I'm not sure if you've had your baby yet (you must be nearly there by now!) but have to assume you haven't.
I have 2 kids (currently pregnant with #3). Feel very fortunate to have had two fantastic drug-free natural births, and am hoping for the same 3rd time around! I think it comes down to a combination of preparation, support, strength of mind and LUCK, in different proportions depending on the individual (eg. I have friends who even with the best preparation and support, did not end up with the natural birth they wanted – although they were disappointed, as everyone says in the end what matters is a healthy bub & mum!).
Preparation – For my first (daughter) I did HEAPS of preparation – was already pretty fit and continued with yoga and swimming, read books about active / natural birth, listened to pregnancy and birth relaxation CDs, read positive birth stories (and a DVD I watched of natural births was GREAT in demystifying the whole experience and getting a sense of ‘normality’ about it, but I can’t remember the name of it), took a tonic to strengthen the uterine muscles (raspberry leaf etc), you name it I did it!
Support – As well as my partner (who was supportive enough but completely inexperienced!) I hired a doula, which I cannot recommend highly enough! I imagine things could have easily been different without her experience and calm reassurance letting me know all the time how well I was doing. (I didn’t have an issue with negative hospital policies because I was in a birth centre but in a hospital imagine it would have been even more important, to have her advocating for my wishes). She gave me CDs to listen to beforehand, and during the labour gave me some really great hints – like telling me to visualise, during each contraction, the cervix being pulled open a little bit more. Somehow, focusing on the ‘usefulness’ rather than the pain itself really helped me to relax and ‘go with’ the contractions rather than fighting them or being scared of the pain.
Mindpower – In the end I went a week overdue, then had a week of nightly contractions which felt like the real thing but always stopped at daybreak. After a week of that I was a nervous wreck (exhausted and wondering if it was ever going to happen for real). But I also REALLY wanted to avoid an induction as I felt my body was just doing what it needed to do to get ready to give birth... and I suspected an induction might make it harder to refuse the drugs etc. On the Friday night I was having 1 minute contractions 8 minutes apart, so I was literally rocking for 1 minute, falling asleep for 7 minutes, rocking a minute... all night long. My doula stayed the night. By morning I just wanted my baby out so we all went to the birth centre and they broke my waters at about 9am. Things intensified soon after. I laboured for a couple of hours with pelvic rocking, swiss ball etc before getting in the bath which was HEAVEN (everyone is different but I found it much more bearable in the bath than out). I just stayed so, so focused on my body – the CDs and the yoga must have helped I think. Apparently at one stage the midwife wheeled in the gas expecting me to ask for it but I was honestly on such a different planet it didn’t even occur to me to ask for drugs! Anyway I finally had my daughter in the bath at 2.15pm after maybe an hour of pushing (and what the midwives called 5 hours of labour!).
Afterwards, despite the week without sleep leading up to the birth, I did not feel exhausted, in fact I was on a high for weeks!!! As for pain afterwards – yes I think it CAN be painful, in ways you don’t necessarily expect or think about beforehand - I had a graze which made it painful to wee (stinging) and also haemorrhoids from pushing too hard, as well as sore arms from gripping the edge of the bath! But you just recover as from any ordeal eg. a marathon! And while I’ve practically forgotten the battered feeling of those early days afterwards, the birth is etched in my mind forever as one of the absolute highlights of my life! Sounds crazy but it’s true.
My 2nd was a planned homebirth. After the long prelabour with #1 I was told to ignore the contractions as long as possible. I did – slept through mild contractions all night and did all our usual activities the following day despite increasingly intense contractions. At 4.30pm I (in hindsight, stupidly) took my daughter to the pool for her swimming lesson, only to have the pain rapidly escalate to the point I was having trouble concentrating on the lesson and had to get out after 15 minutes. I got home at 5pm and he was born at 6pm – before the midwives or my husband could get there (thank god again for my doula, who arrived in the nick of time a minute before he was born). That time I was in shock – there may be something to be said after all for a long prelabour.
Good luck, I think you are very wise to focus on the positive and to aim for a drug-free birth if possible. Of course you cannot know exactly how things will pan out, but all you can do is give yourself the best possible chance, and be prepared to accept whatever comes in the end.
This is very long sorry, but I'm always happy to discuss more! (never imagined myself as a birth enthusiast but there you go)