As a first time mom who gave birth unmedicated, I don’t have anything to compare my experience to, but I do have an incredible, empowering birth story that I think is worth sharing. I learned a lot by reading and listening to other women’s birth stories and so my hope is that you can find some inspiration or guidance here too.
Pregnancy & Change of Care
When I got pregnant I started researching everything related to pregnancy and birth. After lots and lots of research, I decided that I wanted a natural, unmedicated birth.. for reasons I’ll talk about later on in this post.
At 34 weeks pregnant I switched from an OBGYN to a midwife. This change happened because I didn’t feel like I had the support nor encouragement from my OBGYN to aim for a low-intervention, unmedicated vaginal birth. I always left my appointments feeling frustrated with our care and hoping for something more. Luckily I found the perfect midwife whose beliefs aligned with mine. You see, I had a plan. I would stay at home as long as I could. I didn’t want a prep IV. I didn’t want any medication. I didn’t want continuous fetal monitoring. I wanted to be able to labor in the tub. I wanted my baby placed on my chest immediately after delivery.
Of course over everything, my goal was to have a healthy baby–no matter what steps or interventions had to be taken to get there, but going in, I wanted to feel confident that my provider was on my side & wouldn’t take unnecessary interventions. My midwife not only supported my birth plan and the natural process I desired, but she had faith in me and gave me feelings of empowerment and respect. Everything I wanted was her normal protocol. So take it from me and change providers if you’re not happy with your care! Trust your feelings & fight for what you want. There’s a much higher chance you’ll have the birth you want if your support team is on board!
My midwife was Heather Scott, CNM. Click HERE to contact her.
My Unmedicated Birth
I’d never experienced birth so of course I had moments of anxiety and nervousness. I didn’t know what it would feel like. I didn’t know what my body would go through. I didn’t know how I would react. I feel really lucky though because this was one of those instances where everything did go according to plan. Other than going into labor early and giving birth at 37 weeks + 2 days, there were no surprises or complications. It was honestly the perfect birth.
Here’s a journal entry I wrote about my birth…
“My birth experience was one I never want to forget. Words don’t do justice, but I’m going to try……On Tues, Dec 17th, I went to my weekly appointment & found out I was having contractions. They continued the rest of the day & by 12:30am on Dec 18th, my water broke soon after at arriving to the hospital. At that point I was dilated to 3.5cm. The next 5 hours were the hardest, but most spiritual moments in my life as Tanner & I brought our beautiful Daughter of God into mortality. My labor and delivery were not what I expected (my body naturally went into labor early & I labored faster than I ever hoped for), but the process was everything I needed to experience. God knew it, because He knows me.
Tanner was my saving grace as he held my hand, rubbed my back & told me how strong I was during the peak of each painful contraction. With him & a team of people literally cheering me on during those final pushes, I felt her fully emerge and gave in to all that followed…SHE WAS HERE. She was actually here. I had dreamt about it for months, envisioned in my mind what I wanted it to be like and the moment finally came. Those moments where we first met her sweet spirit and her tiny mortal body were sacred and beautiful. Holding her in my arms for the first time, I was reminded that I was created for many reasons. This day, this moment, this precious little girl…this was one of them.”
In short, it was the overall feeling I had through the process that made me fall in love with an unmedicated birth. Simply put..I felt so empowered and connected to Willa, Tanner and God. Even through the hardest parts, I loved having my husband and midwife surround me and push me through my most doubtful moments. It was a team effort and it was beautiful. Not to mention, the second Willa was born, ALL THE PAIN WAS GONE. I felt amazing. Sore and tired.. but amazing. I was fully coherent and could soak up all those sacred moments. In fact, my body felt so like itself that I didn’t even know that I was losing a lot of blood due to internal tearing. I came about 50ml short of hemorrhaging, but I didn’t even realize it because I was in a euphoric state.
My WHY behind wanting an unmedicated birth
Before I get into my different reasons on WHY I choose to have an unmedicated birth, I want to point out that there is no wrong way to have a baby. Every body is different. Every process is different. The goal is a happy, healthy baby. However you need to get that baby here is your way. This is just what fits well for me, and I’m sharing in hopes that it might help someone who is interested in the same thing!
Overall, my main reasoning for wanting to try for an unmedicated birth was because I wanted to fully experience the labor process. I wanted to know what contractions felt like, to have feeling down there so I could push efficiently and heal quickly. Basically, I wanted to feel as close to my baby girl, body and the natural birth process as possible.
So, I started doing research and I found A LOT of information on unmedicated birth vs medicated. I was shocked to learn about things that I had never even thought of. Like unnecessary medical intervention causing problems during birth. The way that Pitocin effects you and your baby. The timeline and business of a hospital. The actual death rate of C-sections going up by 60%…I was blown away. All these interventions came with risk! (These are just a few topics to give you a place to start doing your own research.) To me, there were far too many alarming stats that my desire for an unmedicated birth just increased more. (No matter what decision you end up making, I believe that knowledge is power and learning about them is super important so you know the potential risks and can make the best, INFORMED decisions.)
I learned that unmedicated births had far less risk for both the babies and mothers! Human bodies just know how to give birth. It is a natural bodily function and women have been doing it since the beginning of time. The more books I read, birth stories I listened to and documentaries I watched, I started to see birth as the most inspiring and beautiful thing in the world. MY BODY KNOWS HOW TO DO THIS! I CAN DO THIS.
Once I decided to have an unmedicated birth, I had SO many people tell me I was nuts. I had people tell me that I would opt for the epidural the second my contractions started…even family members haha! I only have one sister in law who has given birth unmedicated. Everyone else received an epidural so an unmedicated birth was more of a taboo subject. My stubbornness and desire to prove them wrong became a motivation for me. I also kept thinking about all the women since the beginning of time who have brought babies into the world and thought, “if they can do it, so can I.”
Just like learning about unmedicated vs medicated birth, I learned a lot in my preparation for an unmedicated birth! Things that seemed a little woo-woo to me at first like mindful birthing or hypnobirthing actually aren’t–they’re just ways of embracing and managing discomfort and being in the moment.
So that leads me to a common question…Is birth painful? ….uuhhhh YES! It is very painful. In some of the birthing books I read it talked about reaching a state of hypnosis where you don’t feel any pain.. I definitely didn’t get to that point. It stinkin hurt! However, instead of fearing the pain of each contraction I started to embrace it as one more step bringing me closer to my baby.
To give you a lil more insight on my birth experience, when I went to the my 37 week apt on Dec 16th I was 80% effaced and dilated to a one. I went in the next day(Dec 17th) for an ultrasound and stress test and found out I was having contractions about every 5 minutes. My midwife checked me and I was almost 90% effaced and dilated to a 2. It was a big shock to me because I had felt zero pain so far and didn’t even realize I was having contractions until I saw them on the screen & started recognizing what they felt like. My midwife told me if my body kept going like this I might have a baby before Christmas…haha little did I know I would have one in my arms the next morning! 🙂 Leaving the doctors office I had a lot of different emotions! I had always assumed that I would go close to full term or likely even past because first time moms commonly go past due date, so hearing that baby could come soon was an excited, yet crazy thought!!
For the rest of the day I started timing my contractions. They continued progressing and I started getting really excited! I wasn’t nervous about having baby early because I was considered full term & I trusted that my body would give birth when it needed to. Throughout my whole pregnancy I always told myself to trust in the natural process and not try to force anything.
Around 4pm my hubby got home from work and although I told myself not to force anything…there wasn’t any harm in trying to encourage things along, right? ;). So, we went for a walk and I started curb walking. Then we went and got spicy Indian food. At this point I called my midwife to let her know contractions were progressing and she gave me some tips and tricks of things I could do to help naturally progress labor. So that evening I ate some of my Peanut Butter Brownie Bites (made with dates which are supposed to decrease labor duration), we were intimate (oxytocin baby!) and we went to the gym to walk. This is when contractions started getting more intense, but I still wasn’t feeling any pain. So, we went back home. Interestingly enough, I don’t remember what it was about, but Tanner and I got in a little disagreement and BOOM. Contractions stopped. Instead of being about 2-4 minutes apart they were now like 8-9 minutes. If I learned anything by this experience and the rest of my laboring, it’s that our body and mind are sooo connected. After talking things through and feeling happy again my body started contractions again. CRAZY COOl right? I remember standing my kitchen and feeling my body progress faster as Tanner and I were telling each other how much we loved each other and making out. Maybe TMI, but I think it’s really cool and definitely important to know!! positive feelings=labor continues. negative feelings=labor slows.
I took a nap and woke up around 11pm with pretty intense contractions. I timed them and they were about 2 minutes apart and so I woke up Tanner and we headed to the hospital. Honestly at this point I wasn’t hardly in any pain so I felt dumb going to the hospital because in all the books I’d read they said to not even leave home until you’re in so much pain you can’t really talk through contractions and that it should take a long time to walk to the car. Neither of those were the case, but they were happening so frequently I thought better to be safe than sorry. It was honestly such a relief when my water broke soon after being checked in because I thought for sure we would be sent back home!
Contractions at this point started off manageable, but they slowly got stronger and stronger. I was Strep B positive so I was connected to an IV for the first hour. Things started getting intense fast and I become nauseous and threw up. This is where I had a little panic moment and remember telling Tanner that I didn’t think I could do this anymore! I was dilated to a 4.5 at this time.
With the encouragement from Tanner, I soon got into a focused, “I can do this” mindset and from there things progressed even quicker! Seriously I don’t know how I would have gotten through birth without him. We really considered getting a doula, but with all the research we did together (key word TOGETHER) and with my midwife we felt we would save the extra $$. Tanner held my hand the entire time, would tell me how strong I was and how I could get through the pain. He would rub my back and give me water. He would remind me that it would all be worth it and applied pressure where needed. One of my biggest suggestions would be to research things with your support person & make sure you’ve talked through possible scenarios.
Seriously, the pain is intense, but in the end it all comes down to being mentally prepared. Here are some of the things I did:
- created birth affirmations & hung them up at home & in the hospital
- learned about different positions and ways to apply counter pressure
- created a relaxing birth playlist & brought a speaker to play it
- dimmed the lights in the hospital room
- labored in a hot bathtub for some time
- tried to be in each moment; especially during the periods of rest between contractions. I really tried hard to not think about the upcoming contraction, but rather be totally in the present.
- per my midwifes suggestions, I sat on a birth ball and swayed my hips on it/rocked in a circle. When contractions came I leaned against the hospital bed and put my head on a pillow while deeply breathing
- focused on breathing & positive words
- telling myself “I am strong, I can do this.”
- laughed-only happened a few times in between contractions but it helped (more oxytocin!)
- spoke positive words (told Tanner I loved him and my baby)
- slowed deep breathing in the abdomen
- tried hard to not tighten jaw or mouth
During Willa’s delivery I focused all my energy on being relaxed. When it got intense, I’d start with my head–> relax the muscles in my face, my eyes, my forehead, my mouth, my jaw. For me, there was no secret trick or magical power…it was literally just being mindful of the “pressure” and trying to stay relaxed. Ironically, I released the need to be in control of everything which allowed me to strangely be more in control. This practice of being mindful, releasing expectations (hello Buddhism), and embracing discomfort helped me so much! (side note: continuing this mindful practice has also helped me so much postpartum too!)
During these moments trying to relax, I would simultaneously repeat out loud, “open, open, open” and think about my cervix opening up big and wide. This was incredible for me to experience because I could literally feel my cervix opening up and following my instructions to open during each contraction. I am still amazed at how connected my mind and body were..each contraction when I was opening up the amniotic fluid would flow out and I knew I was getting closer. I think this was one of the main things that helped me have a quick labor.
Once I was dilated to a 7, it was no more than 20-30 minutes and I had transitioned into pushing. The pain was intense (the ring of fire is REAL), but I was grateful to be unmedicated and be able to feel what was going on down below because there were times my midwife would tell me to push but I knew my body wasn’t ready. So I would wait until I felt my body relaxed and open up.. and THEN I would push. Unfortunately, I still tore internally (thank you midwife for giving me a perineal massage while I was pushing so I didn’t tear externally), so I did require stitches after the placenta came out, but I know it could have been worse. I definitely got numb for this process as it’s not a normal bodily function and I DID NOT care to feel a needle going in and out of my skin..ya nope.
Overall my birth experience was hard, raw and extremely painful, but WOW it was also very empowering, rewarding and spiritual. It was everything I wanted it to be, and I attribute it to lots and lots of research, having an amazing midwife with parallel beliefs, an INCREDIBLE, SUPERHERO hubby who was literally my saving grace and of course God for watching over sweet Willa and I during the process.
To watch my birth video click HERE
My birth prep materials:
Natural Hospital Birth by Cynthia Gabriel (LOVED!! It helped me understand the reality of having a natural birth at the hospital, where often times medicine and interventions can be pushed on you.)
Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin (LOVED!! Lots of good info about the physiological birth process & pain management tips)
Mindful Birthing by Nancy Bardacke (didn’t read, but was recommended it)
The Positive Birth Book: A New Approach to Pregnacy, Birth & the Early Weeks by Milli Hill (didn’t read, but was recommended it)
Expecting Better (A book about the pros/cons of getting an epidural) (didn’t read, but was recommended it)
Mindful Hypnobirthing by Sophie Fletcher (didn’t read, but was recommended it)
Hypnobirthing: The Mongan Method by Marie F Mongan (didn’t read, but was recommended it)
Husband-coached childbirth: The Bradly Method of Natural Childbirth by Robert A Bradley (didn’t watch, but was recommended it)
Business of Being Born (I LOVED this documentary. Lots of women giving birth and very educational)
Birth Story: Ina May Gaskin and the Farm Midwives (Good, gives good visual after reading book)
Orgasmic Birth: The Best Kept Secret (didn’t watch, but was recommended it)
Reducing Fear of birth in U.S. Culture: Ina May Gaskin at TedxSacramento (didn’t listen to it, but was recommended it)
The Birth Hour (LOVED. Highlights birth stories of all kind)