A few months ago, I asked women to share their natural childbirth experiences with me (in the form of a survey) so that I could compare and contrast their stories, find out what similarities there are among women, in hopes of better preparing first time moms for the experience of birth. Please see the end of this post for all the wonderful contributing women.
Each birthing experience is unique. Every mother knows this. It’s unique because the environment, the time, the people, and the woman’s body are never exactly the same. Nor is the baby the same; his or her position, size and gestational age also play a role in the birth. How then, can a woman prepare for the birth of her child, whether it’s her first or her fifth, if things are always so different? How can she know what it will be like and thus have the calm and focus she needs, in order for it be a positive experience? It starts with viewing birth as a natural event!
Women’s bodies have near-perfect knowledge of childbirth; it’s when their brains get involved that things can go wrong.
PEGGY VINCENT, Baby Catcher
Understand that fear and anxiety are pain-inducing. You cannot birth calmly when stricken with fear. Learning about the actual process by which a baby is birthed vaginally can help tremendously. If you understand how effacing, dilating and the baby’s descent all happen, AND you can visualize them, it takes away the mystery of it all. Many times, we’re simply afraid of the unknown. I learned a great many things in the following book:
Do not expect it to be like an induction, if you’ve heard horror stories – Natural labor is nothing like an induction! From my own experience and from hearing many other women’s stories, an induction can be much more painful than when your body goes into labor on its own. The reason being, a woman’s body changes in a more gradual way when the process is natural. Pitocin (or similar) is forceful and causes contractions that your body isn’t precisely ready for. They are usually stronger from the start. Because of this, a woman who has been induced is far more likely to request (and honestly need) pain medication and/or an epidural. You cannot compare contractions brought on artificially to those that your own body produces, so stay positive when going natural!
Please plan to spend the majority of your labor at home! This cannot be stressed enough. Of all the women I’ve talked to, who would have changed something about their labor and delivery, the #1 answer is that they would have spent more time at home!! Real births don’t happen like in the movies – they take time! Now, that being said, some women do finish rather quickly, especially if it’s a subsequent pregnancy, so pay attention to the “signposts” (see below), but the vast majority of women have hours of labor to go through before the birth. But why spend time at home? Because you have complete freedom it feels more natural because you are familiar with your surroundings. Also, you won’t feel pressured to advance because you haven’t made a trip anywhere.
There are three emotional stages, or “signposts” that most women experience during labor and delivery. For a complete explanation of these, and a lot of great information, please see this article. But to summarize, most women go through the Excitement stage, the Seriousness stage, and the Self-Doubt stage. From my research, the last stage occurs and then roughly 30 minutes later the woman gives birth (as long as there are no complications). It is NORMAL to feel like you cannot go on at the end, and if you go into the experience knowing that you will likely think this and that it means you are almost done, it makes it that much easier to carry on!
And now, to get to the title of the post! There are two ways in which we feel childbirth: the physical sensations, and the emotional responses we have to what’s happening both in and around us.
So, how do contractions feel?
They have been described as:
- intense menstrual cramps
- tightness or squeezing
- waves of intensity
- or, a combination of these
Many women have shared that the strongest contractions wouldn’t have been quite so bad had they known they were as strong as they’d get. This means, most women find contractions manageable, they just fear harder ones (which sometimes never come)!
And how does it feel when your membranes rupture (water breaks)?
Many women experience a gush. Sometimes it’s more like a leak, or as if you’re urinating. And others actually feel a “pop” before fluid starts coming. At any rate, it’s not a terrible thing, unless you happen to be sitting on an expensive piece of furniture at the time! I am all for leaving it to happen on its own because when you have it done artificially by a doctor or midwife, it can cause induction-style contractions that wouldn’t have happened yet. While that might be looked upon as a good thing because it may “move things along”, it’s also known to sometimes be the cause of a downward spiral of interventions. So, do your research and decide beforehand how you want to handle your membranes rupturing.
How does it feel to push?
It has been described as:
- Intense pressure
- Back pain
- Stinging or burning sensation
- Awesome because of the feeling of the baby moving down through the birth canal.
- Productive and motivating
- Exercising and pushing through a sprint or lifting heavy weights.
How do women feel emotionally?
Well the “signposts” certainly are accurate, but there are also additional emotions depending on how happy she is with where she is laboring and who is with her. If you don’t feel comfortable with the idea of a home birth, you are going to have tension and anxiety added to everything else if you go ahead and have one. If you are exceptionally pleased to be giving birth in your own bed, you won’t have those negative emotions to deal with. Same goes for having a hospital or birth center birth, so choose wisely. If your husband is the only one you want with you, aside from any staff, then make sure he knows what you would like him to do. If you have a friend or doula with you as well, they should be aware of your wishes prior to the birth.
Yes, childbirth is always different, but from all the stories I’ve read (as well as drawing from my own experiences) I’ve found that there are definitely some similarities among women, both in our emotional responses as well as in some of the sensations we feel. Birth can be a beautifully intense experience!