Natural Birth: Letting Go of Fear
This is the first in a week-long series of essays titled Becoming Mami, a new generation of Latinas speak on childbirth, babies and acceptance. For links to other essays read the introduction.
By Suzanne Garcia Mateus
When I start to write or tell about my birthing experience (which really began when I was pregnant) I get really excited, emotional, and a part of me feels a great sense of peace.
I started the journey knowing there were options out there, but had never explored which ones were right for me and, quite frankly, why they were right for me.
When I tell people (usually women) about how pregnancy and my view about birthing changed the way I decided to try and have a baby I share seven pivotal moments:
- Purchasing and reading two books about natural birthing. In addition to reading about the options and the philosophy of birthing on the Internet.
- Watching the documentary, The Business of Being Born by Ricky Lake.
- Taking prenatal yoga to help develop pain-coping techniques.
- Hiring a doula to assist me with pain-coping techniques and because there is a higher percentage of having a natural birth with a doula present.
- Visualizing myself having a “natural/med-free” birth by changing the way I understood “pain.”
- Talking to several women who have had natural births.
- Lastly, there is an element of luck, which is out of everyone’s control.
Now, I won’t go into detail about all seven, some even speak for themselves, but I will share details that stood out to me and ones I think readers may benefit from.
First of all, I definitely experienced the typical fear every pregnant woman goes through. You know, the fear of how in the world is a baby supposed to come out of my body?
I kept telling myself, “Women have been having babies for centuries. It’s nothing new.”
That thought led me to explore the history of birthing. I have to make it clear that I was trying to stay open minded about any possibility that may arise while in labor. I sincerely value the advances of medicine and believe they definitely have a place in labor and delivery.
In addition, I also want to stress that a woman’s choice to labor and deliver in any fashion is the beauty of, not only modern medicine, but also a woman’s prerogative to choose. No women should be made to feel guilty about the choices she has made, nor for the events that may have occurred, which may have been out of her control during labor. That being said, I knew that I whole-heartedly wanted a medicine/intervention-free birth.
The second I made that decision (metaphorically-speaking because the decision to pursue this took me almost six months into my pregnancy) to train my body to pursue a medicine/intervention-free birth by learning pain-coping techniques. I promised myself that fear was not allowed to visit my thoughts. It simply was not an option. I did not have time for it, nor the energy to waste thinking about fear because, either way, I was going into labor and I was going to birth a baby.
There’s one piece of advice that gave me faith and strength:
“There are only two people during childbirth that know what is best: that’s the mother in labor and the baby being born.”
The lesson I will carry with me forever as a result of experiencing a natural birth is how it really can be a spiritual journey.
Part about changing my perspective of pain involved changing my view about birthing. I saw it as a journey, both my pregnancy and the labor, with my baby. This experience was happening to both of us. In addition, I learned that the body really does know what to do if we let it.
There is also an element of luck to getting the birth you want, in my opinion. I did most of my laboring at home with my doula and my husband. In fact, I checked into the hospital at 3:30 a.m. and my baby was born at 5:59 a.m. I was lucky, in that, my water didn’t break until I got to the hospital and that my baby was in the right position.
I cannot stress enough that the training to see birthing in this way and then be able to live it, both physically and mentally, happened while I was pregnant. In other words, there was definitely a simple physical component to birthing and there was definitely was a complicated mental side of it.
For example, I am a former long-distance runner and one of the pain-coping techniques I used to get through contractions was to see the length of each contraction as a full-on sprint. Sprinting involves a painful 30-90 second run where you are completely out of breath and your muscles hurt like hell.
A mental strategy I used was to view the experience of a natural birth as part of experiencing being alive. For instance, in a documentary about the movie Alive one of the men shares how when an avalanche completely buried him, he was freaking out and losing his breath because he knew he was dying. At one point, he acknowledges that dying is part of life, and it was at that moment that he decided to enjoy the process, and it was only then that he could enjoy the experience and eventually be able to share it. This is how I decided to view labor.
I’m not advocating for a complete change of how you view life in order to possibly experience a natural birth, just find what works for you. This is what worked for me, but I had to look within myself to find this out.
As a result, experiencing a natural childbirth gave me a greater sense of empowerment in how I feel about my body. There’s a part of me that has this burning desire to participate in a triathlon, and then there is another part of me that can see myself doing anything I set my mind to.
Suzanne Garcia Mateus is a first-time mom to a beautiful baby girl and a doctoral student in bilingual and bicultural education at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas. She writes about her bilingual experiences via her blog: Interpretations of a Bilingual Life and is also a monthly contributor for SpanglishBaby where she writes about her attempt to raise a trilingual child.