So, why on earth am I even writing this? Well for one, I know there is a ton of misinformation out there about childbirth. I definitely agree that each woman and each labour is very different, and I can honour that fact as I too had three very different labours and deliveries. But certain forms of media have blown things way out of proportion in regards to the ‘pain factor’ and have terrified many woman (including me) into believing how ‘bad’ childbirth is.
Another reason I’m writing this post is because I believe women (again, myself included) cut themselves short on their level of ‘brave’. I’m definitely one who does this – I think I can’t do something, talk myself into not being able to do it, get super nervous and anxious because a little part of me wants to do it, but negative self-talk has taken over and I’m too chicken to actually jump in. So maybe this post will help some other women out there actually believe in themselves enough to do what they want to do and if that’s pushing a baby out of their bodies without too much fear – then read on!
Before continuing, I just want to state that I am in no way a medical professional and that I have zero background in terms of medicine or nursing school. Really, the only birthing ’experience’ I have to reflect on are the three occasions I did it. The first time was a spontaneous birth without drugs, the second time I had a planned c-section and the third time was also without drugs but enjoyed a few deep breathes of what they call ‘laughing gas’ (more on that later).
The next fact that I want to mention is that I am NOT opposed to having drugs during delivery. In truth, I LOVE DRUGS! This post isn’t about why you should or shouldn’t use drugs during labour. I fully support any woman who wishes to assist their delivery with whatever tools they need. I absolutely DO NOT think that I’m better than anyone because I didn’t get them. So, why didn’t I have them myself? Ok – we’re getting to that. But I just want to reiterate that I’m writing this to answer questions about the physical feeling during a drug-free labour.
SO… the million dollar question: What does it REALLY feel like to give birth without drugs?
1. IT’S INTENSE BUT ITS NOT AS BAD AS IT LOOKS
The best and simplest way I can answer this question is that it isn’t as bad as many actresses make it appear. You know what I’m talking about about – the woman who is shouting profanities at her partner and yelling beat red-faced at the doctor and then transitioning into an absolutely ear piercing high octave murderous scream where you wonder, ‘Is she actually dying?’ No, not in my experience. It’s intense, like seriously intense, but it’s really not THAT horrific.
And when I say ‘intense’ I mean it. The contractions are doable and manageable but also unpleasant and frustrating. The most challenging contractions (called transition contractions) – are the longest and spaced closest together, but that stage of labour is also the shortest amount of time. (It’s typically called the third stage).
2. EARLY CONTRACTIONS FEEL SIMILAR TO MENSTRURAL CRAMPS
They are annoying, sort of obvious but you can ignore them for the most part. They come and go and it isn’t a regular thing, you could even rest and watch a movie if you wanted without being too bothered. Then, the cramping sensation starts to become a little bit more noticeable. I always feel excited at this point and I just kept telling myself – this really isn’t that bad, this one isn’t THAT bad, oh – you think that was bad? Just wait – that one was nothing. I guess I sort of played a mind game with myself. The feelings are definitely there, but it helped me to imagine that it’s almost like the baby is being ‘hugged’ into position by your uterus. HAHA!
3. THE CONTRACTIONS GET STRONGER BUT YOU STILL FEEL LIKE ’I GOT THIS’
After a while (for me, it was seven hours with Scarlet, and about five with Maks), the contractions begin to transition into harder work. The stuff where you need a good distraction because you can’t ignore the sensations anymore. I wouldn’t call it ‘pain’ – it’s not really painful during these ones – it’s just really obvious and for a short period of time. Maybe a minute… tops. They say 4-1-1 is when you should call your health care provider or go to the hospital. Four minutes in between with a contraction lasting for one minute.
This next phase of labour is what all of the movies really love to bank on – the transitional contractions. The moments where she is just at her wits end, pulling her hair out, screaming at everyone, begging for drugs but it’s too late to get anything. And here is what I felt.
4. THEN, YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE ON A ROLLERCOASTER
Each of these ‘transition contractions’ feels like you’re on a rollercoaster. You know you are starting to climb the really steep hill and as each second of the climb goes by, the more your abdomen clenches up. You are climbing and climbing and it’s getting tighter and tighter until you don’t think you can climb any higher (but you do) and you’re at the top of the hill holding on for dear life. It’s extremely intense but at this point you get over the little hump on the tracks and ride the coaster all the way down to the ground. As you continue to go the tightening loosens up and you feel better and better the closer you get to the ground floor. You only get to ride on the ground for a few seconds until you have reached the start of another ‘hill’ and you ride it up again. BUT remember, the transition phase with these big contractions is the shortest phase of labour.
Honestly, that’s what it was like for me. FULL DISCLOSURE: In Scarlet’s delivery, I turned to Nate and said ‘I don’t know if I can do this!’ and he said right back to me: ‘You’re doing it right now! You’re almost done!’ and then it was time to push. In Maks’ delivery, I was begging for drugs during the transition phase. I sort of lost myself and lost focus and didn’t remember that it was temporary. According to a Healthy Birth Course that Nate and I took prior to the kids arriving, in that moment if you find yourself begging for drugs, you really only have one or two more transition contractions to go through. That was absolutely the case for me, and thankfully, after another one or two of those transition contractions it was time to push.
5. ‘PUSHING’ IS SCARY BUT IN A WEIRD WAY, IT’S A RELIEF
After the transition contractions I found that my body totally took over. For me, BOTH times I birthed without drugs, I shouted out ‘I’M FEELING THE URGE TO PUSH!!!’ I was scared to do it without permission because you may not be fully dilated or you may have a lip of cervix left to clear. But, pushing was a relief. It is without a doubt much more doable to withstand than the contractions. TMI, but have you ever experienced feeling really backed up and constipated? You’re working hard to get that BM out and it’s not really getting anywhere? That’s about as close to ‘pushing’ as I can describe. Suddenly, at least for me, you feel a tiny bit of movement and then a bit more and then you feel as though there is a giant mass of baby emerging from your lady garden and it’s just the biggest sense of accomplishment and excitement and massive natural high you’ll ever feel. It’s been said that this cocktail of hormones and emotions rival that of shooting up on street drugs. Yowza.
The ‘Ring of fire’? I didn’t really experience anything like that although my very best friend said that she did have the ring of fire when she birthed her first so again – every woman is different.
6. IN THE END, YOU FEEL A ’HIGH’ WITHOUT THE DRUGS
What I did experience was a cocktail concoction of extreme elation and joy and amazement and shock all wrapped into an explosive moment that erupted into cries of ELATION upon holding all of my babes – which was something I did not have when I had an epidural and spinal during the c-section. I have also read that the ‘high’ after a natural childbirth is a mix of adrenaline, estrogen, progesterone, oxytocin, beta-endorphins, prolactin and catecholamines… so basically a lovely hormone shot that lasts for a solid few hours – at least for me – after baby arrives.
I did tear a little bit on both natural deliveries but not enough to get stitches. My recovery from both my vaginal birth and last VBAC birth were MUCH easier than my recovery from my c-section.
SOOOOOO, why didn’t I get the drugs?
Well honestly, I looked at all the strong, powerful, brave women before me (my mom for one who I absolutely look up to) and she also said to me – ‘It’s intense but it’s really not that bad’. She gave birth four times (naturally), one was a breech delivery. I’ve always thought – wow, I would love to do that.
Secondly, I hated the thought of a massive needle going into my spine. I know, I know, those professionals are so talented and amazing at what they do – but signing that waiver when I HAD to get the epidural and spinal for the c-section was one of the most terrifying moments of my life. Like, ‘Hi, I just met you and I trust that you won’t turn me into a paraplegic because your hand was a little shaky due to the cup of coffee you had this morning. BTW, can I see your credentials? HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN STICKING NEEDLES IN PEOPLE’S SPINES?!’
Finally, (and this may rub people the wrong way), but I’m being honest here. I wanted to have those bragging rights for myself. I mean, not that I don’t LOVE the fact that I have the chance to say (when asked) that yes – I did give birth twice without drugs. But, honestly, for me, for myself to be able to say and be proud of that fact forever. The fact that I’m a bad-ass-woman who pushed a little human out of her body on her own and believed in myself and my body enough to own that moment and have that for the rest of my life to build my courage up to do anything else I wanted to do – (wow, run-on sentence there), THAT was worth it for so many reasons. Mind over matter? Maybe. But no man could ever hope to accomplish something so great, and there would never be another opportunity to achieve a similar task on this level. I have heard women saying to one another, you don’t have to be a hero in the labour and delivery room, no one will remember, get the drugs…and that is TOTALLY awesome. But for myself, even if nobody ever remembers what went down, I WILL. I feel like I did it for me, to prove it to myself. I am woman, I believed I could do it so I did it, the end.
If you girls have any questions about ANYTHING, I am an open book when it comes to this stuff and would be more than happy to write back in the comment section. If you are too embarrassed to have it ‘public’ feel free to contact me in the contact section at the top of the page. 😉