Monday, December 28, 2009

It Only Hurts if You're Doing it Wrong

I just read a woman's birth story. She had planned and hoped for a natural birth- not just in the baby-coming-out-her-vagina sense, but in the unmedicated sense as well. She'd taken classes, hired a fabulous doula, practiced, visualized, done everything she could to prepare. Then she had a very long, incredibly painful labor, and chose to get an epidural when she was about 4 centimeters dilated. She went on to decline pitocin and other intervention that is typically "required" once you have an epidural, and she triumphantly pushed out her perfect baby later that day. She is truly happy with her birth and doesn't feel like she failed by opting for an epidural even though she still believes natural childbirth is the best way to plan to deliver.

What suprised me was not the birth story itself, becuase certainly many women who carefully plan an unmedicated birth do end up opting for epidurals and don't feel like they've failed (I count myself among them), but other women's responses to the story were shocking! One woman in particular told the mother that she must have unrealized fears related to childbirth. If she had truly been at peace with the process and had trusted her body's innate ability to birth, her labor would have been manageable without drugs, and it would not have taken her so long to completely dilate.

I almost fell out of my chair!!! I was astonished that anyone would imply that this mother had to have done something wrong to experience her labor the way she did. Why is it so difficult to accept that everyone- and every labor- is different? I have to admit to having some bias of my own this way; before I had my third child my labor experiences were limited to a failed induction turned c-section, and a very fast and easy spontaneous vaginal delivery. Sure, spontaneous labor hurt but it wasn't the same kind of excruciating, uncontrolled-vomiting, holding onto the siderails and begging for it to be over, kind of thing my induction had been. Right?

Not so fast! When I had my third child my labor was weird from the start. Contractions didn't regulate the way they had with my second, and wow did they hurt right from the beginning. After about 6 hours of not walking or talking through them, we headed to the hospital only to find out I wasn't dilating. It was the worst news ever! I was barely coping with prodromal labor? How in the world was that possible when I'd had a completely unmedicated delivery the last time? I knew what to expect! This was decidedly not what labor was like! Except it was, and it continued that way for hours on end, until I finally got an epidural and started dilating. Progress continued to be excruciatingly slow- and like the mom whose story I opened with, I declined pitocin and other interventions- but I did eventually, triumphantly, deliver my baby vaginally.

That experience forever changed how I read other women's birth stories. I no longer had preconceived notions about how much pain is involved in labor, or whether or not any particular woman was "justified" in getting an epidural early, or late, or at all. I realized that my own experiences in birthing my babies are just that: my own. In that respect I am grateful for the long and painful labor I had that time. It not only made me appreciate the (dare I say it?) easy labor I had with my fourth child, but also gave me the insight I needed to understand that saying "Every labor is different" is more than just a cliche. And sometimes it hurts even when you do everything right.


  1. Totally following your blog!! Thanks for the super informative and supportive response to my VBAC questions on BabyCenter!

  2. thank you for saying this. I was stuck at 4 for 12 hours in the hospital, even though all my signs had progressed... I thought something was *wrong*... one of my good friends, a doula, said she gets really frustrated when people propose painless childbirth, because you can feel like a failure if it hurts...