It started with my first pregnancy. I was at work and told some co-workers that I had decided I was going to try to have a natural birth. “Are you nuts?” one replied. “I don’t have that much pain tolerance.” Another looked shocked. “Not me, I want the drugs the minute I walk in the hospital,” she said. A third admitted, “Well, maybe it’s a bit better—my back still hurts where I got the epidural three years ago.” A fourth commented, “No way—it hurt so much with the epidural that I can’t imagine what it would feel like without it.”
Even my relatives were doubtful. “If that’s what you want to do,” is all my mother would say. And other female relatives said, “Well, we’ll see,” with knowing smirks.
In spite of all this, I remained committed to having a natural birth. I was a bit scared, but I believed that the pregnancy and birth process designed by nature just couldn’t go wrong and need intervention so frequently. I just needed to learn how to work with my body and support this natural process.
Two natural births later, I now have taught dozens of couples how to give birth naturally and get their babies off to a good start. I have also discovered that there are a lot of misconceptions about natural birth.
Myth 1: Natural birth means enduring unbearable pain.
I’ll be honest with you: Giving birth naturally is not usually painless. Nor is drugged birth usually painless. Most women I have spoken with who have had both an epidural birth and a natural birth preferred the natural birth. If they have another child, almost all of them say they would do it naturally again.
Giving birth naturally does not mean enduring unbearable amounts of pain, but instead learning how to prepare and work with your body so you don’t need drugs. A well-trained natural birth mom will be able to work through the contractions, especially if she has a good coach.
Myth 2: Epidurals are safe, so why bother?
Scientific studies show that epidurals are not safe as many of us are led to believe. Known risks include lowering blood pressure (which can result in fetal distress and an increased risk of Cesarean), slowing labor (and increasing the need for Pitocin), shivering, tingling in the legs, urinary retention (sometimes requiring a catheter), back pain, increased risk of forceps/vacuum extraction, elevated temperature, slowed emptying of the stomach, and the possible “patchy” block on pain.
Myth 3: If anything happens, my doctor (or midwife) will just take care of it.
Your birth attendant is skilled in handling complications—that’s why she is there! It is your job, however, to make sure you (and your coach) are trained to work with normal labor contractions. This can prevent unnecessary complications and allows your doctor or midwife to use expertise in monitoring and taking care of true complications. You also are responsible for ensuring that you and your baby are as healthy as possible so that you will recover more quickly from any interventions that might be necessary. It is like driving a car—do you believe that if you get in an accident your insurance and the doctors will just take care of it? Or do you make sure you are a good driver and your car is well-maintained to minimize the chance of an accident?
Myth 4: Birth won’t be an enjoyable experience.
Many women feel that birth is a horrible curse women must endure before they can experience the joy of holding their babies. In fact, there is a lot of joy built into the labor and birth experience itself that some medicated mothers don’t know they’ve missed. The hormones released during birthing cause a new mother to be elated, excited, energetic, and happy. To add to these emotions, some mothers even experience a “birth climax” as the baby is being born!
So many of my students call me within a few hours after their births to tell their whole story and express how amazing it was. They just have too much energy. I did, too—after my second birth I felt as if I could have run a marathon! Everyone present shares in the joy of the event. Husbands often call to tell me it was truly an awesome experience that they were glad to have been a part of.
Myth 5: I can’t have a natural birth.
More than 85 percent of Bradley Method trained couples having vaginal births do so without medication. If a doctor or midwife is also cheering them on, as many as 95 percent of women can give birth naturally—with their first baby! But you also need good training, helpful labor support, and a supportive birth attendant. Enroll in a comprehensive birth class in your fourth or fifth month. Make sure to bring your husband or someone else who will be your coach during labor so he can get trained, too. You may also want to consider having an experienced labor support person (doula) as an assistant coach. Your coach and doula cannot replace your doctor or midwife, though, so be sure that you also communicate well with them and respect their recommendations. Their support is absolutely essential.
No matter what you’ve thought about natural birth in the past, I urge you to take a second look. Investigate by asking around. Find women who have given birth naturally as well as those who have had a medicated birth and ask them what it was like. Would they do it again? What would they have done differently? Discover the trends for yourself. Perhaps wanting to have a natural birth isn’t so crazy after all.