My More Self-Compassionate Definition of “Natural Birth”

What’s black-and-white and red all over? My mindset this past month about giving birth plus the red stuff that comes out of you during and after it (i.e. blood). Before I took birthing classes I thought that natural birth meant vaginal birth. Then in my birthing class I learned that it meant vaginal birth without the use of pain medications or an epidural.

Depending on whom you talk to you and which birthing classes you take, there can be a lot of pressure to do natural birth. It is sort of a “holier than thou” approach where if you go natural you’re better for it because you sustain pain and you did “the best you could for your child.” Now, as someone who in general has black-and-white thinking, this concept has really been racking my brains. Especially because I am also prone to feeling guilt.

My approach to labor was going to be: start in natural birth focusing on positions, including those using a birthing ball, and then if I really need, to ask for pain medications or an epidural.

The problem with the term “natural birth” is that it doesn’t seem to have any gray involved. It seems to imply that if you get an epidural at all or if you decide to use pain medications at all you have therefore chosen not to have a natural birth.

But let me tell you, that was not the case for me. My labor pains in the beginning were of much stronger intensity then I was taught to expect in my birthing class.  I realized soon after arriving at the hospital that I would need pain medications to help me survive the pain. This helped for a while but then began to wear off. In between these two points I realized that the pain was only going to get worse since I wasn’t very far along and I decided, after confirming it with my doctor, that I would be getting an epidural. Here’s where the gray comes in: the pain medications I was on wore off and the anesthesiologists came a few hours after that point. The lab needed to retest my blood, which took about an hour or so and then after that, the anesthesiologists were busy with another procedure. Therefore, there I was, lying in bed for three hours feeling the intense contractions without the alleviation provided by any pain medications.

Now, one could say that because I did end up getting an epidural I did not go “natural.”
I, however, would like to say that I did have periods where I was undergoing a natural birth. And I would like to take it a step further and redefine what natural birth really means. As I have learned in a recent mindfulness course I took, living in the moment means facing what our current experience is head on. It means realizing that “it is what it is.” And it means meeting whatever it is with self-compassion and authenticity. Each decision that I made, and quite frankly each breath that I took, during the labor process was one of intentionality, in which I connected to what I was experiencing in the moment and allowed myself to honestly respond with what I needed at that time. As painful as it all was, it was also empowering.

Being present with what is, making authentic decisions—that to me is natural birth. After all, how can you get more natural than listening to your inner nature?

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