Over and over again, I hear pregnant women tell me that the number one question they are asked when they express their desire to birth without drugs is, “Why would you want a natural birth?” In other words, why would you choose to feel the pain of labor when you could have medication?
Many well meaning friends and family members use the analogy of a toothache. They often say things like, “If you were going to have a tooth pulled, would you refuse the novocaine?” as though the two experiences were in any way related. This often trips up a newly pregnant woman as she is searching for support and validation for her choices from those she is close to. She secretly wonders if she is crazy for desiring to be fully present and aware for her upcoming birth. It seems like good logic—to receive pain medication—but it doesn’t necessarily feel right. This is when we need to ask deeper questions of ourselves and of others.
If we do it becomes clear that the dental decision is a mundane and insignificant one compared to the magnitude of the experience that giving birth represents. While you may get relief, there is no mystery, no magic, no miracle and surely no meaningful personal growth or transformation in having a tooth pulled. The point of view of the well-meaning friends and family suggests that “numbing out” is somehow better than being present. This of course, comes from a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of the pain in childbirth and from the bombardment of media images depicting childbirth as a miserable, difficult experience to be “delivered” from rather than welcomed and embraced as a life changing, heart opening rite of passage into parenthood.
When it comes to the toothache the pain we feel is a warning that something is wrong. In this case, our body attempts to try and get our attention so we can take care of the decaying situation. When we experience the labor pains of birth, we need to recognize them as the primary way the baby and our body are communicating with us. If we let the pain guide us to move in certain ways that will ease the passage for the baby and help to open us up in order to birth, we can begin to view this kind of pain as purposeful and therefore helpful. With this awareness, we can embrace the intensity that is birth, knowing that it is specifically designed to bring our babies from womb to world, and into our loving arms.
For the entire pregnancy, mothers anticipate the day when labor will arrive and the intense sensations of labor will begin. This anticipation implies that labor is something we can prepare for in advance. Mentally, we can psyche ourselves up much like an athlete does in order to prepare to be successful in their chosen sport. Knowing that labor is a marathon of sorts—in that it usually requires a fair amount of time and stamina—we can make sure that we are receiving optimal nutrition and rest as well as adequate exercise throughout our pregnancy. Spiritually and emotionally, we are aware of a great mystery taking place within us and can honor that by always being mindful and conscious of our thoughts and feelings regarding the arrival of our child. We know that our connection with the baby we are carrying is fundamental to his or her own sense of self and that by spending quality time each day to communicate positive and welcoming messages to our unborn child we can create a strong and beautiful bond from the beginning.
Certainly, no one gets excited about the prospect of being in pain and being uncomfortable for an extended time. But what is important to realize about the kind of pain that is a normal part of birth, is that it is not chronic or static—that it is rhythmic and therefore, manageable. The sensations of labor can easily be likened to waves on the ocean, emerging, cresting, rolling onto the shore, then subsiding and building back again all in a seamlessly elegant dance of motion and grace. This is why giving over to the profound process of natural childbirth is so empowering and such a perfect preparation for the important work of parenting where your ability to be flexible and strong, present and conscious are invaluable qualities.