When people hear I intentionally had an unmedicated childbirth with my son, they’re intrigued. “Amazing!” they say, “And insane. Jeez. How’d you do it?” I nonchalantly shrug, check my polish, channel my homebirth idol Gisele Bundchen and say something Zen like, “Oh, I just let my body do what it was made to do. It was nothing.”
Do you want to endure unmedicated childbirth, too? Well, I have a few survival tips for you so you can get through this intense—I mean, beautiful—experience.
1. Start mentally preparing for the worst pain of your life RIGHT NOW. Preparing for natural labor is a marathon, Ladies, not a sprint. You don’t show up to a marathon and expect to finish if you’ve been jogging twice. You train for that bitch, physically and mentally, for months. You also don’t show up for a marathon with the attitude of, “I’ll run as far as I can, then get a ride the rest of the way.” So if you’re telling people you’ll labor drug-free for as long as possible and then get the epidural, stop right now. You need to commit to facing down the pain 1000%. The worse you imagine it will be, the more tolerable it actually is. I prepared to feel like my arms were being ripped out of the sockets. Then, I practiced pain management techniques to mentally cope with that. Very effective. So, pick a body part, imagine what it would be like to have it pulled off, and learn to manage that pain. Childbirth won’t be that bad, especially because it’s a normal pain; losing limbs is definitely not. This mental prep will also help you endure labor with less fear (and physiologically, fear=tension=pain, so less fear=less pain), although with probably just as much profanity.
2. Get primal. Your noises will sound like a cross between a lonely whale’s mating call, a constipated gorilla’s grunts, and a drunk sorority girl’s screams as she’s chased with a meat hook. You may hurl insults at your partner, vagina, baby, doctor, and Mother Nature, and you’ll probably declare at least once that you’re never having sex again. You can’t avoid it: you’re going to make some outrageous noises and say some outrageous shit. You might be afraid to lose your manners and humanity like this, but I assure you that in the throes of labor you will not give a fuck. Fact: the more conservative you are normally, the crazier you’ll be in childbirth. So embrace it now and unburden your mind. You can ask everyone for forgiveness later.
Oh, and while we’re getting primal, I hope you don’t plan to show up to your unmedicated birth and slip into an adorable nightie with clasps at the shoulders for tender post-delivery breastfeeding. If you do, I hope you also plan to get blood and poop all over that thing, because it’s happening. Really, you should arrive at the hospital in such an advanced stage of labor you won’t even remember you have this nightie and you’ll end up with a hospital gown thrown over a leg and only one sock. So, just plan to have your baby pretty much naked. I promise it won’t be the worst thing your L&D team has ever seen.
3. Prepare your coach for #2. Give your birth coach the heads up that you’re going to go nuts with the verbal assaults and supernatural noises so they react appropriately. While you won’t care about your unladylike words and sound effects, you will care if it looks like they are anything but awed by the miracle of childbirth. You won’t appreciate any frightened looks or unsupportive commentary in response to your letting loose. Tell them to lock that schizz down. Expressions other than those of blissful adoration will elicit more cursing and scarier noises, all directed at them.
4. Pretend there are no pain meds. Epidurals? What epidurals? I pretended they didn’t even exist so I wouldn’t be tempted. I thought I would be more likely to ride out the pain if I felt I had no choice. Totally worked. If I had had it in the back of my mind that they were available, I would’ve been calling the anesthesiologist the second I waddled into that delivery room.
5. Don’t think about the post-delivery state of your vagina. It’s easy not to think about it when you have an epidural. You can’t feel anything, so you hardly know anything is happening to your reproductive system at all let alone to your punani. When you do not have the epidural, however, you are acutely aware of the way your body is stretching and twisting to accommodate the emerging baby. You’re acutely acutely aware of your vagina’s state, and the first logical thought there is to protect your goods so they’re not ruined and don’t end up looking like an elephant that your partner will run screaming from when they see it. Which could make you want to cross your legs and hold the baby inside. Which, of course, is useless. Any resistance to this process just makes it harder, so let that baby out. As unbelievable as it is in the moment, your lady bits were made for this and will fully heal within a matter of weeks. And they won’t (necessarily) look like an elephant.
Best of luck! You’ll need it.