I have had 3 wildly different births, and learned SO MUCH from the different experiences and in between them. Here’s the reader’s digest version of all 3:
Sophia: My first baby. I was 19, didn’t do my own research, and blindly trusted what I was told. My labor was very “standard”: hospital birth, OB, 36 hours of labor, early epidural (4cm).
Ella: By far my hardest birth (more on that in a minute). I knew enough to know I wanted to have a natural birth, but nothing about coping mechanisms, birthing techniques, my choices, positions, doulas, or anything in between. She was in a bad position and my body stopped progressing at 9 1⁄2cm. I was in transition for 5 hours (that really intense part at the end that’s supposed to last 10-20 minutes). I felt like I wasn’t even there cognitively anymore; it was so intense, I was just gone. It ended with a late epidural after 21 hours of labor.
Lexi: My breath of fresh air birth that restored my confidence in my body and my ability to give birth. My shortest labor at 16 hours total, but only about 5 of active labor. My only water birth. My only birth where I felt in control. My only birth that I felt powerful. My only baby that I felt like I gave birth to, and not like her birth happened TO me.
If you’re reading this, I assume you’re pregnant, or hoping to be.
And if you’re afraid, or nervous of the birth, or don’t have confidence in your ability to give birth, I get it.
Well, read on, Mama; because I think (or I hope at least) you’re going to feel a lot better by the end of this. 🙂
I want to briefly share what Ella’s birth was like; not to scare you, but to show you how different it can be without the presence of real birth advocates in your corner and extensive knowledge about what is happening and what next options for next steps are, depending on what is going on. Advocates and knowledge, or the lack thereof, will completely change your birth and how you feel about your birth after the fact.
Of course everybody has different wishes, and to each her own; but in my experience, having a doula was the number one game changer in my third birth and gave me the birth I craved so badly; and if I could go back and redo anything in my first two, this is the single thing I would change, because I truly believe in my heart it would have drastically changed how their births went, how breastfeeding went for us, how I healed, how I perceived their births, and how we bonded for months to follow.
This could get long, but I’ll try to keep it short.
When I was pregnant with Ella, my OB had gotten sick or something and was out of the office for an extended period of time. I was bounced around my practice, and wound up with an OB I didn’t like and didn’t trust. He tried to scare me into an elective C-section. That wasn’t what I wanted, and when I didn’t go for it, he basically told me that if I didn’t go into labor by a certain date, I was getting induced.
I didn’t want that, either; and he knew it when he scheduled me for an induction. I found out when I received the confirmation call the night before, and I was furious. I had never felt so violated or disrespected, and his willingness to try to force me into how my birth should go as it was convenient to him rubbed me a special kind of wrong way.
That sent me running for the hills, because I knew in my heart that he would let me get into labor and scare me into a C-section. I was 39 weeks pregnant, and I was terrified. Time was not on my side. I had to do something.
I started looking up everything about going into labor naturally I could find. I ended up finding the Business of Being Born documentary and it changed my life. I remember sitting on the couch at 39 weeks pregnant, sobbing because I didn’t want another birth like my last one, but I didn’t know how to get the birth I wanted. I was scared, and I felt stuck because it was so late in the game.
Through a lot of research, I learned enough about natural birth to know it was what I wanted; but knew almost nothing about how to get there. I wung it almost completely, went to a different hospital than where I was registered (because I knew he was on call and I didn’t trust him as far as I could throw him), and did the best I could.
My limited knowledge would have been enough to get me through in most cases, but through what I have learned since her birth, there were a few factors that I realized in hindsight as to why I believe this birth stalled:
She was a bigger baby – 9lbs 7.5oz.
I think she was not in optimal position.
I believe she was on a major nerve.
These things put together with my lack of knowledge and absence of an advocate who had tools to help me (a doula) equalled a 21 hour labor; 5 of which was in transition, which ended in a late epidural. By “transition”, I don’t mean your run of the mill, exhausted mama that needs encouragement to keep going, and pushes her sweet babe out without 20 minutes.
“Transition” in this case meant coupling contractions (double peaks – sometimes with no breaks whatsoever in between) every 60-90 seconds which caused radiating nerve pain throughout my entire body that nothing I knew to do helped.
I knew no coping mechanisms or breathing techniques, the power of birth affirmations, benefits of hydrotherapy, essential oils; I didn’t even know how to breathe; so I just didn’t, which made it worse because I was fighting it every step of the way, although I didn’t realize it at the time.
Friend, I am not telling you this to scare you; I’m telling this so you understand this is not how it is supposed to be, and it is within your power to give yourself options and choices so that your birth doesn’t resemble what I went through that day that words could never do justice.
Fast forward a few years and we got the joyful news we were expecting again! We were excited and I was ready and happy to be pregnant again, but I couldn’t get my last birth out of the back of my mind and, while I had partial confidence in my ability to do it, what got me was the fear of a repeat situation.
I had heard of doulas, but didn’t really know what they did, or care, honestly. My thinking was that I had Joey, so what did I need a support person for? If you have thought this, too, you need to read this.
I don’t know what flipped the switch that I needed to look into it more, or even how I found mine, but at some point, I looked up the benefits of having a doula, and they were insane.
- Lower risk of C-sections
- Lower requests for epidurals
- Lower rates of inductions
- Higher reports of a positive birth experience and being happy with how the birth went (even if the plan changed)
- Reduced length of labor
- Reduced use of Pitocin
- Happier Mom and baby bonding experience
- Higher satisfaction with breastfeeding relationship after birth
- Physical, hands on support: position suggestions, hip compressions, massage, rebozo use, baby spinning – just to name a few
- Help to create an environment where your hormones reassure you you’re safe to give birth (this. is. huge.)
- Support for your partner
At the very least, I thought, “it can’t hurt”. But here is what I really didn’t expect: I didn’t expect them to become my friends, and I didn’t expect their confidence in my ability to give birth to ignite a confidence in myself that I didn’t know existed.
As my pregnancy with Lexi progressed and the big day came closer and closer, I did everything I could to prepare myself, and my desire for the birth I’d been craving for a few years was louder than ever.
When I finally went into labor at 2:00am on March 19th, I was able to go back to sleep for about 5-6 more hours and I had learned the importance of rest during labor, so I did; waking up for inconsistent, coupling contractions off and on.
I texted my doula to let her know what was going on around 9:00am. She sent me a resource demonstrating Miles Circuits, and recommended that I do a few of those and go for a walk.
I did both, and within a half hour, I was in active labor. This was around 12:00pm. We knew this was it and started calling in the cavalry.
By 3:00 we were at the birth center. Judging by the sensations during my previous births, I thought I was at about 5-6cm.
What I didn’t know was how much better I was coping by putting into practice what I had learned. I was so surprised to hear when we got there I was at 8cm! I was doing way better than I thought I was.
About 3 hours later, by 6:19pm, Lexi was born. So total, I was in labor for a total of about 16 hours, but only in active labor for about 5 hours; compared to my 36 and 21 hour labors before.
Game changers for labor:
How you breathe. Your breath, or your lack of it, can change the entire course of your labor. When you’re exhaling, everything is relaxing; when you’re not breathing, everything, including your uterus, is tense.
You truly have to learn to work with them and not fight them, and the way to do that is to take a big breath when you feel a contraction coming on, and do your best to exhale for the entire thing.
Walking walking walking and being upright (even if it’s in a bed!). Walking and being upright as much as possible will help baby descend and engage! When you feel a contraction coming on, lean on something and bend your knees to ride it out; exhaling the entire time.
Using low tones instead of high tones. I didn’t think I would do this because when you aren’t in labor, it can sound ridiculous. Or it did to me anyway. But it made a massive difference in my body’s ability to relax into my labor and work with my contractions to make them more effective. I learned from Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth that there is a direct connection to your jaw and your pelvic floor and when your jaw is relaxed, it helps your pelvic floor relax.
Feeling safe. I cannot overemphasize this! Hormones are a powerful thing, and if your body is telling you you are not safe, your body will all but suck that baby back in. Being in an environment you feel safe in is imperative to how your labor and birth will go. Have people with you you trust and aren’t worried about how you look, sound, or anything else in front of. That is the last thing you need to be worried about right now.
Staying home as long as possible. To follow feeling safe, staying home as long as possible really helped me because I was free to labor however I wanted, eat, walk, drink, make any kind of primal sounding noises I wanted, and I was comfortable because this is my space. It was just me, my husband, and my kids; and I don’t care if they see or hear me do something weird. It helped me progress because it helped me relax.
Feeling heard and respected by your care provider. This is another one that I can’t overstate: Please, if you are reading this and you don’t trust your care provider with your life, find another one. Your and your baby’s lives could be in their hands one day. You have got to make sure you trust them with something that massive.
If your provider, whether that’s an OB or a midwife, does not make you feel respected and listened to at an office visit, they won’t do it when you’re in labor. Choose wisely.
Having a midwife. Having a midwife absolutely changed how my third labor went. I had an OB up until that bad experience, because I thought that’s what everyone did. I don’t really know why it took me so long to consider a midwife, especially when you consider that they can do everything an OB can do except surgery. What I later learned was that obstetricians are doctors who perform surgery; low-risk and boring is not their specialty.
Low-risk and boring is a midwife’s speciality. I wanted to be seen as a woman who is capable of giving birth, and expected to succeed; not be waited out for when I would “need” the epidural or C-section. I wanted someone who saw me. I love my midwife. She came when I was in labor, and stayed with me until I gave birth. I was her priority. I wasn’t a ball in the air she was juggling, and she wasn’t in a hurry to leave. She was there for me, and was going to be there, no matter how my birth went.
Having a doula. Maybe I blow that horn a lot when I’m talking about labor, but I can’t help it, because it’s true and people don’t talk about it enough.
Hydrotherapy. Even if you aren’t having a water birth, hydrotherapy in the shower or a tub can be an incredible tool! I showered right before I went to the hospital and the water felt awesome as I labored. I also loved the lightness and bouyancy the giant tub in the birth center created.
Hip compressions. I only remember my doula doing hip compressions on me once and I don’t even really remember how they felt, but I’ve heard many women rave about them!
If I could go back and tell my 19 year old self, who was looking at having a baby, with no earthly idea what to expect, with every fear of labor, with recollection of every movie where a woman was being wheeled down a hall screaming in labor in her mind, who didn’t think she could do it anything, it would be this:
Not only can you give birth, God literally made your body to. Just like your body knows how to grow it, it knows how to give birth to it. Your body knows so much more than what your mind knows. Trust it.
There is not a “right” or a “wrong” way to give birth, so do your research. Know your options. Get a doula. Don’t trust everything they tell you without verifying it first.
Women were made for this. You were made for this. You, uniquely, were made to give birth to your baby, and no one else can do it but you.
Things to be cautious about:
Essential oils during pregnancy and labor. Please, please please, do your research before you choose to use essential oils during pregnancy and labor to know which ones are safe. I chose to use a few during pregnancy, but kind of forgot I even had them when I was in actual labor. I guess I was in the zone.
A lot of people think they’re safe because they’re natural. Bees, snakes, and sharks are natural; you still have to approach them with respect because they can also be dangerous. Using too much, or the wrong ones, can have detrimental effects; they can slow your baby’s heart rate in some cases. You also don’t know who is going to be in your birth space who could be have an allergy or be pregnant.
I heard a story about a nurse who about 23 weeks pregnant while she attended a birth where the lady was using clary sage to induce contractions. She started having contractions and had to go lay down. The baby was fine and carried to term, but it’s still something to bear in mind.
Who is in your birth space. If someone is trying to weasel their way into your birth space, and you don’t want them there for any reason; if they stress you out, don’t make you feel safe, or at the very least wouldn’t be helpful; I urge you to find your voice in this thing.
You have to feel safe, sister. Hormones are a powerful thing, and it can lengthen or stall your labor if your brain doesn’t think it’s safe. It will serve you well to be extremely comfortable with who is in this space.
This is your day; and this is your decision alone.
Elective inductions. I’m not here to bash anyone who has made this choice and I am not saying that there aren’t situations where it is necessary; my only word of caution is that they are known to be longer, harder labors which are linked to higher rates of C-sections.
Pitocin contractions are harder and longer than natural contractions, which often results in epidurals. Once you get started, you’re often times on a “clock”; and if you don’t give birth within a certain timeframe, you may start to be pressured into a C-section.
Fun fact: there are more gentle ways to go through with an induction that my doulas gave me some wisdom on. 😉
To read more on this, check out the resources at the bottom of this page.
Elective C-sections. The Business of Being Born taught me so much about this topic! While C-sections can and have been life-saving, they don’t come without associated risks. Do your research and know your options.
Things you can do while you’re pregnant to prepare for labor:
Evening primrose oil. This was at the recommendation of my midwife starting at 38 weeks. I am not a doctor and everyone’s situation is unique. If you are not low-risk, this might not be a safe option for you. Please talk to your care provider before starting any supplements.
Labor prep tea. I started drinking this around 20 weeks I think. I liked this one:
Dates. Apparently I hate dates, but I wanted to do everything I could to give myself the best shot at a short labor that I could. I found that chopping them up finely and making protein balls with peanut butter, oats, honey, chia seeds, and chocolate chips helped me get them down.
Hire a doula for support during pregnancy. It is an option to hire a birth-only doula, but building trust takes time. I wanted to feel like I knew the people on my birth team. I was going to be in a very vulnerable place when I was in labor, and trusting who I was inviting into that space was crucial to me.
Do yoga. The breathing techniques alone are enough reason to do this, but yoga helps reduce pain, helps you sleep better, and just all around makes you feel good. It helps!
Do figure 8’s and circles on an exercise ball. This helps open up your hips, helps hurting hips and backs, and helps baby descend! Plus it just plain feels good!
Have a birth plan. A birth plan is not to be a birth tyrant. It’s to communicate your wishes in the event of a normal, healthy labor and delivery. It tells your birth team, “Providing all is going well, these are my preferences”. It should be stated that this is in the event of a normal labor and that mom and baby are doing well. I read somewhere once about titling it “Birth Preferences” instead of “Birth Plan”, because honestly; you can’t completely plan or control your labor or birth, and I loved that approach so much I used it for both of mine (I had one with Ella and Lexi).
So how is natural birth easier?
It stands to make sense that being numb from the eyebrows down would make something difficult easier; right?
Well, no, and here’s why (and I can say this from experience because I’ve done it both ways): The epidural numbs everything. It numbs the natural hormones that are supposed to be working and helping you. You can’t feel your pelvic floor. You don’t have to breathe your baby down with the contractions because you can’t feel much while they’re happening.
Without the epidural, I could feel what I was doing. When it came time to push, I could feel where to push. It wasn’t like I was flying blind.
When you can feel your baby coming, and feel your pelvic floor, and have full control, your pushes are more effective. More effective pushes = less time spent pushing.
Something else they don’t tell you is that epidurals change the cocktail of hormones that come after labor. I bonded with Lexi quicker than I did with Sophia and Ella. The urge to keep trying to breastfeed was greater.
With my first two girls, I was so exhausted, I just wanted to lay her down and sleep. With Lexi, I got the natural surge of adrenaline after birth, and I remember sitting up and just holding her most of the night; and I didn’t mind.
I had such an awareness that she was mine, of my body, had been warm and cuddled and safe up until a few hours ago and that was all she’d ever known, and I didn’t want her to feel alone. I wanted her to know I was there. That same awareness wasn’t there with my epidural births.
All I’m saying is God has a way and nature is incredible, and it’s easier for us if we trust our amazing bodies, and let them do what they will. 😉
I’ll spare you the APA format and give you something you can click on:
My amazing doula’s site: Gentleseeddoulas.com
Birth affirmations – I read these for months before giving birth, and by the time I got to the big day, I believed them.
If you can’t afford to purchase the next two resources, check out your local library, or see if you can borrow them from a friend. If you don’t use any other resources on this page, please check these out! These two alone informed and educated me and made me aware of things that I didn’t even know existed.
**Note: While I love Ina May’s wisdom, don’t be turned off from the book if some of the birth stories aren’t for you. The first half is birth stories, and some of them felt a little too crunchy to me. The second half is chocked full of knowledge that will help you, no matter how the course of your birth goes or what choices you make.
I hope this helped you and made you feel more informed, in in control, and as courageous and powerful as you are, friend! It’s my sincere hope for you that your birth it is a positive experience that you remember fondly and look back on with nothing but joy!