Epidural vs. Natural: What’s right for you?
Dec. 5, 2018: No matter how you slice it, giving birth is an amazing experience; it changes you. And no matter how you choose to do it, with some type of pain management (i.e. an epidural) or naturally without any pain medication, your body still does the work. The end goal is a healthy baby and a healthy mama.
I never felt inclined to write about my birth experience, because after all, everyone’s story is extraordinary and wholly unique, nor did I ever intend on addressing the topic of epidurals vs. natural birth. But for me, when the arrival of baby no. 4 grew near, I found I was questioning my previous dedication to having my babies naturally, so I spent the last few weeks of my pregnancy reading every blog I could possibly find about other women’s birth experiences, I began talking to my customers about their experiences, and I spoke with my mother about her experiences.
It’s a sensitive and controversial topic, yet a deeply personal one. Perhaps opening up about my experiences will help others who are grappling with how to approach their own labor and delivery or who simply want to hear from other women, as I did.
For me, each birth was unique. One long, one short, and one in between; one early, one late, and one right on time. My first three were unmedicated natural childbirths. From the beginning, I knew I wanted to deliver this way. I was determined to labor at home, to embrace the contractions for what they were, and to welcome the aid of my doulas and midwives to get me through. I was wary of the needle of an epidural. I wanted what statistics say offer a lower chance of the use of forceps, vacuums and other tools, a shorter recovery time, and a likely faster labor and delivery. I wanted to be cognizant of everything during labor and delivery, and I was unwavering in my confidence, knowing that my body could do what women have been doing for centuries before me. With the lights low and my tenacity in check, I breathed methodically through each contraction and found comfort in my position over a birthing ball. With the right support team in place (a doula or midwife, a must-have in my opinion for natural childbirth) and the right mindset, giving birth naturally to three 9-pound babies filled me with a sense of empowerment.
But suddenly with a fourth baby on the way, I just wasn’t so sure I wanted to go through, I’ll just say it, the pain of natural childbirth again. I’ll even admit, my first words after delivering my third baby were, “I never want to do that again.” Perhaps that’s why I was questioning everything: did I want to deliver naturally again? Could I handle the pain of contractions and delivery? What were my other options? And why, now, was I doubting another natural birth?
With baby no. 4, I weighed the pros and cons of getting an epidural. I knew the risks involved. I knew there’d be more monitoring and wires, and a possible lengthening of labor and use of Pitocin, forceps, or vacuums. I was aware that pushing might be difficult because of the anesthesia and that the numbness in one’s legs would remain after delivery. And I knew of the possibility of postpartum headaches associated with an epidural. But I reminded myself that there are risks with natural childbirth, too. And so after a few hours of contractions, the nurse smiled and said “treat yourself,” and I decided to have an epidural. Dare I say, it was ah-mazing!
To have an epidural, you do need an IV and constant fetal monitoring. Within 20 minutes of my epidural (yes, they asked my husband to leave the room when administered), I could no longer feel the pain of the contractions. Sure there was a slight pricking when they administered the medicine, but I already knew I could handle a little pain, and this was nothing. The most difficult part is remaining still as you breathe through your contractions. The epidural is connected to its own supply of pain-blocking medicine that is injected into a space between the vertebrae and the spinal fluid. I could still feel and move my legs throughout, despite my earlier fear that my legs would be completely immobile. When the time came for delivery, I was calm, controlled, and quiet. I could push, I could feel what was happening, and in the end I was able to watch the birth of my son in a way I hadn’t ever done before.
Giving birth naturally was an experience unlike none other, one I’ll always remember and cherish. For me, with a natural birth, I focused on the breathing, the pain, and the relief when it was over—I was acutely focused on me. Everything builds from the onset of that first contraction and culminates in that staggering moment when, with one more push using every ounce of energy you have left, you suddenly hear a baby’s cry.
But with an epidural to relieve the pain, I was more focused on my baby and what was going on all around me. For me, it was more intimate to be able to see my son born without having the pain of contractions to focus on. I had none of the side effects I’d so worried about, luckily. It was wonderful, peaceful, but it also seemed almost anticlimactic. “Ready to have this baby?” the doctor asked when she entered the room. “Already?” I replied. It is also an experience I will remember and cherish. I’m just happy I was able to experience both.
Choose what you will, or be open to both options, as the end goal is the same. In the end, I suppose it’s important to remind yourself, as my own doctor did to me when I admitted to having trouble sleeping because of my apprehension and unease about labor and delivery, not to get consumed in the planning of and the anxiety of the birth—save the planning and anxiety for the weeks that follow when you have a brand new little baby to care for!