In another life I’d love to be a doula or certified nurse midwife. Well maybe this life, just later. When there aren’t tiny hands grabbing for my attention every day, all day. For now, I’m happy with cute grabby hands, and attending friends’ births on the side as a lay doula or photographer. After 12 weeks of childbirth classes, reading through many, many pregnancy/childbirth books, and giving birth three times in three different hospitals with three different philosophies about birth, I’ve compiled a list of my best tips for the laboring mama and her partner. As a fan of the unmedicated births, this list is perhaps most beneficial to moms who would like to try childbirth without the use of drugs, though I think some of the concepts will overlap well with mamas in any birth situation where laboring is involved.
Because this is a sensitive issue and we ladies like to wrap our identities into these sorts of life events, I want to be upfront and say this is NOT a pro/con list of unmedicated v. a medicated birth. You can find plenty of those elsewhere. Also, and this is perhaps most important to know: A woman’s identity and capability to give birth are not found in the way it is accomplished. If you need drugs and/or a C-section, you have not failed (sometimes I got that sense with my birth classes and it drove me crazy). With each birth, I went into it knowing that epidurals and C-sections are sometimes needed and if I felt like I wanted/needed them, it would be fine. Every woman, every pregnancy, every birth, and every baby is different and praise God for that!
Ok. With those thoughts laid out there, here is my best advice for expectant mamas hoping to deliver without drugs, broken into two posts (before labor and during):
Before Labor Begins
1. Use a supportive healthcare provider. Whether doctor or midwife, make sure they know your hopes for the birth and are supportive of helping you achieve them. This can make the difference between an automatic induction by pitocin at one week past your due date v. a practitioner who monitors your and baby’s health for two weeks past term and allows more possibility for spontaneous labor. I’ve found it easiest to get a doc on board if you maintain the recognition that they went to medical school, not you, and should an occasion arise where you or baby are at risk, your birth preferences are easily surrendered. If you have this attitude, chances are your healthcare provider will be supportive of your desire to deliver without drugs. With that being said, do some research early on in your pregnancy. Ask around about providers who are known for their support of natural childbirth. Good resources are friends, local Bradley instructors, and even checking out a hospital’s position on childbirth on their website.
My most recent birth was a dream in terms of providers and hospital. I spent the first few months of my pregnancy reading online, asking friends who either had natural childbirths or were friends of women who had. Eventually, I asked an employee of the hospital for a recommendation for a provider who had a reputation of being supportive of natural childbirth while still being an excellent medical professional. She referred me to Salem Nurse Midwives and, after two other great OBGYN’s in Hawaii, I can attest that they were very professional and medically minded while still giving me freedom to labor the way I hoped (they were truly amazing).
2. Take a class. If you’re hoping to have an unmedicated birth, be prepared. I don’t think I could have done any of my three births without drugs had I not taken classes and read informative literature (that I now fondly call propaganda). Because ladies, it hurts. And if you’re not prepared for the way your body achieves childbirth and how to deal with the pain that comes with it, it will be most likely be very difficult to avoid an epidural. We chose the Bradley method because 1) it has an 85% success rate, 2) it is a 12 week course loaded with information, 3) is focused on training the husband to be a childbirth coach and we couldn’t afford a doula. There are ups and downs with the Bradley method – sometimes it felt like they were a bit unforgiving toward women who wanted to have an open mind with childbirth, but if you’re going to take a class to get prepared for labor, the Bradley method really does work. It focuses on relaxation and using your partner to be your birth coach. As a wife, I loved the way JD worked with me throughout my labors. It was actually really cool for our marriage.
3. Read a book or two. My top two recommendations are: #1. Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin. If you do nothing else, read this book. I actually didn’t get my hands on it until my third pregnancy, but I found it almost more helpful than the classes in terms of understanding my body’s capabilities and how to help my labor progress most effectively. I only read a few of the birth stories from the first part and went on to soak up all her goodies regarding childbirth in part two. #2. Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way by Susan McCutcheon-Rosegg. This book helped me tremendously with my first two births. The author does a great job spelling out the stages of labor and the way our body works through childbirth, both emotionally and physically. The best advice I’ve ever received regarding labor comes from straight from Susan’s book (more on that in my next post). Like Ina May’s book, this book was also more helpful than the classes themselves, though I recommend each book as a supplement to birthing classes, not a replacement. There’s just something about giggling under a pillow while you watch a woman in the 70’s moan through childbirth. Or maybe that’s just me.
In my next (and final) post of this series, I’ll provide what I found most helpful during all that glorious dilating, effacing, and… pushing.