The early weeks of pregnancy are fragile—and confusing. Here, the answers to your questions.
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Lots of women commit during pregnancy to get through labor without drugs or an epidural. They come into labor and delivery with plans and promises, skills and techniques to see them through, feeling certain they can achieve their goal of a 100 percent natural birth because they’re prepared, they’re tough and, c’mon, seriously, how bad can it be?
Most women do just fine during early labor using the skills they learned in their prenatal classes. When the going gets tough, they work with their nurses, doulas, partners and providers and pull out their relaxation techniques, patterned breathing, self-hypnosis, meditation, massage … whatever they’ve got. When labor gets way more ferocious than they thought it would be and they’ve used up everything they came with, many mothers wind up begging for that epidural they swore they wouldn’t get.
It’s not that women are quitters, it’s that the commitment they made to have a natural labor was based on information they simply didn’t have. They didn’t know how long they’d be in labor or how tired they’d get, what their pain tolerance would be, if they’d be overwhelmed or frightened. They didn’t know if they’d need an induction or be up for nights with pre-labor contractions before big-time labor kicked in to high gear. They didn’t know if the coping skills they practiced would be adequate for the job. In short, they didn’t know what they were in for until they were in it 100 percent. That’s where the commitment to a natural labor breaks down and women hit the wall.
Hitting the wall is the not-so-technical term for the moment when labor reaches a point of intensity that’s totally overwhelming. It might be brief and mom rides the wave and gets past it, but it might also grab hold and not let up. It might come at 2 centimeters or at 10. But if that overwhelming, oh-my-God-I-can’t-do-this-one-more-minute feeling happens to you, and the anesthetist with her cart full of epidural supplies and pain relief is one phone call away … you, like many mothers, might make that call. That is unless you have an action plan, such as the one I wrote about in The Complete Illustrated Birthing Companion. Check out chapter four: “Unmedicated, Vaginal Birth In A Hospital.”