I've read about painless births in my pregnancy books, but that's a rare thing for women who birth naturally and something I don't think this mother is destined to experience!
Four of my six deliveries have been natural, and it's definitely the way I love to give birth. And why on earth would a woman love to do something that involves pain? It's a good question, and maybe I can help give you some perspective if you're hoping for a natural birth next time around.
First of all, it might come as a surprise but the pains of birth actually serve many purposes. Pain gives you a clue about far along you are in labor. I can easily push a broom or mop around during early labor but find it difficult to even talk when I'm having a contraction at the end of active labor. Your pain level is a pretty good indicator that it's “time to go” if you're having the baby somewhere besides home. It can tell you when you've gone from active labor to transition.
Here's a great story to illustrate this point. A friend of mine was having some extremely painful contractions but they were 30 minutes, and sometimes as much as an hour, apart. When she gave this information to the hospital they advised her to come when the contractions were more regular and closer together. She hung up the phone and waited again. A contraction came that brought her to her knees. Disregarding the hospital's advice she told her husband “Let's get in the car NOW.” Sure enough, the baby came very soon after their arrival. Pain, and not timing, was the key factor. And that's not an isolated case, because I have yet another friend who only had 3 very painful contractions in the course of one day before it was time to start pushing! Her midwife wisely judged the situation by how painful that very first contraction was, even though two hours had gone by before the next one came.
Labor pains can also alert you when something is wrong. With my third child I labored for quite some time on my hands and knees; due to my back pain it seemed like a good position to be in. But the pain was overwhelming and unusually “sharp” and I wasn't making any progress. This was a different kind of pain and I knew something wasn't right. It didn't take long for my midwife and me to figure out my little girl was not descending like she should. We decided to try something different. I proceeded to stand up right next to the bed. And thanks to good and reliable gravity, my baby descended within seconds. She was born just 10 minutes later. I often look back and wonder how I would have picked up on those “distress signals” had I been totally numb.
The sensations of natural childbirth also let you know how and when to push. I love that my midwife always asks for feedback from me, rather than relying on data from a TV screen. She'll ask “are you feeling pushy, Anne?” She knows it's one of feelings that, when it comes, can't be overlooked and won't be ignored. And pushing effectively is completely different when you don't have an epidural to mask the sensations. There's not just the pain to consider. There's the question of how and where you push. Although my second labor was a VBAC, I begged for an epidural 20 hours into labor because I couldn't take the pain anymore. My first had been a c-section and so transition was a totally new experience that I was not at all prepared for.
It was strange to be coached through pushing while everyone watched the peaks and valleys of my contractions on a monitor. I couldn't feel anything, so I just obediently did what I was told. I balled up my fists, shut my eyes and pushed like Sisyphus on steroids. I pushed until I was blue in the face, and eventually I pushed that little girl out. But since I had been pushing blind, I paid dearly for that the next day with broken blood vessels all over my face, a throbbing and swollen perineum and aching abdominal muscles.
In contrast, when I birth naturally I don't push any harder than I have to. I push much more effectively and I can take action on my midwife's cues like “push from your bottom, not your abdomen.” If you are completely numb, that directive is impossible to follow yet it very well could make the difference between minutes versus hours of pushing.
That's why it doesn't surprise me at all when I read statistics about how epidurals tend to make labor longer, and they greatly increase a mother's need for more interventions.
There's yet another reason that natural childbirth can be such a blessing. Experiencing that pain draws a clear line of demarcation for the woman. There's something incredibly amazing about going from intense pain to intense peace as your hold your newborn. Just minutes ago you were in agony and feeling as if it would never end; now just minutes later you are quietly going about the business of being a mother – putting on that first diaper, giving the first taste of milk, putting tiny socks on those little feet. Without the pain, the climax isn't so earth-shattering. Any athlete can tell you that. A runner might sometimes collapse right after crossing the finish line, but when he hoists the trophy high it feels that much more special because of how his body suffered physically and mentally to reach that goal.
A warm stove feels better when you've just come in from the freezing cold. Water tastes better if you drink when you're parched and dry. A hot meal is heavenly when you're ravenously hungry. The peace and tranquility that follows labor and delivery is that much more satisfying when you've just coming out of that valley of pain.
And last of all, with this being the Easter season, I couldn't leave the most important thing unsaid regarding the pain of childbirth. When labor begins my thoughts often turn to the One who suffered so much for me on Calvary. I know that although my pain will be intense and perhaps even overwhelming, it will never compare to His. He sweated blood at that thought of what awaited Him and His human support system collapsed. They slept as He suffered. And here I am faced with pain, but with the promise of a beautiful newborn and with a team of helping hands to bear me up.