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By Amy Goldizen
Women give birth every day, all over the world, and in many different ways. In the United States, the most common route for women to bring their baby earthside is within a hospital setting, often with varying degrees of medical intervention. It isn’t uncommon to hear the birth experiences of moms who have endured an induction, a forceps or vacuum assisted birth, or a cesarian section delivery—but a change is emerging as an increasing number of mothers are eager to educate and empower themselves regarding their birth options. Also evident alongside this trend, is the preference of many moms to explore the possibility of achieving a natural birth, one without unnecessary medical intervention and assistance.
With nearly one-third of all births resulting in cesarean deliveries, many of them due to unnecessary medical intervention, it is refreshing to see that women are taking a stand and taking proactive action to determine the outcome of their birth. Navigating birth options, a lot of moms find themselves pining for a natural birth, but of those mothers who consider this alternative to the societal birthing norm, many of them ultimately decide against it for reasons based on fear according to bellybaby.com. This is unfortunate, but not surprising.
The majority of health care professionals today are trained in birthing practices that are based on the outdated idea that women cannot birth their babies without numerous interventions that can only be provided by a medical team. This common misbelief often lays a foundation for ridicule and disapproval on behalf of the medical staff projected onto the expectant mother—an all too common occurrence that is counterproductive and lacking of the support that a mother considering alternative birth methods needs. This leads many moms-to-be who want a natural birth to choose to birth under the care of a midwife who will encourage them to listen to their bodies during throughout the birthing process—support is key.
Luckily, as women continue to fight for their rights to birth the way they wish, more physicians are entertaining the idea of a more hands-off approach and learning about the benefits of natural childbirth. The pros over at contemporaryobgyn.com recognize the disconnect between women and their medical professionals and insist that natural birth can in fact pair well with the right physician, explaining that more and more physicians are acknowledging and supporting mothers’ decisions to birth in a more instinctive way, often applauding moms for making the effort to avoid their baby’s exposure to analgesics and synthetic hormones.
If you would have asked me if I was considering a natural birth with my first child, I would have laughed in your face and proclaimed something bold like, “I’m getting the drugs–there is no way in hell I’m pushing something the size of a watermelon through something the size of a golf ball sans pain relief”. During my first pregnancy, I was terrified of labor. I avoided the labor stories of other moms. I avoided the detailed descriptions in the books, and you’d have never caught me Youtubing videos of childbirth. A natural birth was never a thought. I was young, I wasn’t informed about my birth options, and I hadn’t taken the initiative to research them on my own. To be honest, had I tried to research my options, I wouldn’t have known where to start. It took a few years and a couple more pregnancies for me to realize that there was a totally different way to birth my babies—the natural birth.
As We Grow and Change, So Do Our Goals.
Fast forward to my third pregnancy. I had adopted a new lifestyle. Into all things organic and alternative, I was convinced that a natural birth would be my end goal for the pregnancy. I knew that one of the most important things I could do to prepare my body for a natural birth was to ensure I was eating highly nutritious foods and maintaining an active lifestyle. I cut out highly-processed and refined carbs from my diet and replaced them with organic whole grains. I made sure I consumed enough lean protein to support myself and my baby throughout her rapid development. Fruits and veggies were my best friend. I played at the park daily with my other children and did prenatal yoga when I had the chance or needed to feel like I wasn’t huge and stiff. I have never felt better in my life. I hired a birth doula. I joined sites like Birth Without Fear, Positive Birth Movement, and ICAN, ordered my cloth diapers, and stocked up on lactation tea and organic bottom balm for baby. I felt so ready, so confident, so excited.
Your Birth Should Please You.
Now understand that all of this isn’t necessary for you to achieve a beautiful natural birth experience, but for me, these were preparations that made me feel content and equipped. You see, all that matters is that you go into the birth feeling capable, confident, and ready–understanding your body and the power that lies within you. The journey to a natural birth is more mental than anything else. Arm yourself with the tools that you need to feel prepared and a natural birth is well within your reach. A woman’s body is designed to withstand and support pregnancy, labor, and childbirth. When you learn to trust your body and its abilities to create, birth, and nourish, you will achieve an overwhelming sense of peace. While I was able to summon my inner strength through the aforementioned methods, a lot of mothers really enjoy practicing relaxation methods by enrolling in Bradley method childbirth classes, practicing hypnobirthing, or by using guided imagery meditation and affirmations to achieve their birth zen.
The Natural Birth Opposition
Arriving at a place where you can truly find peace in trusting your body is not always an easy feat. We live in a society that is centrally focused on medicine and intervention, which has its place, but we often forget to use the powerful healing options available to us in more natural forms and in the preventative methods that are bioavailable to us. When I told my OB that I would be pursuing a natural birth, she couldn’t understand why I would want to endure hours of pain with no relief. When I presented her with my birth plan explaining that I would decline the use of IV fluids unless medically necessary so that I would be free to walk about the hospital grounds as I labored, she urged me to reconsider. Oh, and when I informed her that I would be keeping my placenta to encapsulate and consume after the birth as a means of warding of postpartum anxiety and depression and as a lactation aid, you should have seen her face!
For more information on the benefits of placenta encapsulation, click here.
As women we have been conditioned to conform and comply with our physicians, as it is explained to us that they are the educated professional, not us. As this point of view continues to penetrate our way of thinking, women continue to limit themselves, doubting their bodies and neglecting their instincts. Mothering.com published a controversial article that has encouraged women to reflect on the history of childbirth and analyze the practices used during a “normal” hospital birth that inhibit the ability of our bodies to perform the way they need to throughout labor and the birthing process. Taking a forward and direct approach to dissecting the interference of our conditioned minds with our body’s ability to birth our babies, the article challenges moms and moms-to-be alike to consider a natural birth and trust the capabilities within each of us.
When met by opposition by my physician, I stood my ground. She agreed to honor my wishes, but it was evident to me in that moment how easily a woman could be discouraged by the response of her doctor—a medical professional—discounting her completely reasonable wishes. This reality makes me sad.
My natural birth was the most beautiful experience my husband and I have ever had together. I have never felt a stronger connection to that man than I did during those long hours of labor and delivery. In fact, the experience was so incredibly special, that I swear I would do it over again, and again, and again. Be prepared for the baby fever that follows a natural birth—it’s intense. Not sold yet? Let me share my birth story with you.
My kids are notorious for initiating labor in the middle of the night. They must not have gotten the memo: Momma needs her beauty sleep. Apparently most babies fail to receive this memo. According to birthfaith.org, melatonin (the sleep hormone) and oxytocin (the labor initiating hormone) work hand in hand to jumpstart the onset of labor. I awoke way too early at 2 o’clock in the morning and to my surprise, my contractions were coming steadily at 2-3 minutes apart. I quickly woke my husband and we showered, grabbed our bags and my favorite blanket, and we were out the door. My contractions were strong. I was almost certain that our little Evie would be here sooner than we had anticipated. My husband phoned our doula (who happened to have the most beautiful, calming, English accent) and she readied herself to meet us at the hospital. For mamas new to the idea of natural birthing, a doula is a woman who supports a laboring mom through use of natural pain relief methods and gentle encouragement, serving as an educator and advocate supporting the mother’s birth choices. If you’re considering the services of a doula but don’t know where to begin, DONA International’s website makes the process of finding the doula that is right for you incredibly convenient and simple.
Is This a Spa or Labor and Delivery?
We arrived at the hospital and were quickly admitted and taken to the third floor where the labor and delivery staff greeted us and showed us to our room. I have never seen a more beautiful hospital room—sage green walls, spa-inspired bathroom with a stone shower, wooden floors—it was so calming and earthy. After the nursing staff took my vitals and checked my cervical progression, the nurses, honoring my birth plan, encouraged me to have a light snack at the cafeteria and take a walk around the pond outside. I had some fruit, half a slice of toast, and some chicken broth and left the building to take my walk. It was beautiful outside. The sun was warm and the light breeze was refreshing. I walked hand in hand with my husband in between contractions. With each contraction he reminded me to breathe, held my hand, and rubbed my back.
All births, no matter how they are accomplished are beautiful, but of my four very different births, this one, my third, was my absolute favorite. I didn’t realize it then, but I was extremely fortunate to bring my daughter into this world in a hospital setting that was supportive of my wishes and of natural birth in general. The hospital boasted one of the state’s lowest c-section rates and the nurses worked ever so diligently to keep me relaxed and focused on my goals of delivering a healthy baby in a peaceful environment. I cannot stress enough the importance of doing your research about the birthplace you choose. Whether a hospital, birth center, or home-birth, it is important to feel knowledgeable and empowered about your choice. If you’re plan is to have a hospital birth and you happen to be curious like I was about your delivering hospital’s c-section rate, you can visit cesareanrates.com to see how your hospital compares to the national and state averages.
Keep Calm and Let the Doula Work Her Magic
When our doula, Beverly, arrived, she joined us on our walk. We visited the cutest chapel with stained glass windows, walked the stairs, and paced the hallways. As contractions became more painful, Beverly reminded me to relax my muscles and showed my husband how to use counter pressure on my hips to reduce the pain of contractions—which worked like a charm—so we decided to continue using the technique throughout the entire 21 and a half hours (who’s counting?) of labor.
I believe having a doula present for my labor was a huge part of the reason I was able to achieve the natural birth I had so hoped for. My wish was that my husband was my main support, and she respected this wish so eloquently, while remaining observant of when I needed more support or when I could benefit from my husband implementing a new method of pain relief or support for me. She was such a peaceful energy in the birthing room—her voice so calm and reassuring. I didn’t have a mother growing up, so for me, the presence of an experienced mother with a nurturing disposition was very comforting to me.
As an advocate for educated birth, I did a lot of research to determine whether or not a doula would be right for my husband and I in our pursuit to achieve a natural birth. One particular article stood out to me that I read on evidencebasedbirth.com. Highlighting the results of a study aimed at analyzing the benefit of doula services during labor, the article explained that mothers who hired a doula were more likely to succeed at achieving a med-free birth, were 28% less likely to endure a c-section, and 31% less likely to need interventions like Pitocin. In addition, women who utilized the continuous support of a doula throughout their labor were 34% less likely to have feelings of disappointment surrounding their birth.
After 19 hours of labor and running on little sleep, I decided it was time to allow the delivering doctor on call to break my water. I was becoming fatigued and I just wanted to meet my baby—I started to worry that I wouldn’t have the strength left that I knew I would need when it came time to push. Beverly and the nursing staff reassured me that things would move more quickly once the doctor broke my water and encouraged me to get into the shower with my husband using the hot water and counter pressure to help me get through the contractions that were increasing in intensity.
It’s Time to Have a Birthday Party!
Things did begin to move at a much faster pace. My contractions were seemingly back to back and the pain and pressure of my baby’s head in direct contact with my cervix was excruciating. Thankfully, the hot water and support of my husband were enough to make the situation bearable. After some time, the nursing staff insisted that I get back into the bed for a cervical check—they had a feeling that I was getting rather close to delivering our little girl.
The moment I stepped out of the shower I hit transition (the progression from 8-10 centimeters in dilation that typically happens very quickly). In that moment, I became a different person. I felt like I lost all control. I started asking for the good stuff—give me that *$#%! epidural! My beloved husband was kind enough to break the news to me for the doctor—who I had already been irritated with since he had been busy at another hospital delivering other babies when I needed him to make my baby come out—it was too late for ANY pain relief.
If you find yourself in this position, take heart in knowing that this response to the transition of labor is completely normal and expected. It is common for moms to become extremely irritable, feel out of control, or doubt their strength in these vulnerable moments. When you get to this point, your baby is so nearly ready to be in your embrace, and according to an article published at growingslower.com, 95% of healthy low-risk moms are fully capable of birthing their babies without medical intervention. This is when my doula was most valuable to me. I screamed, cried, and insisted that I could no longer endure the pain. Calm as ever, my doula reassured me that despite my distress, I was doing exactly what I needed to do and I was okay.
An Unconditional, Raw, Life-Changing Love
It was time to push—time to meet our sweet baby girl. After some encouraging, I managed to find the strength within me to regain focus and I began to push. My husband held my leg as I pushed—the excitement and pride in his voice audible as he looked me in the eyes and said, “You’re doing a great job, baby! Push! I can see her hair, she’s almost here!” Within minutes I heard her first fluid-filled screams as she was gently placed on my chest. Tears filled my eyes. I did it! We did it! I say this with absolute sincerity—I have never been so enthralled by my husband as I was in that moment and I am confident in assuming that throughout our entire life together, that moment will be one of the most cherished.
Once You Discover That You Deserve More – A Powerful Birth Experience Awaits
So I urge you, if a natural birth is something that you’ve wanted or considered but you’ve discounted it due to fear or the discouragement of others, please reconsider. You deserve to have the kind of birth that you want in your heart. You deserve to feel the power of being a woman, the power of bringing life into the world in a way that you believe is right for you. You deserve to feel that connection with your partner in a way unlike any other. If a natural birth is what you desire, pursue it. You won’t regret it.
A Beautiful Birth Experience is Defined by You
While I was fortunate to have such a magical natural birth experience, I understand that it isn’t an experience that every woman wants to have and that is totally okay. The most important factor in ensuring you will have a birth experience you are content with is knowing that you have options—be proactive in making the choices that you want for your birth. Women are amazing beings. We create new life through love, we carry that life within us for the better part of a year, we bring our precious babes earthside, and then we have the ability to nourish and bond with them for as long as we choose through lactation, and undertake an entire lifetime of nurturing and guidance. We are strong, capable, and persevering, giving the best of ourselves to those we love. My wish for you as you embark on this journey through motherhood is that you always know and understand the power within you and let it drive you with purpose; for no matter how you choose to bring your babies into this world, you have the potential to be the single most influential person in their lives, and there is no role more rewarding and incredible.