Earlier this year, I volunteered to help my midwives staff their booth at a local birth and babies fair. I really like events like this, because you get to meet other families and help other moms learn about their various choices in childbirth. I also really like these kinds of events because there are a lot of things people don't realize happen during unmedicated births, and it's nice to be able to reassure women that if the interventions they normally hear about scare them, there are other possibilities besides unremitting suffering for hours (or days) on end.
A lot of people seem to think moms who choose unmedicated births are either alien beings who don't feel pain, or are biting down on a leather strap and hating their lives for the entire duration of their birth experience. Not so. Contrary to popular misconception, moms who choose unmedicated births are not so committed to doing things “naturally,” that we’ll choose injury or death over medical intervention. Whether they happen in a hospital, a birth center, or at home, moms who want unmedicated births typically just want to let our labors start and progress on their own if possible, and to use other means of dealing with pain and discomfort during labor. There can be a lot of reasons why, too: maybe we have a history of bad reactions to certain medications, or are concerned that certain meds could interfere with our ability to actively participate in the process or could necessitate additional uncomfortable interventions, or we're anxious about needles and other such things (or in my case, all of the above).
Now, to clarify: I'm discussing planned unmedicated births attended by licensed professionals (OB-GYNs, Certified Nurse Midwives, etc.). Some folks do accidentally have unmedicated births because their labors happen so quickly or other unforeseen circumstances result in them not being able to get pain meds or other medication. (Yes, that's a thing that happens, which is why a lot of childbirth educators and doulas will tell you it's a good idea to have at least some familiarity with how birth works and ways to stay comfortable without medications, no matter how you plan to give birth because, of course, birth doesn’t always go as planned.) There are also a small group of people out there who intentionally have unassisted births, but I can't speak to that experience, and none of the following is meant to refer to it. However, for moms who plan to have unmedicated births supported by trained professionals, the following things are typically true: