I keep hearing that everyone ends up getting an epidural. I want an unmedicated birth, but should I just give up hope?

Excerpt from Asking for a Pregnant Friend: 101 Answers to Questions Women Are Too Embarrassed to Ask about Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Motherhood

No way! While women who had unmedicated births used to be like unicorns in places like the United States, birth norms are changing. Childbirth preparation classes and books that teach the power of the mind-body connection, fear release, and how to wield our innate ability to find calm in the face of intensity are helping women who want to have an unmedicated birth to have one. And if you don’t really want one, or if you change your mind about wanting one in the middle of labor, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s also important to know that really, really wanting one doesn’t guarantee you’ll have one. You have no way to completely know how your birth will go. However, dedicated preparation will give you a much better chance of having that unmedicated birth.

Let me tell you about Stella. She raved about unmedicated birth but wasn’t planning on taking any classes or practicing any pain relief techniques. She wanted to wing it. She ended up with an epidural. Of course, she might have needed an epidural even if she had thrown herself into preparation, but she came to me afterward saying, “I felt totally unprepared. I had nothing when the big contractions came. I felt like they were eating me.”

When Stella became pregnant two years later, she signed up for my HypnoBirthing class, my online course Childbirth Preparation: A Complete Guide for Pregnant Women, and a Birthing from Within class. She also loaded up on books. Stella became a dedicated student of unmedicated birth. She was so curious and so passionate about practice.

A week before her due date, she told me, “While I still want an un- medicated birth, I don’t think I have to have one to be happy with my birth. I feel really satisfied by all the prep I’ve done — it’s made my pregnancy more enjoyable. And the best part is, the classes have helped me feel so empowered and confident in my unique journey that I don’t feel like I have anything to prove. I don’t need the ‘unmedicated medal’ I’m pretty sure I was striving for the first time around.” Stella had an unmedicated birth. But I believed her when she said she would have been satisfied either way.

I share all that to emphasize that while an unmedicated birth is absolutely possible and it’s not a foregone conclusion you’ll have an epidural, much of the wonder of wanting an unmedicated birth lives in the preparation. With that in mind, consider the ways to prepare listed below.

What to do

Find a type of preparation you jive with, making sure it’s a method that provides tools for an unmedicated birth. HypnoBirthing and Birthing from Within are my favorite options. After you find your class . . .

Practice the techniques. In addition to practicing the breathing, mas- sage, and movement techniques as often as possible (I recommend practicing a minimum of one tool every day), put significant focus on the mental and emotional support your class provides. Many of the biggest barriers between a woman and an unmedicated birth are in the mind. Working the practices that help you replace negative, fearful beliefs about birth with hopeful, inspiring messages can remove those barriers. One of my favorite parts of the mental and emotional work found in many (good) classes is that they spill over into the rest of life. For example, after doing the HypnoBirthing fear-release practices, I felt like I had gone through intensive therapy.

Let it go. After you’ve done the preparation and go into labor, let it all go, trusting that your birth will unfold in the way it’s supposed to. And as I mentioned before, that might not be an unmedicated birth, but that in no way means you failed or didn’t prepare enough. It just means that for whatever reason, your birth needed to take an unexpected path.

Remember, if that’s how it shakes out, those folks who were sure you’d get an epidural don’t get to say, “I told you so.” No way. No one has the right to make you feel shame about your birth experience. You deserve to feel pride in your body’s ability to move through birth — even if birth involved Pitocin and an epidural, or a C-section. Your body still went through so much and should be worshiped as the powerhouse it is.

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