I can't tell you how many first-time moms I've heard say they want a natural birth.
"Great!" I say, "How are you preparing? What's your plan?"
And you know what the most common response is?
A shrug. A confused look and, "I don't know. I'm just going to wait and see how it goes when the time comes, you know?"
Every time I hear this, my heart breaks a little. Maybe you will get the birth you want, but chances are you won't. About 25% of women giving birth say that they want a natural birth. Less than 2% actually get them.
Don't get me wrong; I'm not trying to push you in the direction of natural birth. But I do want you to have a good birth, and if that means a natural birth to you, there are a few things to carefully consider.
The first, and perhaps most important, is preparation -- childbirth education classes, discussing birth with your care provider, watching birth videos, reading, researching, anything that informs you. Before I proceed, however, allow me to acknowledge (and refute) some common arguments against thoroughly educating yourself.
Objection #1: "It's just birth. I can learn what I need while I'm in labor. I'll just... see how it goes."
Know what? You're absolutely right. While a highly intricate biological process, it is "just" birth. Women and babies do have the instinctual knowledge necessary. Here's the kicker -- for the past few hundred years, our culture has been progressively moving away from trusting a woman's body and placing its faith in medical technology instead. In ages gone past, a woman's friends and family came to help her labor. This meant that women saw births. They got to see what worked and what didn't. Just as importantly, the process was normalized in their minds.
In today's society, most women haven't ever seen a real birth, much less a natural birth. The normal sights and sounds of an unmedicated woman giving birth aren't accepted or acknowledged as normal, good and necessary. So, no, today it's not a good idea to just "wing it."
Labor takes preparation. Labor takes practice.
Objection #2: "I don't have time to spend studying about all this!"
Would you go into an important interview without first preparing? A marathon? Your wedding?
Your baby's birthday is one of the most important of your life. You will remember that day forever. Don't you think that's worth spending a little time to prepare, even if it means missing a few episodes of your favorite show or spending a little less time on Facebook?
Objection #3: "All that breathing and relaxing stuff is just a bunch of crazy, natural birth mumbo jumbo. It doesn't actually work."
You have a point. The whole "relax and breathe... put yourself in a happy place" thing is pretty cliche in the birth world, and I totally understand healthy skepticism. If you are skeptical about the benefits of breathing techniques, visualization, vocalization, relaxation or massage, look into the science behind them to understand why they work. Not only is the science behind it absolutely fascinating, but once you understand why certain comfort measures can be helpful, you are more likely to remember and use them when the time comes. And yes, there is science behind many comfort measures!
Objection #4: "My doctor will tell me what to do. I'm not a medical professional -- why should I think I know better than one?"
Again, you're right -- you aren't a medical professional. But you are a unique person with your own beliefs, desires, goals and needs. No two people think exactly alike on a subject, and your doctor may have different preferences than you do. You want a natural birth, but maybe your doctor doesn't mind so much how your baby comes, as long as it's healthy. Maybe he/she will recommend things that may make natural birth harder, such as induction.
For example, many doctors get nervous when a woman carries a pregnancy past 41 weeks and begin to suggest induction. However, if you know that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) defines a full term pregnancy as 39-42 weeks, you know that it is normally safe (with proper monitoring) to let your body naturally go into labor.
Another example: many doctors and hospitals have restrictive policies on "how long" to "let" a woman labor before diagnosing her with failure to progress and recommending a c-section. However, as ACOG says in their paper entitled "Safe Prevention of the Primary Cesarean Delivery", "it may be necessary to revisit the definition of labor dystocia because recent data show that contemporary labor progresses at a rate substantially slower than what was historically taught."
The important thing here is to know that you need to collaborate with your provider. You need to know what you want and under what circumstances you can safely achieve those goals.
Doctors are human, too, and that means they sometimes make mistakes, act out of habit or convenience or otherwise place obstacles in your path. All you have to do to prevent this from happening is to know your facts and stand up for yourself to achieve a satisfying relationship with your doctor.
You want a natural birth. Maybe you're a first-time mom, tentatively facing the new world of birth that's suddenly opened up before you. Maybe you've already had one or two with an epidural and you want to try another way. Unmedicated birth can be intensely empowering and fulfilling, but it is also very difficult -- that's part of why it is so rewarding when it is achieved. Plan, prepare and educate yourself and you'll be on the road to a wonderful birth experience.