Going “Natural” and Being a “Hero”

Posted on July 8, 2009. Filed under: Epidural | Tags: , |

It makes me so mad when I hear women say “I am not one of those women who think I have to prove something and not get drugs.” Are they just trying to justify themselves with that? Do they think they have to defend their decision to use drugs in their birth? I have never had a client come to me and that she wants to go natural and the reasons for it are bragging rights. Quite frankly, I would rather hear the woman that says she thinks she is too wimpy to do it without an epidural. Then I can tell her how wrong she is and that she is completely capable of birthing her baby without an epidural because I have never met a woman that I thought couldn’t do it, that every woman has the strength and ability to do and that yes she may need help but she can totally and completely do it! I would tell her about a client of mine that is a girly girl and self admitted wimp that naturally birthed an OP baby after a HARD 36 hour labor and how she was happier with that birth experience than with her first epiduralized birth that included 25 hours of pitocin, 50 stitches from an episiotomy, a vaccum assisted birth, and a baby with meconium aspiration that spent 10 days in the NICU.

And while we are on it, going natural does not mean not having a c section. It means not using drugs or interventions although if you tell a couple of my med free moms that because they got an IV line they don’t count as having had a natural birth they might smack you for it. But really, if you are having a completely natural birth, you are not medicating, having an IV line, having an episiotomy or having any other routine intervention. You are just having your baby. If you are not having a c section then you are having a vaginal birth. It’s ok to say vagina or vaginal or vaginally. Really, it is.

But back to the whole hero thing…it just drives me nuts when I hear the whole “I don’t have to be a hero in the delivery room” bit. It has absolutely nothing to do with being a hero or with what anyone else thinks. Moms that come to me that want my help in having a natural birth do it because it is safer and healthier for both the mom and the baby. They want the natural experience of birthing their child with their body. They want to give their baby a gentle start without drugs in their systems. They want to minimize the risks of forceps and vacuum and cesareans. They want to minimize the risks of tearing because they have the ability to feel what is happening as it happens. They want to move during their labor and not be forced to push on their back. They want to reduce the risks of breastfeeding issues because having an epidural can cause latch problems for the baby. They do not want to run the risk of having pitocin because the epidural over relaxed their uteri. They understand that by having drugs they increase the risk of fetal distress and c section. They could care less about being a hero in the delivery room. I doubt any of them ever even had that thought.


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12 Responses to “Going “Natural” and Being a “Hero””

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I think that natural birthers often talk of it as being “transformative” and the power of doing the work of labor. Others mistake that talk for being the mother’s only or primary motivation for going drug-free. It may seem like mom wants to be the hero because when you write your birth story, most people don’t focus on why they chose not to have an epidural, they focus on the experience and many people experience really positive feelings and outcomes when they go natural. Childbirth doesn’t have to be horrible or merely something to endure, it can be wonderful.

“Childbirth doesn’t have to be horrible or merely something to endure, it can be wonderful.” EXACTLY and that idea is so unheard of or impossible for some people to fathom. I find it a point that I end up discussing regularly and many times it’s as if someone only needed to hear those words said out loud to begin believing it. My frustration with the hero comment is a result of those making the comments dissing a process that they refuse to acknowledge as a possibility. I will say it again, I will never judge a mom for getting an epidural and I would support someone who hired me that planned to get one, I just wish that those who like to refer to natural birthers as wannabe heros would be open to the possibility of it being otherwise.

You know that I am right here with you. I often say, maybe a little bitterly and harassed at this point, that it is the mother who submit themselves to drugs and knives that are going in for heroics. there is nothing weak about recovering from surgery or being pumped with chemicals. It is, in fact, the mothers who use their own bodies to complete the simple, athletic duty of “natural” (not heroic!) birth that get off with no medal. Thank you for this post, Amy, as always.

I thought of you when I was writing this. And you are so right, it’s a lot harder to recover from a c section or endure hours of pitocin than it is to have natural childbirth. I know you have had some harassment about your “badge” and you should be very proud of yourself without ever seeing the eye roll. Luckily I have created a little tribe of natural birthers here at Camp Casey in Korea. My moms are up here spreading the word and I am so proud of them all!

Unfortunately, it is often the well-intentioned OB nurses who gently encourage laboring mothers to submit to medications and interventions that offer up the whole “you don’t have to be a hero” line, which serves to minimize the role of an unmedicated birth. It makes me cringe, too.

I can’t see the reason to go natural. The risks of epidural are not that high, or babies would be dying everywhere. Obviously, they are not. Even if the pain is manageable, I would rather not chance the possibility of having PTSD from the experience. MDC is loaded with women in the birth trauma area who won’t natural birth again, even if the birth was successful, because the experience was so bad they had emotional issues and didn’t enjoy the experience. Having a natural birth isn’t necessary to enjoy the baby, but being so emotionally damaged from the experience is a huge problem, even if the natural birth is successful. I’ve seen a natural birth, and I was highly unimpressed. The mother made it through, but the experience was so painful and so bad she purposefully never had another child. She tells people about it, too. The mother was commended for her successful, natural birth–and she scoffs at it.

Nah, unmedicated birth is a sport for some folks. I’m not that sort of athlete. I don’t really care about the birth process, as long as it is successful. I just want the baby. I’m not crunchy. So no, it really isn’t that important unless you want it. Go for it if it works for you, but don’t expect other people to envy it. Natural process or not, I don’t want to risk any unnecessary suffering. I just want the baby.


Thanks for the comment. I do have a lot to say in response to your comments, however, and please do not take this as a personal attack because it’s not but you are very wrong about the risks of epidurals. It’s not so much that epidurals pose a death threat to infants as much as they do expose unborn babies to the drugs in them. Please read my post https://doulamomma.wordpress.com/2009/06/11/to-epidural-or-not-to-epidural/ to learn more about epidural risks. In short, epidurals create a cascade of interventions. There is a much higher risk of a need for vacuum extraction and for forceps delivery which usually necessitate a very large episiotomy. If you want to talk about PTSD associated with that type of birth, I know more than a few moms who had more than their share of trauma as a result. Not to mention, what kind of trauma do you think a baby goes through when they have to have a froceps delivery? In addition, there is a greater chance that you will need pitocin as the epidural will over relax the body. The long term effects of pitocin is not even known. To learn more, please read https://doulamomma.wordpress.com/2009/06/09/the-truth-about-pitocin-and-labor-induction/.

Epidurals and pitocin are also linked with increased risk for cesarean which means a longer recovery time for mom, affects on her future pregnancies and a very ungentle entrance into the world for baby. PTSD has been proven as a side effect for c sections as well and I can tell you first hand that it extremely difficult. We have a 32% c section rate in the US and one of the highest epidural rates as well. Having an epidural doubles your chance of having a c section. Both of these stats play into why the US also ranks 29th in the world for infant mortality. That means 28 other countries in the world have fewer babies dying that we do.

I think, based on the research that I have done and the work I have done as a doula, that the mothers that emotionally and physically prepare for natural birth their entire pregnancies are much less likely to suffer emotional damage and have a much higher rate of satisfaction with their births. A recent study in UK found that 68% of mothers who birthed naturally were satisfied with their birth experiences as opposed to only 28% of medicated births. That is HUGE! And most of my clients are second and third time moms who were dissatisfied with their first (medicated) birth due to the episiotomy, lasting back pain form the epidural, breastfeeding problems with their baby, lack of participation in their births, etc.

I also know because of my work as a doula that having a doula present does reduce the perception of pain and provides a calming effect for the mother. I have witnessed MANY natural births, in fact, I have never had a client to have an epidural, and not one single mother had emotional scarring as a result. In fact, they were quite empowered form the experience and all plan to birth naturally in the future. They were all thrilled with the fact that they could walk so soon after the birth and with how great they felt after. I have had one mom tear a third degree tear (on an old episiotomy scar) and the rest were tears requiring no more than 5 stitches. All reported that within a week they felt fine. Every one of these moms was able to successfully breastfeed within the hour with no latch issues because their babies were completely alert rather than sleeping off the effects of drugs.

You say you do not care about the birth process but what you do not realize is that the way we birth DOES matter. It matters for the baby and for the mother. For you, that may be having an epidural and frankly, that’s fine, that’s your right. But if you were truly informed and educated of the risks to your baby and your body would you make the same decisions? If you had the support and the preparation and a peaceful birth environment and an educated partner can’t you fathom that it would not be a terrible thing? Maybe not for yourself but for many many women, this is the case and it has absolutely nothing to do with being ‘crunchy’. I have had some very UNcrunchy and mainstream clients. Not one of the mothers I have ever doula’d for expected anyone to envy them, as you say. It had nothing to do with anything except for owning their births and providing their babies with the very best start.

What American women have to learn before the system changes and the outcomes improve is that birth is not about suffering. That idea is what facilitates this whole problem. Birth is a very beautiful and life altering experience that when left untampered is very calm and peaceful for both mom and baby. When we begin to trust the process rather than fearing it, the pain of childbirth is not suffering but a process. I am sure it does feel like suffering when you are stripped of your clothes, tethered to a bed, denied food and water and one on one support and given drugs (pitocin) that cause stronger, longer and closer together contractions than you own body could ever make. Imagine instead if you were moving around and felt safe and peace and love and were able to eat and drink and be free of IV lines and monitors. I can assure you that the pain is completely different from what I just described.

I think women should be envied for giving birth, heck they should be envied for the way their bodies are able to change and grow the baby in the first place!!! I have had 3 medicated births and have no complaints about them really other than I was unable to move around and was stuck in bed for hours. To me that is unnecessary suffering because I was greatly limited on my movements and I don’t like being restricted. Epis don’t always work so thinking you are going to breeze through labor and delivery because you “get the drugs” may leave you unprepared. With my last baby the epi only worked on one side so I still felt every contraction even though the nursed tried to “even out” the meds by having flip from side to side. A woman who chooses to not have meds isn’t trying to be a hero, she is simply wanting to birth in the way she feels she is meant to do. Do some women cave, of course they do but then there are others that go in wanting the drugs and end up not getting them because labor turns out not to be the dreaded experience they believed it to be. As for your friend that had the bad experience, it happens but it also happens with women who get the drugs and they choose also NOT to have more children. I know a woman who chose to have all 3 of her children naturally. That point is just to say we all “know someone…”. How a woman chooses to labor is just as much as a personal decision as whether she chose to have kids in the first place. I think as women we should be more supportive of those decisions instead of trying to put each other down for them.

I “just want the baby”, too. During my first labor, I was given Pitocin and, finally, a “mild” narcotic to “relax” my body because the Pitocin was making me shake and vomit. During my delivery, where I pushed for three hours, my son’s heart stopped beating. Was it the cord? Was it a problem with my body or his? No, it was the cascade of interventions that overwhelmed his tiny body. He went straight to the NICU, where he stayed overnight. I finally held him eight hours after he was born and had to bottle-feed him formula because of the medications in my system. I had so many problems after that delivery, that I was sore and weak for two months- my body felt ravaged. I was sent to the ER when I came to pick my son up from the hospital four days after he was born. He was able to nurse and eventually was a very healthy child, but I almost lost that baby.
I have since birthed three healthy babies naturally. I prepared for each of those births, and enjoyed the fact that my body could deliver a child without intervention. I was also prepared to accept intervention, should it be necessary, but my idea of necessary had narrowed to exclude “because the doctor/ nurses said”. Many interventions are offered to make birthing “easier” on the mother. In my mind, however, not welcoming my own child into my own arms, to nurse at my breast is not easier. To take the risk that I will not be able to mentally break down and effectively complete the task of pushing because the physical sensation to push is not there is not easier. To flood the tiny miracle of life that my body has worked to create for nine months, whose health and well-being I have assumed responsibility for, with chemicals and drugs that it is not fully equipped to handle, before it has even had a chance to breathe in that first breath of life is NOT easier. I could not, in good conscience, choose a medicated birth after almost losing my first child to the interventions of the birthing process.
It is not “sport” that drove my decision to take control of the birthing process, but rather the same thing that drives you to make the decision you have made about birth. The desire for a baby in your arms when it is all over. Incidentally, after my first natural birth, I had no tearing, was immediately able to hold my baby, who nursed well and was wide-eyed and alert- totally responsive, walked around within ten minutes of the birth, went home within 24 hours and had no problem resuming regular activities. That is what drove me to have my last two children naturally as well. We all have our reasons, and mine may seem as foreign to you as yours seem to me, but there are MANY women out there seeking what is right for them, and the point is that no one should be put to shame for the decisions that they make, but we should all aim to be thoroughly informed.
Nobody goes into pregnancy, labor, childbirth or motherhood seeking the title of “Hero” was the point being made. We ALL go in to it with “just wanting the baby” and all that that carries with it, the good and the bad. Saying someone is trying to be a “hero” by making the choices they make on this very individual journey feels demeaning to many women, as well as seeming to suggest that we see ourselves as somehow better or stronger than those who chose another path. This is not so. We all just want a healthy baby in the end and to be able to offer our own child the best of ourselves as soon as possible. I wish that outcome for every parent, regardless of how it comes about. What I get from Doulamomma1 is the same hope.

I had a natural birth, and I often feel “guilty” when I share this with others and wonder if I’ve offended them by saying so and speaking of it so proudly. I know that this is silly, and I am proud and amazed that I was able to mentally and physically give birth to our child without the assistance of any drugs. I knew going in that that is what I wanted, because to me it made sense, my body was meant to do this, it was meant to give birth, on its own. Even when the Dr. threatened to start the Pit because my water had been broken for 24 hours (the horror). It is insulting to hear people say, “You don’t have to be the hero” because it implies that I chose natural birth so I could show off. But it also hints at the greater issue at hand of needing to educating women about birth and separating it from the realm of being purely a “medical procedure”. But anyway, I’m rambling 🙂 I just wanted to say that I agree, and it saddens me to hear that phrase too.

I had 4 children natural. the first one was so fast i didn’t even have time to ask. when that wonderful baby girl came out of me, i was so happy, it was the most beautiful experience i ever had. i was alone but i knew the love i had for that baby was huge. I feel birth is just the most wonderful thing a women can do with her body. i do agree we need to educate parents. you make your baby with love, bring him/her into your life with love.

I had natural childbirth with my son, Carter (without any choice) because I arrived at the hospital fully dilated and there wasnt any time to administer an epidural or any other pain management. Before Carter’s birth, I wanted an epidural (even though I was terrified of the thought of getting one) becaue I was brought up on horror stories of the pain of childbirth. Well, Carter’s birth was everything BUT horrific- it was the best experience in my life. I think women have to be more confident in their body- you dont need to depend on drugs to have a wonderful experience! I am so happy that I had him naturally and will definately have future babies the same.

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