baby

'Birthing without pain relief was my badge of honour. Until I had my fourth baby.'

I have four children, all of which I birthed vaginally. They were all conceived in the traditional way: through intercourse with a man. 

I realise how clinical that all sounds. But I’m still searching for the right words. I think to say "naturally" is wrong. As if babies conceived through IVF or via a surrogate, or those that arrive via c-section or through adoption are "unnatural". 

I was determined to try to birth without pain relief. That was my plan. If no medical intervention was required I wanted it to be as "natural" as possible.

After all, women do it all the time, right? Some women give birth in a field and then return to work a few hours later. 

Our bodies were made to do it. Sure it would be painful but it would also be worth it in the end. That’s what I always told myself. I believed it to my core. 

Watch: Questions about childbirth (answered by mums and non-mums). Post continues below. 


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Until one evening I was scrolling through Instagram and saw a video of a woman in a hospital bed with her husband. "I’ve been in labour now for over 12 hours," she said. "We are getting ready to push! I’m so excited!" 

Her face was glowing and relaxed. 

If she didn’t say she was in labour, you wouldn’t have been able to tell. She was lying down smiling and holding her husband's hand. He was stroking her hair telling her how amazing she was. They were smiling at each other and in that moment I felt as if I was intruding on their little world. 

It was so beautiful. It was clear she had an epidural and wasn’t in pain. 

I stared at these strangers through the screen and began to cry. 

I had never thought of birth through that lense before. To me the beauty came from the primal moans and the heavy breaths. The enduring. The incredible sensation of your body being able to bring life forward. 

The fact that I didn’t have pain relief with my children, I secretly wore as a badge of honour. As if this was part of being a woman and I had experienced it in its most raw form. 

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And it was beautiful, but it was also brutal. I vomited because I was in so much pain. I screamed and cried. During my last labour I felt completely out of control and out of my body. I began to haemorrhage and I still have flashbacks of the pools of blood at my feet and the screams leaving my body. The entire experience was incredibly traumatic. 

I don’t say this to birth another scary labour story into the world because there are definitely enough of those. I say this because it was my experience. And my other three were completely different from that. The pain level was different, my ability to cope varied. 

That’s why the birth comparisons need to stop. As women we seem to feel the need to compare. To test and prove how much our bodies can take on, as partners watch and marvel at the superhero status we gain.

Did you have pain relief? Were you induced? Did you use water? Hypnobirthing? A Doula? Did you do the classes? The tens machine? Did you schedule a caesarean? You should have birthed standing up! On all fours! Did you walk the whole time? Did you bounce on the ball? Did you try calm birthing or massage? Did you feel it all? Were you present? 

There are so many different paths to becoming a parent and the fact that you may have not endured physical pain to get there, does not make your journey any less real or valid. 

It’s like motherhood involves so much sacrifice we feel we have to make a sacrificial offering of agony to prove to our babies - this is how much I already love you. Look at what I will endure for you. As if labour is an entrance exam, measuring the amount of yourself you are willing to give.

The saddest thing of all is the internalised shame and guilt and stigma we feel. I visited a friend after giving birth and when it was just the two of us she admitted she ended up having an epidural. She said she felt like she had failed. That it wasn’t the plan but she just couldn’t take the pain. I looked at her and felt so sad that in this moment she couldn’t feel anything but complete love and pride for herself. That this moment was forever marred by her feeling like she failed to meet her expectations. She was healthy and her baby was healthy. That’s all that should matter. That’s what we always say. But what we say and how we feel can be two very different things.

Listen to Mamamia's Me After You podcast where host Laura Byrne walks you through the big post-motherhood moments with stories of wisdom, humour, breakdown, ambition, love, hope and rebirth from a truly diverse range of parents. Post continues below. 

If a woman asks me what labour is like, I honestly hesitate to answer. Because there is already so much fear around it. Plus, what it was like for me is most likely completely different from anyone else. Despite best laid plans, things can often can end up completely out of your control in the end.

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Every woman’s relationship with birth and labour pain is completely unique and completely personal.

I had a friend once tell me that she wasn’t sure she was even having contractions. "It was hard to tell! And then it was time to push!" My first reaction was to want to strangle her, to be honest. My second was the feeling that either my pain tolerance was far lower or my pain was far greater than hers. 

The subject of labour pain is always controversial. Some will argue that you wouldn’t refuse pain relief for a broken arm so why would you do it for labour? If we have the ability to stop the pain why wouldn’t you use it? 

Others will argue that it’s a different pain. It’s a natural process that your body is built to cope with. But also will it prolong your labour and will your baby be born all drugged up? 

I begged for pain relief. Begged. But by that point it was too late. "You can do this! I was told “Your body was made to do this!"

If I had my time to do it all again I would think about it in a completely different way. I wouldn’t look at what I should do or what I feel my body is "supposed" to do. 

I no longer feel pride in the pain. I no longer see the beauty in the raw brutality of my experience. 

Birth is beautiful when both mother and baby are healthy, safe and loved. That’s where the pride is. That’s the real badge of honour. 

Feature Image: Getty.

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