“This was simply the wall. Every time you ran a marathon, you hit a wall. The wall was both a physical and a mental barrier, but it could be overcome (carb-loading, hydration, focus on your technique)…It didn’t feel like she could get past this, but that was the nature of the wall.”
I came across this passage a few months ago in the novel I was reading for book group, Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty. The character was comparing a difficult task that lay ahead of her to the marathons she’d run in the past. I am not a runner. I have no earthly idea what it feels like to run a 5K, let alone a marathon. I have never understood people who run as a hobby as it seems like abject torture to me and I can think of nothing I’d less rather spend my weekend doing. But this passage made me think of the birth of my third child, which had occurred only about a month prior. I knew the type of wall she was describing, where it feels like your body is going to be completely torn apart if you don’t get some relief and your mind starts trying to convince you that you will fail. And I realized that in comparing childbirth to running, or any other type of test of physical endurance, I could begin to understand the “runner’s high” I’ve heard people mention.
Because unmedicated childbirth is my extreme sport and I’m a bit obsessed with it.
There are many reasons women consider giving birth without the aid of medication. Some women are allergic to the anesthesia used or may have religious or cultural reasons for refusing an epidural. There are documentaries and research to suggest that fewer interventions during labor reduce the risk of complications. What started out for me as an interest in striving for the best possible outcomes for myself and my daughter the first time around, turned into the ultimate physical and mental challenge to be conquered once I had experienced my first unmedicated birth. I was in awe of how strong and focused I felt during the experience and how empowered I felt afterward. The intense pain I had endured for hours during labor made the immediate absence of it once my daughter was born feel like a high I had never known. The feelings of relief and accomplishment that filled the first few moments with my daughter perfectly complemented the overwhelming love washing over me to create a state of delirious euphoria.
And the benefits didn’t stop there. I really believe that knowing what I was capable of handling and discovering the stores of strength I didn’t know I had inside helped me feel more kindly toward my somewhat foreign postpartum body. And if I’m being honest, being able to report back to all the smug, “just wait” moms who’d given me the side eye and a “we’ll see” upon hearing I wasn’t planning on getting an epidural, felt pretty empowering too. I am currently even considering applying to be a surrogate because, although my husband and I are pretty sure we are happy with our current family size, I feel sorrow at the thought of never going through the miracle of pregnancy and childbirth again.
I know that unmedicated childbirth isn’t possible or desirable for everyone. I’ve grieved with friends who longed so desperately for a low intervention birth and had to change plans due to circumstances completely out of their control. And I have other friends who had no interest in forgoing the modern medicine available to them and probably look at me the way I look at runners — better you than me, thanks, no thanks. I never want to make any woman feel that her birth story is any less empowering or miraculous. I am making a conscious effort to use the term “unmedicated” rather than “natural,” as it is known in many circles, because I don’t like the implication that any other type of birth is “unnatural.” We are lucky to live in a time where birth is so much safer due to the availability of modern medical care and interventions.