There’s been talk the last few days about why women would go without an epidural, and if natural child birth is really that different.
I can only speak from my own experience, but having done it both ways…yes, it was definitely different for me.
In the first couple of weeks after both my children were born, I was (naturally) hormonal and exhausted and all those things that go along with being a new mother. I cried a lot during this time. But the reasons that I cried were different. The first time I cried out of confusion, exhaustion, uncertainty. The second time? I cried because I knew for sure what I’d lost.
After my daughter’s birth, I initially felt kind of happy. Well, after the exhaustion, illness, and probably PPD that I had. But I pulled out of it by analyzing and rationalizing it: “I was able to rest. I could still feel pressure, just not pain. I still pushed her out on my own. I have a healthy baby.” And I thought, you know, this is the ideal birth experience. I’d heard horror stories of epidurals that didn’t work, wore off, caused so much numbness that a woman couldn’t even turn over in bed (I could), and so…it seemed that it must have been wonderful.
But I still felt uneasy about it. It had turned out so differently than I’d expected and hoped it would — even though nothing had gone wrong. I had been told, as most women are, “Give natural birth a try…but if it’s bad, take the drugs! They don’t hand out medals in the delivery room.” I didn’t feel any shame for having gotten the epidural — I still don’t, I think it was all I could do under the circumstances — but it just didn’t feel right. At all.
Obviously I sought a totally different experience for my son’s birth. I worried so much about bonding with him. I had struggled to bond initially with my daughter but had been so grateful to have uninterrupted time to do so in the months after her birth. It was just her and me, I didn’t work, and didn’t even have “real life” friends who lived nearby, so it was all about me and her. She slowly morphed from this person I didn’t know into this person I was overjoyed and amazed to know.
I knew that if the same thing happened with my son, that I wouldn’t have that uninterrupted time to bond. I’d have my daughter, too. I wasn’t sure what I would do about it.
But then my son was born…at home and without drugs…and it was this amazing experience. In the last hour or so of labor, I did nothing but touch his head and concentrate on him. Once he was born, I scooped him up and held him close for over an hour. He was instantaneously mine. I did not want to let him go. My husband had to beg me to set him on the bed next to me just so I could eat! Everyone kept telling me, “He’s asleep, you can lay him down for awhile and eat, or take a nap.” I would simply smile and say, “I know. But I like holding him.”
I cried then, for my daughter. For the early experience we’d missed. For the intense, insane, non-reciprocal feelings I had for him, that I’d never have for her. I love her absolutely, but our relationship grew out of reciprocation and getting to know her for who she was. The first time I truly fell in love with her was when she was 3.5 months old and I made her laugh with a silly game. I was so amazed that I could make her laugh! It’s been a journey since then, one that I’ve fervently pursued, to get to know her and what makes her happy and everything about her, so that I can have as deep a bond with her as possible. But those early weeks, back when it was absolutely all give and no take — not even a smile? I’ll never get that back.
If I think about it too much, it still makes me cry.
I think the hormones during the birth are responsible for this different experience. During my first birth I didn’t feel that rush of hormones because I was so relaxed from the epidural. I didn’t breastfeed immediately and experience those hormones. It left me simply exhausted, shocked, amazed, intrigued, and with a tiny person to learn to know and love (not to mention adjusting to being a first-time mom!). In my second birth the hormones were wild. They took over everything I was and everything I had, and propelled me to love this tiny person without rhyme or reason. It helped, too, that I was not a first-time mom, and had a clue what to expect from a newborn that time around.
The whole thing is long over. It’s been almost 4 years to the day since I found out I was pregnant with my daughter — and oh, how excited I was! I woke up every morning feeling like I had this special, amazing secret. I loved her before I knew her. But now I also know that the birth experience does — subtly, but permanently — change everything.
Somehow it’s easier to be a parent in the rush of those crazy, exhilarating early hormones, when those completely unexplainable feelings carry you through the rush of fatigue, sleeplessness nights, non-stop crying, and other difficult-yet-normal baby behaviors. This feeling lasts and reminds you throughout the baby phase that these things just don’t matter, and that they will pass. The naturally selfish, oblivious behavior of babies somehow does not bother you and is instinctively understood, because of these early feelings. It helps you to get through what is arguably one of the hardest times in your life: when you are fully, 100% responsible for another human being.
I think it wears off some later. Once they’re toddlers and preschoolers and children in their own right, your relationship is based more on who they are anyway. They annoy you with your choices (yeah, now that my son’s almost 2, he annoys me just as much when I tell him to come…and he looks at me and ignores me), and you revel in their knowledge and awesomeness. How did they learn that?! This child is clearly a genius. I smile everyday because of stories my daughter tells me and things she’s somehow learned or figured out that I didn’t teach her. Love, now, is that. (Love is not conditional. But patience sure is!) It remains important to me to pursue a wonderful, meaningful relationship that is based on knowing them and accepting them for who they are, with all of my children (present and future).
I know all this now and so it’s all okay. But I never, ever want to experience it the first way again. I want to have that crazy, non-reciprocal rush of love that drives me through those difficult early months. And not having an epidural is one way to be connected to my birth experience and (hopefully) experience that again. It’s already on my mind for this baby that I need to plan, prepare, and focus so that I don’t allow the experience to slip away. It’s so meaningful how my child comes into the world…not just that he or she arrives! I don’t want to cry again for what I’ve lost.
Have you given birth different ways? How did you feel about the experiences?