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I really believe in having a plan for labor. I had an unmedicated birth and would recommend that, but I'm not militant about it. To prepare, I read Natural Childbirth the Bradley way and took a six-week Lamaze class through my hospital (the Bradley method book says to never take a hospital class, but oh well).
Why I went natural: I personally suspect that epidurals mess with your brain using pain receptors to regulate the pace of birth. This leads to doctors wanting to speed things up with pitocin, which increases your pain so you need more medication, which slows labor down so they need more pitocin, eventually putting the fetus in distress so you need an emergency c-section for the baby's safety. This is known as the "cascade of intervention".
I also wanted freedom to move around, feel like myself, feel like I was in control of the situation.
I did not go natural because I wanted some stoic medal of honor for toughness, or because I was afraid the epidural would kill me or leave me paralyzed. Yes epidurals have side effects but so does childbirth in general, I don't think this is a decision anyone should make based on fear.
I will say that the baby I gave birth to was incredibly alert. She was actually trying to push herself up with her arms when they put her on my chest, lift her head up, move around. She nursed like crazy... latched right on and we never had breastfeeding issues. Her eyes were wide open for a good hour or two after she was born, just taking everything in. I don't know if that's totally because of the unmedicated birth, but it didn't hurt.
I go back and forth between calling it "natural" or "unmedicated". I've heard it said that the only "unnatural" birth would be one where the baby comes out through your nose.
Anyway back to methods... the Bradley Method teaches that if you get pain relief, it's because your methods and teaching have failed you. YOU are not a failure, you're a woman in labor doing what's best for you and your baby and that's fine. But whatever class or method you used deserves a frowny face, and they talk a lot of smack on Lamaze for not keeping track of how many women actually get what they originally wanted. Lamaze teaches that you have to do what's right for you, if you want the epidural then ask for it.
Both methods teach about epidurals. I mean obviously you have to know about them in case you need a cesarean. But the Bradley Method is a lot more militant about avoiding them.
Other differences between Bradley and Lamaze: Bradley method only teaches slow deep breathing, Lamaze teaches faster lighter variations to distract you a bit. I figure it doesn't hurt to have an extra tool in the toolbox. Bradley method encourages a lot of laying down and focusing inward, Lamaze doesn't talk much about laying down and relaxing unless you have to, you learn about a lot more positions to keep labor moving along. The Bradley method seems to assume that if you can relax as much as possible, it lets your body do the work for you and that's how things move along. Nothing keeping me from trying both techniques.
So where was I on the natural childbirth scale? Well in class, we were all given a scrap of paper and asked to put down a number about how we felt about getting medicated. 1 meant you'd like to feel no pain, the anesthesiologist should come to your house two weeks before your due date if possible. 10 meant you'd go into a c-section without so much as a tylenol. I put down an 8. Which to me means that I really, really wanted to do this without medication. I read so many positive birth stories involving natural birth. I loved the idea that I could be in whatever position I want to be in the whole time, have fewer monitors, fewer side effects, my recovery could be faster and I'll be more in control of the pushing. What's more, it seems like the women who get natural births aren't magic special women, they just put a lot of prep work and determination into it. AND what really made up my mind is that I've heard from lots of women who've done it both ways, and all the ones I've heard from so far say they preferred it unmedicated.
It's tough to talk about, because you get all these knowing smiles from people who tell you "Don't feel bad when you ask for the epidural!" I won't, okay? But why do people have to be so condescending? It's seriously just like telling newlyweds, "Don't feel bad if you get a divorce!" I mean, you're preparing them, telling them that not everything is in their control, looking at the statistics and stating the obvious. But it's NOT WHAT THEY WANT so it's a horrible thing to say! It doesn't cost you anything to be supportive.