I remember the reaction of the first ob-gyn I saw when I told him I was "trying to have a natural childbirth."
"Oh no!" He said, his eyes wide. "You should not do that."
"Why not?" I asked. I was already nervous enough about my ability to follow through.
"Child birth should be romantic and beautiful. You do not want to be in pain! You need to have the epidural so that you are not in pain. Maybe you can bring some music too--Mozart or Bach--you like classical music? It can be romantic."

Okay. So since when has the word "romantic" been used (ever) to describe a baby coming out of a woman--as well as the marvelous contorted grey and red mass of placenta?

Birth is not romantic (like candles, roses, wine), by any means. But, it can be an incredible, exhilarating and empowering experience. This is something I truly believe because I experienced it myself.

Let me take you back.

Chris and I started to think about having a natural childbirth when we watched two documentaries about natural birth. One was called "The Business of Being Born", which summarizes the birth industry as a money-making and sometimes disreputable affair. Hospitals strive to just get birth...over with. It goes without saying that the more babies being born, the more money hospitals make. So why have a 30 hour birth when you can intervene with pitocin, epidurals, and finally, if these fail to push labor forward...a quick c-section? C-sections take 20 minutes. A vaginal birth takes...anywhere from 3-30 hours.

The other documentary we watched was titled "Pregnant in America" and it is a  personal story of a couples' journey through pursuing a natural childbirth (actually a home birth).

I'm not going to give you all the details or statistics that led me to believe that natural childbirth was the better option. However, suffice it to say that I believe that the potential risk that epidurals cause to newborns (and actually to mothers as well) made me believe that pain-relief for 24 hours was not worth the possible life-long side effects. Now, many people would say that "there are no documented long-term effects of epidurals". This may or may not be true. Regardless, I have read several studies that indicate that babies who are born with epidurals generally have lower apgar scores and seem less alert--according to the nurses that have helped to deliver thousands of babies. You can look this up yourself.

This information, combined with the belief that doctors don't always have your best at heart (not that they aren't good people, but they are under tremendous pressure to "deliver"), made me choose to have a natural birth with a midwife.
Here are some of the things I came to believe from the experience:

1. Birth is Extremely Psychological

I spent hours preparing for this. I read a book called "Birthing from Within: An Extra-ordinary Guide to Childbirth Preparation". This book was a huge key in building my self-confidence that women have been doing this for ages. What I learned from this book was that birth is extremely psychological. I truly believe that half the battle is believing that a natural birth is possible. I used relaxation and stress techniques to prepare myself for the moments where it got really hard. Also, it helped that my mom had a natural childbirth. It's the whole, "if she can do it, I can do it!" mentality.

2. If Your Husband is Awesome...Use Him.

Now, this really only applies if your husband wants to be extremely involved.  I truly believe that the Bradley method of Husband-coached childbirth is right-on.  At the same time, your husband needs to take a very good birthing class, because otherwise, its really hard for him to know what to do, and when.  Chris spent a lot of time whispering comforting words to me when it got really difficult. At the hardest part of my labor, when I told him I couldn't do it anymore, he was right there beside me, telling me that I was strong and that God loved me and was with me. I can't tell you how much strength seemed to rise up in me when he did this. I attribute a good 25% of the whole experience to his overwhelming belief that I was doing the best thing for our child.

3. Set Yourself Up for Success
I don't know about you, but if I have a bunch of chocolate chip cookies sitting around in my kitchen, I am going to eat them. If I have a bunch of chocolate chip cookies, I'm hungry, and someone repeatedly asks me if I want one, I AM definitely going to eat them.
And that is why it is very difficult to do a natural childbirth if everyone around you is not 100% on board with it. There was a point where I was yelling for an epidural (during transition) and I was extremely thankful that I had a midwife who was encouraging my desire to have a natural birth, and a husband who knew that I really did not want to have an epidural. These people were able to advocate for me when I needed them.
If you have an ob-gyn who regularly gives epidurals, you are far more likely to be asked constantly if you "want an epidural." In my opinion, anyone in extreme pain "WANTS an epidural." However, when you have made the choice to abstain, it is much harder if you have people in your face undermining your decision.

4. Why You Need to Know Your Stuff

When I was in the middle of transition (the hardest part of labor), I knew I was in the hardest part. I had read story after story of natural childbirth, and I knew that many women break down in transition. Some women have even been known to ask if they can just "go home"! When the nurse told me I was 7 cm dialated, I mentally prepped myself for the worst contractions yet.

And they came.

And you know what? Just when I thought I couldn't do it anymore (and I said this), it was suddenly time to push! If I had not known that 7 cm meant I was in transition, and transition can be a mental breaking point, I wouldn't have been able to keep my belief that I could do it.

5.  If You Can Do This...You Can Do Anything
I don't at all regret my experience with natural childbirth. I think it really helped me in the first few days as a new mom. I struggled in those first few weeks with exhaustion and the let-down of all the hormonal emotions. It was really hard. Honestly though, having a natural birth was great preparation for the ups-and-downs of motherhood. Everytime I felt like I couldn't get up one more time during the night (to breastfeed), or Zoe was crying for hours, I thought back to my birth experience. I was honestly so proud of myself. Even my mom, and Chris seemed to look at me with new eyes. It was really empowering.

6. If It Doesn't Work Out.
This is my last, and most important point. I know many fantastic mothers for whom a natural childbirth did not work out. In fact, the lady next door to me was sharing my midwife and was determined. Thirty hours later, she was so weak that she could no longer take it anymore.
I don't think I could have lasted thirty hours. She was a stronger woman than I am. I am extremely lucky to have had one of the shortest labors, ever ( for a first birth). My labor lasted a total of 4 hours, from start to finish. It was intense, but it was not the mind-numbing, endurance level labor that the lady next door endured.
You just don't know how your labor is going to go. I told Chris that I was not going to have a natural childbirth if there were any complications, or if it lasted 25-30 hours. I just couldn't do that. Maybe someone else could.

More Later!