I get that not everyone wants a totally natural childbirth. And I don’t judge people who don’t want one, I really don’t. My reasoning for not wanting an epidural was really about fear of the other interventions it can lead to (like pitocin and C-sections.) Really, I was more afraid of the knife than I was of labor.
I was also really curious. I wanted to experience every second of it (even when I was cursing Ina May), and I wanted to see what my body could do in its most natural state. I also wanted to get the best possible start on bonding and breastfeeding, and figured that doing it drug-free would help on both counts. Once I got over some of my initial fear (like that unsettling hospital tour), I started to look forward to labor, and feel like I was somehow prepared.
Here are some of the things that I think contributed to a long but relatively easy natural labor.
I am a studier, not a go with the flow-er. So I took childbirth classes with Birth Day Presence, found a doula, and read as much as I could. From birth stories on sites like Marvelous Kiddo, to books like Birthing from Within, Hypnobirthing, Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth, I drank it all in and took what I could. I even watched some videos about Orgasmic Birth because, hey, why not! I was pretty sure that fear of the unknown would only serve to enhance pain and so I gathered as much info as I could from as many sources as possible. I also read literary memoirs like Making Babies by Anne Enright, Crawling: A Father's First Year, by Elisha Cooper, and Operating Instructions and Some Assembly Required, by Anne Lamott.
I worked out with my trainer Paul Kostas twice a week doing circuits and weights until about 24 weeks. I also took weekly prenatal yoga classes at Kula and prenatal swimming at Aqua Beba. During our travels to the Virgin Islands we did a ton of hiking and swimming and snorkeling, and back home I was pretty active around the neighborhood. I really scaled back from my usual workouts in terms of frequency and intensity, mainly because I just stopped feeling up to it. But I think I maintained at least some of my fitness throughout the pregnancy and was feeling pretty good at the end as a result. I also didn’t shy away from helping with our move, or lugging groceries, or cleaning the house and so I think my mobility was pretty good all along.
Our doula, Grace MacNair, was amazing. Although I didn’t know her that well going into the process, I chose to trust her and am so grateful that I did. I really think that if I had gone to the hospital when I had first thought to, on Sunday morning, I would have had a completely different labor experience and been much more receptive to interventions. When you are feeling vulnerable, and a doctor suggests something, it’s hard not to listen. Instead, I got to do most of my labor at home, in a serene, beautiful environment, with good music and our cats milling around without being hooked up to a million machines and being out of my comfort zone. I was in pain, but relaxed, if that makes any sense. And by the time I did get to the hospital, I was in the zone and all my own hormones were helping to manage the intensity of it all.
Hydration and Food
Really, this was key. I drank a lot of coconut water, Gatorade, and water throughout labor and managed to eat fairly well up until about 2 p.m. on Sunday. Later on, at the hospital, Grace gave me some dried apricots and that was helpful too. It’s funny because afterwards I was STARVING! The nurse brought me a sandwich almost immediately, and 4 hours after labor, in our recovery room, while Will slept, I ordered a huge breakfast of turkey bacon, turkey sausage, a bagel, OJ, and coffee. Nomnomnomnom. It was amazing.
Axel wasn’t a huge baby, and he was head down from 28 weeks onwards, in the right position, with his head facing my back. Although I occasionally worried about his small size and “measuring behind” at my grown scans, in the end he was just a little, but perfectly healthy and happy guy. On Friday morning I had an ultrasound to check his size and was told he had borderline low amniotic fluid and might need to be induced if it was lower by Monday. Luckily I went into labor over the weekend so we never needed to make that hard decision. I didn’t have gestational diabetes and was Strep B negative, so I didn’t need to worry about getting to the hospital within a certain window of time, and so the stars seemed to align in favor of a natural birth. I completely get that had I had other complications, things might not have gone as they did.
Wanting It (and Wanting an Easy Recovery)
I think if I had been on the fence about an epidural, I might have gotten one, but I really, really wanted to do it this way. I felt a little strange telling people that beforehand (and got a few "Wait and see" reactions), but even that was also kind of a motivator (not wanting to slink back and say "Um, nevermind!") In the end, I’m so glad I stuck with my plan. No regrets. I felt amazing afterwards and really alert and kind of blissed out. Aside from one or two small stitches, there was nothing major to recover from. I was up and about and feeling pretty strong afterwards. On day two, I'd liken the feeling I had to the feeling what you get after the first intense day of downhill skiing of the season. All of my muscles were sore, but in a kind of great way.