I’ve been a food shopping human for long enough to know that the word “natural” means just about nothing on a food label. Everything is “natural” these days from Greek yogurt to gummy bears. And I honestly don’t care that much about the perversion of the word to sell everything from cheese puffs to chicken nuggets. But there’s another place where the word does bother me and that’s when it’s used to describe childbirth.
I had my second child just about 4 months ago and following his birth I went to what I call “baby class” just as I did with his now almost 5 year old sister. This class is run by an incredible organization that facilitates new mom’s groups, breast-feeding groups, and childbirth classes.
As I sat in the first class and listened to each mom share a bit about her birth experience I realized for the first time what I would realize many times in subsequent classes; that my perspective as a second-time parent would change pretty much everything, including way I related to my classmates. I listened again and again as nearly every woman there (who didn’t require a c-section) stressed how great she felt about having a “natural” childbirth. And if she did have a c-section there was a lot of regret about having missed out on natural childbirth -I’ll drop the quotes at this point because I hope you get my point -the word means everything and nothing.
I had a natural childbirth when my first child was born. My daughter came into the world after 31 long hours of labor. I told myself all along that I was open to using whatever pain meds I felt were necessary. I’ve never been a martyr when it comes to pain. But through out the experience I just kept feeling like, well it’s not so bad now. I suppose I can take it a bit longer. And then I couldn’t. Then I was in the final hour sitting on the medieval torture device known as a birthing stool and explaining to my midwife (by screaming and growling) that there had to be another way to get this baby out. I think I actually told her she was going to have to “reach up there” and pull it out herself. I know I’m not the first, or last woman, to feel this way. That was my natural child birth experience.
And even though I nourished that same morsel of pride about the drugs/interventions I’d refused, childbirth, that time, was something I felt I only barely survived. I did not feel especially positive about the experience, nor empowered by it. It did not help matters that a week later I fell into the chemically imbalanced world of post partum depression –which I spent the next few months trying to claw my way out of. My brain and hormones went there completely naturally. And it would take the so-called unnatural world of anti-anxiety medication and anti-depressants to help pull me out.
Before post partum depression I never would have described myself as someone who lived with anxiety. Now I can’t imagine how I didn’t see it. My whole life I’ve managed my anxiety and I’ve managed pretty well. Most people who meet me or know me would not describe me as an anxious person (that’s how good I am at managing and that’s how little people really understand about anxiety). I know I spent a lot of time managing and strategizing around anxiety. That was living my life naturally.
I feel very lucky to live my life differently now. I guess I think that this line we draw between ourselves and the natural world is pretty fuzzy. We are of nature and a lot of our so called man-made products make life a lot better and easier for ourselves and even occasionally our fellow creatures. Don’t get me wrong we do a lot to foul up the planet for ourselves and our co-inhabitants but I’m pretty sure a sweet and powerful epidural isn’t high on that list.
So back to baby number two. After the hell I went through post partum I still ended up wanting another one. And the one thing I knew about this experience is that I wanted it to be different than the first. I did a lot of things differently. I front-loaded some of the meds that helped me after my daughter was born. I arranged to have my placenta encapsulated to I could eat it after my son was born (talk about natural!!!) And I arranged for my parents to help out for an entire month after the birth.
But ultimately, the thing that really helped me have a completely different birth experience was that epidural. The first five hours of my son’s birth were strikingly similar to my daughter’s -the contractions this time even faster and more intense. Once I had the epidural everything changed. I was able to laugh and joke and be myself. I was able to be present with what was going on in my body even though I wasn’t able to feel every ripple of every contraction. I asked my mom to join me in the room as he came into the world because I wasn’t worried about her worrying about me. And as I pushed -yes you still have to push and it’s trickier when you can’t feel as much of your body -him into the world, I sang. Yes, I sang a Johnny Cash tune. Because why the hell not? I felt good and powerful and present with my body. And those words are so much more important and meaningful to me -whether or not they are natural.