I can be proud of my drug-free births without diminishing your experience

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock 

I've given birth three times, and it's something I'll never forget. I make big babies, and those births haven't been without drama and complication but for the most part, I've been fortunate to have three safe deliveries and three healthy babies.

Those birth experiences have all been quite different – one with pain relief and two without. I'm proud of all of them. Part of that is the pride I feel for enduring the labours where I elected not to use pain-relief.

My first child was born in a Melbourne birth centre. I didn't have any friends with children and I had no idea what I was doing. I remember a midwife feeling my belly a week or so before I gave birth and telling me the baby felt "on the smaller side of average".

I finally felt my first contraction eight days after my due date, and I laboured for about 24 hours, first at home and then at the birth centre, where I was in and out of the birthing pool, trying to use warm water as pain relief (which is sort of like using a tiny cocktail umbrella in a cyclone).

The labour felt long and hard. At one point, I felt too hot sitting in the pool, so I got out and strode back to my room, stark naked and swearing, through a group of freshly pregnant couples who had come in for a tour. My partner told me later the horrified looks on their faces as they realised what they were getting into were priceless.

Finally, I delivered my baby girl – all 10 pounds (4.5kg) of her. Her shoulders became stuck during the birth and we went through some urgent manoeuvring to get her out to keep her safe. She didn't breathe for about a minute after she was born, and that space of time remains the longest minute of my life, but we were lucky and it all worked out.

And here's the thing: I'm proud of myself for that day. I feel good that I worked hard, I took the pain that came my way, and I birthed that baby. The rush of emotions I felt following the birth were incredible, and it's something I'll never forget.

My next baby six years later was induced because he was on track to be even bigger than my first, and I was worried about him getting stuck on his way out like my first did. My obstetrician broke my waters a week before my due date and when that didn't work, I was put on a syntocinon drip.

That labour was much quicker and much more intense, but again I elected to forego pain relief. For me it was a personal decision that I just wanted to experience everything there was to experience about the birth, and so I did and it was intense and terrible and wonderful and amazing.

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From start to finish, the labour lasted six hours and then my son – all 10 pounds of him – was born. His head was so big, the hospital didn't have a beanie that would stay on, so we had to go out and buy him a new one.

Then, another two years later, I had my third and final baby – a girl. Given my previous form I elected to be induced early again, but this time I decided to have an epidural.

Knowing it was my last baby, I was curious about what it would be like – and having experienced two incredible but painful births, I decided I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

I was put on the syntocinon drip and then the anaesthetist came in to insert the needle in my spine. As soon as the epidural kicked in, I felt instant relief. I spent the next few hours chatting to my partner and reading magazines, and then my obstetrician came in and told me it was time to push.

I was so surprised, as I had no idea things had moved along that far. I pushed the best I could without really feeling what was going on, and soon after, my daughter was born. Weighing only eight and a half pounds, she was my tiniest baby – so probably the one I needed pain relief the least with, but I was happy to have experienced something completely different.

I was proud of that birth too. I made the best decisions I could for myself and my baby, and I was lucky enough to have a third birth with no real complications.

But there is something about those drug-free labours that I feel particularly proud of. It was hard, it was painful, but I pushed through and I did what I needed to do. That feels good.

That doesn't mean that I judge anyone who doesn't get to do that. Everyone's experience is different and there are a thousand and one reasons you might have made a different decision. Whether you had complications that needed an emergency caesarean, or you just wanted to take the pain relief – that's just as valid a decision.

I think of it like this: I like to run marathons, and I'm proud of every finish line I've ever crossed. Marathons are hard, and they hurt, and it's lonely and scary sometimes – but I persevere and push through, and I finish. And that feeling of pride in myself at the end is like nothing else.

That doesn't mean I judge people who don't run marathons – whether it's because they can't, or because they just think there are way better ways to spend their weekend mornings than pounding the pavement for hours at a time – that's a personal choice.

The same goes for those labours. I'm really proud of mine because that was my experience. And hopefully you're proud of yours too – or if you didn't get to have a labour, hopefully you're proud of whatever it is that you went through to get where you are right now.

We've all gone through suffering and hardship to get where we are today – and that can arrive in so many different ways – but it's that suffering that makes us into who we are. That's something I'm proud of. I hope you are too.