The birth of my first child was a long, drawn-out affair.
I had dreamed of the ideal Bradley Method™ natural birth; 14 hours of labor or less, calm mastery over the manageable contractions, a short pushing stage, easy first nursing, and then walking down the hallway to get my cup of juice.
The reality was quite different.
I was almost 42 weeks, experienced an exhausting 24 hours of ineffective labor, and had Pitocin which gave my mind-bendingly painful contractions.
In my desire for an unmedicated labor I went as long as I could, to my physical and mental limits, before ending up shaking uncontrollably on the bed, conceding that it was finally time for an epidural.
Without knowing that a certain boundary even existed, I had pushed myself over the line between useful birth pain and unnecessary suffering.
When I became pregnant with my second child, I started having panic attacks when I thought about going into labor. My heart began to race, my breath became short, and I would transport back in my mind to that point in labor where I was shaking on the bed, dreading the next contraction and not knowing where I would find it in my depleted reserves to hold myself together to make it through.
I knew that labor was unavoidable, and I still desired an unmedicated birth. I knew I needed to face the panic attacks and the fear they expressed head-on. I sought out a counselor who was knowledgeable about birth, and supportive of my desire to have a natural childbirth. She helped me process through my experience, and see where I could make different choices. She also showed me how I could use many of the relaxation techniques that I learned for childbirth, like deep breathing and focusing on a target, to help calm me during my panic attacks.
I found a skilled, compassionate midwife. She helped me develop a plan for my next birth, which included hiring a professional labor support person, also known as a doula. She helped me to understand the difference between pain and suffering in birth, and promised to help me identify that line if I came to it during my next labor.
The birth of my second child was also long and challenging, but I did not suffer for a moment of it. I felt supported by a wonderful team of people with my husband, midwife and doula surrounding me. I used all the wisdom from the lessons I had learned from my first birth during my second. The skills I learned from my counselor helped me to push panic aside and focus on my breathing and relaxation. My husband and my doula helped me relieve physical pain through movement, position changes, and almost constant counter-pressure on my lower back. By reaching out for help and learning calming skills and techniques, I achieved my vision of my unmedicated birth, minus the walk down the hallway for juice.
By Michal Klau-Stevens
Michal Klau-Stevens is the President of BirthNetwork National, an expert on consumer maternity care issues, a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, and mother of three active boys.
This blog post was written for the Mental Health Awareness Blog Hop conducted by Postpartum Support International.