My Experience: Medicated v. Natural Birth

Posted by  | Thursday, April 2, 2009  at 6:00 AM  
I had two very different deliveries and Hollie asked me to contrast the two births and share what I learned. With my first delivery, I opted to take the epidural during labor and the super pain meds they gave me after delivery (you can read about it HERE). After much research and reading, I decided that it would be better for the baby and for me if I gave birth naturally with my second baby (you can read the story of my natural birth experience HERE). I’m not going to go into all those reasons right now; I’m just going to relate my experience with the two different births. Going naturally has to be a decision you make on your own; not because someone else did it. I would just encourage you to do your own reading. Some books that I found helpful in making my decision: THIS one and THIS one.

The major differences I experienced in medicated v. natural birth:

1. I will admit up front that the epidural made the last part of my first birth a very nice experience. I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect after the meds kicked in and thought that pushing was actually fun and so exciting! I felt no pain and although it was definitely hard work, it was invigorating and such a rush to know my baby was coming soon! In contrast, without the epidural, I was pushing more out of desperation, to get the pain to end! Also, the first time it took them an hour to sew me up because I tore completely. I was enjoying my new baby and didn’t even know they were giving me stitches until I heard my Mom asked the doc how many stitches she was giving me. This time, I only got a 2nd degree tear, but it was extremely uncomfortable and painful while they were stitching me up. (I did receive localized numbing after the birth where they were stitching, but it still hurt a bunch!) But other than the huge pain issue, going naturally was (for me) a far better experience in every way.

2. Although many will say that an epidural will not slow down labor, I definitely don’t agree. I went from a 15 hour labor the first time to a 6 hour labor the 2nd time. I know that much of that was due to this being my second baby and my body knowing more what to do, but I really think it would have been a longer labor had I taken the epidural. Also, with the epidural I would not have been able to walk, and when I walked the halls I went from 4 cm to 8cm in 45 min. I think I would have stalled at 4cm for who knows how long if I hadn’t been able to walk!

3. I really think that being able to control my pushing more helped me to tear less the second time. The first time, my doc actually told me not to push so hard as my baby came out, but I couldn’t feel how hard I was pushing! But this time (after the initial shock of how powerful the contractions were) I was able to control my pushing and I didn’t tear as much.

4. I cannot tell you how much easier the recovery was without the epidural! I could walk immediately (versus not even be able to feel my legs.) I took a shower within a couple of hours (versus the next day) which made me feel so much better!!! I could actually feel when I needed to go to the bathroom (which was a huge issue for me last time – the epidural and super pain meds I received the first time totally stopped me up painfully for over a week!) And believe it or not, I think going naturally actually made me lose more weight at the hospital: I gained about 20 pounds both pregnancies. The first time, I lost 10 at the hospital and the other 10 later. This time I lost all 20 at the hospital. I had read previously that some women actually gain weight at the hospital because of all the fluids they receive. I really think it was because I didn’t have that IV pumping fluids into me the whole time that I lost so much weight immediately. And because I was able to be more mobile more quickly. Lastly, with my first birth I experienced an unbelievable pressure headache that lasted almost a week. Every time I leaned over the slightest bit, I thought my head was going to explode! It was bad enough that I almost passed out in Walmart when I bent down to pick up a can of food. After reading about epidurals, I really think the headache came from that. I didn't get any pressure headache this time at all since I wasn't on any pain meds!

Some tips I learned if you want to give birth naturally:

1. Do your research! You have to be fully convinced that this is the only way or you will give in when the pain hits. If you know you definitely want to give birth naturally, read THIS book. It was a little weird in parts, but really helps you believe that giving birth is a natural process and that every woman can do it. Half of the book is devoted to stories of women who gave birth naturally and it is just so interesting and encouraging! And if you are like me and your birth plan opts out of some routine shots and drops for your baby, bring a copy of your reasons to the hospital with you. I was seriously confronted on my birth plan AFTER delivery. Come on, I could hardly remember my own birthday after all that sleep deprivation, hard work, and excruciating pain, let alone my research! I was confronted immediately after birth and also woken up around 6:30 am the next morning by a phone call from the pediatrician’s office asking why I had refused normal shots and drops. Give me a break! I finally had to say, “I’m sorry; I am so tired that I honestly don’t remember exactly why I decided to forgo those drops, but I know I did my research and had my reasons so I am going to stick with my birth plan.” It would definitely have been easier if I had brought copies of my research with me.

2. Make a birth plan – it can be as simple as “no meds at all” or very specific to each part of labor, but it does make a difference. I decided to be specific because of my experience the first time. With Karis, I wanted to nurse immediately, but they whisked her away too quickly and I was too overwhelmed to speak up. I was also declining a lot of normal procedures the 2nd time and knew if it wasn’t in writing, signed and dated, they would not abide by my wishes.

3. Talk about it. Tell everyone you plan to do it naturally. If you are like me (not the least bit brave, but a good bit prideful and stubborn :), this really works. I actually talked about it so much that in my mind, pain meds were simply not an option. I can honestly say that I never even once considered asking for pain meds. Even when going through the incredible pain of transition, asking for meds never even ran through my head.

4. Consider hiring a doula. Yes, they are expensive – try to find a friend or a doula-in-training who will give you a lower price. I was lucky enough to find a certified doula who would give me a break in price because I opted out of the pre-labor visits and post-partum visit, and because it was my 2nd birth so she knew it wouldn’t take as long. Instead of the normal $550, she only charged me $250. Was she worth it? Every penny! My husband was not keen on shelling out that much money at first, but afterwards he said over and over how glad he was that she was there. (Especially since he pretty much zonked out when I went through transition and was on the floor with smelling salts the whole time I was pushing! lol :) And my Mom, who got there right before I went through transition, said she was amazed at how much more calm and relaxed I was than with my first labor. The main thing that the doula did was to help me relax. Which might not sound like much, but it was amazing the difference it made in the pain! It wasn't any weird relaxation technique -- she basically would just tell me which body parts she saw me tensing up. Usually, my shoulders made the most difference. As soon as she would tell me to relax my shoulders, and I did, I would feel intense relief. She also taught me how to breathe though the contractions like they were waves. Which does sound weird, I know, but once again, it helped somehow. I can't really explain it, but it was a huge difference from when I tried to do it by myself with Karis. And she showed Mark how to massage my back muscles that were tense from the contractions. I know these may sound like little things, but when you are in that much pain, they help a great deal! Now we probably won’t hire a doula again, since she taught Mark how to do it all, but for the first time, it was well worth the money.

5. I would greatly recommend that you give birth at a birthing center that utilizes midwives or just do a home birth with a midwife. This is definitely going to be my plan next time and here are some examples of why:

A midwife will encourage a natural birth rather than discourage it: When I arrived at the hospital, they asked me to give my pain level a number, with ten being the highest. (I hate that question, by the way :) I had labored at home as long as possible and was honestly in more pain than ever in my life, so I said 9. The nurse (who had just read my birth plan) looked at me and said, “Well if it’s a 9 now, then you ought to go ahead and take the epidural right now because there is no way you are going to make it without pain meds -- its going to get a whole lot worse!” Not very encouraging for someone who honestly didn’t know how she could handle much more pain!

I believe that most (but I know not all of them :) nurses and doctors would rather you be medicated because you are a lot easier to handle. When I first told the various doctors at my OB office that I wanted to go naturally, they all tried to talk me out of it! I couldn’t understand why until I was in the delivery room. When I had the epidural, I was calm and could follow their directions easily. In fact, my OB was helping another lady give birth so I did the majority of my pushing with the nurse. When Karis’ head crested, the nurse instructed me to stop and wait for the doc to come in. It was about 10 minutes before she was there and I could continue. There is no way in the world I would have been able to wait for the doc without the epidural! It was hard enough to wait for the next contraction because I was so desperate to get her out so the pain would end! And this time, it took me quite a while to even hear what they were telling me to do once I went through transition. I was so overcome with the pain at first that I tensed up and let out my breath in little spurts instead of holding it. And it really took a couple of minutes before I could even hear what they wanted me to do, let alone be able to follow it! I remember saying “I’m sorry” several times because I knew they were giving me directions but I couldn’t focus enough to follow. It just took me a while to get myself together to be able to push. So I understand why it is easier for the hospital staff if you are medicated.

A midwife is also more experienced and comfortable with different laboring positions. Did you know that lying on your back with your feet up in the air is one of the most painful positions possible for a woman in labor? My baby was turned slightly so to make her go the right way, they helped me to a hands and knees position. It worked, and (after the pain of getting there) I actually felt a lot more comfortable in that position. My doctor let me try pushing in that position for one or two contractions, but then she said that she just couldn’t help me as much in that position. So I pushed the rest of the time in the “normal” position. Most good mid-wives would have been comfortable with me in other positions and I would have been way more comfortable as well!

6) Finally, no matter what kind of birth you want to have, my biggest advice is to pray about it. Pray specifically about every single detail you are concerned with. One of my biggest concerns actually had nothing to do with the actual birth – it was about my toddler. Her grandparents (who are really the only ones who ever babysit) live 3 hours away. I was so worried that my water would break again and we would have to rush to the hospital and drop her off with someone that had never taken care of her. I prayed about the timing of this birth pretty much every day. And it was amazing the way God worked it out. I was so sick the day I went into labor that her grandparents came down to help out, not even knowing I was going to the hospital that night! So they were already there when we left! Isn’t God amazing the way he answers prayers! Another example of God's goodness: that discouraging nurse who told me I ought to just take the epidural changed shifts right before I went through transition. And the new nurse was absolutely wonderful! God knew I definitely needed someone nice and encouraging through the most painful part. I may not have had everything go exactly as I had planned and hoped, but I definitely saw God’s faithfulness and provision throughout my labor and delivery.

Snuggling after our first nursing

2 months old now!


KC said...

I did Bradley Classes and labored without meds for 18 hours, but when transition hit, my training went out the window and I was unable to stay on top of the relaxation. I lost focus and, like you, couldn't even hear what people were telling me. I asked the nurse the same questions over and over because I kept forgetting the answer or that I had already asked! Looking back, my birth was still a great experience and my goal of giving my baby the least amount of medicine possible was accomplished, but if I do it again, I hope I can hold out during transition. Maybe I'll take your advice and hire a doula :)

Mark'sMeg said...

Yeah, the doula definitely helps! I've also had several people tell me that the transition gets easier the more times you do it, so I am praying that will be true for us next time :)

AnniePat said...

I'll weigh in on this one, after two births, both sans medication. My first daughter was born in a hospital, and I was determined not to have meds. I was not necessarily opposed to other interventions, however, and the doc did break my water. HOWEVER, my OB was NOT THERE when I hit 10cm and the nurses were telling me to breathe?!?! WHAT?? But I was a newbie, so I didn't know any better (and I never took any birthing classes). After it was all said and done, I was pretty ticked at my OB. I went to a birthing center for baby #2, and did a waterbirth. It was AMAZING! Mark'sMeg, your second experience wasn't better just because of not having meds...the second is just better PERIOD. Everything was easier. My labors were almost identical, but I handled it so much better the second time around because I knew what to expect. But pushing that baby out will always HURT like crazy, but so so so worth it all. Oh, and I speed-read Ina May right before my first birth and I'm pretty sure that's what helped me actually go into labor, because I had been SO anxious until I read all the beautiful stories.

Good job going all the way! After I had my first daughter, I felt like I had joined a club that I didn't know even existed until that moment. There's nothing like that oxytocin for a good rush!

Mark'sMeg said...

Oohh, a waterbirth sounds AMAZING! I'd really like to do that next time!

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