It’s Called Labor for a Reason

One of the classes in my Childbirth Class series, we watch our first birth film. It’s usually a birth film using non-medicated coping techniques and comfort measures (i.e., no drugs.) We’ll get to Epidurals and Cesarean Birth eventually, but I try to show families what birth looks like when nothing’s been added to the mix.

One of the movies that’s been shown in lots of classes around the country over the years is “Adam & Christina.” They’re a really likable couple and the demographic works well with my Portland peeps – Christina wears a little labor skirt instead of a hospital gown, there’s a gazillion cute bra costume changes throughout, and her butterfly tattoo is clearly visible on her low back while she’s pushing.

Christina has back labor and is pretty emotional throughout. But what I like best about this movie is that we get to see her working – hard

Christina is shown mostly in a hands and knees position to take the extra pressure off her back while Adam applies a heating pad and counter pressure to help with the pain. She gets in and out of the tub, uses the birth ball, squatting bar, patterned breathing and vocalization. She takes quick sips of water in between contractions and at one point, sucks on a popsicle. In the voice over, Adam says, “While it might not seem like much, it was quite a lot of work to keep up with her.”

In the debrief following the movie, I always acknowledge that there are lots of different people in class. There are those who are wanting the “At-Home-Do-It-Yourself-Epidural-Kit” (which, by the way, doesn’t exist… so don’t get your hopes up!) and those who are wanting to to go all the way, or as far as they can, without any drugs.

In either case, people need to know they’ll be working hard before medication even becomes a possibility. And for those who are looking to give birth without medication, they’ll be working even harder.

It’s not enough to write on their Birth Plan, “Desire no pain medications to be offered unless specifically requested.”

Those who are wanting to go “no meds” need to enter into the labor and delivery room ready to participate actively in their birth to cope with their contractions.

When we cover non-medicated coping techniques, I hope they’re paying close attention – with eyes and ears wide open! And I seriously hope they’re practicing outside of class together if they expect breathing, position changes, massage, relaxation, and hydrotherapy to be effective in helping them cope without medication.

Do I believe every birthing person is capable of giving birth without medication? Yes, absolutely! Because I believe birth is normal and our bodies are designed to do this thing very well.

Having said that, there are reasons why an unmedicated birth might not be possible on any given day. Circumstances like the health of the baby or birthing person, the overall length of their labor, the support (or lack thereof) of their birth team, or even their desire can affect whether or not  an unmedicated, zero intervention birth experience might happen for any individual birthing person.

But if they are internally motivated for this birth to be drug free, it’s important to be prepared to work hard for that reality. It is called “labor” after all…

Their partner needs to be prepared, too. I’ve been known to say, “If they have a 24 hour labor, you do too!” because I want partners to understand what their role will require of them. There will be no sitting around and checking IG posts or texting the in-laws about the birth – these partners will be working hard to keep up with the birthing person helping them get through each and every contraction.

Having realistic expectations about pregnancy, birth and parenting matters. The participation level that’s required of birthing folks and their partners when they’re bringing their babies into this world should be emphasized.

Be prepared to work hard through each and every contraction and find your way to the break that’s waiting for you in between. Know what you’re signing up for in advance so you can better prepare yourself, your partner, and your whole birth team for how they can best support you. If you’re wanting to give birth drug-free all of you need to know what non-medicated comfort and coping techniques are available and feel good about using any and/or all of them to help you get through.

I wouldn’t want any of my families is to feel like they had no idea how much would be required of them in an unmedicated birth. That would mean that I’d fallen down on my job of preparing them for their birth experience.

But the bonus is that if everyone in my classes hears the same message (no matter what their medication preference might be) then they’ll know how important it is to actively participate in their labor.

And the super sly thing about all of this is: the more actively a person participates in coping with their contractions by using different comfort techniques, the better they end up feeling about the whole experience – no matter what their decision around the use of medication!

Even if circumstances or desires shift during the birth and a person changes their mind about using medication to help them cope with contractions, they can look back and realize how well they’d been coping with their labor right up to that point. This allows them to feel less like a “victim” of circumstance and more of a “decision-maker.” This can have a positive impact on how they remember their birth and tell their story.

And I’m all about that – people feeling strong, empowered and positive about how they gave birth to their babies. Telling their story, heads held high, a sense of pride and satisfaction backing every word. This is what can happen when we work hard at something. That sense of pride and satisfaction comes with the struggle. The key here is that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. 

Hard work is good for us. And there is no harder work, or better work for that matter, than birthing our babies.


(Bonus image)

Was giving birth something you would describe as hard work? How much did you participate in the birth of your baby, as birthing person or birth partner?


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