Laborless Labors and Painless Births
By Laura Shanley
The scene is a familiar one. A woman in labor is lying in a hospital bed surrounded by masked men and women. Her forehead is sweating, machines are beeping, and she’s screaming at the top of her lungs, “I can’t do it! I can’t do it! It hurts! It hurts!” This is the way women give birth. Or do they?
The fact is, many women don’t find birth to be painful or difficult. Call them lucky if you wish, but I tend to believe it has more to do with the attitude of the woman giving birth, and the people she has chosen to surround her. If you interview a woman who has had an easy birth you may find she has a very relaxed attitude about her body and her sexuality. Perhaps she has always been this way, or maybe she has consciously worked at overcoming her fears and learning to trust her body. Either way, her babies are born with grace and ease.
True, at this point in time these women may be the exception rather than the rule, but I still find their stories fascinating. If we can at least entertain the idea that perhaps birth can be painless and easy, maybe more of us will be able to experience it this way. In any case, it makes for some interesting reading. Here are some stories I’ve collected over the years about laborless labors and painless births.
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I was six days from the due date of my third child. On Jan. 6, 1991 at 11:13 p.m. I started to have very mild cramps, so I called the doctor. He said to meet him at the hospital. So, I woke up my husband and got my aunt to watch our other two girls. We left at 11:45 p.m. and headed to the hospital, which is about 10 minutes from home, and I felt the need to push. I pushed one time and the head crowned. The rest of the baby followed. It was a girl. She was 6 pounds and 19 inches long. I did it by myself while my husband was driving. She is now 8 years old and in the second grade.
-From “My Husband Drove While I Delivered” by Lori
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I know for a fact that completely painless labour and birth does happen! This is the tale of three different women…two of whom are my own sisters.
Firstly my eldest sister Karen didn’t even realize she was in labour till she was told by her doctor at her 39 week appointment. He sent her straight into hospital. The staff there didn’t believe she was in labour as she was wandering around happily laughing and joking with them and the other mothers. She felt absolutely nothing until an urge to bear down came along. Five minutes later Tara was born. Karen swears the only thing she felt besides the urge to push was her perineum stretching over the baby’s head.
Her second daughter was stuck in breech position for her birth. Karen was in hospital at the time, she had gone over her due date and the doctor was planning to induce her. She woke up in the morning and refused breakfast even though she was feeling fine. She was sitting up in bed joking with one of the nursing staff when suddenly she felt something wet between her legs….it was a little FOOT! She looked up at the nurse and said there was a foot sticking out. The nurse didn’t believe her til she pulled the covers back and saw for herself. She ran to get the doctor. In the mean time the other foot appeared along with most of the length of the legs. The doctor came running and Karen delivered 9 pound 4 ounce Adele in two more pushes. There wasn’t even time to transfer her to the labour suite, she just delivered in the general ward!
(By the way, we’re all kinda short in my family, Karen is only 4 foot 11 inches.)
My other sister Erika was under the “care” of an obstetrician so unfortunately she copped an episiotomy with both her births. She says it was the only pain she felt for the entire births of both her son and daughter. She only knew she was contracting because she felt her belly hardening every few minutes.
Okay, I did say three. This one is from a magazine article a few years ago. A fifteen-year-old girl was experiencing mild tummy pains and diarrhea. She assumed she had some sort of stomach bug and had a bath to relax and put herself to bed early. She woke up some hours later, aroused by the cries and the sensation of something bumping her legs under the blankets. Alarmed she pulled back the covers to find a wriggling, pink baby girl still attatched to her via the umbilical cord lying on the bed between her legs. No doubting where that came from! She wasn’t even aware that she was pregnant! In shock she scooped up the infant and ran into her parents’ room. Her boyfriend, who had been staying over the night sleeping on the couch, took one look at the girl, the baby and her parents heading down the hallway and into the loungeroom and leapt up and ran out the front door heading for the hills in his pajamas. He probably thought that “Grand-dad” would be looking for his rifle next!
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“In a letter to me Dr. Douglas states that he was called about 6 A. M., Sept. 26, 1828, to attend a Mrs. D., residing on Eccles St. On his arrival he found the house in the utmost confusion, and was told that the child had been born before the messenger was dispatched for the doctor. From the lady herself he learned that, about half an hour previously, she had been awakened from a natural sleep by the alarm of a daughter about five years old, who slept with her. This alarm was occasioned by the little girl feeling the movements, and hearing the cries of an infant in bed. To the mother’s great surprise she had brought forth her child without any consciousness of the fact.”
“A lady of great respectability, the wife of a peer of the realm, was actually delivered once in her sleep; she immediately awakened her husband, being alarmed to find one more in bed than there was before.”
“I have elsewhere mentioned the case of a patient of mine who bore eight children without ever having labor pains. Her deliveries were so sudden and void of sensible effect that in more than one instance they took place under most awkward circumstances, but without any suffering.”
“Dr. J. King, in his work on Obstetrics, speaks of attending cases where there was no sensation of pain. He found that by placing the hand upon the abdomen, the muscular contractions were distinctly felt, and examination proved the progress of labor, while, excepting a suppressed breath, the patient experienced no change from the ordinary condition.”
“Some very marked cases have come to my own knowledge proving the possibility of painless labor. I attended a neighbor of mine in four different confinements. I never was able to reach her before the birth of the child, although I lived across the street, and according to her injunctions always kept my shoes ‘laced up.’ She sent for me, too, at the first indication of labor. There was always one prolonged effort and the child was expelled. The heads of her children were temporarily distorted, showing pliability of the osseous structure.”
“Another lady patron had two children without a particle of pain. With the first she was alone with her nurse. During the evening she remarked that she felt weary and believed that she would lie down. She had been on the bed no more than twenty minutes when she called to her nurse, saying: ‘How strangely I feel! I wish you would see what is the matter,’ when to their astonishment the child was already born.”
“Two years later I was summoned to the same lady about ten at night. The membranes were ruptured, but no other visible indication of labor. Investigation revealed dilatation of the cervix and although she soon fell into a quiet slumber, I noticed regular and distinct contractions. The child was born about two in the morning without any sensation of pain. I have no doubt that in her previous confinement the contractions went on the same, and if she had been one to mark her symptoms closely, she would have felt them as one feels muscular contractions in the performance of other natural functions.”
-From Tokology: A Book for Every Woman by Alice B. Stockham, M.D., Copyright, 1911
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“If you suffer, it is not because you are cursed of God, but because you violate his laws. What an incubus it would take from woman could she be educated to know that the pains of maternity are no curse upon her kind. We know that among Indians the squaws do not suffer in childbirth. They will step aside from the ranks, even on the march, and return in a short time bearing with them the new-born child. What an absurdity, then, to suppose that only enlightened Christian women are cursed.”
“But one word of fact is worth a volume of philosophy; let me give you some of my own experience. I am the mother of seven children. My girlhood was spent mostly in the open air. I early imbibed the idea that a girl is just as good as a boy, and I carried it out. I would walk five miles before breakfast, or ride ten on horseback….I wore my clothing sensibly….I never compressed my body….When my first four children were born, I suffered very little. I then made up my mind that it was totally unnecessary for me to suffer at all; so I dressed lightly, walked every day…and took proper care of myself. The night before the birth…I walked three miles. The child was born without a particle of pain. I bathed it and dressed it myself.”
-Elizabeth Cady Stanton, early feminist
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“Weill describes the case of a woman of twenty-three who gave birth to a robust boy on the 16th of June, 1877, and suckled him eleven months. This birth lasted one hour. She became pregnant again and was delivered under the following circumstances: She had been walking on the evening of September 5th and returned home about eleven o’clock to sleep. About 3 A.M. she awoke, feeling the necessity of passing urine. She arose and seated herself for the purpose. She at once uttered a cry and called her husband, telling him that a child was born and entreating him to send for a physician. Weill saw the woman in about ten minutes and she was in the same position, so he ordered her to be carried to bed. On examining the urinal he found a female child weighing 10 pounds. He tied the cord and cared for the child. The woman exhibited little hemorrhage and made a complete recovery. She had apparently slept soundly through the uterine contractions until the final strong pain, which awoke her, and which she imagined was a call for urination.”
“Shortt says that one day, while crossing the esplanade at Villaire, between seven and eight o’clock in the morning, he perceived three Hindoo women with large baskets of cakes of ‘bratties’ on their heads, coming from a village about four miles distant. Suddenly one of the women stood still for a minute, stooped, and to his surprise dropped a fully developed male child to the ground. One of her companions ran into the town, about 100 yards distant, for a knife to divide the cord. A few of the female passers-by formed a screen about the mother with their clothes, and the cord was divided. The after-birth came away, and the woman was removed to the town. It was afterward discovered that she was the mother of two children, was twenty-eight years old, had not the slightest sign of approaching labor, and was not aware of parturition until she actually felt the child between her thighs.”
“Smith of Madras, in 1862, says he was hastily summoned to see an English lady who had borne a child without the slightest warning. He found the child, which had been born ten minutes, lying close to the mother’s body, with the funis uncut. The native female maid, at the lady’s orders, had left the child untouched, lifting the bed-clothes to give it air. The lady said that she arose at 5:30 feeling well, and during the forenoon had walked down a long flight of steps across a walk to a small summer-house within the enclosure of her grounds. Feeling a little tired, she had lain down on her bed, and soon experienced a slight discomfort, and was under the impression that something solid and warm was lying in contact with her person. She directed the servant to look below the bed-clothes, and then a female child was discovered.”
“Coleman met an instance in a married woman, who without the slightest warning was delivered of a child while standing near a window in her bedroom. The child fell to the floor and ruptured the cord about one inch from the umbilicus, but with speedy attention the happiest results were attained. Twitchell has an example in the case of a young woman of seventeen, who was suddenly delivered of a child while ironing some clothes. The cord in this case was also ruptured, but the child sustained no injury.”
-From Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine, by George M. Gould, A.M., M.D., and Walter L. Pyle, A.M., M,D. (The Julian Press, Inc., 1896)
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“The Epidural Express: Real Reasons Not to Jump On Board,”
by Nancy Griffin
The Importance of Relaxation
by Grantly Dick-Read, M.D.
If you enjoyed these stories you’ll also enjoy Cleanup on Aisle Nine: Woman Gives Birth in Grocery Store.
Photo copyright David Glover.