I am by no means an expert on giving birth, but since I have now had medicated and un-medicated deliveries, I thought I would share my thoughts on what helped me through the labor and delivery process with each. And if you’re planning a natural birth, here’s what worked for me.
I went into both births with the intention of delivering without drugs, but gave myself permission to go with what I felt was best in the moment.
First, with both of my deliveries, I tried to give myself over to the process. Being induced and on Pitocin was certainly not part of my birth plan with Prim, but with my preeclampsia diagnosis there was really no way around it. Ultimately, I had the mindset of “whatever is going to be best for my baby” and tried to go with the flow to the extent possible. My induction was started with a Foley catheter and Pitocin around 11am on Friday, and by the time I hit 6.5cm at 6:30am on Saturday, the following morning, I was done. I was exhausted, hadn’t eaten or slept in almost 24 hours, and had been dealing with Pitocin-induced contractions for well over 20 hours. Having gone through labor with and without Pitocin, let me tell you this — Pitocin-induced contractions are a whole different ball game. There was no break between my contractions for hours on end and it got to the point where I couldn’t breathe at all while they were happening and could barely speak in between because I was in so much pain. Ultimately, I felt like getting the epidural during Prim’s birth was the right decision. I was able to rest before pushing, which made the pushing process short and very easy. Having the epidural also made me feel very present for the pushing process and able to really soak up the moments with Prim immediately following her birth.
Lark’s natural birth was amazing. If I could plan a birth, this would be it. Recovery was significantly easier after Lark’s birth, which I attribute to the lack of medical intervention. My body was able to progress and deliver naturally, which I think makes a big difference in the aftermath of giving birth. That being said, I should note that my labor with Lark was significantly shorter and easier than with Prim. I went into labor naturally and the whole thing lasted just barely over five hours from my first contraction to when I delivered. (Just for reference, 5 hours of labor vs. 24+ hours is VERY different.) Labor with second babies tends to be shorter and easier than with first babies, and the fact that this was my second delivery in under two years also means my body was somewhat primed to give birth already.
Because I had planned a natural birth with Prim, KC and I had attended a birthing class which covered breathing techniques and coping mechanisms for labor. Ultimately, I didn’t really use any of this information, but if you’re someone who thrives in the classroom setting, taking a birth class certainly can’t hurt you in preparation for birth.
The things that helped me most through labor were:
- Walking/moving during active labor. After timing the first hour of contractions while laying in bed at 4am, I got up at 5am and never really sat down again until I got into the bath around 7:45am when transition was starting. Walking felt more comfortable than sitting or lying down and I think also helped speed up my labor.
- The HypnoBirthing breathing techniques. To be honest I didn’t even read the whole book — I really just covered the breathing and read through some of the visualizations.
- Dimming the lights. I like a calm atmosphere for labor, so I dimmed the lights and kept things super-mellow for both of my births.
- Listening to music. I listened to the Hozier Pandora station while in labor with Prim. For Lark’s birth I listened to a mellow playlist I created on Spotify.
- WATER. Honestly there was nothing that compared to being in the tub for transition during labor with Lark. I had used the shower while in labor with Prim, which was really helpful, but a tub is even better, in my opinion.
During contractions I focused on taking deep breaths and tried to relax my whole body starting with my jaw and shoulders and working my way down. For both labors I tried to just focus on my body as labor was happening. I lost track of time and focused only on staying relaxed and breathing. This worked up to a point during labor with Prim, but being in the bath for transition with Lark was especially helpful because I could just float and let my body relax through contractions while I focused on breathing. KC also helped a lot by talking to me through transition. In between contractions he would tell me I was doing a great job and I think may have been reading me Yahoo headlines (ha! I really don’t remember what he talked about), but having the distraction of conversation really helped take my mind off the intense contractions at the end of labor.
Pushing without drugs is a whole other ballgame. Your body sort of takes over and it’s terrifying and painful (I mean, let’s be honest here), so really the only advice I can give you is to get yourself a good doctor, midwife or labor coach who can support you through the pushing process. It definitely requires someone who can pull your focus away from the pain and get you to breathe and focus in between contractions. My midwife was right in my face for pushing, telling me how to breathe and what to do during the next contraction, but other than that, the only real advice I can give you is try not to freak out too much and just do your best to get through it.
(Oh, and if you want to be a “good pusher” my recommendation is to do Bar Method and to tuck your hips during the pushing process. I don’t think I could have identified where my abs were without having done Bar Method, and as my American OB said — “We love Bar Method students. They’re good pushers.” Both of my babies were out in less than 4 pushes, so I think she might just be right!)