More and more hospitals advocate less operated deliveries in which anaesthesia becomes a complement and not necessarily a fundamental part of the protocol.
However, sometimes it seems that it is not easy for a pregnant woman to obtain a clear answer to one of the fundamental questions that any woman asks herself before deciding one direction or another: does a birth without an epidural hurt a lot?
Apparently, in specific forums, it is frowned upon to say yes, that birth without an epidural hurts a lot, sometimes. As if denying the obvious were a strategy to attract more suckers to our sect of born sufferers.
Instead, I believe that it is perfectly compatible with encouraging any woman to have a natural birth for all the positive things that it entails without the need to deny, make up or hide the obvious: a delivery without an epidural hurt.
Every birth is a world.
Each childbirth and each woman are indeed a world. I will not be the one to deny anyone their orgasmic experiences in complete expulsion or contradict all those women who went through childbirth without messing up their hair or almost noticing. But let’s say it’s not usual.
In the same way that we can affirm with some certainty that renal colic hurts – regardless of whether there are people who have suffered it without pain – it is not unreasonable to establish with some intensity that, for the vast majority of women, a birth without anaesthesia implies pain. That this can be perfectly tolerable and does not tarnish what a beautiful experience it is no excuse for not telling the reality with all its faces.
Dilation, those contractions that we all know
We often hear how labour pains are equated to those of a painful period. Although this comparison does not do justice to the intensity of labour, labour pain is very similar to menstrual pain, especially at the beginning of work.
Dilation contractions, the ones that allow our cervix to dilate enough to let our baby’s head through, are much like the cramps some women experience every month.
Many times these contractions also start in the kidneys and produce restlessness in the legs, just like menstrual cramps. Unlike these, however, labour contractions gradually gain intensity and are increasingly difficult to reconcile with regular activity.
As the dilation progresses, it is expected that we cannot speak during a contraction nor walk and need all our concentration to cope with them. The frequency of contractions is also constantly increasing, so we have less and less time to recover between contractions. If we get too tired, the sensation of pain or discomfort can be accentuated regardless of whether the contractions continue to be just as intense.
The good news is that these pains can be much more bearable with breathing exercises, changing positions, relaxing baths, or simply an expert hand on the kidneys. The same contraction that lying in bed without help can be hell. It can be something utterly bearable in the correct posture and breathing correctly.
The worst way to dilate is lying down. It hurts the most. Usually, any position that allows us to lean forward so that the belly hangs freely, such as resting our arms on a bed, on our knees or on all fours, becomes much more bearable, although somewhat more comical.
The difference during dilation is marked above all by its duration and the exhaustion that the woman accumulates. If with proper assistance, the pregnant woman is helped to remain calm and relaxed, this pain is bearable and perfectly bearable.
The transition, the real bogeyman
Transition is a very brief phase of labour between labour and delivery. And the most painful. The transition is perfectly noticeable. It is a brutal change. The contractions are no longer something dry that squeezes our back and abdomen, a known pain. The transition is unlike anything we have ever felt before and is of an overwhelming animal intensity.
No one has to tell you that something has changed, you know it, the baby is going to come out, and you notice how you open up inside to let it pass. Probably if until now we have been content with snorting and some whining moan, now we have to shout or mutter openly. It is a moist pain hardly comparable to anything you have ever felt.
At this moment, you may think that you can’t take it anymore, that someone does something, that you leave it, it’s over. The good thing is that this phase is usually very short, and in the time it takes to say this mouth is mine, it’s over. The best thing is to surrender to your nature and do what your body asks of you, yell, squat, go on all fours or insult your husband. This is the best moment.
The expulsion is not necessarily painful per se unless you suffer a tear or it is too long. During the removal, you feel the relief of having passed the transition, and more than pain, what can come to us is a tremendous sensation when the baby’s head crowns and your body opens to the fullest.
One moment I remember very clearly having my head outside and the rest of my body inside. The feeling of impatience for me to get out once and for all and relieve the tension my whole body was under. It is a powerful sensation, more intense than painful, and it passes as soon as the rest of the baby comes out with the next contraction. Like a miracle, the little feet come out, and nothing hurts, the relief is instantaneous, and the well-being is immediate. Your baby is here, and you are in top shape to enjoy it to the fullest.
It is possible that in the heat of ecstasy with your new baby, you feel a contraction and think: it can’t be. Again? But don’t worry. The placenta will come out quietly a while after your baby is born.
We often hear about the endorphins and the rush that invades us after giving birth without an epidural, as if it were a tall tale that they sell us to sneak delivery without anaesthesia. It is not like this. Really, after giving birth without an epidural – as long as there have been no complications in the delivery – we feel great, our strength returns with surprising speed, and we have the spirit and the perfect energy to put the baby to the breast and enjoy it to the fullest. Maximum.
This is not to say that when we have an epidural or C-section baby, we don’t enjoy it or fall in love with it instantly. No way. I remember with the same tenderness the birth of my first two daughters with their epidural as that of the two little ones without an epidural. But it is true that after delivery without anaesthesia, we are in a state of alertness and excitement that allows us to experience it differently. It is a difficult feeling to explain as if we were saying to ourselves, “that’s how it had to be, and it has been”.
As a bonus, this high lasts for days, even weeks, and makes the puerperium a much more pleasant experience because we have enough energy to take care of our baby without exhausting ourselves.
There are no winners or losers; bringing a child into this world, with or without anaesthesia, is an unforgettable and wonderful experience for any mother. Having experienced two births with an epidural and two without an epidural, I wanted to contribute my grain of sand to clarify as much as possible what it can feel like during birth without anaesthesia. However, its rhythms and how tired or nervous we are can make us drink more consciousness and remember some sensations more clearly than others.