When I was 27 I had my first all-natural (i.e. drug-free) birth. During the 9 months leading up to it, I completely immersed myself in all things birth in order to prepare for it and the end result was a birth experience that, despite it’s challenges, was beautiful and empowering and also fairly quick (a 12 hour labor for a first baby, certainly isn’t too bad!).
I left that birthing center impassioned to take my message of the amazingess of natural birth and proselytize the masses. Of course birth and empowerment and confidence in your body are all wonderful things, but in retrospect I think maybe I was a bit overzealous as I made my way from that euphoric, endorphin-charged birthing mountaintop back into the real world.
I became determined to share the magic of natural birth with any and everyone. If you were a woman of a certain age (i.e. average childbearing age) and it somehow came up in conversation, you can bet I would talk your ear off about it. And if you were a pregnant woman? Well, you were definitely about to learn more than you ever wanted about birth. I wrote about it on the internet and shared my birth story anytime I could. I became the poster child for natural birth, shouting from the rooftops about how beautiful it was and how anyone could do it if they really tried. While I never said as much out loud, anytime I heard about a someone wanting an epidural without even trying to go natural or someone who I knew had really wanted a drug-free birth, but ended up opting for an epidural, I silently judged them a little. “Why wouldn’t you want to experience that?” I wondered. But, then I had my second baby and it changed everything.
Two-and-a-half years later, at the age of 29, I gave birth to my son. Because his sister’s birthing center birth had gone so smoothly, I was the perfect candidate for a home birth. I was excited when labor started, as I anticipated the empowering experience that I was about to have. Everything was completely different though. Where my daughter had arrived 3 days early, my son arrived 4 days late. While her birth started immediately and consistently and was 12 hours from the very first contraction, his was 19 hours...which was a hard pill to swallow since everyone always said “second babies come faster”. Not so much. With my daughter’s birth I pushed for an excruciating 3 hours...with my son it was 4.5. Literally everything about it was different.
In the end, I delivered my son and he was perfectly healthy, but it was exhausting and hard. SO hard. And it’s no wonder since he ended up being 10 pounds 8 ounces and 23 inches long! He had a gigantic head (15”) and was also “sunnyside sideways”. Basically, this all added up to a really challenging labor and it was one that I did not come away from with the same feeling of empowerment as my first. To be honest, I felt pretty shell shocked and was just glad it was over and it took me a few months to really process the whole experience and make peace with it.
In the end though, I had a beautiful, healthy (super chubby) baby, which really was all that mattered anyway. Even though the experience wasn’t necessarily empowering in the same way as my first, I came to realize that it actually was empowering in its own way. It empowered me to see that every baby and every birth is different and that however a baby comes into this world is the “right way”. It completely shifted my perspective toward others and their birth choices. I no longer judged women who opted for the pain meds, because I had experienced a labor where I knew I would’ve gotten them myself if they’d been available. Birth is crazy and unexpected and whatever helps a woman get that baby earthside is great.
While I’m still a believer in natural birth and I do believe that our bodies are so much more capable than we give them credit for, I also know that birth is not a competitive sport. There’s no medal of honor awarded for birthing babies without drugs. It is a deeply personal experience and every woman deserves the chance to decide what that experience looks like.