An Epidural Queen’s Guide to Natural Childbirth

I’ve given birth six times now, but until our newest baby I’ve always had epidurals. I can actually feel the scar in my back where the needle has gone in those five times. (The last anesthesiologist I had said I was one of the easiest patients he had that day: he just had to find that spot and the rest was easy.)

With our youngest daughter and our first son, I thought about going natural but circumstances intervened. This time, I really wanted to give it a fair shot. So, here’s how I made it happen  (fair warning to my male readers, you might want to go read a different post at this point. May I suggest 4 Things Children Don’t Need?):
a multi-para mom finally gives birth without an epidural

1. Educate yourself about childbirth.

Take classes or an online course. In my case, we had taken a class with our first baby but ended up not having the baby naturally. My personality would much rather research something than take a class about it.

So this time I read everything I could find about natural childbirth: I searched it out on Pinterest. I consulted some favorite blogs. And I got a few books at the library. My favorite ended up being:Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth.

Now, I am not nearly as “crunchy” as many of the stories in this book. But it did help to read different ways labor played out for real women.

Policies differ for each provider and hospital. Some hospitals may provide nearly any tool you might want (birthing ball, birth pool, etc.) and other places you might need to provide your own. If you’re going to give birth at home, your midwife will need to tell you what to have handy. Don’t assume: ask questions and know your options.

2. Prepare for the natural birth you want.

I called my labor bag my “bag of tricks.” I had written out affirmations (again, many of these were found via Pinterest), encouraging Bible verses, and a notecard reminding me of some of my labor options.

I had dried fruit and some coconut water hidden away. (My husband had agreed to give me these if I asked for them, even though our hospital policy is not to eat. As it turned out, once I was in the hospital and laboring, I didn’t want food anyway.)

I had my Kindle Fire loaded with music. (I had four different playlists lined up, since I couldn’t predict in advance what exactly I might want to listen to.)
Bible verses for encouragement in childbirthSome of the verses I used as encouragement (please note: I realise some of these are out of context for this application. But I’d rather be encouraged by an out of context Bible verse than an empty platitude or motivational statement):

  • Psalm 118:5, 13 ,17, 23-25
  • Song of Solomon 8:7
  • Isaiah 43: 1b-3a, 19 (My favorite: “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” I’m not sure our baby “sprang forth” but close enough!)
  • Isaiah 66:9 NCV (I liked this translation because, obviously: “…I will not cause pain without allowing something new to be born, says the Lord.”)
  • Lamentations 3:22-23 (always a favorite of mine)
  • Timothy 1:7 (I actually wrote this one out twice, in two different versions)

I didn’t use any special breathing techniques, other than reminding myself to take deep “cleansing” breaths in between contractions (in through the nose, out through the mouth).

Somewhere I read about breathing in relaxation and strength and breathing out tension and fear (it could have been in Gaskin’s book but I don’t remember for sure) so I tried to focus on that too.

3. Choose your support staff for labor wisely.

I’ve never given birth with a doula, but many women testify to their efficacy. I had a great nurse, a lovely midwife, and my husband. I do not like an audience when giving birth, but on occasion, since I have our babies in a teaching hospital, I haven’t had much choice.

This time I had a great nurse and midwife when I first went in but after the shift change (at 7 AM), I actually had an even BETTER nurse and midwife helping me. They completely supported me and really made the difference when it got hard.

My husband was not crazy about the natural childbirth thing at first. (As he said at the time, “I can’t stand to see how much you’re hurting.”) But after I asked him just to help me however I asked, he did great and I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else.

Some women may like to be surrounded by loved ones. Some women choose to have friends and family and a birth photographer and whatever else. That’s not my style, but if it’s yours, make sure everyone is on board with the plan. It’s hard enough to give birth naturally without someone asking, “Are you sure you don’t want some drugs?”

4. Surrender to the process of giving birth.

Birth is lovely, yes. But it’s also messy and difficult.

You’re going to have to check some of those inhibitions at the hospital door.

Things that are outside my comfort zone: being vocal. I had read that low moaning (or even “mooing” like a cow) can help, instead of screaming or high pitched sounds. Another silly thing that helps: “horse lips” (blowing air out and fluttering your lips). It sounds nutso, but it does help. Since it was just my husband and me in the room most of the time, I was able to do what I needed to do.

It might be outside your comfort zone to ask for what you need but this isn’t the time to be timid. I asked for the birth ball, my nurse brought it, and it made a huge difference. I sat on the ball, leaned forward onto the hospital bed and rocked. Or sometimes my husband applied counter pressure on my hips (the “double hip squeeze“) which really helped through some tough contractions.

In the early part of labor we walked the hallways. When I didn’t want to do that any longer, I moved from the bed to a rocking chair to the birth ball and back again. (My favorite was definitely the ball. I’d say I spent most of labor with the ball, at least until the last hour or so.)

Some women feel more comfortable laboring in the bathroom. Maybe because it’s easier psychologically? Anyway, if that helps you, then go for it. If you’re laboring naturally you’ll need to use the facilities often (and if you’re in a hospital with an I.V. you’ll feel like you’re floating in fluid even when your mouth is completely dry). I don’t think I’d want to be pushing a baby out in the bathroom, but it works for some women.

Another thing that really helped me give birth naturally: water.

When I was 6 cm dilated the midwife suggested a shower. I knew from previous births that water does help me, so into the shower we went. Well, I went. My husband had to stand in the bathroom to be sure I didn’t fall or faint (and I think at one point he was sleeping standing up with his head against the door!).

I’m a modest person, but I didn’t have proper swimwear and I didn’t care. I stayed in the shower for an hour, directing the spray at my belly and the contractions, and turning the water up even hotter as they got more intense. (It’s funny what sticks in your mind but I remember sitting there, breathing through really hard contractions by saying – sometimes out loud – “it’s washing away”.)

Anyway, all that to say: this is not the time to worry about whether you’re being too noisy or immodest or whatever. Go with it.

5. Accept what you can’t control.

Because I have our babies in the hospital, I had to have the I.V. and two bags of fluid, just in case I changed my mind about the whole “natural childbirth” thing. I didn’t love that (the I.V. always hurts and gets in the way of moving around), but my second nurse changed it to a hep lock so I could move more and so I could get in the shower and that helped.

This is where educating yourself pays off. Don’t make a birth plan so specific that you’re bound to end up frustrated when something isn’t available or allowed for you. Phrase your requests or needs starting with the words, “I’d like to try…” or “Could we…”

I’m so thankful for the midwife I had. When I got out of the shower because they needed to monitor the baby (they had agreed to do intermittent monitoring 15 minutes out of each hour), I was actually complete.

She didn’t even have time to set up the room or move the hospital bed around. After she checked me I had an intense contraction and rolled onto my side (I remember asking her if I could because I really NEEDED to). Then she told me to start pushing – what a relief that was! She was just sitting beside me on the end of the bed. Other nurses came in just barely in time for the little man to make his appearance. I’d been in labor for nine hours at that point but it sure seemed like it happened quickly at the end. I’m thankful she just went with it instead of making me get into some strange position or change something for her convenience.

One of my reasons for giving birth naturally was to have a healthy baby and go home 24 hours later. (Hey, if Duchess Catherine could go home in less than a day…) But that option was taken away when our baby ended up in the NICU.

It wasn’t anything I did or anything my midwife or nurses did wrong. Some things are just outside our control, which is something most natural childbirth proponents don’t talk about. (Turns out, not everything bad that happens in the hospital delivery room is because of “unnecessary interventions” or epidurals. Sometimes bad things just happen.)

Even though that aspect of natural childbirth didn’t work out for us, I’m still glad I made it through without drugs. My recovery was so much quicker and easier this way. And that made it a lot easier for me to visit our baby during his NICU stay. I can’t imagine walking all that way so many times a day if I hadn’t recovered so quickly or if the nurses had needed to check on me more often than they did.

In the end it doesn’t matter how they got here and what difficulties you hit along the way: the baby is what matters. So, natural or not, c-section or not, planned interventions or not, the most important thing is the baby in your arms.

mom and baby
If you want to share your tips for giving birth naturally I’d love to read them in the comments. And if you have a birth story – or a link to a birth story on your blog – feel free to share those too!

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  1. My natural birth story–I don’t exactly recommend the way I ended up doing it, but I have the honor of being the only woman my midwife knew of to give birth in the hospital without so much as a hep lock. (The moral of my story–before giving birth for the first time, ask your mom and any sisters about their birth stories. It’s possible that, like in my family, what’s normal for the women in your family is decidedly abnormal for women in general. It would have been better for me if I’d listened to my mom’s 3 birth stories and my sister’s 2 so that when mine started in exactly the same way all of theirs had, I would have known what to expect and would have been sure to get to the hospital more quickly.)

    • I just went to read your link and wow, what an incredible story! So glad Alexa didn’t need to be in the NICU for long. Those few short days are definitely hard enough!

      One thing I learned from my natural birth experience: nothing is “Textbook”. They say that contractions will get harder and more frequent but mine were pretty much always hard and never really settled into a pattern. If we had waited to go the hospital when they were five minutes apart, or whatever, he probably would have been born at home or in the car. ;)

  2. I was going to try a natural birth but chickened out with both Cayden and Allie. With Jacob I really wasn’t given a choice. The last time his heart rate dipped and wouldn’t come back up they rushed me for an emergency c section at 30 weeks. The Nicu days are tough but his stay wasn’t as long as I’d thought it would be.

  3. Well, I have had two. My oldest because I was too chicken to get the epidural. I was 22, and I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I was just glad that my husband was home. He came so fast and shocked everyone. Then, I was natural for my last because he came so fast there wasn’t time for anything else. By the time I wanted one, the nurse told me it was time to push. So, there you go. I didn’t make any birth plans or anything. I just rolled with whatever came my way. I did have an epidural with my daughter. I was so terrified that they gave me nitrous oxide to calm me down. But man, once I had it, the process was so much easier. She was born very quickly after that. Come to think of it, that is a pattern for me. Can’t say that I complain about that.

    Your little guy is absolutely adorable!

    • Did you give birth to your daughter overseas? I only ask because of the nitrous oxide. I know it’s common in births in the UK but it’s not available in the US. (I’m unclear as to why it isn’t.)

      • I did. She was born in Singapore. They had the nitrous oxide right next to the bed. It doesn’t work as well as you would hope. I remember the anesthesiologist not wanting to give me the epidural because I have a disc problem, but my little Chinese doctor said, “she is in distress. She needs one.” And my little doctor who stood all of 5 feet tall in her yellow, rubber fishing boots, held the nitrous over my face while I got my epidural. I don’t remember being in distress, but maybe I was. Whatever it was the epidural relaxed me and I had her less than a hour later. It took my daughter all of 4 hours to get here. I was induced, so this is pretty quick. Inductions were very common in Singapore. She was born on a lucky day and I had to answer lots of questions about why I was being induced. Overall, I had a good experience.

        • I always try not to be too envious of those of you who have fast labors. ;) Even the one where I got to the hospital at eight cm dilated didn’t go as fast as I’d hoped. (she was still high and in the wrong position)

          I was also curious about the nitrous oxide because we just watched an episode of “Call the Midwife” that made a big deal about it. It’s interesting to me to compare how similar and yet how different birth is all over the world.