Just because women’s bodies are designed to bear and birth children, it doesn’t mean it’s easy…
What is painful to you? Is it slipping in the shower and landing smack on your tailbone? Is it falling off a moving motorcycle, the pavement leaving your skin raw and bloodied? Now multiply that by 10 and you’ll know what it feels like to give birth without pain relief, AKA a natural birth. I once believed my years of martial arts training would result in a higher pain threshold. All those times my elbow has been hyperextended, the accidental knee to the face or the roundhouse kicks to the side of the head — I can safely say that childbirth, even with child-bearing hips, hurts more. Even MMA world champ Angela Lee agrees…
When you change your mind…
In the beginning, I wanted the full goddess natural birth experience. I handed my doctor my birth plan that included soft music and her refusing to give me an epidural, even if I begged for it. She laughed when she read it, knowing I would change my mind when the time came. And it did. Once I started feeling those intense labour pains, I took all my words back, wishing I could rip my birth plan into pieces. I kept pleading for an epidural but it was too late, the baby was on his way. It took 30 minutes to push him out, my husband, my mum, the nurses and the doctor cheering me on. Traumatised by my first experience, I knew I wanted a fully medicated birth the second time around.
Natural birth is like Russian roulette
Unlike a caesarean section where everything is planned to a T, natural birth is very much like Russian roulette — anything can happen. My second son came unexpectedly, five weeks early. My water didn’t break this time, the doctor had to do it and the contractions intensified quickly after that. “When will I get my epidural?” I remember begging, clutching my sleeping husband who had flown in a few hours earlier, thanks to my surprise delivery. “Not until you’re more dilated,” replied the doctor.
It would be 18 hours later until I reached optimal dilation (is that even a thing?) but once again, too late to enjoy the relatively pain-free benefits of an epidural. I felt the lower half of my body turn numb from the anaesthesia, dulling my ability to push. I tried and my son eventually came out, red-faced and angry that he’d come out too soon.
Thinking about having a natural birth? Here’s what you need to know
1. There are plenty of ways to go about it
You can get a doula to help you, get mesmerised by calming words via hypnobirthing, deliver in water or standing up — you name it! Do your research and check with your OB-GYN whether it’s the right way to go for you or not. Take note, natural births aren’t usually recommended for high-risk pregnancies!
2. To epidural or not to epidural?
Regardless of which way you go, know that when you’ve committed to natural birth, you’ve got to be committed to the pain. Also, an epidural, or medicated labour, doesn’t always start so blissfully. Pre-epidural, you’ll feel the same labour pains as a mum going through natural birth. Some argue that using an epidural may result in side effects, including prolonged numbness in the lower body.
Honeycombers Hong Kong editor, Beth, had this to say about epidurals: “The epidural, for me, allowed me to rest and reset by giving me a break during the pre-labour. Without the epidural, I think the pain from the prelabour would have dragged on for another 24 hours, and then I probably would have ended up with a C-section because I just wouldn’t have had anything left for active labour.”
3. How you’ll recover
While the recovery process for natural childbirth is shorter than caesarean sections, it doesn’t come any easier. If you didn’t tear (lucky you), you’re looking at three weeks to recover. If you’ve had a perineal tear or episiotomy, think six weeks or more. Saying that, you can usually go home the next day, or sometimes, even the same day! Read here for more postpartum fun. HoneyKids mum Shermaine says recovering after natural childbirth was a lot harder than the actual labour process!
4. How painful is natural childbirth, really?
There are plenty of women out there who are big fans of natural childbirth. They love how empowering it is and how strong this life-changing experience makes them feel. While everyone experiences pain differently, it’s important to remember that the pain can be manageable, provided you’ve prepared for it. Also, pain is not always consistent throughout the labour process — you usually get breaks in between contractions or while pushing.
5. Pain is temporary
In retrospect, as painful as my births were, the pain had its purpose and eventually passed. It was a necessary process for my children to come into the world. If you’re concerned about the side effects of pain meds, then a natural birth might be the way to go. Those who’ve experienced hypnobirthing, including our very own Honeycombers founder Chris Edwards and HoneyKids writer Kate, say that the process encouraged them to use their minds and mental capacity to overcome the intense feelings of labour. “In hypnobirthing, you try not to use the language of pain. You train your mind to think of it as a natural experience, one that your body can deal with without pain relief,” says Chris.
Whether you decide to (literally) push through with an unmedicated, natural birth, choose to use an epidural or book a caesarean section, at the end of the day, it’s all about celebrating a moment of new life — not how your baby was born. So kick your feet up, wait for your water to break and go for a walk.
You’ve got this, mum!