Perhaps you've heard the rumor that giving birth is painful. Well, as a woman who has delivered three babies, let me assure you it's not a rumor. But birth doesn't have to be horrible. I'm not suggesting there won't be pain involved, but you can do things to make the experience go more smoothly. Consider these very different approaches to childbirth that helped three women (spoiler alert: one is me) have easier births.
Hypnobirthing is known to help counteract anxiety about childbirth. According to the Mayo Clinic, hypnobirthing involves using tools like self-hypnosis and relaxation to prepare for birth. Women who use this technique say they feel more prepared and focused going into their labors.
Nicole, a mother of two who lives in North Carolina, used hypnobirthing to deliver both of her children. She decided to use this approach to feel more in control of the experience.
"The idea for me was to go inward," she says.
When her labor began each time, Nicole immediately put herself "in the zone," so to speak. She popped on her headphones and blocked out distractions. Then she strived to simply be in the moment.
"[I wanted to] focus on the contraction at hand, not think about the one that has just passed or the one that was coming. It's all about surrender and not tensing with each contraction," Nicole says.
Although the techniques she learned definitely helped her face the challenges of two very different labors, one long and one short, Nicole doesn't try to pretend that giving birth is easy. When I asked her if she enjoyed her births, I could almost hear her laugh through her email.
"'Enjoyed' is definitely too strong [a word]. I mean, we're still talking about a really challenging and intense physical experience. For me, it was about intensity and endurance. Having a baby is hard work and using the technique I did allowed me to feel prepared and trust myself," she says.
Although Nicole says she would use hypnobirthing again if she has another baby, she doesn't think it's for everyone. Instead she told me, "My advice is this: do what makes you feel most at ease. The more you can do that, the less fearful and the more pleasant your experience will be."
Jill, a mom of two who lives in New Jersey, opted to have a water birth and a midwife for her first delivery.
"I kind of stumbled upon the whole [water] birth idea. It was something that just seemed to work for me. I was a low-risk patient with no previous births or medical issues. [Plus], midwives seemed very personable and motherly, which was very appealing to me," Jill says.
This mama definitely did her research about the water birthing process and about techniques that might help her relax. She also focused on the fact that women have been giving birth since the beginning of time, which made her feel more capable of handling the experience.
"[All of these things] helped me to not be afraid when I went into labor," she says.
Jill used her mental preparation and the water as tools to help her relax.
"[But] it definitely didn't take all the pain away," she admits.
Water imagery guided her as well: "I think of labor like the ocean. Your contractions come in waves, and you just need to ride then out till the end," she says.
Jill's advice to women who are about to give birth is simple, and it may help you.
"Surrender," she suggests. "Giving birth is going to happen no matter what, and no matter how much pain you may be in, that little baby is working so hard to twist and turn its way out. As a mother, it is your job to pull yourself together and help your child."
I should note that there is some controversy surrounding the safety of water birth right now. As reported by U.S. News & World Report, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics recently issued their findings that laboring in the water is considered safe, but delivering a baby under water may be linked to certain health risks, including breathing problems and infection. However, the debate is ongoing as to the real risks of water birth, especially in the midwife community, who maintain that it is safe.
Use of Pain Medication
According to the CDC, 61 percent of women who gave birth vaginally in 2008 received an epidural. That year, I was one of them.
Although I was afraid to get the epidural, it did help me get through my delivery immensely from a pain management standpoint, but it did nothing to dull my anxieties about pushing out a baby. If anything, getting the epidural gave me the sense of losing control over the situation, as I couldn't feel when I needed to push. It was a weird experience, but I didn't think I'd be able to endure childbirth without that help.
I gave birth again in 2010. That time my epidural didn't take. I ended up delivering my daughter the old fashioned way, without pain medication. The experience empowered me to give birth a third time three years later, sans pain medication. The pain I felt was intense, but I did feel more in control of the birthing process.
After giving birth with and without pain medication, I would say that there are benefits to both. An epidural is a highly effective tool for pain relief. I found that I could focus on the moment my baby was born instead of the pain. But I also appreciated the experience of laboring without an epidural because I felt more aware of my body and more connected to the moment. My only regret is that the pain was so intense that I had a harder time enjoying my babies' first moments.
The bottom line is, as the other two moms profiled here would agree, birth is an individual experience. You have many tools at your disposal to help make it easier on you. From hypnobirthing to water birth and from using the assistance of a doula to exercising your right to use pain medication, how you give birth is up to you. The more in control you can be of your choices, the easier time you will likely have.