How to Give Birth Naturally – An Open Letter to My Daughter
Today it is just two days since I gave birth naturally to your brother. And just 26 months ago I gave birth naturally to you. The methods and philosophies that got me through these births are so fresh in my mind that I thought I would take a couple of minutes to write them down in case you come to me in 30 years wondering how you can give birth naturally to your own children. When I say "give birth naturally," I mean a vaginal delivery with no pain medications. I'm not going to argue the benefits of giving birth naturally. It was a choice I made and I earnestly believe everyone needs to make their own decision. So I made the choice and studied and prepared long and hard for a natural delivery. This may not work for everyone, but this is what worked for me.
Prepare Physically for the Hard Work of Labor
Prepare physically by making sure your baby is in the proper head-down position. At about 30 weeks, begin to spend about 20 minutes a day rocking your baby into position. Stand with your feet spread about hip-width apart and lean over with your hands on a kitchen counter or your desk at work. You don’t have to be leaned over very steeply. Rock your hips back and forth. This will help your baby’s head – the heaviest part of their body – to go down into your pelvis. Having baby in the right position is very important for having natural childbirth and avoiding a c-section.
Try to stay in good physical shape for labor, even though pregnancy is so hard on your body physically and it’s hard to keep walking and eating healthy foods. Try to eat healthfully and exercise. Natural childbirth is really hard work and can take hours. After you’re done, your body will ache all over like you’ve run a marathon. Treat it like a marathon. Prepare for it and be ready so you can do the hard work to get your baby out with the least medical involvement possible. You also want to eat well so you don’t saddle yourself with the task of pushing out a super pudgy bundle of love. Healthy foods will grow a healthy, lean little baby. Eat the volume of food you feel you need, but make healthy food choices.
Educate Yourself to Make the Best Choices
Educate yourself on how labor and childbirth work so you can make good choices each step of the way. Know how to avoid a c-section:
Avoid an epidural. Epidurals increase the likelihood of needing a c-section. Take a class or read books on pain management techniques that you can do on your own. For me, much of this was getting into the right mindset and having the right people there to support me, as described below.
Avoid anything that could slow down or stall your labor. That means don’t get into a warm tub. Although it may feel good, there is a chance it will slow down your labor, leading the medical professionals to want to intervene with a stimulant that could lead to needing an epidural and then c-section. It also means you should stay on your feet during labor for as long as possible. I did yoga during the early stages of my labor with you. For my births with both you and your brother, I did not get onto the bed until I was more than 8 centimeters dilated. Stay on your feet and keep moving, even if it’s as simple as standing and rocking your hips from side to side.
Scrutinize recommendations from your medical professionals. They are looking out for the hospital and their personal interests. They care about you, but there are policies in place to protect them and the hospital that may be contrary to what’s best for you and your baby. Whenever something is suggested – a drug, a birthing position, whatever – and you’re not sure about it, be sure to ask: What other alternatives are there? What are the risks with this course of action? Can I think about it for a while? What if we wait an hour or so and see how things progress without it? Make a deal with your partner or doula ahead of time that they are to ask these questions for you if you are too immersed in the pain of labor to think clearly.
Push effectively. Ineffective pushing tires you out and puts you no closer to delivery, increasing the risk of having things stall out, medical professionals calling it “failure to progress,” leading to a C-section. Effective pushing is very important. I wish I could tell you exactly what this means, but it’s very hard to describe how to push in labor. Allow your doula to coach you. Read up on pushing and labor so you understand the stages – early little pushes, later big pushes.
Use labor positions that work for you. For me it was on my back/left side for pushing you out and on my back/right side for pushing your brother out. For me in each case it really hurt to lay flat on my back. I’m not sure why. So I had some pillows propped under one side of me to keep me balanced comfortably on my side. Some women prefer to squat while in labor. Find what works for you. Trust your body to tell you what would feel right and then try it. If you don’t like it, try something else. For a while with you I squatted at a bar, but eventually became too tired and crawled into bed. Just before you were born I was so tired that I fell asleep between contractions, so the bed was the best place to be. If you’re delivering on your back, it may help to grab your knees and pull your legs in toward your body. If you’re too tired, have other people hold your legs for you so you can focus on pushing.
Make the noises you need to make while you’re pushing, without inhibition. Allow your doula to coach you so you don’t waste energy on the noises, though. Low, guttural noises help to direct your energy out your birth canal. Breathe. Tuck your chin into your chest, groan and push.
Have a Peaceful and Positive Mindset
Birthing naturally means birthing with a lot of pain. There’s no way around it. Your Dad and I took a birthing class that focused on natural childbirth and I read the book “Birthing from Within.” You can handle the pain. Here’s how to do it.
As you are feeling the pain, know that you are bending, not breaking. A barrier to natural childbirth is that your body clenches against the pain and does not allow the baby to come down and be born. Combat the clenching by combating the fear. Pain is a scary thing, but you need to help yourself to not be afraid of it. Recognize that you are not breaking. You are bending. Your body can do this and heal perfectly afterward. You are doing this as women all over the world are doing it at this very moment. Wrap your mind around this concept and it will help tremendously.
Recognize other things that cause fear and may cause you to clench. For both births I didn’t want our friends and family to know I was in labor because I didn’t want to feel the pressure of people waiting, wondering, and wanting to be updated. So for each of our births I labored secretly. In each case, after you and your brother were born, your Dad and I took a nap and fawned over you for a while before calling family and friends with the great news.
Spend some time with yourself in the weeks leading up to your due date and be honest with yourself about your fears so you can address them. Make sure your body can unclench and let that baby down through your birth canal.
See each contraction as a victory. After each one, celebrate, “Whew, I don’t have to do that one again!” Each contraction is a mountain climbed that you will not have to climb again. Each contraction puts you closer to meeting your precious child.
Listen to your body. Know that your body wants to push this baby out. If it feels right to squat in labor, then squat. Trust that your body knows what to do and when to do it: when to drink, when to walk, when to sway, when to push. Pay attention to your body in the weeks leading up to your labor and recognize what it wants. I’ve done a lot of yoga over the years, and I think that has allowed me to understand my body a little better than some people. This is probably the vaguest bit of advice I will give you, and I wish I could articulate it better. Two days ago as I was pushing out your brother, his head had emerged and the doctors told me that I needed to keep pushing to deliver the rest of his little body. As I gave one particularly huge push, something in my body said to arch my back. As I arched my back and gave a huge push, his whole body came out at once so smoothly and quickly that the doctor was surprised. I recognized and trusted this impulse to arch as I pushed. I only pushed for 16 minutes when I gave birth to your brother.
Surround Yourself with Your Best Supporters
I allowed into our birthing room only your Dad, our doula Andrea Nesheim, and medical staff. I wanted only people who believed I could deliver naturally. I carefully selected doctors who supported natural childbirth. In both births, I requested that no one offer me drugs because I was afraid that I would accept the offer in a moment of weakness (which is basically the entire labor). Both hospitals and sets of personnel honored my request. Our doula was an amazing force in helping me cope with the pain. I chose a woman who had a quiet, confident competence. With seven years of experience, Andrea had guided the births of hundreds of babies. Because she was hired by your Dad and me, we trusted her as a second opinion whenever the doctors had suggestions we weren’t sure about.
These days, people who want a natural birth often go to a birthing center with a midwife rather than a doctor. Your Dad and I felt most comfortable birthing in a hospital with a doctor so we could have all the technology available in case something went wrong. Then we hired the doula to provide the coaching to get us through the birth naturally. She not only supported me, but your Dad as well. She made sure we were both hydrated and comfortable. Your Dad had the luxury of being a husband and father, and not having to worry about coaching me.
Birthing is a unique and special experience where you need to grunt and cry. You need to be vulnerable and brazenly confident at the same time. Surround yourself with people who have confidence in you and are prepared to support you in precisely the ways you need to be supported. Do some soul searching and determine what you need, and then make sure you have the right people in the room to do it.
My sweet, bold, darling daughter – you can do this. You are just two years old now, but I know you can birth naturally as I did. You can do this and more. I’ve seen how you tackle the big scary world with all 27 pounds of yourself, and more attitude than a little person should have! You are amazing and your Dad and I are tremendously proud of you. We have every confidence you can do this. We love you!