The Anticipation of a Natural Childbirth
When I give birth to my first born child, I want to feel all the pain, all the joy, and all the emotions that come with it. I want to feel everything.
I realize this may not be the popular opinion.
My girlfriend Amy just had her first baby. She did not want to feel pain and had every intention of getting an epidural - as many women do. An epidural is a local anaesthetic injected into the space around the spinal nerves in your lower back. Basically, it numbs you from the pain of giving birth.
Amy was at the hospital. She had been induced the night before and wanted to sleep but couldn’t because of contractions. She texted me two hours later.
“Epidural is everything. I love it. Also, catheter is everything. It’s heaven.”
A catheter is a tube inserted into the bladder through the urethra to remove urine from your bladder. It alleviates your need to go to the bathroom if you are numb and can't feel the need to urinate.
Everything was smooth sailing from there. Amy had a healthy baby boy. My husband FaceTimed with her husband Matt a few nights later. Matt told Sam that I need to get the epidural.
When Sam relayed this information to me, I became indignant. If Matt were in the room with me, I’d say, “Listen bro, I’m Michael Jordan. You tell me I need an epidural? There’s no fucking chance I’m getting an epidural. Got it?”
Drugs and Birth
I feel very fortunate to live in the United States where drugs are available during the birth process if I need them. Many women in other countries do not have the access or availability that I do, so I am incredibly grateful that if anything goes wrong, my doctor will take the appropriate measures to deliver a healthy baby. Because as long as Mom and baby are healthy and safe, that’s truly all that matters.
Giving birth is very personal for each individual. For me, I just want to feel empowered by it all.
When I asked Amy how it felt to give birth, she told me the doctor was telling her to push and the nurses were telling her she was doing a great job, which left her bewildered:
“I didn’t feel anything. I was just holding my breath.”
I can’t imagine going through this life-changing experience and not feeling it.
From an early age, my parents taught me that if you want something in this world, you have to work hard for it and earn it. No one is going to hand anything to you.
Because of this, I always feel a great sense of accomplishment when I work hard for something. Giving birth feels like a rite of passage. I WANT to feel the pain. I want to feel it all.
Sam and I decided to hire a doula. A doula is a professional who provides physical, emotional, and informational support continuously to the mother before, during, and just after birth.
In one of my recent Zoom calls with her, I can’t stop talking about the epidural and how I really don’t want it. She suggests that I stop thinking about it so much. By repeatedly talking about it, it’s like I’m manifesting its future use. I’m putting it out into the world and when I’m at the hospital, if it’s in my head, it might stress me out. “If you don’t want an epidural, take it out of your vocabulary.”
That is the opposite of what I’ve been doing. I’ve been telling everyone who will listen that I do not want to use an epidural.
That said, I have absolutely no idea what this whole experience is going to feel like. I also have no idea if my natural childbirth will go according to plan. I can’t rule out the epidural. I’m just saying that if I can handle it, I really want to have a natural childbirth. But it’s okay if I change my mind.
Even as I type this, there’s an inner monologue in my head telling me that if I end up using an epidural, then I’m weak and I’ve failed. I pride myself on being tough and strong. So many women have given birth naturally - I should be able to do it, too.
I also feel very strongly that a natural birth will provide more connection with my baby. I’m sure that by feeling everything, we will bond more than if I’m drugged and can’t feel what’s happening.
It makes me think back to my binge eating days. The anxiety I felt in the moment before a binge was absolutely horrible. I wanted to do anything to stop it, and it felt like the only solution was to eat. It took a long time for me to learn that sitting with the pain and the anxiety in the moment was far easier and better than the feelings of shame and self-loathing that I’d feel after the binge. Basically, the pain in the moment was worth it, because I’d feel better about myself later. I can’t help but think that giving birth will be similar.
I want to be kind to myself and willing to make adjustments, but at the same time I’m determined to see this thing through.
A Mother’s Influence
My mom had natural childbirths with her first three kids, including me. For her last birth - my twin sisters - she had to get an epidural and have a caesarean section - a surgery in which the doctor cuts open your abdomen for delivery.
Mom hated the epidural. She said it made her legs numb. She said she couldn’t get out of bed afterwards. After she had us first three kids, she recovered very quickly. She remembers an hour after she had me, she took a shower and it was the most wonderful shower she’d ever had.
One could argue that it was the C-section and not the epidural that made Mom feel this way, but she swears against the epidural.
Mom has always spoken of her pregnancies and births with such fondness - except for the twins’ birth. It’s left a lasting impression on how I’d like the birth of my own son to go.
My same friend, Amy, texted again, her baby now nine days old. She said, “I completely understand now why people would opt to just schedule a C-section right from the beginning - my delivery was easy and still all of this!”
She then sent pictures of all the lotions and creams she needs to use, along with a trash can filled with bloody wipes.
The idea that any person would prefer to be cut open through her stomach without even trying to attempt a natural, vaginal birth was completely outrageous to me. I didn’t understand how Amy could make such a statement when she did not have a C-section and has no idea what it would be like to recover from one. She has no idea how much worse she could feel right now or how much longer the recovery is going to last.
At the same time, I have no idea what it’s like to recover from a C-section or birth, so who am I to judge?
I thought about my baby. He’s not going to be administered any drugs during this process. This is going to be incredibly traumatic for him. He’s going to transition from being surrounded by water to breathing in air. And he has to feel everything. It’s only fair that I feel everything, too.
An Athletic Mindset
Many women are scared to give birth. There’s a lot of fear around having a baby. I’ve had my fears, but I’m finally starting to approach it with an athletic mindset. I can fucking do this. I will do this and I will own it. It’s going to be awesome. I’m listening to Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth and the first half of the book is all women’s birth stories. The more birth stories I listen to, the less scared I feel. Because this is a natural part of life.
Growing up playing sports, I would kill myself at athletic practices - especially the sprints. I always wanted to be in first place and beat everyone else. When I’d cross the line, I’d be heaving and panting and moaning and bending over. Coaches would be worried about me. Then they’d tell us to get back on the line and no matter how terrible I felt, I’d get back on the line and try to beat everyone again. My coaches got used to the fact that even though I looked like I was in so much pain, I was just fine.
I imagine a natural childbirth the same way. I imagine it’s going to be unlike any pain I’ve ever experienced, but I’ll be able to handle it. I loved sports. They have equipped me with a high bar for pain and exhaustion tolerance. The pain of giving birth might be excruciating, but the joy of welcoming my son will no doubt be greater than any athletic win.
Now that I’ve got this new mindset, I felt like I should tell my baby boy. I’ve heard that it’s good to talk out loud to your baby but I usually feel silly and self-conscious doing it.
There wasn’t any movement in my belly. I rubbed it. I told him,
“You have to feel everything that happens, so I’m going to feel everything, too. We’re in this thing together. What do you think?”
And then the baby kicked. Once.
Special thanks to Dokita Ayomide, Avthar Sewrathan, Jen Vermet, Joseph Kuo, and Juan David Campolargo for providing feedback.