how to survive labor without painkillers

Since Josephine was born I have been flooded with comments and questions about the laboring process.  Over a year ago I wrote this post about the importance of Pain in Childbirth, and because of that I made it clear that I had once again avoided using painkillers while giving birth, not because I’m tough, but because I know how important it is for me.  Lots of women have chimed in with virtual high-fives, and that’s sweet, but others have commented with a twinge of guilt or hesitation since they didn’t choose an unmedicated birth.

And that makes me feel a little funny.  Labor and delivery are intense.  No one should feel bad about what they decided to do or not do.  However, if you are preparing for birth and would like to go the painkiller-free route, I thought I would take a minute to type up a few simple thoughts.  These aren’t tips or tricks.  They are simply a few powerful concepts that propel me through labor and allow me get through the pain without the aid of medication.

But, before I get to that, I want to make something very clear.  Even though the pain of childbirth is something I have realized is an important step in my journey as a mother, this does not apply to everyone.  Pain takes many shapes and forms through the pregnancy, labor, delivery, and parenting journey.  And pain is important, transformative even.  But, just because someone chooses an epidural does not mean that they won’t endure pain.

What is more, choosing to use or not use painkillers is not a moral decision.  It is a personal decision.  And very often, women don’t have the choice.  A dear friend of mine, maybe the toughest girl I know, gave birth to twin girls just a few days or so ago.  I always teased her that she was so crunchy I bet she’d not only not have an epidural, but she’d have her baby out in the woods by a campfire.  As it turned out, however, she conceived twins.  She was therefore reqiured to get an epidural in case the second twin needed to be delivered via emergency c-section.  So she had no choice.  Perhaps her delivery wasn’t all she thought it would be, but it still ended in the arrival of two beautiful girls.

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So, here is How I Survive Labor Without Painkillers

#1  I Have Decided I Can Do It Without Painkillers

Simple but so important.  I had an epidural with my first child, mostly because I was scared of what was coming and I was unsure if I could handle it.  I remember asking the nurses when I was dilated to a 6, “will it get worse?”  And of course the answer was yes.  Yes, labor builds and gets worse and worse until, suddenly and miraculously, it is over.

So, I caved.  I thought I wasn’t strong enough, and I got an epidural.

But now I know I am strong enough.  I know it will be terrible, but I also know how sweet and wonderful it will be after it is over.  How amazing it will feel to have that warm, cheesy baby thrown up on my chest, to have no drug hangover, to feel every muscle relax that for the past couple hours had been burning.

I know I am strong enough.  And, if I am strong enough, anyone is strong enough.

This time around I didn’t even think about an epidural.  It was painful, oh it was painful, but when you know you can do something, you just put your head down and do it.  And once again, I’m glad I did.

#2  My Husband Is There Working Through Every Contractions With Me

Going through unmediated labor and delivery with your spouse is like going on a super-charged, intense marriage retreat.  It is raw and emotional and unforgettable.  Everything between you is tested: communication, endurance, vulnerability, compassion, trust.  And, when your husband is as dedicated and present as mine is, the bond of marriage is strengthened and renewed.  After all, you are working together toward the beautiful goal of welcoming your child into the world.

In truth, there is no way I could make it through labor without my husband.  He prays through every contraction with me, helps me with back labor and motivates me to keep going.  Without him I’d need an epidural.  No doubt about it.

Consider joining us for a 4 week lectio divina based Bible study on marriage.  Starts Monday May 24th!

how to get through labor without painkillers

#3  I Recognize the Suffering As Meaningful, and Unite It With the Suffering of Christ

This is the biggest, most important point–it would be impossible for me to endure the pain of childbirth if I saw it as only that: pain.  I know some women take prayer requests to pray through as they labor.  I’m a little too simple for that.  When the pain gets serious I cling to the small and the simple.  As I passed in and out of each contraction this time I found myself saying simply, “Jesus on the Cross, Jesus on the Cross” and allowing my mind to explore the suffering of my Savior.

And it’s amazing what strength I drew from this!  The pain was terrible, but as I meditated on the wounded body of Christ I felt empowered and often thought, “I would suffer this and more for you!” and suddenly my pain gave way to joy.

Of course this short sequence of events happened over and over as the contraction passed, I slipped into sleepy rest and then another contraction came on and I resisted the pain until once again I was gazing up at my Savoir on the cross.

I am an imperfect sinner and I’m not going to claim I was some saint as I labored, just as I don’t claim to be tougher than anyone else.  I’m not.  But acknowledging that suffering is meaningful and offering it as a gift to the Lord makes the act of having a baby so much more beautiful, pain and all.

Once again, I don’t write this as a critique of other’s choices.  Absolutely not.  We all know what we need and make decisions based on that.  And, the suffering of childbirth is not the only suffering we can offer back to Our Lord.  The journey of parenthood is full of suffering–I think we all know that!

And, so there is my take.

If you are expecting, blessings and enjoy the experience!

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