The Ecstasy of Birth

Quote: “There’s just no reason to do it any other way.” Said by many a new mother sitting in a hospital bed, following the virtually pain-free birth of her baby, thanks to the wonders of modern medicine. Years ago, when my sister-in-law and I had this conversation, I found myself at a loss. Having just delivered my own daughter without medication or other intervention, I felt conflicted. I disagreed with her logic, but could not seem to come up with an articulable counter argument, and that frustrated me.

Before we go any further, let me be clear: I count women who have chosen  medical birth among my dearest family and friends. I have no wish to offend them or anyone else. And for a minority of mothers, medically-oriented labor and delivery is the best option. But natural-birthing mothers have been silent too long, and it’s time we respond, “Yes, there absolutely is a reason to do it another way.” To more accurate, there are several reasons, and the evidence on the sheer physical benefit of physiologically normal birth is compelling. But let’s forget about the science for a moment and talk about one specific, albeit abstract, reason: Elective childbirth without medication just may be – no, will probably be – one of the greatest sensations of your life.

Is childbirth painful? You bet. It’s probably some of the most extreme discomfort many women will experience in their lives. Childbirth educators like myself often shy away from the word “pain,” because we don’t want to scare anyone. But let’s face it: “Discomfort” does not begin to describe the sensation of transition contractions. Birth hurts.

But that’s only half the story, and if that’s all you’ve heard, you’ve missed the best part. Yes, birth hurts. But birth also heals. Childbirth is not only one of the most physically painful things many women will experience; it is also one of the most physically and emotionally ecstatic.

I’m convinced that many mothers shy away from discussing this aspect of birth for two reasons: 1) It is highly personal, and 2) It is extremely difficult to articulate.

Describing to anyone your feelings at the birth of your child is to let them in on one of the most intimate experiences of your life. It requires a level of intimacy that most of us share with very few people. Even more challenging, the ecstasy of childbirth is nearly impossible to put into words. But its inarticulable nature does not mean it doesn’t exist. By way of contrast, consider some of the more intense experiences of your own life – moments that enveloped you physically, emotionally, and spiritually. And then ask yourself: Could anyone possibly put that experience into words? Poetry might be able to come close, but prose? Could a random, double-blind, controlled scientific study even begin to touch it?

For most people, the answer is no. There are experiences that cannot be put into words. Science may reflect the hormonal surges that lead to the feelings we experience, but science cannot describe the feeling itself. Now ask yourself: How do you normally respond to an experience that is “too good for words”? Doesn’t its inarticulable nature only make you want to try it more?

So here’s my suggestion: If you are expecting a baby and find yourself on the fence about natural childbirth, put down the research books. Instead, talk to a mother who chose to deliver her child without medical intervention.  Ask her about her experience. (Don’t be shy – most mothers love to tell their birth stories!) Notice her enthusiasm, her attitude towards labor pain, her level of confidence. Ask her if she would have chosen a different approach to her baby’s birth. I’ll wager that she’ll tell you: “There’s just no reason to do it any other way.”


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