The primary motivator for choosing to go drug-free in labor was my fear of having a c-section. I read that moving freely during labor and having the least amount of interventions and medications lessened your chances of needing a cesarean. Done. I was more afraid of the epidural needle and major surgery than the pain of labor itself.
Starting at 10 weeks pregnant, I read, read, read, and learned so much about labor, birth, and the psychology of pain, which is so interesting! (Nerd alert).
The more I learned, the more determined I was to not use medical pain relief. It felt like a personal challenge, and I wanted to experience it all. Waterbirth sounded fun. I was excited instead of afraid.
I kind of skipped over the early labor stage. At my last appointment I was nearly 4cm and had my sweep. I went into labor that night- and it wasn’t a guessing game when I felt my first real contraction. I started active labor immediately at 11pm just as I was getting into bed, and it was intense enough that I had to get out of bed and start walking around. My labor was 7 hours (I pushed for 1 of these). Not bad for a first timer! I also attribute my great labor to my doula and husband. I had amazing support. To top it off, one of my best friends/photographer was in the room, so I have amazing birth pictures. If you are thinking about going drug free, don’t just consider a doula, hire one. Do it. You will regret it if you don’t. And a photographer.
It’s ok if you want pain relief! Chances are though, even if you are getting an epidural, you’ll experience some active labor and can benefit from learning relaxation techniques. These can reduce pain and encourage dilation. I prepared myself for the possibility of a c-section and allowed myself to change my mind of pain relief. You just don’t know what’s going to happen.
Your mind can be your best friend or your own worst enemy, especially during labor. If you are fearful and stressed out, your body (and cervix) will tense up. Your doctor will check you and tell you that you aren’t progressing “fast enough” or at all! That will stress you out further and the vicious cycle continues. Meanwhile, you are probably in a lot of pain.
The one thing that really helped me was reminding myself that the contractions weren’t harming my body, that it is pain with a purpose. They were helping me to meet my baby. I handled them one at a time and relaxed in between.
Here is a link to The March of Dimes page on relaxation techniques during labor. You can use these at any point, even if you are planning on getting an epidural. They will help you get there faster! I used progressive muscle relaxation, massage, guided imagery, breathing techniques, hydrotherapy, bounced on a birthing ball, changed positions, and my doula used hip compressions. Whoever is going to be by your side during labor needs to learn the hip compression.
My sense of time was completely warped by 7cm. An hour went by in what felt like minutes. You’d think it would be the opposite, right? It’s your body’s way of helping you cope. When my midwife told me I could get in the water, I was excited. It did help with the contractions, although it didn’t take long before I was ready to call it quits. My doula (who had been doing the amazing hip compressions during contractions) couldn’t physically help squeeze my hips once I was in the bath. They were one on top of the other, no chance to relax in between anymore. Everyone was just watching me work through them, offering supportive words and cold water.
I was starting to feel like I couldn’t do it. I said I changed my mind several times. A contraction would come and I would jolt up onto my knees and rock back and forth in the water. I pleaded to know how much longer, and nobody answered me. Then I felt a pop! And said “my water broke!” The midwife checked me. 9.5cm, I could start pushing after just a couple more! My spirits shot back up- I did it! I made it through transition, which everyone knew I was in by my actions and words, but I myself didn’t recognize while I was going through it.
Pushing was hard work, but it didn’t hurt. It felt like a relief. The only part that hurt for a short time was when her head was actually crowning. I pushed for an hour. When my little girl finally made her entrance, it was the best feeling in the whole world. I know that’s true no matter how your baby enters the world- there is nothing like the moment you get to see your baby’s face after all that waiting!
It was extra special for me to feel like I accomplished something I set my mind to. I imagine it’s a lot like running a marathon- someone prepares mentally and trains hard, and when they finally cross the finish line they feel accomplished and empowered. Pushing your body to its physical limits and overcoming is an amazing feeling. I cannot believe that was almost a year ago. I think about her birth often. I did it for myself, and I can’t wait to do it again.