Nine days ago I gave birth to our beautiful baby girl, Christine Hope. Unlike my first two deliveries, with this one I opted to do a natural, unmedicated birth. Otherwise known as Insanity--(or some people would have me believe). I'm no glutton for punishment and (surprise!) I don't actually like pain, but I had my reasons for wanting to at least attempt to do this crazy crunchy granola thing, and now that it's all said and done, I feel so pleased with and moved by the experience that I wanted to share about it here on my Soapbox.
So…why would any woman in her right mind choose to endure hours--in my case 15 hours--of unparalleled physical pain with no medical relief? To earn some weird badge of honor? To atone for the sin of Eve? To manipulate her children in years to come by bemoaning the X amount of hours she spent in labor to bring them into the world? It's somewhat hard to explain, but no, no, and no. For me, the desire to give birth naturally stemmed from a few (non-martyring) factors. First, because I had already experienced giving birth to two other children with the support of our friend Mr. Epidural, I wanted to try a different experience--perhaps to unite myself with those billions of women who have for centuries given birth in this way. And because there were a few aspects of my first two births that I felt dissatisfied with, this time I selected a midwife instead of an OB doctor. Knowing that the midwife's general philosophy runs along the lines of nonintervention, I decided to go with that flow as well. (Not that she would/could have stopped me from receiving pain medication; I did, after all, give birth at a hospital.) Also, to a degree of much less importance to me, I knew that an epidural carries with it some (very minimal) risks to both mother and baby and can make the baby quite a bit sleepier after birth. I would argue that babies are sleepy after birth no matter what, so this was not a huge deal to me. But there you have it.
The main reason, though, that I felt such a keen inclination to go without pain medication this time around has to do with my perpetual obsession with the interplay between mind and body--or, more aptly in this situation, the power of the mind over the body. As I've alluded to elsewhere on this blog, in the two years since my last child Elliot was born, I've been fighting the mindbody battle against my own funky version of fibromyalgia. This means I have roving muscle and joint pain that comes and goes in correlation with my levels of stress and negative emotions like anger, anxiety, and depression. Basically, my body is a total drama queen that likes to act out my emotions on its own. As I began to understand this underlying connection (believe me, I was tested for every known disease, disorder, and allergy and experimented with diet, exercise, and sleep to no avail) I was able to mitigate my pain by meditation, relaxation, taking time for myself, and simply being aware of my circumstances. Having achieved this success gave me the confidence to believe I could use my mind to deal with pain on any level--even the "10 out of 10" pain of labor and delivery. If I could do that, I knew that on my days of doubting whether all that mumbo-jumbo works (because some days are harder than others), I could always look back on unmedicated, mind-tempered childbirth as a victory--possibly the greatest mindbody victory of all.
Enter Marie F. Mongan's book, Hypnobirthing. I purchased this book after reading positive reviews online and decided to use it as my guide to accomplishing this goal I considered so worthwhile. Upon reading it, my primary takeaway was Mongan's premise that fear is the enemy during childbirth. (And isn't that true of life in general?) Fear gives rise to tension, which gives rise to pain. And truly, in a normal childbirth, there is nothing to fear. Mongan reiterates many times the fact that the female body is meant to do everything it does during labor. Your uterus is supposed to contract--how else could it let the baby out? You're supposed to feel pressure--there's a seven-pound bundle of humanity about to come out of you. Thus, through a combination of meditation/visualization, breathing techniques, and simply telling yourself the truth, fear can be eliminated and pain drastically reduced.
And guess what? It worked!
As contractions came rolling down the hatch, I was able to maintain a state of mental calm, reminding myself that there was nothing to fear, that this was a perfectly natural and appropriate process. I reminded myself that soon after I had made the decision to try a natural birth, I was praying about it when I felt a strong assurance from God that I would accomplish this. I put on my iPod and, to the tune of some of my favorite ambient music, visited a place I've been many times in meditation--floating on a raft in brilliant sunlight on a perfectly tranquil bay. (Yeah, I know it sounds cheesy, but you can't argue with success.) And I must have appeared to be in some kind of tripped-out state, because when Anthony told the admitting staffer at the hospital that I was in labor, she looked at me--headphones on, eyes closed, practically slumped over in the wheelchair--and said quizzically, "Is she all right?" But I really was all right. Only two or three times during the labor did I start to feel fear--and let me tell you, when I did, those contractions were ten times worse than the others. When I kept fear out of my mind, the pain was present but bearable. And about 35 minutes after arriving at the hospital, the whole thing was over and I was holding our precious child.
In the nine days since this experience, I've had some time to reflect upon what it taught me, and yes, it does serve as a touchstone to remind me of my mind's power over pain. It also has instilled in me irrevocably the truth that fear can either cause or compound pain, and reminds me that I am not powerless against fear. This has spiritual as well as physical value. I can choose to tell myself the truth about any situation, even if it is just to say "God is in control" or "Jesus, I trust in You." I don't want fear to be an inevitability in my life, and this birth experience was a powerful reminder that it doesn't have to be. I am thankful for all of these lessons…though I almost always run from pain, it always has something to teach.