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Natural Childbirth: Pain With Great Purpose

Something this size is supposed to come out naturally!?

After nine months (or more!) of growing, planning, dreaming, and preparing for such an awesome gift, the birth of a baby will most likely be one of the most rewarding and challenging moments in a woman’s life.  No matter how or where the baby is born.

With my first child, I did the expected, predictable thing. I went to a hospital and got an epidural. There’s no reason to go through the pain of childbirth if you don’t have to, right?

While we may not know for sure all the purposes of pain in labor, we would be reckless to think there are none.

With my second, I had a non-medicated, midwife assisted homebirth. I found out first hand what I had missed with my first. The pain experienced during labor does have a purpose, many in fact.

(No matter where, what, when, why or how –childbirth is a remarkable event and every woman should be supported in her decision. There are those out there wanting to belittle, condemn, scrutinize, and humiliate but these actions get us no where in the safety of mothers and babies. Instead, I ask you to read the list with an open mind and consider there is another option available to birth that doesn’t automatically necessitate drugs.)

The Pain Prepares You

When a women starts to feel contractions, the dull ache is a signal that it’s not just another day. When I felt I was in labor, it gave me time to gather up the things I needed and to make sure the support I needed was there. I also made sure to not to overexert myself that morning, to lazy around, take many showers and relax.

More importantly preparing myself mentally, physically and emotionally helped prepare me in a different way compared to my first medicated birth. There was a level of selflessness there that I didn’t have with my first daughter. I am in no means stating that all women who take medication are selfish – I am only speaking of my personal experience.

I knew no matter how painful labor was going to get, I was opting out of drugs because I wanted my baby to have the safest, most gentle birth possible. I wasn’t choosing pain because I am a masochist, I was choosing it because I wanted what I thought was best and most safe for my daughter.

For me, this altruism made room for me to grow into a better mother and wife.

This was what love meant after all: sacrifice and selflessness.
It did not mean hearts and flowers and a happy ending,
but the knowledge that another's well-being
 is more important than one's own.

The Pain Protects You

While I was in labor, the pain from contractions made me move, a lot. I was on my feet for most of the day. I walked outside, inside, upstairs, downstairs. I took a shower and then walked some more. When I did lay down to rest, my left side was more painful to lay on, so I laid on my right. All of my actions that day eased the pain a bit and helped me get from one contraction to the other.

This movement protected my body as well as my daughter’s. Since my movement was not restricted at all the entire process, I was able to help facilitate the baby’s decent. Using gravity in the process, movement also eases the pressure on the baby and on the birth canal.

It was extremely helpful to remember during my natural birth that my baby is not a passive but rather a very active participant in the process. I thought of pain as sort of a language between us.

The Pain Provides Natural Relief

Coping with pain during labor allows the body to increase oxytocin release, which in turn causes more effective, stronger contractions. This ultimately leads to the release of endorphins, a natural narcotic. Endorphins are endogenous opioid peptides that function as neurotransmitters (say that 5 times fast). They are normally released during exercise, excitement, love, orgasm and you guess it – pain.   

With my first child, the epidural wore off about half way through labor. The pain was excruciating. I was laying down, tied up to monitors, plastic IV’s, and a catheter. I had to lay there and deal with the pain until I was able to talk the nurse into calling for the anesthesiologist. If I combined the pain of getting the epidural, the pain of it wearing off, and the pain of a slower recovery, my first birth that was medicated was more painful then my second natural birth.

I understand that it may be difficult to understand that, but in my case – at home, naturally, the pain was gradual and manageable. I relaxed and breathed deeply while I swayed back and forth. Not only was this beneficial to me, but the deep breathing allows the baby to get lots of oxygen.   

The Pain Helps You Respond

When I used drugs with my first birth it disrupted what I should have been doing to have an efficient labor. I know this only because I experienced what labor was like without medication. There is no way in hell I would have laid on my back for 6 hours straight if I was having a natural birth. Laying down is not effective at getting a baby out, whether using drugs or not.

For me, when I was unable to feel contractions or feel the pressure of my baby, I was unable to respond to it. I laid there and waited for a doctor to tell me to push. My body wasn’t stimulated to produce optimal oxytocin and endorphin levels. I found that out when the epidural wore off. I went from zero to 1 million. I didn’t know how to react.

Once I removed the pain during the journey, I removed the signals my body needed to keep labor progressing and to protecting itself and my baby.

When I had a natural birth, it was like I knew exactly what to do. I distinctly remember leaning over the couch a going through a pretty intense contraction. Immediately following that, I stood up and changed positions – I knew that I had to respond in a different way.

Coping with the pain in labor helped me have an easier birth, I had an alert baby, and I felt healthier.

Pain is not just an unfortunate side effect of labor but instead it is an important piece of the normal process of labor and birth. I think it would be most valuable for women and babies if more people would talk about the benefits of pain during labor instead of attempting to escape it automatically.

Epidurals do carry medical risks as well as the interventions needed when deciding on pharmaceutical pain management. Personally, I find the bias encouragement women receive in pharmaceutical pain relief for their own good with little reference to the possible side effects for the baby very distressing. Luckily, many women when discovering that these drugs do cross the placenta are motivated to try other forms of pain relief, since harming their baby (even if it is remote) is  undesirable.

I found labor very bearable, especially when I knew it meant better health for my daughter. I no doubt that other women would feel the same way if they knew the benefits of pain in labor, to both themselves and their babies.

Rejoice not in the fact that you are suffering,
but in the confidence that the pain can be transformed.

The value lies not in the pain itself,
but in what you can make of it.


  1. I think it is a bit disingenuous to say you aren't judging moms for getting epidurals, then write an entire post about how much better natural childbirth is than getting pain relief, how harmful epidurals are, and how educated women are avoiding pain relief. Sounds pretty judgmental to me, to the point where you obviously prize the birth of your second child over your first. You have a special tab to your homebirth story on your blog, but you treat the first birth like a cautionary tale. Have you ever thought about how that will look to them when they are old enough?

  2. thank you for this post! I am 11 weeks pregnant & want to have a non-medicated birth. I just don't always handle pain well and am very nervous. But going to give it everything I have!

  3. I am sorry you feel that way Sara but no where in this post I declare that a natural birth is better then a medicated birth for mothers - I only said it worked better for me.

    I am proud of the journey I made in my understanding of my body and I am not going to apologize for my happiness.

    I think about about how my story is going to effect my daughters very much so - how can it not? I want them to know they are capable of anything. I do not regret any decision I made in my first or second birth. I believe every single moment in this life happens for a reason.

    If you want to get an epidural then that is your choice. If I want a natural birth that is mine.

    This post is about how I found that pain served a purpose in the labor and birth process. I think you might be projecting more into this then you are aware - I am sorry if you are offended.

  4. Amy - You are most welcome for this post! If you give it everything you've got, there is no doubt in my being that you can't achieve it!

  5. Amanda- only someone who is LOOKING to be offended, would be offended by this post. You don't need to explain yourself; your post was not judgmental of anyone. Your choice was a valid one! It gets really old that this group of women is constantly looking for posts such as yours to take personally. It's their choice but they seem to think everyone else is responsible.

  6. Thank you TSM : ) I love your blog!

  7. :-) Glad you like it, Amanda! I enjoy yours as well! They hate and despise me for this but I really don't care.. I think everyone that they target should know, that not only are they offended by EVERYTHING that pretty much everyone writes, they are opposed to natural birth and are pro- medicalized childbirth all the way! I would bet that 9 out of 10 times, the people who comment here and have a problem with what you say, are part of this group. So petty and ridiculous...

    You should come join me on facebook! :-)

  8. AmandaRuth,

    Contrary to what some random stranger may argue about my beliefs, I am not opposed to natural birth at all. In fact, I attempted to have a vaginal birth without pain relief, even though my labor was augmented with pitocin which makes contractions more intense than normal. I pushed for nearly four hours, requested an epidural for exhaustion, and because my ten lb baby was not coming down the pike, so to speak, I was taken for an emergency C section. As for my “projecting” something: In no way do I harbor secret resentments or take offense to women having natural childbirths.

    In fact, I admire authors like Cynthia Gabriel who wrote "Natural Hospital Birth" and Stacy McKerr M.D. who authored "Homebirth in the Hospital." I believe strongly that if a woman wants to attempt natural childbirth, she should be free to make that decision even if she is in the hospital.

    I do feel that the ideal place to have a child is in fact a hospital, but I am not opposed to homebirth as long as it is done with low risk mothers with a certified nurse midwife with special training in emergency protocols outside the hospital setting.

    In other words, I am for increasing safety in homebirth and increasing the level and skill set required of homebirth midwives.

    I am sure we can all agree that the safety and health for the mothers and infants is of the highest priority, whether birth takes place inside or outside a traditional medical setting.

    That said, I do not disparage women who chose epidurals, nor consider them harmful, nor a lesser moral choice than the decision I made to attempt a natural birth. Epidurals are a safe, valid, and in many cases needed choice for many mothers. Many women cannot tolerate extreme amounts of pain, even if it is with a “purpose.”

    You claim that you are talking about what worked for you personally. Yet, you seem to be making a case in favor of natural childbirth as the best method of delivery for all women.

    You state the following: "When I used drugs with my first birth it disrupted what I should have been doing to have an efficient labor."

    Note the the phrase should have been doing That is pretty prescriptive.

    "Pain is not just an unfortunate side effect of labor but instead it is an important piece of the normal process of labor and birth."

    Pain is "normal." In other words, wanting to avoid pain is abnormal.

    You go on to say:

    "Personally, I find the bias encouragement women receive in pharmaceutical pain relief for their own good with little reference to the possible side effects for the baby very distressing. Luckily, many women when discovering that these drugs do cross the placenta are motivated to try other forms of pain relief, since harming their baby (even if it is remote) is undesirable."

    Message: Women choosing epidurals are harming their babies.

    This doesn't read like a "this is what worked for me" kind of article. This reads like an article that privileges non medicated births over medicated births.

    As for your daughters, I think you should definitely should include your eldest's birth story in a tab on your blog. Show the world that you're proud of both children and both their birth stories hold a place of value in your heart.

  9. Thanks for your comment Sara. I'm not sure what to say - would like to put some more words in my mouth?

    As for including a description about my first birth, just because I do or do not have a post about it doesn't mean there is no value in my heart for it. That's ridiculous. Would you like me to post it so you may have something else to deconstruct and criticize?

    Get off your high horse and give me break already - geesh. I'm sure we both love our families and do the best we can in our lives. Why not come from a place of positivity? If I offended you, then I said I was sorry. You are attempting to beat a dead horse. Why not go and do something more productive and loving in your day then writing something like this? I just don't get it sometimes with people who are so hurtful to others.

    Again, I'm sorry if I offended you, or hurt you in some way. I hope you find peace with whatever is bothering you.

  10. Amanda, I think this article is great and in my personal opinion I believe that natural birth IS better than medicated birth. It's too bad society has been brainwashed to think that pain in childbirth is abnormal or that women who go natural are "crazy". I had my baby in 5 hours naturally because I read a ton of info and prepared myself mentally. I knew any form of induction would lead to more interventions and so I stuck to my guns and came out on top! Anyways keep up the good work!!

  11. Thanks Dayna - your postivity is refreshing. I'm so glad that you shared your experience with natural birth - the more the information is spread, the more young women will hear that natural birth can be the norm.

  12. Anonymous2/10/2012

    Hi Amanda! It's been a little while!
    I couldn't agree with this post more!!! I had my first son, in 2009, the way I thought was "normal" (at the time) as well-the doctor "booked" a time for me to come to the hospital to be induced...Cervadil the first night, pitocin the following morning, epidural around noon, baby born at 9:15 that night and I couldn't walk until the following morning. And WOW did I hurt the next morning!!! Actually, I was pretty sore for a couple of weeks afterward. Fast forward, past TONS of research, to Christmas morning 2011..woke up at 6 am with mild cramping & "leaking", took a shower, did my hair & makeup (LOL!), paced my LR for 2 hours, woke up my husband-contractions 4 min apart but not too bad, called my midwife around 9 as a heads up, called her again at 11 to say we thought it was time to go to the birth center (3/4 mi away), arrived at 11:05, got in the birth tub (1/2 full-never had time to fill it) at 11:25, caught my son at 11:46 after 4ish pushes (didn't really feel like I was pushing-my body did what it had to do right then), home by 3:45 pm and felt just fine. In fact, this time, I was not sore at all, I did not feel like I "just had a baby" ever. I felt like my normal self afterward. Natural was DEFINITELY better for me too!!!
    BTW-I had my first son circumcised due to my own lack of knowledge at the time. I cried for a month after I watched a video of a circumcision & felt guilty as HELL-still do! But, "When we know better, we do better" second son has been left absolutely whole & perfect:)
    I feel our stories are so similar-I wanted to share this with you. My second son's birth has left me feeling like I can do ANYTHING-it has been a very empowering experience for me!!!
    Share this or don't...up to you but THANK YOU as you, & your blog, were one of the many influences that made me research, research, research!!!

  13. Way to go Alycia! I'm so glad you popped back in to give me the update!!

    I love your story : )

    Big hugs and kisses your way to your new little bundle and to the new big brother :)

  14. Anonymous2/10/2012

    For some reason I don't "see" you on FB anymore.
    Thank you!
    I love my story too ;-) Especially since it is about the BEST. CHRISTMAS. PRESENT. EVER!
    Also, wanted to mention, labor wasn't horrible:) I didn't do anything to prepare-in fact, every time the thought of going into labor & how bad it might hurt would creep into my mind, I would push it out. I figured, when it came down to it, I would just do it. Plus, I was banking on having babes like my mom did-I was born 1 mi from their house, in the backseat of my grandpa's new truck, my sister was born 45 min after my mom told the dr. that she wasn't having the baby that day & was ready to go home! Thankfully, I did:) I would have 10 more the way I had Ames over the way I had Lee...if we were going to have anymore.

  15. I realize this is an old post, but I just wanted to say thank you for the information! This put into words all the reasons I want to do a natural birth. (I'm 24 weeks, first-time-mom).


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