I remember my final trimester of pregnancy like it was yesterday. My biggest fear was how much childbirth would hurt. I'm a wimp with a very low tolerance for pain, and I also have a fear of needles, and fear of the unknown. Every time that I asked a mother what contractions feel like, I couldn't get a straight answer. The consensus seemed to be to "take the epidural." What people didn't know, because I did not tell them, was that I didn't know if I wanted an epidural. My mom had given birth to both my sister and me with natural childbirth and now that she's been gone for so many years and I felt like she has been watching over me, I wanted to make her proud. Plus a bigger fear of mine than pain is my terror of needles.
My way of making up my mind was to ask around on the birth stories board of whattoexpect.com as well as various people on twitter such as @HeidiMurkoff, people who were doulas, and some OB nurses. Many people suggested Ina May Gaskin's book Guide to Childbirth, which was an amazing read. That book aided me in the decision that it would be best for me to avoid the epidural and reaffirmed my belief that women's bodies are made for childbirth. Basically, I understood that women have been giving birth for thousands of years and are fully capable of giving birth in whatever manner we choose to do so. I am in no way an extremist and I do not like when women are judged for opting for an epidural or elective c-section. Every mother-to-be has the right to choose her birth plan, and regardless of how it happens, we all get the same amazing "push present," a beautiful baby who we have the pleasure of raising. ***Just have to disclose now that I think the idea of a "push present" where a significant other is expended to buy diamonds for the mother to be a little unusual. For me, the push present was baby J.***
I'm not going to lie and say that contractions are painless; heck, we wouldn't refer to "labor" as such if it were all fun and games, but contractions do not last forever and they come with purpose because each contraction gets a woman closer and closer to meeting that baby who has taken over her womb for what feels like an eternity. What I will say for any woman that is considering either going natural or holding off on getting pain relief for as long as possible that it helps to think of contractions as ocean waves. Each one starts small and slow, builds up to a peak, then crash back down with a rest period before the next one. Actually when I had my contractions, I imagined that I was riding ocean waves while I did my lamaze breathing, and that helped since watching the ocean relaxes me. The contractions eventually will come closer together and build in intensity, which I believe is intentional, since each contraction prepares you for the next one. If they started out with high intensity from the get-go, we would all be crying out for pain relief right at the beginning. I do want to be honest and inform my readers that I did beg for an epidural when I was 9.5 cm dilated, and then of course realized how silly it would be to get an epidural at that point when I was so close to being done with the whole experience.
My least favorite part of birth happens as the baby crowns and has an appropriate name: "The ring of fire." Feeling the head coming out does burn, but once the shoulders are born the baby just slithers out, and hearing the little (or in J's case, intense scream) cry is the best pain relief. After giving birth to J, I was exhausted initially, but after eating dinner, I had this incredible surge of energy.
All in all, giving birth is an incredible experience and there isn't a thing about it that I would change. To all my pregnant readers, don't freak yourself out thinking too much about birth because fear of the unknown is much scarier than what actually happens. Birth itself is not scary; it is amazing! When you see and hold your precious bundle, you will see how worthwhile it was, and if you're like me plan to do it again in the future.
Any other readers want to share their experiences? :)