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Why I Preferred My Drug-Free Birth

By KateTietje |

My son, a few hours after birth (in a blanket and shirt I made him!)

I’ve had two babies now. My first baby was born the hospital with “the works” — nearly every intervention under the sun, at least for an uncomplicated birth.  My second was born at home, peacefully, in his own bedroom, with no interventions.

I know so many women who marvel at that.  “How could you do that?  Doesn’t it hurt?  I know I could not take it.”  But, if you understand it all, I believe you can.  Because truthfully?  I really preferred my drug-free birth.

When I was expecting my daughter, I thought for sure I could have a drug-free birth in the hospital (which many women do).  That’s what I had planned.  But that’s all had planned.  I assumed that when it came down to it, I would just know what to do.  I would trust my body.  I listened to my friends who told me that birthing classes were useless (worst advice ever) and didn’t take them.  I skimmed a few birth books.  I didn’t hire a doula because Ben thought it was “worthless” when he could take that role (though he did no reading or preparation whatsoever).  I had a doctor who didn’t respect my body or my rights at all, she just wanted to do things her way.  Which was to manage my birth through careful, unnecessary medical interventions, aimed at speeding it up for her convenience.

I arrived at the hospital early on a Saturday morning.  I’d been in real labor for just two hours, but my contractions had been two minutes apart the whole time. I was scared because my mom had had a fast first labor, and I “knew” that contractions are not supposed to be that close together unless things are happening.  Unfortunately, they weren’t.  I was sent to walk around for an hour, and when there was still no change (I was dilated to a 1), they sent me home.

Wouldn’t you know — as soon as I got home, my labor picked up strongly. I could no longer do anything through the pain.  I could not get comfortable.  I did not know what else to do, so I lay on my left side in bed, squirming and moaning with each contraction.  I did not know (or even have) that a birthing ball might have helped, or having Ben use counter-pressure or massage.  I was totally unprepared for this.

We headed back…with the nurses smirking at us the whole time.  But this time I was dilated to a 4 so they found me a room.  I was in pain.  I still just lay in the bed on my left side, nauseous and scared.  I asked for drugs.  Ben tried to talk me out of it, but I could not take it anymore.  They brought me Nubain, because I did not want an epidural. I took it and felt spacy and sleepy, though not much different.  It let me rest a little bit.  (In retrospect a lot of the pain was from lying down and being scared.)

As the Nubain was wearing off, I thought, I can do this.  I can handle this.  But then my doctor called the hospital staff and insisted they break my water.  She would not hear of doing it otherwise, and told me to just go home if I didn’t like (I should have done exactly that but I was too scared and in too much pain…she knew it, too).  I knew that if they started messing with me, I would not be able to take it.  I could only do it if I were left alone to labor in peace.  And so, since I felt I had no choice, I asked for the epidural.

From that point I didn’t care what happened. It did work well, in that I could not feel the pain, but I could still move some from the waist down, and I could feel some pressure from the contractions.  That helped when it came time to push.  Of course, in the mean time, the doctor decided that my contraction monitor wasn’t reading “right” and gave me Pitocin (which didn’t change the strength or frequency…I think they might have upped it once or twice?  They didn’t really tell me, let alone ask me).

Eventually my daughter was born…vaginally and in less than 10 minutes of pushing. I tore, because I was flat on my back with my butt in the air.  I didn’t have a choice about that, either.  She was handed to me for only a few seconds before she was whisked away for over 40 minutes.  She was cleaned and wrapped up and I was stitched.  Eventually I was handed this tiny, wrapped bundle. She wasn’t interested in breastfeeding and I didn’t know what I was doing anyway (a nurse, later, used the “grab and shove” method to get her to latch on…not what you want).  I felt detached from her.  To be honest…this experience still affects us, more than three years later.

Now, some of you are thinking…if I’d had a better doctor, if I’d hired a doula, if I’d taken a childbirth ed class…it might not have gone down this way.  I’m sure that’s the case.  I know women who have had wonderful, drug-free births in the hospital.  But again…drug-free.

I worried so much when I was choosing my birth for my son, because I thought, I couldn’t take it the first time, what makes me think I can now? But the midwives we saw reassured me that if that was the case, they would take me to the hospital.  We live less than 10 minutes away from a mom-and-baby-friendly hospital, so this was a viable option.  Somehow, I relaxed.

Then, I took childbirth ed. classes, with Ben.  He attended every midwives’ appointment.  We read books.  We got a birthing ball.  We got a birthing tub.  We prepared with all of these different options.

When my labor started I was so excited! We watched movies, tried to sleep.  By 2:30 am I was just awake…it was too strong.  But I still felt comfortable sitting up in bed, or in a rocking chair, or on a birthing ball.  I tried walking, but that didn’t feel good to me.  Being upright was but sitting was best.

After several hours, with little progress, I was exhausted. I’d been up most of the night (and the night before, due to my daughter).  The pressure was intense and I wanted it to go away. I cried a little and said I couldn’t do it.  Ben told me that yes, I could, and dragged me down the hall and made me get into the birthing tub to relax.  As we learned later, I was entering transition (despite that, again, my contractions did not seem strong enough) so this freak-out was normal.

We actually called all our family members to let them know I was in labor, but that I was very tired and not making progress, so not to expect the baby anytime soon.  We asked my parents to come down to help with my daughter.  That was around 8:30 in the morning.

Things moved fast from there. I started to relax in the water, move with the contractions.  I started to feel like I could do this again.  The intensity was still a lot to handle, but I felt in control and not scared.  I started to bleed, which concerned the midwives (my cervix bleeds really easily…but this has never meant anything was wrong).  They pulled me out…and realized I was 8 cm and the baby was coming NOW!  After a crazy-intense several minutes, my son was born.

We called our family back around 10 am…the baby’s here!  They were shocked.  My parents arrived about 20 minutes after my son and were just thrilled to learn that he had safely arrived.

I had a full hour alone, skin-to-skin, to bond with my son. We nursed and snuggled and I stared at him.  I didn’t want to give him up.  (This, too, has had a lasting effect on our relationship.)

After the hour, I reluctantly gave him over to the midwives to weigh and measure, and I got up to take a bath.  I could walk! I wasn’t sore and dizzy and weak from drugs. I took a bath in my own bathroom, and then climbed into my own bed.  The very sorest part was actually a muscle in my left hip, which had gotten strained because of my son’s position.  That hurt for a few days.  But other than that I felt great!

Three days later I was sure I wanted to do it again.

When I had my drug-free birth, I had support around me.  I had the option to get up and move or take whatever position was most comfortable.  I could use water as a coping mechanism.  I had a lot of freedom and options that I wouldn’t have, if I’d been chained to an epidural. I remember this birth now as only exhausting and intense.  I don’t remember it as painful.

This all made a huge and lasting difference on not only my birth experience, but my bond with my son.

I’m not saying that it’s not possible to have a satisfying birth or an excellent bond with your child if you choose an epidural, but I just loved not having one.

I said, and still say…if I had to go to a hospital and have a managed birth again (assuming normal circumstances, not emergency), I’d never do it again.  But I’d do a drug-free homebirth again tomorrow. In fact…I can’t wait for this summer!!

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About KateTietje



Kate Tietje is a food blogger who focuses on natural food and cooking. In addition to Modern Alternative Mama, she has contributed her writing to the Parenting and Pregnancy channels on Babble.

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25 thoughts on “Why I Preferred My Drug-Free Birth

  1. Megan says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this story, Kate! I am pregnant with my first child and am planning a water birth in a birthing center. Every time I hear a positive story like this I get so much more excited and feel so much more confident!

  2. Shannon says:

    I had a drug-free birth with my second child, although it was in a hospital. The difference was ASTOUNDING! I felt amazing! The nurses kept asking how I felt and I could honestly say I felt fantastic! My labor progressed rapidly, only two hours in the hospital before he was born. I wish every woman could realize that a drug free birth is NOT as painful as is so commonly reported.

  3. Caitlin C says:

    I birthed unmedicated in the hospital with a midwife — I was upright, and though labor was long, my recovery was incredible. I was up and moving a few hours after the birth, I didn’t tear, and I walked a mile to the Farmer’s Market less than a week after. So many women don’t know that not only does the epidural increase the risk of interventions, it also can slow down recovery time considerably! We are planning a home birth next time… the only downside to my hospital birth was the interruption in mother-baby bonding after he came… he was having trouble breathing so they took him away. If we had been at home and watchful over him, I think a little rubbing and talking would have worked just fine.

  4. Kate says:

    I completely agree — my first child was born drug-free in the hospital, mostly due to a really fantastic birthing class that gave me a lot of information about what to expect, and an amazing nurse who knew I wanted to try to avoid an epidural and helped me to do that. Both were crucial. My second was born after an epidural in the hospital — the labor was induced and much more managed, partly because of my age (41). I felt physically SO MUCH better after the drug-free birth — able to walk and pee and everything — that I was sort of shocked at how rough it was to recover from the epidural. I’m very lucky that in both cases I had a good hour with my babies, skin to skin, to nurse and get to know each other. But overall the difference between having an epidural and not was pretty huge — I’d really encourage women who are interested to try to go without — it’s not only possible but much easier than it looks, and your recovery will be a zillion times easier.

  5. Beatrice says:

    I truly believe that each birth is a completely different experience, even if you do everything the same way. I had my son at the hospital with no drugs. I was only in labor for 6 hours but pushed for an hour and a half of the labor. My doctor was amazing, listened to my preferences but also gave her advice. Then she let us make educated decisions. Personally I would NEVER be comfortable choosing to do a home birth purely because I would never forgive myself if something happened to the baby that could have been avoided if we had access to the resources available at the hospital.

  6. Ashley C says:

    Although my hospital experiance was a little more positive/supportive, everything you said past the epidural was like you were telling my story! Thank you so much for sharing. I really wish I had known better with my son (also about 3yrs ago). I labored a lot at home and was pain free in the tub, I shouldve stuck with it. But then we left for the hospital and I just didnt trust myself to work through the pain. I really do regret getting the epidural, not so much for anything that happened to me but bc I fully believe it was one of the main reasons for my breastfeeding failure. My son was just so out of it and frustrated, something didnt seem right.

    Im due in May with our baby girl and although sadly I cannot do a homebirth this time like I wanted (thanks a lot overseas military! :/ ) I am definetly much more educated, aware, and more determined than ever to do it my way for myself and baby. There are a lot of midwives on staff and if I must I will insist on them being there instead if the doctor gives me trouble. Id like to have more advocates but one thing Ive learned best is you are your own best advocate! And my husband is clear this time too what I want, so Im hoping for the best :)

  7. Lea R. says:

    Great essay! Thanks for sharing your experiences. I wish more people knew the value of simply NOT lying down during labor. The difference in pain management is just night and day. You can stay upright in a hospital if you demand intermittent, hand-held or portable monitoring. I’ve helped my SIL through two natural births that way. The nurses get fussy because it’s extra work for them, but so be it.

    I’ve had two babies with no meds. Our first was in a hospital with a CNM. I got there late in the game (very quick first labor) so they didn’t have much time to mess with me, but the 90 minutes I was there before the birth were filled with noise, bright lights, noisy nonstop pages, and an incredible amount of stress. And then I had to ASK to hold my new baby! She, too, was already swaddled tightly in many layers. I so regret not unwrapping her and nuzzling her little body to mine.

    The second, a water birth in a freestanding birth center, was just beyond amazing. Incredible experience, zero recovery time. It was intense–our second girl was over nine pounds, from a 5’4″ small-framed mama–and quick and so very manageable, peaceful, and quiet. I got to catch her, bring her up, and hug her nonstop.

    Our family is complete, but I know for sure what I’d choose again.

  8. Liesel says:

    I’m finding it so interesting that even though I had a planned home birth with my first (drug-free and I was free and able to do whatever it was my body needed to work the baby out) I still had such a hard time processing it and bonding with my baby. I think a lot of that is simply because it’s a first time experience, and while drug intervention and hospital practice can certainly affect that a lot, it can be just as easily affected by other things too. My hope is for more and more women to be exposed to childbirth before giving birth themselves, that they might actually know what it is like and feel free to openly discuss it. Maybe one of these days it won’t be so taboo to show a woman’s vagina opening to bring forth a child, when it’s completely ok to air on tv the cutting of a woman’s body for a c-section. Exposure and experience reduce fear- both of which 2nd time moms have simply from having done it once before.

  9. HR says:

    Here’s another data point: I gave birth in a hospital 10 years ago and I had fantastic care. They gave me my son after a minute or two. I had a doula who was a very nice person but she was basically useless. At one point she tried to foist the birthing ball on me, and I screamed at her, “Get that thing away from me!!!” I was more comfortable lying on my back in the bed than walking around or draping myself over something wobbly. After delivery I had a serious bleeding problem and was whisked into the OR for emergency surgery. If I had been at home, which had originally been my preference, I would have DIED. Get that? I would have been DEAD. There was no way to foresee this development. It just happened, like a lot of other serious and potentially deadly stuff happens in childbirth.

  10. Sara says:

    Kate, it’s interesting to hear both sides of this story. I too had a terrible expereince with both the hospital and my last practice. I have since changed and hope that labor and delivery with #2 go much smoother.
    I wish you the best with #3 as well!

  11. KateTietje says:


    That’s unfortunate that you had that experience, but great that you were able to get the help you needed.

    However. Most women who have bleeding problems can be handled at home, or with a quick hospital transfer. Consuming the placenta can STOP bleeding. And I guarantee if it was “eat this or die” you would eat it. There are almost always other ways to handle problems that crop up, and midwives don’t hesitate to call 911 if an emergency arises. Home births are not “at home or else.” Midwives are very cautious and know the limits of their practice.

  12. HR says:

    Kate, the fact is that childbirth is dangerous and medical care saves lives. If i’m bleeding out, I’d much rather have a trained medical professional taking care of me than an earthy-crunchy midwife who thinks that placenta-eating will solve everything. You are doing women a disservice by promoting the idea that hospital births are somehow lacking and not blissful enough. Certainly that can be true, and it was definitely true 40 years ago, but my experience was fine, and so were the experiences of all my friends who gave birth in hospitals.

  13. KateTietje says:


    I disagree. Childbirth is NOT inherently dangerous. In the very, very rare case that something goes wrong, you could be in a difficult situation. But normal childbirth is not a medical “problem” that requires management. To say that it is scares women! It makes them feel that they CAN’T handle it and they NEED medical intervention, which then leads to the OVER-intervention we are currently seeing. Midwives are highly trained and experienced and I would definitely not call them “earthy-crunchy” — the way you say this is insulting. It makes it sound like they have no knowledge, no training, and cannot handle any problems whatsoever. This is simply false. It misinformation and is ALSO doing women a disservice to spread….

    I’m sure, with appropriate support and a good doctor that hospital births can be just fine. The point wasn’t that home birth is the only way to go. The point was really that MY experience was better drug-free, and I happened to be at home.

  14. Ada says:

    Well, *some* midwives are highly trained and experienced. Some are not. It’s important to choose wisely. Both of my births were attended by midwives, and I’ve got nothing against them as a whole, but it’s absolutely possible to become a midwife in the US without being highly trained or experienced.
    My first birth was unmedicated and absolutely the worst experience of my life, despite extensive hypnosis training, changing positions, birth balls, and the whole works. It just wasn’t enough to handle my back labor. I was so exhausted when she was born, I was just glad it was over. I didn’t have the capacity to think about my baby, really. It was awful.
    My second, I got an epidural, and I was up and walking minutes after the birth and discharged from the hospital a mere four hours after. I had no recovery issues from getting an epidural, and she was placed on my chest immediately. Bonding was much better that time!
    So it can definitely go either way. I’m glad you found what works for you, and I’m glad I found what works for me! That’s all we can really hope for.

  15. Abby says:

    My hospital experience was awesome because my midwife was awesome. She was totally relaxed and just let my body do what it needed to do. She also has enough pull that no one was going to cross her. No one. I was released 24 hours after the birth and have pictures of our little family with an AMAZING view of Atlanta behind us where I am standing up less than an hour after I gave birth. I could because of the no drugs. My friend labored for forty hours with no intervention with the same midwife. No one even suggested otherwise because it was what the mom wanted.

  16. Amber A says:

    I have had 6 births so far, #7 will be here in July! 3 with drugs and 3 without. The first 3 I had the epidural, the 1 was to strong and caused issues (though I didn’t realize it was from the epidural at the time), the sencond was great (feeling but no pain) the third time I REALLY wanted to go natural but wore myself out with little support so I gave in and they hit a nerve in my back when numbing me. I was done with drugs! When I got pregnant with #4 I switched hospitals and got a midwife. With her and my mom and husband telling me I could do it I kept going. I was at the point of giving in and my mom kept pushing me to keep going. She said “When you hit the point that you can’t take the contractions getting worse, they usually don’t and it is almost over.” I was in transition. She was right, might be the only time you will hear me admit to it lol! Now I know I can do it, I dont’ need anything to numb me, or make it easier. I had even had pitocin to regulate the contractions. I have had 2 more since, no drugs. If you can just make it through 1 time, you get that confidence in yourself. Just get support, people that will push you to try your hardest. I will choose no drugs over another epidural any day!

  17. Kearsten says:

    I have had 2 children with two very similar birth stories, first my daughter (hospital, drugged up birth, which was induced via pitocin, epi, a shot of trippy-outty stuff I can never remember the name of, vacuum delivery with an episiotomy and lots of stitches). I would have liked a home birth with my son, but opted for drug-free hospital birth. It wasn’t 100% to plan, but that’s because DS turned at 9cm to a back-to-back position which caused my cervix to swell, so my pool birth didn’t happen…however, I ended up with a spinal to stop me pushing, which actualy saved my birth and allowed me to deliver drug-free in the end! I’m grateful the 3 (yes, THREE!) Epidural attempts failed and I ended up with the spinal! My second birth, although not perfectly according to my well laid out plan, was soooo much better than my first! I will definitely go for drug free if we decide to have any more!

  18. Shannon says:

    I had my 4th daughter 5 minutes after arriving at the hospital on Father’s Day while her father was dropping the other three kids off at a friend’s house 20 mins away. He missed it but it was the best birth! The worst was my 5th, I was induced, had antibiotics for GBS, epidural didnt go in right. I was overloaded with medication I nearly crashed into coma. My husband said NEVER AGAIN! So IF we were to have another baby it’s going to be at home or at least at a birthing center. All of my children have been born vaginally without any troubles. Just the environment (hospital, medications, procedures) makes it problematic.

  19. JLR says:

    You offer a good perspective on your own two very different birth experiences, which may be helpful to women trying to decide how they want to prepare for their own birth experiences. However, I wonder how your daughter will feel when she is old enough and reads this one day. It seems to me that maybe those feelings about your unsatisfactory bonding with your daughter as compared to your blissful start to your relationship with your son, experiences which you state continue to affect your relationships 3 years later, could have been kept private rather than shared with the world (or at least the babble community) at large.

  20. Kiki says:

    Great essay!!

  21. TheFeministBreeder says:

    I, for one, want to thank you for sharing your experiences about having trouble bonding with your daughter, and I bet your daughter will thank you one day after having her own babies and feeling all of the mixed up emotions that can come with that. It’s high time women start talking about postpartum feelings. I’m sure your daughter will have some of her own, and you’ll be a truly understanding and caring resource for her to talk to about them. Good for you.

  22. Elizabeth says:

    Absolutely love to hear from women who did it both ways. This is so encouraging to hear!

  23. Rebecca Taylor says:

    I loved reading this. Thank you for writing about your experience!

  24. girl says:

    A part of your rationalization for your most recent piece on loving your son more than your daughter is the circumstances surrounding their births. I don’t want to rush to judgment here and I understand that it was deeply sad and troubling and undesireable to be separated from your baby girl for forty minutes, but was this separation the catalyst for your failure to bond well? Again, as sad as it was to have your munchkin taken from you by the nurses, should that alone have really contributed to the origins of outright favoritism of your son?

    Perhaps you are angry at yourself for how you failed to advocate for yourself during the first birth. Obviously, this was not your fault! Forgive yourself for that. It’s over. Get therapy, get help, because it’s also not your little girl’s fault. This obsession with the “perfect birth” is bizarre and very egocentric. Not particularly Christian, either.

  25. jl says:

    Thank you for sharing your story with us. It’s wonderful to read that you were able to have a better experience with your second baby. Being able to feel empowered by your birth is such a gift!

    As a doula, childbirth educator, and midwifery student, I have certainly been able to witness first hand the many differences between medicated and unmedicated births. It’s also true, as many people here have pointed out, that place of birth (home, hospital, or birth center) does not guarantee what type of experience you will have. I have seen home births that are long and arduous and leave women feeling exhausted instead of elated, and I have seen hospital births that are short and straightforward that required no intervention at all. Education, preparation, and support are the key factors to a positive experience, in my opinion. Find the right support (midwife, doula, etc), learn to trust your body, and then let the process unfold as it will, realizing that you are not in control.

    I also wanted to say a word or two about the issue of bonding after the birth. It’s pretty well documented that the first hours after birth are critical to bonding. Research has shown us that both baby and mom are hormonally “primed” for bonding during this time in a way that is different than any other time after the birth. Keeping mom and baby together (with skin to skin contact being ideal) helps to ensure that they are able to let this process unfold without interruption. It’s not that a woman who is separated from her baby after birth will not love that baby just as much, it’s just that they are more likely to encounter “hiccups” such as not feeling that initial “rush” of immediate emotion, or difficulty initiating breastfeeding, etc. If you are interested in reading more about the first hours after birth look for articles by Michelle Odent, MD. He is a French obstetrician who is leading the research in this area. Also, a wonderful book called “Your Amazing Newborn” discusses research about the first hours of life.

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