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Five years ago, if you had told me I’d deliver my first child at home in a natural, unmedicated birth, I would have said, “You’re crazy.” Simply put, pain is not something for which I had any patience. I’m a regular pill-popping machine when it comes to headaches, bruises and any other bodily injury. Though I grew up around women who regularly delivered their babies naturally (though rarely at home) I had no desire to put myself through such a state of affairs when there seemed to be other options available.
Somewhere in those next five years I heard a rumor (and it truly is a rumor, because it isn’t always true) that natural birthing moms didn’t tear as much when they gave birth because they could sense how hard to push, whereas women who got epidurals often tore more; thus women who had epidurals might escape the discomfort of labor, but their recovery can be longer, harder, and more miserable. The very word “tear” in association with that area was enough to send me running to the hills. I was ready to do anything to avoid such a fate.
Enter natural birth.
It started simply as curiosity, but as time went on, I found more and more information touting the benefits of an unmedicated birth: quicker recovery, greater comfort, more presence of mind, awake baby, and many more. This is all great, I thought. But I still have to do it MYSELF. Natural-birthing women were, to me, Greek goddesses of pain tolerance – seated in a sphere high above my own. How could pill-popping Phylicia ever achieve what these women were able to do? How was someone with no pain tolerance going to endure what I had heard was the “worst pain of your life”? Click here to read my pregnancy and birth story (I didn’t actually plan to have a home birth!) and read on to prepare for your story of natural birth.
How to Have a Natural Birth
- Ignorance leads to fear. Fear leads to tension. Tension leads to pain. Pain leads to greater fear, and so the cycle continues. By educating yourself and knowing what your body CAN do, you can recognize telltale signs in your own pregnancy and labor (much like how I knew I was in transition, and it helped propel me forward without losing heart). YOU become the expert on your own body, pregnancy and birth! And remember – you can always buy a stroller. You can’t always be prepared for the birth you want. I still don’t have a high chair; newborns don’t need them. But I needed a good understanding of my body and what it could do in time for her delivery!
- Bradley Childbirth Class – we loved this and highly recommend it. It ran about $300 but was completely worth it.
- Centering – if your hospital offers this, look into it! I loved my group and my midwife.
- Books – read books about childbirth and most of all, read POSITIVE birth stories from women who are realistic about what to expect. Ina May’s book begins with a whole section of birth stories – her book was by far my favorite. Below are some of my other favorite books:
- In the first stage of labor, through each contraction I repeated to myself: “You are moving her down. You are moving her down.” The image of the baby moving DOWN with each contraction made me feel as if I was actually accomplishing something. I also told myself, “You can do this. You are strong. You are strong enough for this.” Reminding myself that I had the capability of birthing this child helped me press on when I wanted to give up. (A complete list of the affirmations and verses I used is in the appendix of my free birthing ebook!)
Recognition of What the Pain Is
- Labor is the body’s way of birthing a child! It’s truly amazing, but we have to actually recognize what the body is doing – not just focus on the pain. When I have a headache, I take a pill because I don’t see the headache as beneficial, but distracting. Labor pain is beneficial. And it’s not like a headache: it’s like a muscle workout, the same muscle, over and over again. As someone who loves to work out, this image helped me see that the contraction was simply accomplishing something my body couldn’t do on its own.
- Some OBs are fantastic, holistic, and very supportive of natural birth. But this is not always the case. Doctors across the board are very helpful in the event of an emergency or medical intervention (I would have used a local hospital had something like this come up). Midwives, on the other hand, specialize in healthy, normal births and keeping low-risk moms low-risk. I loved both my midwives – Julia, in Virginia, and Shirley here in PA. Having a professional yet motherly figure in the room with me made a huge difference in my relaxation and labor.
- One of the things people said to me when I 1) said I was using a midwife and 2) said I was having a home birth was, “But what if something goes wrong?” First of all, this is a silly question to ask because no pregnant woman would intentionally put herself in a position to harm her baby. That aside, I was not worried about anything going wrong because I had complete peace through prayer. Every time I had a fear, I brought it to God and committed it to Him. And truthfully, I knew in my heart that nothing WOULD go wrong. In the event that it did, I had a hospital as a back up. I had a specific prayer list, and I am delighted to say that every single one of these prayers was answered:
- A shorter, rather than longer labor
- That my labor would progress quickly and regularly
- That the baby would not be in distress
- That the baby would not have her hands by her face (makes you more likely to tear)
- That I would dilate at the appropriate intervals
- That I would not tear at all or, if I did, only a little (I had three very tiny tears)
- That I would have the energy to complete the task at hand
- That the baby would not be posterior (facing front)
Get your free ebook for praying through your pregnancy and birth!
- The birthing ball was a fantastic $8 investment. I loved using this during labor. We used our own bathtub, which was good for a time but was not satisfying at the end (we chose not to get a kiddie pool and have a water birth, though that was an option). I was given a peri bottle (this is what they look like) for postpartum that was helpful when using the bathroom for the first few times. Here’s an exact version of the birthing ball I bought!
Dealing with the Pain:
- Below are some ways I dealt with the pain that made it manageable for a low-tolerance gal like myself:
- Kissing: Sounds ridiculous, right? But in early labor, this actually helped me a lot. Kissing (like, the real deal, not a peck) releases a hormone that helps lessen the intensity of the contraction. When Josh was helping me in the first few hours, this was a great pain reliever and relaxer. (Somewhat related, sex can induce labor, and the more sexually active a couple is while pregnant the more likely a woman is to have her baby near her due date. The prostaglandins in semen soften the cervix.)
- Massage: Throughout labor Josh would massage my arms, back and shoulders. At one point, I had him pinch my shoulder muscle tightly – it offset the muscle contractions in my uterus and helped for at least 3-4 contractions.
- Speaking/Praying Over Labor: As previously stated, hearing myself state what I was doing, or praying my verses aloud, helped me refocus my mind throughout labor. One of the verses that stood out the most was one in Proverbs: “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and are safe.” I repeated that to myself over and over. Josh reminded me that God was present in the very room. He was giving me strength for what I was called to do in that moment.
- Moment by Moment: Shirley, my midwife, had 13 children. At some point between contractions I remember asking her, “How did you do this 13 times?!” She replied: “Moment by moment Phylicia, just like you.” It’s the “eat an elephant one bite at a time” concept. You don’t have to deal with the whole labor – just each contraction. And as one woman told me and I remembered, “You can do anything for sixty seconds.”
- Breaks: The best thing about labor “pain” is that it gives you a break! You get to rest in between, at least till the very end. At the pushing stage, I had even more time to rest in between. It is not a constant pain (though there is discomfort/pressure) but the kind that comes in waves. You just deal with each wave individually.
- Prevent Tearing: Since this was very important to me, a few things really helped. Shirley provided counter pressure as the baby crowned. I was also in the squat position that opened my pelvis more (another option is the asymmetrical squat, one leg up, one down). Shirley also rubbed oil on me as the baby descended. And rather than bear down as the head appeared, I did small, short pushes to ease her out.
God is Present with the Pain Intolerant
If you are a first time mom wondering if you can do a natural birth, I hope my story encourages you! I was the most unlikely candidate for the job. But I truly believe that God was present in that room during the birth, not only because He is Lord of Life but because Josh and I invited Him in. We prayed for His presence and depended upon it. And because He was so present in power, we were brought closer as a couple and as a new family. I had peace and joy and health that I credit directly to Jesus Christ.
Though a home birth was not on the table until the ninth month in my pregnancy, I would do it all over again. Being in the comfort of our new home, able to immediately rest in my own bed, shower, get dressed, and walk about the house four hours after the birth – it was phenomenal! Something foreign, new, and even frightening became so much more relaxing with a simple change of environment (if you aren’t sure about home birth, go with a birthing center! They are usually decorated to appear like a home).
At the writing of this post, Adeline was three days old. We are enjoying every moment with her and are so grateful to God and to the people who made our move, her birth, and our adjustment into family life a little easier! UPDATE: I have since had my second daughter in another successful home birth. Read her birth story here.
For more on pregnancy, birth, and the Christian approach to both, check out these posts:
If you have questions, feel free to comment or email me at email@example.com. Read more in this post on six misconceptions about home birth.