I am coming off my shift this morning all fired up. It seems that so many of my patients have never been told what I'm about to tell you. I am writing this to those who have come across this blog perhaps by doing a search on the topic. Perhaps you are doing some research because you are expecting your first baby and you wanted to know about all your options. Perhaps you've already done all your homework and have read through some of the thousands of articles and posts on labor and have gathered all your information about natural childbirth. Perhaps you are an avid promoter of it. I will tell you right now that I am NOT against natural labor. I think it's a beautiful thing. I am NOT going to try to talk you out of it, or make you feel foolish for wanting to try it. But you and I are going to have a little heart to heart.
You have read all the articles that have told you how to gain control over as much as you can in the hospital. You've read through the many samples of birth plans and have picked out your favorite points...you've even typed up one for yourself. Good! You've read all the research that supports the benefits of having an unmedicated childbirth including optimal breastfeeding sooner after delivery, smoother and quicker labor, emotional and physical benefits for you...just to name a few. Good!
But then, you've read about how to deal with contractions. How to request that we not inquire about pain, that we not offer you medication. You request us to refer to your contractions as "surges" or "rushes." Don't remind you in other words. Trick your brain.
Ladies, call it what it is.
Real. Bad. Pain.
You can do all the academic preparation in the world, but unless you make peace with this fact you will NEVER be able to have the natural birth experience that you want. There is a difference between being well-read about it and calling yourself prepared, and actually having a complete emotional and mental mindset that is deep enough to transform you during labor. And that starts with embracing the fact that you will be in horrible, deep, mind-numbing...pain.
Do NOT come to the labor and delivery unit unprepared for this. I've had people tell me, "People do it all the time, so it must not be that bad," or "You mean it gets worse than THIS?" (And they're only 5 centimeters.) It drives me crazy when women come in and act surprised when it hurts. It seems to be a huge secret in modern gibber-jabber on the Internet: Labor HURTS. Period. There's no covering that up. There is no "tricking" the mind. Don't be fooled.
I am not telling you this to terrify you. I'm telling you this to prepare you. You have to come to my unit knowing full well what is ahead of you and you have to be OK with it. Take that fact, mull it over in your head. Put it down somewhere deep inside you and really come to a place where you know the full reality of what you are facing...and only then make the decision if unmedicated labor is the correct path for you.
You say, "Well I have a really high pain tolerance." No you don't.
You've made a pact with your husband or partner and say, "No matter what I ask for, don't let me have the epidural." Neither you, nor the person you are making this pact with are in pain now or have most likely never experienced any real pain so you are not in a position to be able to make this pact intelligently.
You say, "It's safest for the baby." Come on. This argument isn't valid anymore. The baby can have problems whether you get drugs or not. We have the capability of protecting your baby either way. Childbirth is dangerous. You're not really doing much to affect safety by staying unmedicated.
So, you think you want to go for Natural Childbirth? Good for you! You go girl!... Just keep it real. Have the following points in mind:
It is a very good clue when you arrive to the unit crying and screaming...and you are only 1 or 2 cm dilated...maybe natural labor isn't the best choice for you.
Or, if you are screaming so loud that you are scaring the patients 6 doors down the hall, then maybe you should start thinking about what you are doing. Why would you want to do that to yourself? Really... Unless it's some kind of attention-getting thing...but do you really want people to think that of you? No matter what they show on TV, screaming is NOT OK with us. (Not when you've chosen this for yourself.) If you're screaming out of control, then maybe you are not the best candidate for natural labor.
And that's just it: the word "candidate." Some people are great candidates. Some just are not. Some are able to make peace with the pain, go into a "zone," and just do it. Some just can't. This is not for everyone. Do not assume that since it's what all the most convincing articles are about, that you can just do it. And, more importantly, don't be tempted to allow yourself to be influenced by all the voices around you telling you that if you have an epidural you are somehow less worthy, or even a failure. They are lies. They are NOT empowering women, they are actually limiting and oppressing women. We are living in modern times. Educate yourself about all your options and make an informed decision that is right for YOU. That's empowering.
And if you've made the decision to go ahead with natural labor, then I say with all sincerity, good for you. We will help you in every way we can. But if there is any point in this post that I want you to remember it is this: If you're labor begins to change from being the empowering experience you envisioned, to becoming TRAUMATIC, then stop. Maybe you need to consider something else. Ask your nurse or physician what options you have. Maybe you are meant to do it a different way.
Ask for that epidural with all your heart, and don't be the least bit ashamed.
Yes, there are some women who are very fortunate and can labor without feeling much pain at all. (My Mother-In-Law is one of them.) They are certainly an exception to the rule. If you are one of these lucky ladies then congratulations! You are blessed!