Sexy, Savvy, Natural Mama

a blog space for pregnant ladies, new moms, feminists, and interested souls

Fear of Labor July 13, 2010

For those of you who knew me before Eric and I started planning to get pregnant, you may have at least guessed that I wasn’t exactly a natural birth advocate. I thought the idea of a scheduled c-section sounded like a great idea, and the thought of breastfeeding totally creeped me out. I had a colleague who had had an all natural birth that lasted thirty-six hours, and that was enough to convince me that ALL THAT was something I did not want. After all, as Americans in the twenty-first century, we’ve been given the opportunity to do away with pain during labor. Why wouldn’t you want to do away with pain? Why wouldn’t you want to do away with the strangeness and ickiness of breastfeeding? Knock me out, and give me the drugs. That was quite and very much the way of my reasoning.

Fast forward to July 3, 2009. That’s right — almost exactly a year ago. Eric and I formally decided to go off of birth control that day. I only remember it because it was the one week in the summer that Eric was home from a business trip to San Diego (one that he thought I’d be able to go on, but that’s another story), and it was the night that we saw Away We Go, the day before the fourth of July. Yes, a baby. We decided we were going to have a baby in 2010. Exciting. As you might have guessed, I hadn’t given labor too much of a thought, except that I still thought it was a yucky, painful process. One that I clearly wanted to avoid.

And then I read this post on one of my favorite blogs. (And this one and this incredible, beautiful conclusion to follow up. If you read one of those posts, read the last one, please. Yes. So amazing.) And with those words, and her experience, I began to question what I once knew. When I went to stay with my husband his last week in San Diego, I told him that I thought I wanted a natural birth. Of course, he’s always been a big supporter of this, pretty much calling me crazy for wanting a c-section — I mean, that’s major surgery, and why would you want to schedule that when you don’t have to?

Fast forward again to January 2010. I find out I’m pregnant on the day that we go to visit Eric’s family. I read What to Expect When You’re Expecting that weekend, and it only makes me nervous. After that, I start to do my research in earnest. I read everything I can get my hands on about healthy pregnancy, natural birth, and labor: Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin, Birthing from Within by Pam England and Rob Horowitz, Your Best Birth by Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein, Pushed by Jennifer Block, Hypnobirthing by Marie Mongan, and The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin for my husband and coach. (And I just got The Birth Book by William Sears.)

I began to realize that I was seriously under-educated about pregnancy and childbirth. I began to realize that most of us — women and men — are seriously under-educated about childbirth. As Americans, we’ve also been seriously mis-educated, misled, and misguided about PAIN. We hear a lot of cliches about labor in particular, and we see them on our television and movie screens. We hear this: “You wouldn’t undergo a root canal without anesthesia, right?” or “It would be like trying to push a watermelon out of your nostril.” We hear about how painful it is, how it’s unlike any other pain you’ve experienced, how it’s pure insanity to go it without pain relief. We see women in terrible pain on A Baby Story, lying back as the doctors swoop in to save the day. We see Ellen Page in Juno and Katherine Heigl in Knocked Up begging for epidurals when they go into labor (and Amy Poehler in Baby Mama celebrating her choice to have one in a rather public way). Think about it: do you see any positive portrayals of natural birth in the media? Do you see any portrayals of women being empowered as they choose the way their child comes into the world?

Let me know if you think of some. I can’t.

In fact, I would posit that we’ve been taught to fear labor, fear the natural signals of our bodies, and fear the pain that is associated with those natural signals. We’ve put our trust instead in doctors, who are incidentally, mostly dudes. (Side note: there are lots of great doctors, and natural-friendly ones to boot. But there are plenty who keep on pushing the fear.) By putting trust in someone other than ourselves, and by passively absorbing the fearful images we see in the media, we give up a valuable part of our birth experiences. We get swept away in the wave of fearing pain, and we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to become educated, take control, and guide our birth experience as captain, rather than passenger.

When you fear something, it gets a lot worse, right? It hurts worse, it feels more painful, it is more intimidating, more frightening … so it is with labor. If you fear it, you will automatically tighten up, which works against the natural contractions your body is producing to guide your baby forward. When you work against your own body, and cannot relax, it can hurt a lot worse. Common sense, right? But still, over nine months (and indeed, the many years before we get pregnant), we are developing an image of an intensely painful experience that we cannot cope with, that will control us, that is compared to an illness in the medical world. How can one be expected to work against that fear when it comes to the day of labor?

Adrenaline plays a role here too. If you see a bunch of people you don’t know in your labor room, you get scared at the onset of a painful contraction, or your doctor gives you a rough exam while you are laboring, it can trigger an adrenaline rush. According to Birthing Naturally, “Adrenaline is the “fight or flight” hormone that humans produce to help ensure survival. Women who feel threatened during labor (for example by fear or severe pain) may produce high levels of adrenaline. Adrenaline can slow labor or stop it altogether.” And if your labor stops, you need the drugs, right? So say the doctors.

Well what’s wrong with the drugs? Pitocin and pain relief medications of all varieties help a tremendous amount of women through labor, but they can also mess with your body a bit in ways you might not expect. I’ll comment here about pitocin — it’s a synthetic version of the natural hormone that makes your uterus contract. But it doesn’t work in the same way that your natural hormone, oxytocin, does. It makes your whole uterus contract rapidly and all at once. You might guess that causes pain — not so great pain that might cause you to start seriously needing the pain meds. Pitocin also doesn’t trigger the natural pain relief mechanism your body has to offer — endorphins. So when you get the pitocin, you start needing the epidural, and the epidural, while innocuous to the body in many ways, can slow labor as much as 25%. And when labor slows? That’s right … “emergency c-section.” Sounds nuts right? It certainly happens.

Understandably, many remain frightened of the pain. But many remain unaware of the benefits of laboring sans drugs. You heal faster, you can walk around and try out different positions, you don’t have to have a catheter to pee, you can get in and out of the shower or tub, and you can sneak in a snack or a drink of water every once in a while. Too, you can listen to the signals of pain that your body gives you as positive markers of where you are in your labor. Finally, you are connected to the millions of women who have come before you — your ancestors — who labored naturally. But how do you cope with the pain in a society that tells you pain is unnecessary? Well, that’s the question. How can you?

In all the books I listed above, there are tons of relaxation techniques, exercises, and guided meditation that many women say can help. The Bradley Method encourages slow, abdominal breathing, while Hypnobirthing touts self-hypnosis. Birthing from Within tells about non-focused awareness. There are a lot of options out there. Hypnobirthing even claims that labor was never meant to be painful, and Mongan’s book all but promises a pain-free labor. (We’ll see about that … ha.) Whatever the technique is, the important thing to me is that I get to choose it. I manage the pain, and it doesn’t manage me.

I can’t tell you where I got so confident about this decision, but it happened early on in my pregnancy. I didn’t want this to be something that happened TO me, but rather a whole event that I guided in the best ways I knew how. I’ll state here that I’m not belittling anyone who chooses a different path — we’re all trying to be mothers in the ways that we think will benefit our children the most. I’m also not going to say that I won’t consider pain relief if I’ve been laboring for 36 hours. And I’ll certainly go with a c-section if my baby’s life is in danger. But the important thing to me is that I have chosen to become educated about my options, and not close my eyes in order to let someone else manage the process for me.

That’s all for now.


Babymoon Love June 11, 2010

Filed under: love yourself,pregnancy — hokoonchi @ 2:02 am

Even though Eric and I both got sick on the Babymoon (Eric’s cold has cleared up pretty well; I’m currently on antibiotics for bronchitis), we had a great time being away from our house. Something about owning a new home makes you feel like you need to be completing a project at all times. There are still several rooms to be painted, all sorts of curtains to be hung, and picture hanging to be contemplated and mused over. That sort of thing stresses you out — the beach does just the opposite. Thought I’d share a few pictures from our trip …

We stayed at my aunt’s beach house in Manteo. This is the sunrise view …

Morning View

Morning View

She actually lives next to Andy Griffith, which is pretty cool. When I would visit Manteo about ten years ago, you could still spot Andy driving like a maniac around the island in his white Escalade. However, those times are long since past, and he normally stays to himself, with the company of his five dogs. We were hoping to see his puppies (my aunt got an update from the island vet that Andy had gotten some beautiful English lab puppies …) but we had no such luck …

Instead, we got to watch Leela as she checked out a box turtle for the first time.

I'm not sure what this is ...

I'm not sure what this is ...

We also took her swimming for the very first time. She was rather panicked about the whole experience. She did swim though — in the calmer waters of the sound. But she wasn’t having any of the ocean.

We took a long walk on the beach and got some beautiful photos.

Walking along

Walking along ...

We got a good baby belly shot while we were out.

Belly Shot

Belly Shot

There were a bunch of other beautiful photos … A very serene walk …

Beach House

That's what I call ocean front.

Under the pier

Under the Pier

Beach Birds

Beach Birds



Ah the beach. Wish I was there just about all the time. And next year, here’s hoping we both don’t come down with colds …

I did glean a few nuggets of pregnancy-travel knowledge from this experience. So, I’ll share them. Let’s learn from this experience.

According to Wikipedia,

“A babymoon is a period of time that parents spend bonding with a recently-born baby.

More recently the term has come to be used to describe a vacation taken by a couple that is expecting a baby in order to allow the couple to enjoy a final trip together before the many sleepless nights that usually accompany a newborn baby. Babymoons usually take place at a resort that offers appropriate services like prenatal massage.”

We did the latter. There are things to remember when planning such a vacation. Here are some tips to get you going:

1. Rent a vacation house or hit up any generous family members for a free stay at their vacation home. (Check out for vacation rentals.) Why not a resort with “appropriate services like prenatal massage?” Well, for one, it’s often cheaper to rent a house, and free is better than anything. It’s also great to be able to spread your stuff out, cook a meal if you feel like it, and have space to breathe and relax. You can also look for pet-friendly homes that welcome your dog!

2. Download some excellent TV on your computer before you roll out. So yeah, we’re TV lovers. So what! We downloaded four seasons of ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’ and the second half of season one of ‘Modern Family.’ This was excellent after the sun went down and the mosquitoes came out. And it was a pretty good substitute for multiple episodes of ‘I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant.’

3. Don’t plan a bunch of stuff. When you’re six or seven months knocked up, you’re not going to want to do much except take some long walks, go for a swim, and sample the local food. Don’t go for parasailing, trail running, or day-long museum tours. There’s only so much that a swollen foot can take. Instead, focus on spending time with your partner, sleeping late, reading a great book, making some fun recipes (like homemade pizza!), or chilling and watching the sun set. A babymoon is a relaxing break from pregnancy worries and a calm before the storm of new motherhood … it shouldn’t be an adventure tour!

4. Bring your own pillows from your own bed. Trust me. When we figured out to do this, our vacations have been a lot better. It’s especially helpful during pregnancy.

That’s all the advice I have for right now! But I highly recommend a getaway for you and your loved one before the tiny little one arrives. Enjoy!