Attitude alone won't make your labor and childbirth easy and uneventful. But, whether your labor is difficult or relatively easy, nature has given you the tools to handle the experience.
We all go into labor for the first time with no real idea of what lies ahead. No one can really tell you what labor is all about. You'll no doubt hear horror stories from some of the veteran mothers you know, and from others you'll hear fairy stories—about someone's perfect little angel child who was so considerate as to pop out almost unnoticed. Although the process is basically the same for everyone, each woman's experience is uniquely her own. And unlike that metaphorical skydiver, you can make some choices that put you in charge of your birth experience—you can empower yourself beyond your fear.
Giving birth is a natural process, but what's called natural childbirth is the experience of labor and delivery without the use of any medication or anesthesia. Instead, you rely on natural methods of pain relief achieved through breathing and visualization.
Labor does hurt, and everyone has a different threshold for pain. Fortunately, many pain-management options are available to you—you're not restricted to the standbys of traditional Western medicine. Take, for example, the alternative approaches to childbirth that have been drawn from the folk medicine of non-Western cultures. Herbal remedies are commonly used during pregnancy and delivery among Native American groups, and herbs and techniques from traditional Chinese medicine provide alternatives to western medical practice. If you are open-minded and curious, these options are well worth researching. But use good sense in checking out the credentials of any person who offers alternative treatment. Anything you do during pregnancy and delivery will have an impact on your baby and on you.
The most important thing to do is to relax and worry less about the process. Childbirth is something that's been going on for eons and will continue to occur long after your childbearing years are over. Your mind and your body are totally connected, and if you are worried and anxious when it is time to give birth, you will make your body tense and your contractions will be that much more painful. You are capable of talking to your body and telling it to use its natural pain relievers to ease your process.
My first labor lasted 14 hours. I wasn't in what they call active labor the entire time, with the contractions coming fast and furious, but I was in labor. It was tiring and frustrating and I wanted to kill my husband. I was given some pain medication that made me fall asleep between contractions. The nurses woke me up in time to push when the baby was ready to be born and I must say, even though I accepted pain relief, I have never experienced such an amazing natural process.
An epidural block is a form of local anesthetic that numbs your body from the waist down but leaves you completely awake and aware of what's going on around you.
There are some very good reasons for wanting to prepare yourself to give birth naturally, without the use of pain relief or local anesthesia. These are the two reasons most commonly cited by women who choose natural childbirth:
This sounds great in theory, but natural childbirth is not for everyone. You could have an exceptionally long labor, or a low threshold for pain. Both are perfectly valid reasons for wanting some pain relief. You are not going to win any good-mommy awards and your child is not going to be admitted to Harvard simply because you experienced the full sensation of labor pain.
Many women like the idea of natural childbirth—they see it as very empowering. But it is not easy. Because so much anxiety is brought on by the fear of labor, you need to make a plan you're comfortable with, so that you can stop worrying. If you are nervous about delivery there are options for you, such as pain medication or an epidural block. Your doctor can explain these options to you so that you can make your own decision.
All you really need to remember is that this is your childbirth experience. No one, not even the father of your child, can tell you what is best for you. Discuss your options with your doctor, and then choose the approach to handling the pain of delivery that best suits you.
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Motherhood © 1999 by Deborah Levine Herman. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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