In a lot of ways, it kind of all started ten years ago. When I first found out I was pregnant with my first baby, Wyatt, instinctually I knew I’d shoot for a birth experience that was different then most would expect from me.

My mom had always been pretty open and straight forward about her births with my brother and I. Not the best, not the worst, but totally worth it.  Obviously. When I was 17, I got to watch her go through a third pregnancy when she was 39 years old. I had a front row seat to her entire pregnancy. When it came time to deliver, it was exactly what we’d all seen her prepare for. She was induced, got her epidural and had a relatively breezy time it seemed (from my hallway seat at least). I do recall her having some postpartum discomfort due to the epidural but it wasn’t anything an in-hospital massage couldn’t take care of.

In college I got some first hand experience at my cousin and longest time close friend’s hospital births. Both experienced epidurals, and one lead to a c-section. In 2010, I was extremely lucky to get a back stage VIP pass to my bestie’s labor and delivery with her first baby. With each of these experiences, I got to see relatively smooth hospital births. Nothing about what I saw scared me, or concerned me really, but nothing about what I saw lined up with what I knew in my gut would be the right environment for me.

I saw myself in a tub, with a slew of candles, and some tunes. That’s where it started, the vision that is. That’s what I saw in my head before I got pregnant. I’d have conversations with a new friend who was very familiar with natural births, having had both her boys at home just a few years prior. When I learned that she had home births, I was fascinated. I had never met anyone that had made that choice. Still, there was no way I could do that. She’d ask me what I was thinking for my own future birth plans and I’d tell her I wasn’t sure but I definitely saw myself in the water. She’d quickly tell me that if that’s what I wanted it was possible, but I better start preparing for an unmedicated birth because I wouldn’t be able to have an epidural if I wanted to labor or deliver in the water.

Mind. Blown.

I asked her for any birth books she had, picked up the Business of Being Born, and started to wrap my head around pushing a baby out of myself the old fashioned way.

The books and the documentary opened my eyes for the first time to a massive un-learning opportunity. I, like a lot of us, had received messages my entire life that our bodies needed pain meds in order to birth a child; that pain meds were a must because why would we ever want to put ourselves through that much pain when we didn’t have to? That all made sense, but something about this concept never totally felt right to me. Avoiding, even fearing pain that our bodies were actually designed to experience? Instinctually, I felt like this was something I should dig into. After all, what did all of those women do before epidurals?

Here’s where the un-learning began. Sure, an epidural would take away some of my pain — maybe. I quickly started to understand how this type of intervention worked. For one, a giant needle was involved. For two, it would go in around your spinal cord. Neither of those things sounded fun, cozy, or risk-free to me. And I knew from my mom and my friends’ experiences that all three of those things were true. (Note, I don’t believe any of my friends, or my mom, regret getting an epidural. And full transparency, with each pregnancy I’ve had, I’ve fully entertained the idea of a medicated birth!)

I also knew I’d still experience pain during contractions leading up to receiving the epidural, so it wasn’t like I was going to avoid pain and discomfort all around. In some women’s cases, the epidural didn’t always work for them. Despite a plan to rely on this pain management option, women may experience it anyway, ultimately not being prepared for what was to come without it. After looking into it for myself, I decided that even if I did end up at a hospital with an epidural, I better prepare myself for it not to work. I was confident that if a failed epidural would happen to anyone, it would happen to me.

I read the books, and started to learn about the physiology of birth, natural birth practices, and maternal instincts. After watching The Business of Being Born I understood the increased likelihood of a c-section with each accepted medical intervention.  I also researched the cost of an average hospital birth in my area with medical interventions. While I had good insurance, we didn’t have a lot of savings for the mysterious bill (BILLS!) that come your way after a medicated hospital birth. That alone created some anxiety. Could we even afford to have a hospital birth when the time came? I stopped my exploration there, knowing I’d go even deeper when appropriate.

In late 2010, Ty and I had ourselves a positive pregnancy test. After a few short weeks, I had my first midwife appointment and a doula referral. I was well on my way to a water birth at a birth center.

The first few days I was pregnant, I connected strongly to the reality that now that something was inside me, I was going to have to get it out – just me. I was the only one that could get this baby out. I better get crystal clear on how I wanted to do it. My instincts kicked in, I listened to my body, connected with what I envisioned for myself, and prepared.

I read the books, watched the birth stories, did the exercises, bonded with the midwife team, picked a photographer, took the class, hired the doula, wrote the birth plan, and prepared for a possible transfer to a hospital if that needed to happen. I knew how much it would cost to give birth at the birth center, and educated myself on medical coverage and paid (and unpaid) maternity leave. I immersed myself into as many positive birth stories and experiences that I could, eliminated noise and distractions that could impact a positive mindset throughout, and I worked hard to remove any unanswered questions, doubts, and fears in advance by talking really openly about them.

Of all the things I did to prepare, I remained in tune with what felt right to me, and for the two of us, the entire time.

Labor day came, about 5 days early, and I had the most incredible pain free birth with my son. Of all three labors, his was the most exhilarating and empowering. I felt lots of discomfort through my contractions, some were more painful then others, but I felt absolutely zero pain when it came time to pushing him out. I was smiling and ecstatic with each push and learned that pain and discomfort are not to be feared, but to be used. I was given an incredible gift to have a birth experience like that. (My next two were nothing like his, and I know many women experience the opposite of anything I ever have as it relates to birth. It breaks my heart to know some women don’t come out of birth on the same high I’ve experienced.) His birth was magical, and if anything, it was my first adult experience trusting my natural born instincts, and allowing myself to surrender to something I was physically and mentally designed to do. (Read Wyatt’s full Birth Story here.)

In the words of Ina May Gaskin, I truly let my monkey do it.

“Let’s say you want some advice that might help you give birth, wherever that might be. My shortest answer is: let your monkey do it.” Ina May’s words of wisdom remind women that birth requires that we get our thinking brains out of the way, and let our mammalian instincts take over.

Ten years ago, I learned the power of trusting myself. I began to practice quieting my overly-thinking brain, and allowing myself to really listen to what I knew to be true on the inside. I couldn’t help but connect even more to the power of listening to my instincts. How much noise would I remove from my everyday life if I could get really good at this? How many distractions would I eliminate, and how much more confident would I feel in my personal decision making process? How much easier would it be for me to trust my instincts if I truly listened to them?

Today, I can tell you this: A. LOT.

If you’re struggling to connect with your instincts regarding a specific situation or problem that needs solving, try these 5 tips that might help:

  1. Get to know your gut. Slow down, and create space and time for yourself. It might take time, but soon you’ll be able to ask yourself and hear back what you want.
  2. When you’re at a moment of calm, ask yourself, “if there were no obstacles in my way, what outcomes would I be experiencing?”
  3. Gauge your mindset. On a scale of 1-10, how prepared is your mindset to begin experiencing what you want? 1 = just beginning to be prepared, 10 = fully and completely prepared. Mindset health is a huge part of allowing yourself to trust yourself.
  4. Talk it out. Vocalize what you want and imagine for yourself. Play around with it, and stay open to fine tuning the process you might need to go through before finalizing your decision.
  5. Ground yourself using your gut at every step of the way. What is your body telling you to do?

Stay tuned for part two soon.