Labor without an epidural – A wimp’s perspective

Do you think you could never give birth without an epidural? Labor without an epidural is possible – even for people like me with low pain tolerance!

labor without an epidural

Note: I sincerely hope that no c-section moms, or any moms who have recieved epidurals for one reason or another, feel that I am in any way implying that their experiences were somehow less than mine. That is in no way my intent. I admire the fact that c-section moms have to survive major surgery and a far more difficult recovery – and I hope I make it clear in this post that I definitely *wanted* an epidural for myself! I am simply trying to communicate that natural labor, if it is possible for a mama, will be a blessing to her – and it’s not just for “tough” or “strong” women! I also want to add that now that I went through labor a second time, and it was SO much easier – if you can keep your water intact until the very end, DO IT!!! My water broke on it’s own with my DD in the early stages of labor, and the pain and intensity of that labor was WAY worse than what I had with my son, when I didn’t have my water broken until it was time to push! Yes, breaking the water speeds labor up, but keeping it intact makes for far, far, FAR more manageable pain!

I am not tough. Seriously. A friend once volunteered to give me a deep-tissue massage, and a few minutes in, I was begging her to stop. I’ve decided I wanted to start running several times, then quit because I hated that scraping feeling in my lungs and that soreness in my legs. Also embarrassing is how frequently I burst into sobs when I hear even the most cliched of country sob-songs. Yeah. Not tough.

It was truly baffling, then, to have so many of my far-tougher friends respond with dropped jaws when they found out that I’d delivered K without an epidural.

Women I highly admire – women who have run marathons (a.k.a. “the worst form of self-torture”), women who’ve survived major surgeries (the very thought of scalpels and needles sends me twitching), women who handle stresses and trials with a grace I truly hope I can someday approach – all astounded at the thought of going through labor without an epidural. I can’t tell you how many times I heard the words, “I could never do that.”

Yeah, me neither. Seriously.

In fact, if I hadn’t had a homebirth, I’d have definitely had an epidural – or, like, fifteen. I’ve heard of mamas that did the Bradley Method, or hypnosis, or Lamaze, and had such lovely, peaceful labors. A friend of mine raved about how “beautiful” her natural labor was, and what a great experience it was spiritually. Our midwife did recommend these classes and techniques to us – but we couldn’t afford them, so I decided to try to skate by based on what I learned from Youtube videos.

I do not recommend that. Take the classes.

If you’ve read my homebirth story, then you know that I did *not* enjoy the experience of my first labor. I was unprepared for what was happening. I was worried. I hated the pain. I informed my hubby that we would not be having any more children (I meant it, too – but that obviously didn’t work out for me, did it?) I definitely didn’t see anything “beautiful” or “spiritual” about it – at least, not until the end.

It may sound strange to find beauty in pain, but it was there. Enduring pain – and not just any pain, but the greatest pain that a human woman can endure – for the benefit of another human being is a way of truly experiencing sacrificial love. To Christians, sacrificial love is the ultimate goal – the thing we all hope someday, somehow, to achieve. True love, according to my faith, is to be able to truly love others so much that we would be willing to endure just about anything for them (which is why Christians the world over cherish the outwardly grisly events of Christ’s death by crucifixion).

Not that anyone would ever want to endure any kind of pain for any reason - but if you want to grow, it’s going to hurt. The body must endure the pain of exercise in order to become stronger. The brain must endure the pain of study in order to learn (oh, college. I can still feel the migraines). Pain makes you stronger, if you accept it and don’t quit.

Somewhere in the worst part of my labor, I lost awareness of what was happening around me, and only knew what was happening within. I couldn’t have heard or focused on anything anyone around me was saying - but I could still hear that quiet voice of God whispering, “Stop fighting the pain and accept it. Someday, you will need to know that you did this – that you were capable of accepting this.”

I know I will, too. Someday, K will do something that hurts me – so badly that my heart will break. I don’t mean that she’ll do something terrible and wind up in prison or something; I mean that she’ll break my heart just by growing up. It’s heartbreaking to think of her leaving for college, as proud as I’d be. It’s heartbreaking to imagine her deciding she wants to apply for a job in Venezuela or Madagascar or something. I always wanted to be off on crazy, not-always-safe adventures when I was younger, and she’ll probably take after me. It’ll be heartbreaking to watch her go, and to know deep down inside, “She’s not ever going to come back to me, is she?” Someday, I’ll be someone she comes to see on visits. It’s the most heartbreaking thing I can think of.

That day is still a long way off. I would much rather live in this moment and enjoy her now, when she loves my kisses and cuddles and doesn’t even get embarrassed by them, than dread the coming of that awful day. I love this time she and I have – but in the back of my mind, I always know we don’t have forever.

And I know I’m capable of getting through it, just as I was able to survive the physical pain of bringing her into the world.

This isn’t to say that moms who never feel the pain of labor, for one reason or another, love their children less -  I only mean to say that recognizing my opportunity to suffer for her confirmed something my heart needed to know. I endured because I took comfort in knowing, without a doubt, that I am strong enough to survive.  Therefore, I am strong enough for all the pain that is yet to come.

I’ve heard so many good reasons for epidurals (not the least of which was my SIL’s reason – a 72 hour labor that just wore her body out too much. I’ve told her repeatedly that she DID her time. Several times over, in fact), but the only reason that saddens me is how many women simply don’t think they can do it.

For any mama in good health without complications to doubt her abilities to endure pain just makes me so sad. Why aren’t we women a little more empowered? Why don’t we even believe in ourselves enough to try? How is it possible that our “girl power!” culture is also telling women that they just “can’t” get through the pain of labor without an epidural?

This is going to sound really stupid, and I know it, but here goes: If I can do it, anyone can (Anyone who is low-risk, in good health, and has an uncomplicated pregnancy and delivery, I mean). So many of my strong, fierce, otherwise-confident friends never even tried to deliver without an epidural because they were so sure that they’d fail – and hey, maybe they would have. I almost definitely would have. But going into anything expecting failure doesn’t seem like a very wise idea – it seems like a sad one.

I would give any mom who was in my smooth-pregnancy shoes the same advice: Try it. Try natural. Your body CAN endure the pain (even if it turns out that it can’t endure the labor without intervention). You will never regret surviving the pain of a natural labor. Rather, you will come out on the other side cherishing the opportunity God gave you to learn how strong you and your body are.

You can do this. You’re a mama-bear. You are strong – I can almost guarantee you’re stronger than me. Trust that you were made fearfully and wonderfully, and can birth that baby, no matter how much it hurts.

I hope more mamas give natural labor a try! Don’t be afraid to do things you were born capable of doing!

Jaime W. (451 Posts)

Jaime is a Christian, a wife, a mom, a writer, an illustrator, and an aspiring homesteader. She loves trying to find new ways to save money and resources--but also save her time, so she can spend as much as possible with her family! !


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Comments

  1. I had my first 4 naturally and the last 2 with an epidural. I found that each labor was more painful than the last—the uterus has to work harder because it’s been stretched. It’s not to say that I couldn’t have gone through without the epidurals, because I could have, I’d done it 4 times previously and I was so happy about that. But by babys number 5 and 6, I was older and I knew what I was in for as far as nursing and dealing with all the other children—so I wanted to take it easy. I’m glad I made that decision–it worked out the best for me!

  2. I loved this post & held back my postpartum hormonal tears the whole time! I am 12 days postpartum from the birth of my son, my first child. I went into labor with the intent & goal of having an unmedicated delivery–no epidural/no IV meds…and I’m happy to say I DID IT!!!

    I, like you, found that zone where nothing around me mattered at all and simply focused on what was going on within & before I knew it, it was time to push. I am so thrilled about how things went & I feel so blessed & thankful to God for our healthy little boy. I wish more mammas would read this and remember that GIRL POWER ;) you can do it mammas!!!

  3. Ahhh, GIRL POWER – that’s it! You nailed it! All our lives we’re screaming and shouting this mantra, and then by the time we’re ready to do the one thing our bodies were made for, we’ve been convinced by the powers that be, that we’re not strong enough. I call BS. We ARE strong enough. We just have to think that we’re strong enough and actually try to be it. Like you said, we can’t go into something expecting failure. And by pre-scheduling c-sections and deciding before labor even starts that we’re going to get an epidural, we’re doing just that – setting ourselves up for failure!

    I’m pregnant with my 2nd and I had my 1st completely unmedicated without any interventions. Like you, my water broke very early (as I was leaving for the birth center) and my labor progressed SO FAST from that point – very intense and fast paced. DS was out within 4 hours (in addition to the 3 hours of laboring at home). I knew from before that we were going completely natural. I read so much and watched so many videos and mentally prepared myself for the reality of labor. I must have read Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth a million times during my pregnancy. Reading stories of other women who’ve done it was the best thing I could ever recommend to an expecting mama.

    It’s so awesome that you had your babies at home! With this one, we will go to the birth center again, but I think for the next one (God-willing), we will try for a home birth. :)

  4. I had my daughter at a freestanding birth center on purpose because I knew the epidural would be too readily given at any instance of whining were I at a hospital. Turns out I actually have a high pain tolerance and didn’t cry out for one until she was nearly earthside. I’ll be having a home birth any day now, and I relish in the knowledge that I can totally do it without pain meds. Sacrificing in labor is the first and most important step in learning to love your child. It’s not supposed to be easy, just a reminder of what love is.

  5. What a great post! I had to have c-sections with both my kids and in no way found this post offensive. In fact, I wish I would have read something like this before having my first. It wouldn’t have changed the fact that I had to have a c-section, but it would have changed my perspective. I walked in saying I *will* have an epidural but now I think ~ had I not have had to have a c-section, I could have done it without the epidural. Thanks for sharing!

  6. I did not take any classes. I had a planned home birth without any medical interventions. The birth of my daughter was absolutely wonderful!

  7. This is a beautiful post. I wish more women would support new moms to be in telling them how wonderful it can be naturally. C-sections and epidurals, while needed in rare cases, carry more risks than benefits for the majority of us. I didn’t take childbirth classes with our first and ended up in the hospital with a medically induced shoulder dystocia and a baby with a broken collar bone. With our second, I still went to the hospital (should have stayed home!) but I had done my research and hired a doula, too.

    Labor contractions WITH Pitocin and pain meds are a hell of a lot worse than dealing with labor contractions WITHOUT Pitocin OR pain meds. That surprised me. But we had her totally naturally and it was amazing! <3

  8. My husband and I read this the day after I gave birth to our daughter. (She is now two weeks old.) We had a home birth, and I delivered her naturally. We both cried reading what you wrote about your time with K not lasting for ever.

    I completely relate to what you said about accepting the pain. My little girl deserved at least an attempt at a healthy, natural birth. It’s extremely empowering knowing that even though there were several moments when I didn’t think I was going to make it, I DID it! I actually did it, and I did the best thing I knew how to do for my daughter! Having my baby naturally was the hardest, most painful, most worthwhile thing I have ever done, and I know that (as long as I’m low risk) I will have the rest of our children naturally.

  9. I have given bith to 4 babies (1 in Heaven) and only with my 1st one did I have the epidural. Yes, it hurt, yes, it is intense without the epidural (and with my last baby, no IV meds either!), but when we have our last baby, I am gonna try to do it again without. It is so worth it!! The recovery time is practically nothing and I felt so strong and powerful :)

  10. Love this! I had my first baby without an epidural, and it was an induction! My second I didn’t prepare as I should have and ended up with back labor that I couldn’t handle so I ended up with an epidural.

    For those reading comments: Do your homework! Take the classes (Bradley is what I used the first time, all I did was read the book, there were no classes available locally at the time)! You never know how strong you are until you try!

  11. Great post! Had an epidural with my little guy but I do think I could’ve gone without it (and din’t like that it made my legs COMPLETELY numb). Maybe next time I’ll go without it. Thanks for the encouragement!

  12. My little one is due to be here until June 4th and I have been wanting to do natural labor since I found out I was pregnant. My concern was that I just wouldn’t be able to handle it and I’ll give in and opt for the epidural once I get to the hospital. I’m keeping your post as a reminder that I can do this; thank you so much for the encouragement!

  13. I had an epidural administered during the labor of my son. He is my first and only child. The experience of administering the epidural was absolutely TERRIBLE! So much pain. What should have taken 10 minutes, took an hour. My back was prepped 3 times and I was “stuck” a total of 8 times. All while shooting nerve pain was going down my leg. We thought it was finally done when just enough relief was felt for me to regain some composure. This only lasted about 10 minutes and then the pain was in full effect. My epidural failed and I gave birth to my son with full sensation. I too focused on the end result – finally seeing my beautiful baby. Somehow I made it through. With future births I believe I will turn down the option of the epidural because it was more tormenting than the actual birth in my particular situation. Natural and BEAUTIFUL it will be!!

  14. Misty King says:

    I have had three epiduralss and one natural birth with no pain meds, and I mean not even a Tylenol….I wouldn’t wish that kind of pain on anyone, and cannot for the life of me understand why anyone would want to subject themselves to that kind of pain when they can have relief with an epidural. The end result is exactly the same either way, a beautiful baby. My 4th child came so quickly I almost a delivered in the car and had no choice of epidural or not. With my 5th pregnancy my doctor has already scheduled an induction at 39 weeks to keep the baby from being born on the way to the hospital.

    • Hi Misty! I guess “to each their own” would have to be my reply! I had a lot of thought behind my decision, but this post was mostly written to encourage mothers who *want* a drug-free delivery, but are afraid that they can’t do it. Congratulations on your little one!

    • Hi Misty,
      Sadly, the result is often *not* the same when women get epidurals. First off, the baby is exposed to the drugs. Not a healthy beginning. Secondly, women who have epidurals have a much, much higher risk for complications and c-sections. Very unhealthy for both mama and baby.
      Even if there are no extreme, immediate and obvious complications from an epidural, they cause longer labors (an average of an extra hour), they usually reduce blood flow to the baby due to lower blood pressure (less oxygen to the baby) and they reduce the effectiveness of pushing, which is more traumatic for baby. If you truly believe that avoiding pain is top priority, you really need to educate yourself on the very real and life-threatening risks to your baby and yourself. Here are more details and links to the statistics. I hope this help you and your future children.
      http://creativechristianmama.com/why-were-planning-a-homebirth-part-2/

  15. I think this post was meant to encourage women who want to have natural births and that’s all, but Misty King, I would have to say as a mom of 2 (soon 3) with completely natural and home births, and as a doula who has attended countless births, deciding to get or not to get an epidural is not just about experiencing pain or not. Women choosing natural births are often influenced by the wealth of evidence showing that epidurals and other unnecessary interventions during pregnancy and birth may not be as safe for babies and moms as we think. Practically, I can say from experience that epidurals slow labor, can stop contractions, almost always require bolus injections of Pitocin to boost contractions- which often leads to fetal distress and statistically increases c-section rate of 50% (please keep that statistic in mind as you consider induction, and I would suggest watching The Business of Being Born). I’ve witnessed countless labors that get halted and often lead to “emergency” c-sections because the mom is not as able to move, walk, squat, dance, and do all the other things a laboring woman can do to help get the baby through the most difficult part of birth, which is the final decent through the last stations of the birth canal. It is unfair and biased based on your personal results to say that the end result is always the same, because almost all medical drugs and interventions for birth have side effects- sometimes mild, sometimes severe. There are countless women with horror stories of improperly administered epidurals, epidural injury, unnecessary traumatic c-sections, birth injury, postpartum depression, and many worse things. If you research the maternal mortality rates of the US- which has the highest epidural and c-section rates- it’s pathetic. We lose more moms and babies than almost every other developed nation. So, no, the result is not always a beautiful baby. The research shows very clearly that unmedicated births have fewer complications, fewer c-sections (obviously), faster recoveries, better breastfeeding rates, and many more superior results. It almost feels like you’re shaming women for wanting natural births, which is a personal decision, but also one that is based on absolutely reasonable evidence! I would NEVER judge a women (and as a doula I never do) for choosing an epidural or other birth intervention as long as she is fully informed of the possible side effects and other necessary information on the intervention. In my experience, though, most women are not informed by their health providers as they should be. They just go with the typical hospital procedures when the nurses simply say to them, “it’s best for the baby”…even though that is not always the case. Please consider your wording as it could be hurtful and frustrating for moms who didn’t have a perfect birth and baby after getting epidurals. The author and I agree, I believe, that there is no shame in getting epidurals. There is not shame in not getting one, either.

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