[Above: Fill this space with a birthing woman who knows her power!]
I work with women who want a natural birth. They want to experience this fundamental human act.
They also want to take advantage of the safeguards of modern medicine, so most choose to give birth in the hospital.
There is great potential for conflict in holding these two desires at once. How do you avail yourself of medicine without allowing it to turn your birth into a medical event?
Here are three things you absolutely must know in order to achieve a natural birth in the hospital.
1. You can do hard things.
“Don’t be a hero. Get the epidural.”
Why do we discourage women this way?
Imagine talking to a mountain climber with such condescension: “Why would you do that to yourself? I’ll keep the ambulance close by for when you’re ready to quit.”
It’s ridiculous, isn’t it? One reason we may think of birth as different from other achievements of endurance is that birth is involuntary. It comes through you – you don’t choose to do it, and you can’t quit if it is longer and harder than you expected. Consequently it can look to outsiders like an affliction, rather than an opportunity for a transformative experience.
Another factor is that it happens to women. Many believe (unconsciously) that women are the weaker, more fragile sex and in need of protection from men. More than one woman has told me that she got an epidural not because she wanted it, but because her husband was uncomfortable seeing her in labor.
In fact, the rawness of birth itself can make onlookers uncomfortable, too. A medicated woman is a quiet, controllable patient in a bed.
Ladies, I don’t know how long your labor will last or if it will hurt. I don’t know what traumas and expectations may come up and challenge you during your birth. But I do know this: you can do hard things.
Think right now of one of your proudest accomplishments. How much grit did it take to achieve? How many times did you become afraid and want to quit, but instead you found the strength and determination – and sometimes the help – you needed to persevere?
Not only can you do hard things, you do not have to do this hard thing (labor) alone. Nature’s design for birth includes powerful feel good hormones, which I’ve written about in detail here and here. In short, a labor that is allowed to begin, proceed and conclude without interference, in an atmosphere of loving support, feels dramatically better than one that is chemically manipulated in any environment.
Believe in yourself strongly enough and you’ll silence the naysayers before they have a chance to doubt you!
2. You are an authority.
Nothing in our culture of birth suggests that women are authorities on it. Isn’t that interesting?
Medicine can gather and interpret a great deal of objective data on you, your baby and your birth, but that’s not all there is to know. You have access to subjective ways of knowing – your feelings and your intuition – that are valid and important. You do not need to understand Friedman’s Curve to be an authority on your own birth.
Do you have an experience of just “knowing” something? Do you have an experience of Just Knowing something and not being believed by a doctor? Countless women have told me stories of Just Knowing something about their labors that was not reflected in the objective data, and yet they were proved right.
(If you’ve taken a class with me, you’ve heard some of these stories. One of my favorites is about Anna, who arrived at the birth center only to be told to go home again because her cervix as “only 3 cm.” But Anna knew her baby was coming, so she quietly locked herself in the bathroom there at the birth center. Her baby was born within the hour on the bathroom floor.)
It’s easier to remain tuned in to your knowingness if you shut out distractions. Darken the room, close your eyes, maybe play some environmental music. Have your birth companion keep the room quiet and free of non-essential personnel. If any interventions are proposed – which would undermine your natural birth but which might be good medicine – get the information you need, then ask for some time and space to consult your intuition.
Claim your authority in this way and you will be treated as one.
3. Breathe and Relax.
What would happen if I told you that something was going to hurt more than anything you’d ever experienced in your life, no ones knows how long it will last, and some people don’t even survive it?
You’d probably be scared.
That’s what our culture tells mothers about birth. So most mothers are frightened of it.
The trouble is that fear interferes with birth.
What happens when you are afraid? Your brain releases stress hormones. Your breathing becomes shallow and rapid. Your muscles tense. Blood flow is redirected to the limbs, so you can fight or take flight. You become reactive.
Stress hormones inhibit the release of both oxytocin, the hormone that causes labor surges, and endorphins, the feel good hormone. Muscle tension increases the workload of the uterus, which is already taxed. Reduction in blood flow to the uterus – which is not a defensive muscle system – weakens those muscles and may hurt the baby. The result is a slowed, less efficient, dramatically less comfortable labor and possible fetal distress.
But there’s good news! You can stop the physiological effects of fear by breathing deeply and consciously relaxing your muscles. Deep breathing overrides the shallow breathing of the stress response and short circuits it altogether. This restores the vital release of oxytocin and endorphins. Relaxing your muscles conserves all your energy for your birthing body and ensures blood flows appropriately to the uterus and baby. The result is a labor that flows more easily, comfortably and healthily.
It probably isn’t possible to eliminate all fear. You can, however, eliminate its harmful effects on you, your labor and your baby by consciously breathing deeply and relaxing your body.
Where You Lead, Others Will Follow
There are a lot of messages in our culture, both implicit and explicit, that can undermine a woman’s determination to have a natural birth. But you don’t have to argue with anyone about your choices to get what you want.
What you have to do is believe in yourself – own your strength, claim your authority – and have some simple breathing and relaxation skills to keep yourself in peace while you’re in labor. Where you lead, others will follow.
How about you? If you had a natural birth in the hospital, how did you stay committed to it? What helped you?
If you like this, you might also like this cheerful little article, in which I discuss a fresh way to think about birth.
If you like this a lot, I’ll teach you this and much, much more in my empowering new prenatal course, Becoming A Mother. The next telecourse begins September 30. Enroll now!