When people hear that I’ve birthed a baby without medication, there’s one question that I’m always asked: What’s it really like?
My one-line response is usually something along the lines of “It hurts like HELLLLL, but it’s totally worth it.” And I stand by that.
But for those who are interesting in having an unmedicated childbirth (in a hospital, birthing center, or at home) and want a little more of a breakdown—these 3 things that truly surprised me about natural childbirth are just for you.
3 Surprising Things About Unmedicated Childbirth
Disclaimer: I’m not a medical professional and am writing based on my own personal experiences and independent research. Please always consult a medical professional for all decisions regarding you and your family’s health.
1. The contractions are worse than the pushing.
We’ve seen it in essentially every movie and television show that features unmedicated childbirth—the pregnant woman starts to push, and the agonizing screaming reaches peak volume. We’ve heard fun little analogies like “vaginal childbirth is like pushing a watermelon through a Cheerio”. We shuddered over vaginal tearing. Have pondered if our baby really is “too big” to fit through our vag.
All these things lead us to believe that pushing the baby out is the most painful/challenging part of unmedicated birth. I’m here to tell you this: it’s not. The contractions are.
Let me be very direct with you here: the contractions during active labor and the hell-of-all-hells transition stage fucking hurt. I’m saying this as someone as with an incredibly high tolerance for pain. I once played an entire 4th quarter of a basketball game on a fractured ankle. In high school I pierced my own ear by slowly pushing a dull needle through it. I’ve watched a video of myself attempting to improv. I can endure pain. And this was absolutely horrendous.
The contractions are so excrusiatingly painful that when I was ready to push, I was practically weeping with joy. And the unmedicated pushing itself? It felt like nothing compared to the unmedicated contractions. (And I had unmedicated 3rd degree tearing.)
Bottom line: if you can make it through the end-of-labor contractions, you can make it through the pushing.
2. The concept of a “safe word” is complete BS.
“I’ll try natural birth, and if it becomes too much, I’ll use a safe word to use so my partner/doula/birth team knows that I’m serious about needing the epidural.”
Seems like a reasonable middle-of-the-road approach to a natural birth, yeah?
Not exactly. If you take this approach, you probably won’t be having an unmedicated childbirth. Because when your body kicks into that active labor phase, and then the even more challenging transition phase—-holy shit.
I would have offered my wonderful partner Dave (whom I love) as a sacrifice to Lucifer himself to make those contractions stop. (And yes, the Lucifer I’m referring to here is that evil-ass cat from Disney’s animated Cinderella, whose Gus-Gus-attacking ways make him the most malicious creature I could offer him as a sacrifice to. Which should tell you how awful those contractions truly are.)
Hear me on this, loves: If you have a safe word, you’ll use it.
If you’re seriously committed to pushing through the pain, insist that the hospital note in your file that you want an unmedicated birth. My birthing team spent the last two hours of my labor calmly telling me that “the epidural was coming”, per my pre-labor request. It wasn’t (also per my pre-labor request), but it kept me pressing on without strangling anyone, so win.
3. The high you’re on afterwards lasts for weeks…and then some.
So why go through natural childbirth if it hurts so badly? There are lots of reasons, but one that I was truly surprised by is the amazing high that you’re on on afterwards.
Imagine the best post-workout high you’ve ever had. Now multiply it by about 100 and extend it to about 4-6 weeks. That’s the post-natural-birth high, and it’s incredible. While nothing will make postpartum recovery and life with a newborn “easy”, the oxytocin high certainly doesn’t hurt.
And, to be honest, I had my unmedicated VBAC almost two years ago…and every single time I think about it, the high returns. It was one of the most empowering experiences of my life that I will forever be grateful for having.
If you have the chance to go for a natural childbirth—take it. “Totally worth it” is putting it mildly.