Carol Burnett describes the pain of childbirth as something akin to a woman’s lip being pulled up and over her head. Another Carol, Ross’ ex-wife in the sitcom Friends, expresses a similar opinion, describing the birth process as nothing less than pushing a watermelon out of your nostril.
Both Carols are abundantly correct. And after experiencing an all-natural childbirth of my own, I must admit that every woman who claimed to forget the pain of childbirth once they held their baby – well, those women lied. There is absolutely no possible way to forget the pain of your body being ripped in half. Still, many of us believe that an un-medicated birth process is the safest, healthiest way to bring our children into the world, and regardless of the pain, so many of us find the results well worth the effort.
So for those of you planning to deliver your child/ren without the help of an epidural, here a few tips for surviving the vaginal beat-down of the century.
1) Just take the class
Yes, women have been having babies for millions of years. Yes, your body is designed to facilitate the birth process. That is no reason to assume that you can go into your birth experience uninformed and unprepared. The more you know about labor – what your body will experience, what kinds of emotions you may deal with (or inflict), how contractions feel, etc. – the better prepared you will be to deal with the trauma. And, the less likely you will be to resort to drugs the first time a contraction deals your vagina a serious blow.
2) Choose one – and only one – person to coach you through labor.
I was one of those dumb women who thought it would be fun to have her family hang around while she labored. I was so, so wrong. Too many people in the room can be frustrating; after all, few can listen to 83 simultaneous commands in the best of circumstances. No one can while in labor. So consider carefully: who really needs to be there? Who do you trust to coach you the way you want and need to be coached? Who will respect the decisions you’ve already made and who will help to communicate those decisions to the medical personnel? Who do you want to meet your baby first? For me, the answer was simple: my husband. For some, your mom, aunt, or sister will be the ideal choice. Even others may consider hiring a doula. Regardless of whom you choose, keep the audience small.
3) Don’t go to the hospital too soon.
There is nothing more frustrating than gearing up, grabbing the go bag, and speeding to the hospital only to be told, “Sorry, you’re not quite ready. We’re gonna need you to go home and labor for a while longer.” Avoiding this is simple: wait. Wait until those contractions are so strong that you can’t talk through them. Wait until they are five minutes apart. Even then, call the hospital/birth center/midwife and make sure they want you to come in.
4) Eat and drink!
Always be sure to speak with your practitioner to find out if he/she will let you eat while you’re in labor. Many won’t for fear that you will need an emergency C-section that requires anesthesia of some kind. But if you can eat, eat! Labor is a lot of work, and when it comes time to push, you will need to be well nourished. Even more, be sure to pack snacks for your coach. He/she will need some nourishment as well.
Also be sure to stay hydrated. Drink as much water as you can stand, and empty that bladder often. Peeing will automatically bring a contraction, helping to move labor along.
5) Change positions as much as possible.
You’re there. You are in active labor. Those contractions are bearing down on you one after another after another. And at this point, the worst thing you can do is to lie flat on your back. Lay on your side, walk up and down the hall, rock on a rocking chair or birth ball (rocking REALLY helps move that baby into the birth canal), stand and lean over the bed, squat, get down on all fours, take a hot shower, sit in a hot tub, stand and sway – do anything BUT lay in that bed. This is especially true when it comes time to push. Though some doctors will require that you push while lying on your back, many will let you choose a position that allows gravity to do its part. If this is the case for you, get out of that bed and push with all your might. Trust me; it will help.
6) Keep an open mind.
Labor is painful. And long. Sometimes, very, very long. And more important than anything is your health and the health of your baby. When it comes down to it, you must remember that sometimes, the healthiest choice is to get an epidural. If it comes down to it, and you or your practitioner recognize that you will not have the strength to push unless you get some uninterrupted rest, please consider revising your plan.
This is by no means a comprehensive list. Many techniques exist to help women through the childbirth process. But if there is one thing to keep in mind, it is this: you are giving birth to a beautiful baby. You are becoming a mom, sometimes for the second, third, or fourth time. That is a promising reality. Despite the pain of labor, the glory of motherhood is far more. No, you won’t forget the pain, but yes, the moment you hear that first cry, you will be so glad you endured – even conquered – this particular vaginal beat-down.