Author's Note 1: Natalie had reservations about sharing her journey as first submitted. While our views of the finished product differed, we are in complete agreement about whose editorial vision is most important.
She is adamant this piece should reflect that she's a person speaking honestly and candidly about her own individual experience, insisting that in no way, shape or form should it seem "preachy." I didn't (and still don't) think she was portrayed as someone advocating a certain path. As a matter of fact, she went to great lengths to tell me just the opposite.
So, consider this version similar to the original, with some minor but essential tweaks and, of course, the addition of the three paragraphs you have just read.
There's a full spectrum of thought about dealing with the pain and intensity of labor. Some women prefer interventions that can include epidural, nitrous oxide or IV medications to calm and ease the body; others elect to avoid medication-based pain management.
Natalie Demler has strong convictions about unmedicated births. She's had three of them.
Demler acknowledges that friends are sometimes incredulous and need to ask a question or two just to make sure she's thought everything through.
"You know we have modern medicine, right?" they say. Or, "Do you really want to put yourself through all that?"
She got it from family too.
"My own mom was like that," Demler said. "She didn't want me to be in pain."
With her first child, Demler made it a goal to have an unmedicated birth. With the support of her husband Jake, she completed a five-week course on hypnobirthing, which combines breathing, relaxation, visualization and other techniques to help naturally manage pain during labor and birth. She did a lot of reading, educating herself on birth choices and how to advocate for those choices.
"I just wanted to experience the birth of my child in its entirety," said Demler. "I learned how incredible a woman's body is, and how getting through those intense moments was, for me, really a question of mind over matter. It was so worth it, so empowering to be able to say that I did it. Even to myself."
She describes what she feels are additional benefits of an unmedicated birth ("the baby is more alert, you can stand up right after because your legs aren't numb, recovery is typically easier"), but Demler is no proselytizer.
"My friend who went into labor three days before me knew she wanted an epidural, and I totally get that," said Demler. "It's a completely unique experience for every woman."
Any thought of yielding to the pain during her first labor was met with resolve.
"I just had to get through the tough moments when I started to doubt myself and my body's ability to birth," Demler said.
That meant complete focus on her breathing and a hyper awareness of her own mental state.
"You try to make every thought positive," said Demler. "You try not to tense up or panic, which is easier said than done, and use your adrenaline to give you strength."
She has a vivid recollection of what she felt after powering through intense moments.
"All of the pain disappears when the baby is placed on your chest," Demler said.
Following the birth of her daughter Emory and her son Everett (Demler pauses here and adds "unmedicated births don't get easier, by the way"), both delivered by an OB/GYN she called phenomenal, Demler was greeted with the news that her longtime provider was leaving the area.
She found out three weeks before her due date.
"I'd been with him since I turned 21," Demler said. "We had a really close bond; he was with us during our miscarriage. I was pretty devastated that he was leaving and worried about how things were going to go. That's when I found Kay."
In her search for a new provider, Demler contacted Women's Care of Wisconsin, and the receptionist felt that midwife Kay Weina would be a great fit for her. Demler asked around and heard nothing but good things ("Kay's amazing!" "You'll love her!")
At 35 weeks, Demler met Weina for the first time and transferred her care to the midwife.
"She hugged me, and immediately asked if I wanted a tour around the facility and to look at the room," Demler said. "She was so personable and right away I had a feeling that everything was going to be fine, that she was going to take good care of me and the baby."
Weina made clear that whatever vision Demler had for the birth was the way they were going to make it happen.
"Birth is sacred and spiritual for every woman, and it's every woman's own unique experience to bring a child in the world," Demler said. "My husband and I prayed every day that we'd find the perfect provider, one who believes in you and helps you through intense moments. I knew Kay was going to be there for me. She made me feel safe."
For someone making transitions in the late stages of a pregnancy, Demler was pretty good about rolling with the changes. A certain amount of angst set in, however, when she found out Weina was about to do something she rarely does, and right around go time.
"I found out Kay was going on vacation for a couple of days," said Demler. "I was not ready for someone else to deliver this baby!"
Demler had an appointment with Weina on a Wednesday; the midwife was leaving later in the week and would be gone for the weekend. Demler wanted to know what was going to happen if she didn't go into labor before Weina left.
"No, you will," said Weina.
Demler asked about a Plan B just in case.
"Nope, let's not even go there," said Weina. "You're at four centimeters. You're going into labor. And you're having this baby."
Sure enough, a few hours later Demler started having contractions.
"I got the kids home, my daughter had her first dance class, and I felt my first contraction," she said. "I texted Kay right away, which I thought was really cool. I mean, who gives you their cell number?"
Demler returned her focus to breathing techniques, keeping herself in rhythm. Paradoxically, she found the opposite of focus could also be beneficial.
"Distractions, like taking a bath or cleaning the house during contractions, helped too," she said.
Weina met them at the hospital shortly after Demler donned her gown. The midwife walked the halls with her, the movement and Weina's peaceful demeanor bringing comfort. The hospital room exuded a feeling of calm as well, as treasured music transformed the space into something more like a birth center.
Later, when things began to ramp up and intensify, especially early in labor, Demler needed to fight. As contractions became acutely painful, she leaned into them, bolstered by a powerful thought that became a meditation:
"That was a big one; I'm getting closer to meeting my baby!"
Weina delivered Elsie Rae on July 13, 2023
"Kay was phenomenal during labor, cheering me on. Jake was encouraging me the whole time. I focused in on what I needed to do. With Kay and Jake's support, Elsie was born into a room full of love and joy."
Author's Note 2: Following our interview, Natalie shared a note she jotted down one night during a late night feeding session with Elsie soon after her birth. Powerful words.
Elsie is our greatest surprise. A surprise pregnancy but little did I know that she would be all our family needed and more. I'll never forget sitting on the bathroom floor that November morning with our two year old and six month old-they were both very sick with RSV and I had been spending a lot of time in a steamy bathroom with them to help them breathe. We were sleep-deprived parents and it had been a rough week to say the least, and that's when I found out about our surprise baby. Staring at the positive test while holding my sick babies, I just thought "How am I going to do this?" but after the initial shock that we were going to have three under three faded, we couldn't have been more excited. I dreamt of who this little one would be every day-a boy or a girl. Deep down I had a feeling, she would be a girl and we would name her Elsie. I can't imagine our life without her now-she is the most perfect addition to our family. She has the bluest eyes and sweetest smile (with one dimple). She is the calm to our storm most days. The reasoning of why we chose Elsie is special to us as well. It means, "God is my oath," or "Pledged from God" in Hebrew. Middle name is after my mom and great grandpa Ray. She was born at 12:34am, which is an angel number. Angel numbers are said to special and I can't help but think this sweet surprise baby is here for a very divine purpose. I continue to see 12:34 on the clock, just as I see 11:11-which is the time our son Everett was born (another surprise baby).
Although it was not what we had planned for our family, we trust that God knew what our family needed.