there is something that I am afraid of, then that is often an opportunity for me to do something really amazing – something that will change my life and make me a stronger human being. So I decided that I was going to go all in, and do everything I could to ensure that I would have a successful, natural, and unmedicated birth.
I also knew that 80% of accomplishing any goal is mindset, with the other 20% physical action and preparation. So, I spent a lot of my time over the next 9 months investigating and uncovering every thought and idea I had in relation to childbirth – making sure that if a point of fear came up, or an image flashed in my mind that led me to worry about something – I addressed it immediately, looked at the practical reality of the fear, delving into the worst case scenarios, and forgiving myself for holding onto it.
So – to help with my mindset – I read EVERY natural birth story I could find online – the good, the bad, and the ugly. I watched EVERY childbirth video I could find on Youtube. I listened to countless women share their experiences, many of whom had the intention of not getting an epidural, but gave up after many hours of painful labor. I read the entire “What to Expect When Your Expecting” book, as well as the “What to Expect in Year 1” book. I absorbed all of the information I could find, and exposed myself to the worst case scenario so many times to see how I felt about it and what fears or worries came up for me.
Also, early in my pregnancy, I started listening to the Hypnobabies audios – I usually listened to them at night or when I was taking a nap during the day. I really think these audios really supported me to program myself with tools that I could use during labor – and I do think this is partly why I was able to have a virtually pain-free labor (the Hypnobabies audios teach techniques on how to let go of the mental aspects of pain, and instead embrace the physicality of labor – which may sound hokey, but it friggin works).
I cannot recommend this process of mental-work before labor more to women considering a natural childbirth – I’ve seen so many cases of women who had the intention to give birth naturally, but did NOT do this work, and found themselves struggling when the day arrived to give birth. I know fundamentally that this process of changing and strengthening my mindset, investigating my fears, and leaving no stone un-turned, was exactly why I was able to accomplish my goal (and go beyond even my own belief about my physical capabilities).
For the physical preparation – I firstly found a birthing center in my city that was separated from a hospital, and that did not offer any drugs during birth. I wanted to put myself in a situation where I could not even have drugs as a thought/option during labor – removing the convenience (although I would be able to transfer to a hospital if any complication did occur). The birthing center I chose was run by a CNM, who had previously worked as a labor nurse in a hospital labor ward for over 10 years, so it was a nice blend of a standard medical practice that had the goal of supporting moms to have a natural and drug free labor. Along with choosing the birthing center, I hired a local doula to attend our birth – this was something I really debated doing, but I’m so glad that I did it, because she was immensely supportive for me and my husband during labor (she was focused on us, while the midwifes were focused on baby).
I also started doing certain things that I had investigated would be supportive for childbirth. I took natural prenatal vitamins, prenatal probiotics, fish oil DHA, and drank a ton of water every day. Later in my pregnancy I started taking Vitamin C (which is supposed to help strengthen the amniotic sac), alfalfa capsules, and drank red raspberry leaf tea (iced, extra strength). I also ate dates every day during the last few weeks – which is supposed to help soften the cervix among other things. I did a little walking and squats and sitting/stretching on a yoga ball on most days, but other than that I relaxed and didn’t over stress or do a lot of exercising. I started seeing a chiropractor in my third trimester who used the Webster technique to help loosen and align my pelvis. I took a lot of relaxing baths with epsom salt to ease the aches of pregnancy – sometimes nearly every night.
One last point I’d like to mention – during all of this preparation, I made sure to communicate with my husband and utilize our partnership to cross-reference myself – meaning if I had a fear or worry or felt emotional, I made sure to communicate that with him and hear his perspective. This allowed him to be more involved in the pregnancy, preparing him for the baby’s arrival, and strengthened the intimacy of our relationship.
In the next blog, I’ll share the story of Max’s birth – natural, drug-free, and virtually painless.