Natural Birth Isn't About Getting a Gold Star


I have had two epidurals -- one that worked and one that didn't, both ending in vaginal birth. But that doesn't mean I don't wish I'd had a totally intervention- and drug-free birth both times.

And no, my aim for a natural birth had nothing to do with bragging rights, wanting a gold star, martyrdom, or thinking I was a better mom than those who don't. Having a natural birth has nothing to do with anyone else's opinion -- it has to do with the health of mom and baby.

A Baby Story and What to Expect were the limit of my education the first time around, which is to say I was pretty dang clueless. The biggest risk I knew to having an epidural was a needle going in my spine was painful and creepy. After my water was artificially ruptured for no reason and my face-up kiddo slammed into my already-injured pelvis, and I had no idea you could do anything but lie on a bed and writhe in pain, I said, "Drugs PLEASE!" His birth went really well, despite my legs being totally useless and needing people to keep them from falling off the stirrups. I could still feel when to push in a tiny place on the right side of the pelvis that wasn't 100 percent numb ... barely.

My second birth, I was much more educated. I learned about the real risks to me from an epidural, including an increased risk of c-section, sticking me on my back, which closes the pelvis by almost a third and can MAKE babies get stuck, cause vaginal trauma and tears, and seriously increase pain. Not to mention spinal fluid leaking into the spinal column or permanent nerve damage to the spine. Epidurals increase the need for pictocin, which ends up resulting in a c-section almost HALF the time. There are increased risks of death, infection, scarring, and serious trauma to the vaginal canal and uterus from all of that. As easy and simple as a question of "pain meds or not" seems to be on the surface, it's actually way, way more complex. And that's just risk to you.

For the baby, in response to pain signals, your body cranks up the hormone oxytocin that helps prevent "distress" in the baby and works as a natural pain med for you AND YOUR BABY. But when you block your body's pain sensors, YOU may not feel the pain, but your baby, without oxytocin, feels more pain than before the drugs. Restricted movement for mom means an increased risk for vacuum or forceps extraction, which can damage baby's scalp or break their collar bones; the closed pelvis can get them stuck and cause trauma to the head, neck, and shoulders; the inability to feel when to push if you end up totally numb can cause a baby to go into distress. And if you end up needing a c-section, there are potentially life-long repercussions including not having beneficial bacteria to start and not having the fluid in the chest squeezed out naturally, to name a few.

The idea of a simple pain med seems like a no-brainer ... why be in pain if you don't have to? But it is way more complex than that. It has absolutely nothing to do with trying to "prove" something or thinking you earn a spot on the top pedestal of Mommyhood from the get-go. It's just based in scientific fact -- having a natural birth is safest for both mom and baby, has the least amount of risks of temporary and permanent damage to both, and is something that should be the standard, not rare or "weird."

We don't take drugs "just because we can" normally. If your back hurts, you stand up and stretch and change positions, not stay in the same painful spot and pop a painkiller. Same thing with birth. When there are so many ways to help alleviate pain and make birth less traumatic to either party that aren't drugs, "natural" should be the default with pain meds used when the normal, logical, and risk-free solutions have already been utilized. Women who aim for a natural birth need to stop being treated like they're trying to personally offend because guess what? Their choices on their birth HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU. It's illogical to get angry at someone for taking normal, risk-free measures BEFORE they try drugs, and accuse them of having a superiority complex when they show it can be done. It's also illogical to pretend that there is no risk to a needle and tube in your spine, whether or not you feel that the risks are acceptable for you and your baby.

What's your stance on natural birth?

Image via Pewari Naan/Flickr

pain management, labor & delivery, natural parenting


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Megara Megara

I have had two natural (intervention and medication-free births), and I cannot count the number of times people have told me they don't want to be a "martyr," or even "there's no special heaven for natural birth moms." And because I chose an out-of-hospital birth, I got the added bonus of the "my baby would have DIED" stories. Really, with all of these babies I know that were on the brink of death in the hospital, doesn't make me think hospitals are very safe! I think women who criticize other's birth choices are just insecure about their own.

Meg Moore

Awesome article.

Pishyah Pishyah

I know this was included up there but I'd like to also point out that when getting an epidural there is a catheter involved which is known to cause incontinence. 

douxm... douxmusique

Yeah, of the naturally birthing parents I know of, they do have a superiority complex. They do look down on other's birth experiences.  For instance, BFF had baby #2 vbac in a hospital completley drug free, completely complication free. In our circle of "friends" or acquaintances, it was not to be compared to their birth center or home births. She was treated as another one of "those women" who had their babies at a hospital tied down to a bed. Was not the case. Baby #3 was born, in an hour, in an unplanned homebirth in her bathtub. Seriously. NOW she's part of "their" club.

In my personal experiences and observations I have noticed that mothers who have chosen the med free option think they are better. It's seems kind of like "I would never think of putting anything other than name brand clothing on my kids. And anyone who does is not worthy of being a parent". And yes, i'm aware clothing and medical decisions are not the same. This divide between women and their choices is comparable to the arguments between WOHMs and WAHMs. its sad and ridiculous. Getting the education out to Dr's is a lot more important than judging women who may have never known that they could make their own choices than to argue about what's best and put others down for making a different decision.

miche... micheledo

Great article!

Christine Thompson

Thank you, thank you, thank you!! This line "my choices have nothing to do with you" should be my mantra. My choice to have a natural birth is not a judgement of your scheduled c-section, my choice to breastfeed is not a judgement of your formula feeding, my choice to co-sleep is not a judgement of you letting your baby "cry it out", my choice to baby wear is not a judgement of your toddler harness, my choice to cloth diaper is not a judgement of your using disposables. As a mom, I have to make the best choices for me and my family, and that is all that matters.

Rachel Hanses

I am so sick of people getting offended when I talk about breastfeeding or natural birth. These choices are the BEST for mom and baby. I don't judge what others do. I made a choice that benefits my child the most. My child was my #1 reason for going medication free. I wanted her entry into this world to be full of mommy oxytocin, love and warm delicious breast milk. I took classes and learned coping mechanisms, dragged my husband to Bradley birth classes. Did Kegals, stretches, visited a chiropractor. I worked REALLY FREAKIN' HARD AT THIS!

When I ran my marathon, people said "great job, we're so proud of you."

When I finished my natural birth people said "Whatever, I wanted an epidural and I didn't feel bad asking for one."

Where is the support mommies? Why is a marathon of running an accomplishment yet me giving birth naturally is just to piss everyone else off?

Jeann... JeannieMS

I'm one of those who had a drug-free labour my second time. I hope I don't act superior, but I am proud of myself. My first birth went badly and I kind of blame myself, so I am pretty proud I got through the second the way I did. It's for me much more of a personal triumph ... But I'm sure it couldcome across as feeling superior. I hope not.

Toddl... ToddlerBrain82

THANK YOU for this article. There are so many important things pointed out here. I'm glad you mentioned the beneficial bacteria that babies pick up from mom's birth canal. My c-section baby, who is now close to five years old, has struggled for his entire life with various digestive problems. Nothing severe enough to be diagnosed as a disorder or a disease, but he has dealt with various food intolerances, gas, and diarrhea for most of his little life and it's a risk from c-sections that nobody is really aware of. There are so many reasons, for both our babies and ourselves, to try to keep natural, normal events such as birth and breastfeeding in as natural and normal a state as possible. Nature is so complex, and we can cause so many problems by messing around with it.

Megara Megara

Rachel Hanses - I completely agree with you! Natural birth is hard, and doing it is quite an accomplishment. It's fine if you don't choose to do it, but please let me be proud of myself for doing something hard. I could never and have no desire to run a marathon but I don't put down people who do, that's a great thing to do!

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