Guess why it’s called labor…


On night two of a four-week class series, we watch our first birth film. It’s always a birth film using non-medicated coping techniques and comfort measures (i.e., no drugs.) We’ll get to epidurals and Cesarean birth eventually, but I try to show my couples what birth looks like when nothing’s been added to the mix.

Currently, the hot movie that’s probably shown in lots of classes around the country is “Adam & Christina.” They’re a really likable couple and the demographic works well with my Portland peeps – Christina wears a little labor skirt instead of a hospital gown, she wears 20 different cute bras throughout the movie, and her butterfly tattoo is clearly visible on her low back while she’s pushing.

Christina has back labor and is pretty emotional but most importantly, she’s working – hard. It’s my favorite part of the movie. We get to see her in a mostly hands and knees position to get the extra pressure off of her back while Adam applies a heating pad and counter pressure to help with the pain. She gets in and out of the tub, uses the birth ball, squatting bar, patterned breathing and vocalization, she takes quick sips of water and sucks on a popsicle. In the voice over, Adam says something to the effect of “While it might not seem like much, it was quite a lot of work to keep up with her.”

In the debrief after the film, I acknowledge that there’s lots of different people in the class. Those who are wanting the “At-Home-Do-It-Yourself-Epidural-Kit” and those who are wanting to to go all the way or as far as they can without any drugs. Either way, they need to know that they’ll be working hard before medication even becomes a possibility. For those who are looking to give birth without drugs, they’ll be working harder.

It’s not enough to write on their Birth Plan, “Desire no pain medications to be offered unless I specifically request them.” They need to go into this labor and delivery room ready to participate actively in their birth to cope with their contractions. When we cover non-medicated coping techniques, they better be paying close attention – with eyes and ears wide open! And they better practice outside of the 4 weeks that we’re together if they expect breathing, position changes, massage, relaxation, and hydrotherapy to be effective in helping them cope without medication.

Do I believe every woman is capable of giving birth without medication? Yes, absolutely! Because I believe birth is normal and our bodies are designed to do it very well. Having said that, there are reasons why this might not be possible for an individual woman in labor on any given day. Due to circumstances like the health of baby or Momma, the length of the labor, the support (or lack thereof) of her birth team, even her desire – an unmedicated, non-interventive birth might not happen for her.

If she’s internally motivated for this birth to be drug free, however, she better be prepared to work hard for that reality. Her partner better be prepared, too. I’m fond of saying, “If she has a 24 hour labor, you do too!” because I want partners to understand what their role will require. There will be no sitting around and checking FB posts or texting to the in-laws about the birth – these partners will be working hard to help this woman get through each and every contraction.

I’m a big fan of couples having realistic expectations about pregnancy, birth and parenting. The participation level that’s required of women and their partners when they’re bringing their babies into this world must be emphasized. The vast majority of women describe their contractions as painful – they hurt. And I think it’s okay to use the “P” word in childbirth preparation classes. In fact, I think it’s more helpful than not.

I’ve heard some women say that they really believed that if they had just breathed or relaxed “enough” they’d be able to labor pain-free or maybe even have an orgasm while giving birth. I’m going off on a tangent here for a moment, but you might think that sounds crazy! An orgasm while giving birth – is that even possible? Yeah, it is! I actually met a woman in person who told me she had, “The best orgasm of her life!” when she gave birth to her baby. I’m sorry, but who wouldn’t want that to be their birth story?!

Ladies can testify to this one, though. If you go in search of the best orgasm of your life, you’re never going to find it. If the conditions are just perfect, it might sneak up on you and – Whoa! But isn’t it better to be pleasantly surprised rather than horribly disappointed?

Instead, be prepared to work hard through each and every contraction and make your way to the break that is waiting for you in between. Know what you’re signing up for in advance so you can better prepare yourself, your partner, and your whole birth team for how they can best support you. If you’re wanting to give birth drug-free all of you need to know what non-medicated comfort and coping techniques are available and feel good about using any and/or all of them to help you get through.

What I don’t want for any of my couples is to feel like they had no idea how much would be required of them in an unmedicated birth. That would mean that I had completely fallen down in my job of preparing them for their birth experience. The bonus is that if everyone in my classes hears the same message from me no matter what their medication preference might be, then they’ll know what they have to do – actively participate in their labor.

And the super sly thing about all of this is: the more actively a woman participates in coping with her contractions by using different comfort techniques, the stronger she’ll feel. Even if circumstances or desires shift during the birth and a woman chooses medication to help her cope with contractions, she will retain that feeling of being strong and powerful by remembering how well she had been coping with her labor up to that point. She will feel less “victim” and more “decision-maker”. This has huge positive impact on how she will remember her birth and tell her story.

And I’m all about that – women feeling strong, empowered and positive about how they gave birth to their babies. Able to tell their story with their heads held high, a sense of pride and satisfaction backing every word. This can only happen when we work hard at something. That sense of pride and satisfaction comes with the struggle. The key here is that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. 

Hard work is good for us. And there is no harder work, or better work for that matter, than birthing our babies.


(Bonus image)

Was giving birth something you would describe as hard work? How much did you participate in the birth of your baby, as birthing woman or her birth partner?


One thought on “Guess why it’s called labor…

  1. Oh, I worked so hard giving birth to those beautiful girls, and I do feel so grateful I was able to do that. I had (and have) an incredible partner/husband, supportive loving family…
    Though #2 and #3 were without medication, this was definitely the story for me with #1:
    “Even if circumstances or desires shift during the birth and a woman chooses medication to help her cope with contractions, she will retain that feeling of being strong and powerful by remembering how well she had been coping with her labor up to that point. She will feel less ‘victim’ and more ‘decision-maker’. This has huge positive impact on how she will remember her birth and tell her story.”
    I love how you explain all this, Barb. Cannot wait to read your book!


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