Surprisingly, Austin Texas is a veritable hub of midwifery, with several birthing centers and hundreds of independent midwives. I chose to give birth to my first son with no drugs in a midwife center. There was no option for epidural or other pain killers, nor were there any drugs like Pitocin available to speed up the labor. Make no mistake, my labor, like many labors, was long and difficult. I definitely hit a point where I wanted an epidural, but not enough to transfer to a hospital in order to get one. Once I accepted I was going all natural, I got down to business and didn't think of pain killers again. I was amazed by the overwhelming power of labor and the incredible journey of birthing in this way. I definitely felt like a warrior when I finally gave birth to my beautiful son.
I hadn't originally planned to give birth this way. In fact, at the beginning of pregnancy I told my husband that I planned to get an epidural as soon as possible during labor so that I wouldn't have to feel any pain. I hate feeling any physical discomfort, especially cramps, so the idea of feeling cramps x1000 for 24 hours was the last thing I wanted to experience!
For the birth of my second son, labor went a LOT quicker and I definitely had more of a handle on it, since I knew what to expect. However, I will say my saving grace in my second labor was NITROUS OXIDE (i.e. laughing gas!). The birthing center I was at (Austin Area Birthing Center) had just begun using it. As soon as I started using it, my labor transformed. I progressed very quickly and I completely relaxed into my body. I still felt pain, but I was in a sort of altered "go with the flow" state. As it turns out, generations of women in parts of Europe, all of Australia and Canada have turned to nitrous during labor, but in the US, it is virtually unheard of. As usual, there is a bunch of red tape around it and hospitals have realized that epidurals make them way more money than a tank of nitrous, which costs like $60 and can administered by any trained nurse (i.e.-doesn't require skills of an expensive anesthesiologist). If your hospital or midwife does not have nitrous, you should be sure to express your desire for it and advocate for it--there is no reason why women should not have access to it during childbirth! Here is an excellent article about it in the Atlantic.
Here are some of the books I would recommend for those interested in learning more about birthing options and birthing with a midwife. I am too lazy to write my own reviews, so I'm just cutting and pasting the reviews from other sites :) I think these books are totally inspirational; even if you are planning a hospital birth they remind you of the sacred process you will be a part of. I could not put these books down and I read them each several times, both times I was pregnant!
Lady's Hands, Lion's Heart, A Midwife's Saga By Carol Leonard
Often laugh-out-loud funny and irreverent, occasionally disturbing and deeply sorrowful,Lady's Hands, Lion's Heart is the saga of Ms. Leonard's fated journey as a young midwife. Her story intertwines three threads: Her dedication to the mothers and babies she was groomed to attend; the growing renaissance, despite formidable opposition, of the profession of midwifery in New Hampshire and then in the United States; and finally, a powerful, tragic love story.
Baby Catcher: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife By Peggy Vincent
More than a collection of birth stories, Baby Catcher is a provocative account of the difficulties that midwives face in the United States. With vivid portraits of courage, perseverance, and love, this is an impassioned call to rethink technological hospital births in favor of more individualized and profound experiences in which mothers and fathers take center stage in the timeless drama of birth.
Ina Mays Guide to Childbirth By Ina May Gaskin
This is staple reading. This woman was key in revitalizing the midwifery movement in the U.S.
Born in the USA: How a Broken Maternity System Must Be Fixed to Put Women and Children First by Marsden Wagner.
If you are interested in a very hard core investigation into hospital births you can check this book out. Despite being a wealthy nation, the US has very poor maternal outcomes. The book gives a good review of the stats around American overuse of labor drugs and c-sections, and pretty brutal though and should only be read while pregnant IF you are not prone to freaking out about the risks around birth. I just wanted the facts and this book definitely provides them!
*Starred Review* The outspoken former director of Women's and Children's Health at the World Health Organization believes maternity and perinatal care in the U.S. are seriously flawed. To make the point, he cites recent Centers for Disease Control findings that 28 countries have lower maternity-mortality rates; 41, lower infant-mortality rates. This despite the fact that the U.S. spends twice as much or more per capita on health care than any other industrialized nation. Wagner places responsibility squarely on the shoulders of obstetricians and the lobbying power of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
This Article by the Atlantic, Using Laughing Gas to Relieve the Pain of Childbirth, is about using laughing gas instead of an epidural during childbirth. I did this for my second birth and it was incredible. The laughing gas totally helped me to relax and let my body take over. I started progressing really quickly after I started using it. The great thing about it is that you are in control--you inhale it when you need it, and as soon as you take the mask off, the effects wear off.
OTHER CRUCIAL RESOURCES!
Basically, the second after you give birth, your entire focus shifts from the anticipation of labor to survival with a newborn. Namely, your chief concerns will be handing breastfeeding and SLEEP!
Once again, ol' Ina May Gaskin has a must have breastfeeding guide, named appropriately Ina May's Guide to Breastfeeding. You will need it. Just buy it.
As for sleep, we tried several different books and methods. The one that worked for us and that we still use today when we encounter issues with our older child as well as our baby, is Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Baby by Dr. Marc Weissbluth. This guy is a bonafide sleep doctor and his recommendations are totally evidence based. He offers several approaches to sleep training and not all involve crying. But, he is quick to say that the method that involves crying (Extinction Method) is extremely effective and works faster than any other approach. And in our experience, he is right. Don't be a hater until you have only slept a few hours a night for weeks on end...you too might want to try it and experience the peace of consolidated sleep!
As for websites: Besides Babycenter.com which is basically the Amazon of all things pregnancy and baby related, Kellymom.com is a great online site for all things breastfeeding related, and other parenting issues.
Best of luck and I hope these resources are useful to you!