I wasn’t married to the idea of having a natural birth. In fact, I planned loosely on getting an epidural or managing the pain in other ways, but as my labor progressed, the plans I had in place for a natural birth were followed through, and in the end, I was able to execute my goal. I have read through and listened to countless birth stories. I’ve come to realize my birth experience was laced with a bit of luck, some preparation, and an amazing team, which I am fortunate to have had. Here’s my natural birth story.
*This post contains affiliate links
Around 36 weeks I really started researching birth plans. Better late than never, right? I had an unremarkable pregnancy and was hoping my birth would go the same way. I started looking at birth options and tried signing up for a hospital tour, but the timing for us never worked out. I was going in completely unprepared, and felt at 36 weeks, it was probably a good time to nail down what I wanted to attempt, so I asked my midwife about having a natural birth.
Some background on me: I have an absolute phobia about people touching my back. Weird, right? So the thought of a huge needle being inserted into my back was, well, terrifying. Honestly the epidural scared me probably more than a natural birth; just me personally. So, I was thinking about how I really wanted to be mobile and not confined, and I read a couple of horror stories about epidurals going wrong, which all in all prompted a serious consideration for a natural birth.
My midwife gave me the best advice: stay home as long as you can if you want to have a natural birth. She explained that if I went in to the hospital too early, I would probably be exhausted by the time real labor started and would opt for the epidural or some sort of pain management. Ok, I thought. Better blow up that birthing ball, then.
Telling my midwives that I wanted to attempt to have a natural birth was helpful because they were able to inform the hospital of my preference for a natural birthing room (one with a tub), if available. I began preparing for a natural birth by reading a lot of articles, blog posts, and looking at physical exercises I could do to help with labor (mostly squats). The more I researched and read, the more I felt like it was totally possible to have a natural birth, pending there were no hiccups and that baby would not be in danger.
Researching Other Pain Management Options
I attended a baby shower at 38 weeks and spoke to someone who used nitrous as a method of pain management. She said she had a natural birth and just used nitrous oxide during contractions when she was around 4 cm and beyond.
Nitrous Oxide is the method of pain relief that dentists use, however it is diluted when used during birth. I read conflicting research on whether nitrous actually does cross into the placenta, asked my midwife, and ultimately ended up listing this as an option for pain management on my birth plan.
Nitrous is a nice option because it doesn’t have long lasting effects. Women can use it (via inhalation) as needed during contractions, but it wears off momentarily. It does not numb the pain, but does make it more manageable, from what I read.
I think one of the reasons my birth plan was a success was because I left my options open. I didn’t really want to get an epidural, but I did prepare for one; I filled out the medical and anesthesia forms ahead of time just in case. I wanted to know I had a plan B and I was prepared in case things didn’t go according to my plan, and this gave me a sense of relief that I didn’t put so much pressure on myself to think that it was either natural birth or bust.
My Due Date Came and Went
My due date was January 1st,, and that day came and went. I never felt like my baby was going to come that day, anyway. She was my first, so it was predicted that she would be late. On January 2nd, I started to actually nest. I decided that day was a good day to set up an IKEA closet for the nursery. I remember sitting in her nursery and putting drawers together all afternoon. I also remember distinctly having Braxton Hicks contractions pretty regularly that night. That evening, I finalized my birth plan, blew up the birthing ball (yoga ball), and started packing a hospital bag.
The Start of Contractions
On the morning of January 3rd, my husband got home around 7:00 a.m. (LEO, works at night). I distinctly remember him getting into bed as I felt the first contraction. It felt like moderate period cramps. It wasn’t unbearably painful, just more uncomfortable than Braxton Hicks contractions, and I felt the pain lower in my abdomen. I felt another one about 2 minutes later. And then another one.
At that point I wasn’t completely sure if these were legitimate contractions or not. I poked and prodded my husband and told him what was going on, and he lazily drifted back to sleep (thanks, buddy!). I showered that morning and remember almost passing out as I got out of the shower. My contractions were regular and about 1.5-2 minutes apart. Again, not extremely painful, but painful enough that I had to stop and breathe through them. I laid down in bed again and my contractions seemed to slow down but feel worse.
Walking around made my contractions happen more frequently but feel less painful. I already had a previously scheduled check-up that day with my midwife just to see how I was doing. I debated on whether I needed to go to that, or just cancel and go to the hospital, but I ultimately decided if I was going to do this ‘natural thing’ then I needed to tough it out at home until my contractions were closer together. My midwife described it like this: when you can no longer have a conversation, go to the hospital. I wasn’t anywhere close to that point, yet.
I walked around my house and tried to stay busy until the afternoon (1:00) when my appointment was scheduled. My mom drove me to my appointment and when I was examined by my midwife, the first words out of her mouth were “How far do you live from the hospital?” Bewildered, I replied “30-ish minutes.” She smiled and said “ok, well you’re six centimeters, so I think it’s probably time to pack a bag.”
I got so excited; baby was coming today! My midwife explained that the next course of action was to break my water which would drastically speed up my contractions. She advised that I be at the hospital when this happened. I was managing the pain so far and knowing I was half way there gave me the confidence I needed to believe that maybe I could have a natural birth after all. My midwife called the hospital and told them to admit me without another cervical exam because I was already dilated; this was nice because usually you have to be checked by someone at the hospital before being admitted, but this allowed us to breeze right in. Perfect!
Everything seemed like it was going so fast and that baby would have a January 3rd birthday. My mom and I drove home and my husband (luckily awake at this point) and I scrambled to finish packing our hospital bag. My husband and I drove one car and my parents followed in another. I threw down a doggy pee pad in the passenger seat of my husband’s new truck, just in case my water broke (we would discover, later, that would have done absolutely nothing).
The Hospital Hustle and Bustle
We got to the hospital and sure enough, I was already checked in. I just had to sign a few papers and then I was admitted. We ended up in the room with the tub. At this point I think it was about 3:00 p.m. The midwife on call was someone I had never met, but she was part of my OBGYN team, so I trusted her.
The nurses were phenomenal and let us set up my essential oil diffuser and our portable speaker with nice spa-like music. We were able to dim the lights and they honored my desire to try a natural birth.
They gave me a wireless monitor to put over my abdomen that monitored baby’s heart rate. They did put an IV in my arm in case I needed medications, but never hooked it up to anything. I requested that I be allowed to eat food and drink water for as long as I could, and that I was mobile. They brought in a birthing ball and basically let me be. I also noted on my birth plan to have minimal cervical checks, and they were really respectful of this.
Of course, the new midwife wanted to check and see my progress after I got settled. She spoke to me right before checking my cervix and explained that the next course of action would be to manually break my water. I kind of objected to this and said I really wanted it to go as naturally as possible.
Side note: I’m a firm believer in the human body. More specifically, when left to do what it’s supposed to do, I think it is really a phenomenal ‘machine,’ if you will. But, when tampered with and given unnatural substances, or pushed to speed its natural processes, I don’t believe the pain could have been managed naturally. I was pretty much against any use of Pitocin or manually breaking my water without pain management.
The midwife was respectful of this and she examined me without the intention of breaking my water, however as soon as she started to examine me, my water broke. She found that I was at 8 cm at that point and basically told me she was going to leave me be until I felt the urge to push, then she left. The nurses were still there with me and were helping clean up the mess and result of my water breaking. As I said earlier, a doggy pee pad would have done absolutely nothing with preventing a completely soaked truck had my water broken on the way to the hospital. Whew, good thing that didn’t happen!
I got in the shower because I felt completely gross afterwards, and felt like any time I took a step or shifted my weight a certain way, more fluid would come out, prompting another shower or towel off. I was beginning to feel exhausted with standing. I was laboring standing up and would brace myself on a counter and lean my head against the upper cabinet in the hospital room. I never used a birthing ball because honestly I think I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to stand up again since my legs were so weak at this point.
At 8 cm, my contractions were manageable but definitely more frequent. I breathed through them and felt like as long as they didn’t get much worse, I would be able to manage a natural birth. I never screamed during contractions. I read through other birth stories that really this is a sign that you have lost control. Had I vocalized my pain, I would have had less energy to actually deal with it. So, I was quiet for the most part and just took a lot of deep breaths.
Baby didn’t come on January 3rd.
At about 5:00 p.m., I decided to try out the tub. I was tired, had been laboring for 10 hours, and needed to rest. Plus, fluid was coming out right and left and this just made me feel like I needed to get in the shower, but I also wanted to get clean and relax my legs. I soaked in the tub for about 30 minutes and, in hindsight, I probably wouldn’t have done this; I believe this is what stalled my labor.
Around 7:00 p.m., the midwife came back in to check my progress, wondering why I hadn’t felt the urge to push yet. She checked my cervix and found that it was at 7 cm. I had regressed. This was bothersome and she started throwing out some options, all of which seemed so overwhelming having been in labor already for 12 hours and feeling like I was going backwards.
She mentioned Pitocin, C-section, induced labor, and a breast pump to trigger oxytocin release and maybe stimulate more effective contractions. I was exhausted at this point but was so determined to keep going with my plan. I had come this far and didn’t want to give up on my quest to have a natural birth. Fortunately, baby’s heart rate was steady and showed no signs of distress, so the midwife left the decision up to me. I tried the breast pump and in my mind told myself if this doesn’t work, I’ll get an epidural and do Pitocin. I honestly did not think I would be able to handle Pitocin and induced labor on my own.
We tried the breast pump (this was the first time I had hooked a breast pump up to my chest so I was a little nervous about dealing with this plus contractions)—it was 10 minutes of pumping and 5 minutes of rest. My husband helped me hold the flanges on as I breathed through the contractions. I did this for an hour. I was checked again and had made some progress but not much. It was now about 9:00 p.m. and the nurses came back in and said they wanted to try some positional moves to get baby in a better position.
I laid on my side/stomach and went through three or four contractions, then did the pump on and off, then laid on my other side and went through three or four contractions. I did this over and over again for what felt like an eternity, but at midnight, five hours after doing the pump and positional moves, I started to push. I finally felt the urge, and it. Was. Amazing.
Pushing My Baby Out
At midnight I started pushing. I kept asking the nurses and midwife: “does it get better? Is pushing less painful? Is this baby ever coming out?” They kept reassuring me, encouraging me, and supporting me.
Yes, it got better. Pushing was almost a relief. Don’t get me wrong, it was painful, but it felt like a productive pain, like I was making progress. My husband was by my side the whole time, holding my leg. He was my rock, my support, my encouragement. I pushed for one and a half hours. I pushed through the pain. Through the ring of fire. I felt like I was going to pass out a couple of times which is when I had to hold my breath and get my blood pressure back up. Through all of this though, baby was never in distress, so the nurses and my midwife were willing to let me try things naturally.
I only say this because so many women try the natural route but run into hiccups; it is common and sometimes unavoidable. This is why I say I was lucky that I didn’t really have any hiccups and was able to make it work. Either way, we do what we can to get the baby out safely, and that’s all we can do. No one way is the best way. The safe way is the best way.
The moment the midwife said she could see my baby’s dark curly hair gave me the stamina and energy I needed to push her out. She crowned on one contraction and, in my head, I was in so much pain, that I felt I was either going to die or baby had to come out on the next contraction. So, with the last bit of stamina I had, I pushed her out. And everything was better after that. I didn’t feel really any pain after she came out, compared to pushing her out. I didn’t feel it when the umbilical cord was cut. I didn’t feel it when I had to be stitched up (I had a minor tear), and I didn’t feel it when my placenta was pulled out. Everything was bliss after my baby came out. And I was in love.
A Love I Have Never Felt Before
My baby cried as soon as she came out. I had requested immediate skin to skin and delayed cord cutting (until pulsing stopped), so very quickly, the nurses put her on my abdomen/chest and started wiping her down. As soon as I heard her first cry, I felt a wave of emotion wash over me. This was my baby. My purpose in life. My creation. My sole responsibility. And she was here, finally, crying, on me. My husband cried. I didn’t really have energy at that point to cry, I was just so emotionally in awe of what had just occurred.
My husband cut the cord when it stopped pulsing and baby was then brought up to my chest. The nurses helped to establish a breastfeeding latch as the midwife stitched me up and inspected the placenta for any tears or perforations. The two hours before I went up to the mother and baby unit went by in a flash. Baby was weighed and measured, and I got up to use the restroom and reality set in again that I had just birthed a baby—I. Was. Sore.
Natural Birth Takeaways
All in all, I would attempt a natural birth again. Yes, it hurt. Yes, it was probably one of the most painful experiences of my life, but in my mind, it was manageable. Why? Because it was a natural process. When you break your arm, that’s not natural; you feel pain and in your mind, you’re scared about what’s wrong because something is definitely not right. When I was going through labor, it was painful, but in my mind I kept telling myself, this is natural, this is what my body is meant to do, and this is what is supposed to be happening. This mindset helped me cope with the pain. I trusted my body and was able to get through it. My contractions didn’t really get much worse after 8 cm, just more frequent. The most painful part was when baby crowned, not the contractions. But, the pushing itself was less painful than the contractions.
I felt a numbness at the very last minute, right before baby came out. A wave of numbness; my body’s natural defense and response to help me push through the last bit of pain. And then, once baby was out, everything was infinitely easier after that. I was ‘in labor’ for a total of 18 hours. I would say it was more exhausting than painful, and this is mostly what I have read on other blogs as well and among other experiences.
It’s important to recognize a few things about my birth story: I had an exceptional team of nurses and midwives that were not only encouraging, but respectful of my wishes (thanks Sarasota Memorial). The two nurses I had for my delivery were amazing. One of them had experienced a couple of natural births herself, and she was seriously one of the biggest supporters through my whole experience. I will be forever grateful for how they supported me an encouraged me and were a KEY to my success. I have listened to and read through so many birth stories where this is not the case, and this (your birth team) can honestly make or break your goals of whatever birth you are wanting to have. I actually contacted a Doula during my pregnancy because I was worried I may not have enough support to attempt a natural birth, but fortunately/unfortunately (however you see it), she never contacted me back, so I didn’t have one.
Also, another factor of my success: my baby was never in distress. Many women have goals of a certain type of birth, but if baby is in distress, your birth team will do whatever is medically necessary to get baby out, and there is nothing wrong with this. A safe birth is the best birth. I was incredibly lucky and the stars aligned for my birth plan to be executed. ALSO, I never experienced back labor (I’ve heard this is excruciating). Had this happened, I probably would have opted for the epidural right away.
So, I don’t tell my story to make anyone feel bad if they didn’t have the type of birth they wanted. I tell it to encourage women to have an open mind going in; plan for the birth you really want. If it’s natural, go for it (if your doctor is supportive of this)! Try it. It IS possible. You CAN do it. But, don’t beat yourself up if another plan is needed, or you decide that you are more comfortable with a different plan. Prepare for whatever birth you are wanting, but have a plan B in place if things go a different direction, and be OK with your plan B. I would encourage anyone thinking of having a natural birth to have an open mind and read through other stories of natural births. Everyone’s birth story is a little different, and it was helpful for me to read through different experiences to get a few viewpoints. Believe in yourself and the power of your own body, but be prepared to go a different direction, if needed.
Having a birth plan was a HUGE help for both myself, the nurses, and my midwife. Also, a great birth team that supported a natural birth, the support of my husband, and a strong belief in the power of my own body were the keys to my success.
If you want to have a natural birth, it is totally possible given some preparation and a clear communication to your birth team.