An Interview with Myself: On Epidurals and Natural Birth

By Ashley Franz

Choosing to have a natural birth is such a personal decision. Everyone has their reasons to have, or not have, a natural birth. Several girls have tried to get me to talk them into having a natural birth, but I just won’t do it – because I can’t. I can’t do it for someone else; it has to be her own decision because she is the only one who is going to be experiencing the birth, and my own personal reasons for doing it might not apply.

Editor’s Note: Attachment Parenting International invites mothers to share their birth stories. The following article has been published to give this mother a voice in telling her birth story only, without endorsement of her decisions made regarding her child’s birth. Click here for more information on our views regarding childbirth.

Why have a natural birth? I usually answer this question with another question: Why does anyone run a marathon? Why does anyone sky dive? Why does anyone climb a mountain? Natural birth appealed to my sense of adventure; I wanted to have an odyssey.

I wanted to have a natural birth, because I was always interested in and curious about birth. I wondered what it would be like, what it would feel like. I appreciated the process of birth and was amazed by the miracle that it is. I wanted to see what I was made of: How much can I take? How strong am I – physically, mentally, and emotionally? What does real pain actually feel like? I wanted to do it for connection: connection with my husband in the form of a (positive) trauma bond; connection with other women, now and from the past when they didn’t have epidurals; connection with my baby, who is experiencing the rawness of birth; connection with God, who promised I can do all things, who promised He would give me nothing I couldn’t handle.

I knew that having a natural birth was my best chance for avoiding a Cesarean section or other interventions and complications of birth, and I was desperate for a good birth.

There were spiritual reasons, too; right or wrong, I was convicted by the fact that my husband would be spending his life fulfilling the curse of Adam (to work the “fields”), so I felt somewhat obligated to experience, at least once, Eve’s punishment as well (to have “greatly increased pain in childbirth”).

I had also heard of the amazing natural high that one gets after birthing naturally, and I wanted to (and did) experience it. It lasted for weeks the first time and warded off any baby blues that might have otherwise been there. In fact, I had read that the incidence of postpartum depression after natural births was close to 0% and that really spoke to me. I had also heard that birthing naturally helps you “turn on mothering” easier and breastfeed easier, due to the hormones released during labor and birth, and success in these two things was extremely important to me.

I needed confidence. Some women are extremely confident in their abilities, going into motherhood, but I wasn’t. I was scared stiff, and I needed a boost. Birthing naturally was a way for me to literally and figuratively face and conquer my fears about being a parent. I had heard that once you’ve had a natural birth, nothing ever seems difficult again. I have found this (so far, at least) to be true. It has been extremely empowering to be able to compare giving birth to other parenting (not to mention, non-parenting) challenges, beginning with breastfeeding and continuing with sleep deprivation, disciplining a toddler, and the list goes on. I can always say to myself, “If I can give birth, I can do this.”

Why have an epidural after you’ve already done natural twice? The same reason everyone else gets an epidural. It hurts! And, no, it doesn’t get less painful each time…easier and faster, maybe, but not less painful.

I was gripped with fear about the birth, due to a less-than-ideal experience with my second birth, and I felt I had to plan an epidural birth in order to let go of the fear. After my second birth, I swore to myself (and others present) that I would never have natural birth again unless I was in a better setting for natural birth, like home, a birth center, or at least a natural-friendly hospital (which doesn’t exist where I live). I also swore off natural birth unless I was to be surrounded by doulas, midwives, or at least other women who had birthed naturally. I was so tired of fighting to the death for my natural births and having people stare at me like “Why, you idiot?” while I was trying to focus on getting through a contraction, to still just be hooked up to pitocin after the baby was out in order to…what, deliver the placenta? Because that’s hospital protocol? After working so hard to birth naturally, it sucks when they hook you up to pitocin and kill your birth high.

I had also been having multiple dreams about the actual birth, and in the dreams, there was no pain or struggle of any kind. I’m a big believer in dreams and that some of them can be telling you something or explaining something, so I took it as a hint that this is the direction I should go.

With two other very small children, I just didn’t feel like my husband and I got to prepare, let alone even talk about, the upcoming birth. I wanted a free pass, a freebie – a get-out-of-jail-free card. And I felt fine about it, since the reasons that I had a natural birth in the first place didn’t really apply anymore: Mothering has been turned on and locked in the “on” position; breastfeeding almost couldn’t fail if I tried after more than three years’ experience; and I felt confident that my body was experienced enough at birth to be able to birth with an epidural. In summary, I just wasn’t up for it this time. And you have to be up for it, at the very least, in order to succeed and enjoy natural birth.

What is the difference? There is absolutely no comparison. Apples to oranges, people!

Bad birth versus good birth? No! Birthing naturally is a wonderful experience. The difference is having to labor versus not having to labor at all! Laboring with an epidural is like sitting here typing on the computer – there is no labor. Whereas, feeling one’s labor is actually really hard work, intense, pretty much indescribable. It’s just a totally different experience.

Did I like the epidural? I liked not feeling the pain and not having to struggle and work through the labor. I did not like getting the epidural. It was just as scary as I thought it would be; it seemed so unnatural to be getting a procedure done when there was no medical problem, and it felt really weird. I also felt funny not having complete control over my body and having ports and things going into me from everywhere (the previous two times, I didn’t even have an I.V. drip or monitors, so I was free to roam). And I hate needles, especially ones that go into your back. But, again, it was an experience to be able to sleep through centimeters six to ten, and then be completely mentally aware during pushing.

Do I wish I had had an epidural with the first two? No. All three births have been wonderful and memorable in their own ways. However, if I had my wishes, I would have had an epidural with my second birth and gone natural with this one, because the hospital I was in this third time had a better bathtub and my water wasn’t broken from the beginning (labor hurts more after the water is broken). I felt like I could have done it again once I reached my goal of getting to five centimeters, but I didn’t want to be fickle and I had made my mind up not to change my mind about the epidural once I got there.

Am I going to have an epidural next time? Everyone assumes that I will now be an epidural convert, but I would say that, now that I’ve had a little break, I will be more ready to face another natural birth next time. I don’t promise anyone anything, because it’s not about proving anything to anyone, but time will tell.

11 thoughts on “An Interview with Myself: On Epidurals and Natural Birth”

  1. Aside from a little bit of nitrous oxide I had 2 natural deleiveries. The first one was very fast and I managed through the pain very well. The second one was almost 2lbs bigger and the pain was much worse. The pushing part was the toughest for me. I had a hemorrhage after, which took a lot of wind out of my sails. If I were to have another baby I would choose a epidural. I think because the labor was fast, intense and the baby was 10 lbs I hemorraged. My second experience was somewhat traumatic…it took me months to recover from all the blood loss. I would choose an epidural because it would help me to relax and give use a better experience.

  2. How sad that part of the reason you gave for the epidural was so people in the hospital wouldn’t look at you like you are crazy or weird for wanting a natural birth. That speaks volumes about how sad our medical system is.
    I had a natural birth in a hospital setting and refused the pitocin for afterbirth. They can’t force you to be hooked up to a drip. I find it hard to fathom consenting to a procedure that is unnecessary and could possible impede bonding with my newborn because it is “protocol.”
    I feel like not getting an epidural because you don’t feel like “fighting” the arbitrary hospital procedures and rules is really sad. With that being said, I am not criticizing your decision to get an epidural, as I have no problem with that. Rather, my issue is some of the rationale behind that decision. I find this just sad all the way around.
    I hope your recovery was swift and I wish you the best of luck next time around.

  3. Jennifer, it sounds like where you live there is some support of natural birth. That is great! I, however, lived in Mississippi at the time. I think their c-section rate was 50%. Yikes. At my second birth, I did refuse pitocin for the placenta delivery, but I was told I had no choice and it was administered anyway. I was very exhausted, as it was just seconds after I had pushed a baby out, and I was vulnerable to everything around me. I have no regrets about any of my births, because I know I did the very best I could for each one. I’m sorry you feel sad after reading my story. Luckily, I don’t. Thanks for asking about my healing. I healed very quickly each time and am now the proud, attached mom of 3!

  4. Just wanted to say one thing about the epidural, I had one and I still felt every single contraction. So to say “it’s like sitting here typing” isn’t the case for everyone. The nurses said I would be able to take a nap ummmm not so much. So if someone has an epidural you may not feel anything but just don’t think that’s the case for everyone.

  5. Ashley, thank you so much for this story. We had a homebirth with our son, and 18 months later we all still very very traumatized by it all. Its hard to point out what was worse . . . the fact that our midwife didnt come (she was busy) and we had to beg to have anyone, the fact she sent her apprentice who was very hands off and didnt know what she was doing, the fact that no one sewed my HORRIBLE tear and I wandered around for weeks ripping it open, the fact that the scarring down there will always be there, the fact that I hemmoraghed so horrible afterwards, it also took me months to recovery the blood loss . . . or the fact that I just find it so . . . so painful to be around the “natural birth is wonderful!” crowd. I just dont even know how to respond to that. I think I need, for my sanity, to choose an epidural next time, but I feel wracked with guilt and dissapointment. I am very much of the attachment parenting persuasian, and would generally do ANYTHING, really ANYTHING for my children . . . I feel so bad I dont want to do this. Maybe if the natural birth = good recovery and non-traumatic birth equation had worked out for us, I could find a reason to do it again. Sadly, it did not. Thanks for this post. I enjoyed laboring. If pushing hadnt felt like I was being raped with a knife, I think I would do it again. I might still, simply because I really want that natural birth fairytale to work out for us. Its just so hard to know what the best thing to do is, for myself. I cannot explain why I want so so badly to do another natural, but fear I will just end up in the same position, asking “why why why??” do people even DO that?? And if that’s my response, should I really do it at all?? I just dont know. Thank you for posting. It helped me, though I think I still have a long long way to go. Mostly I just feel sad . . . so hard to shake the feelings of failure . . . why I’m not like the other women that can smile and say “I cant wait to give birth!”. Don’t even know how to respond to that one. Don’t even know. I’d really love to hear back from you, if you have the time.

  6. I have four children. The first two births were with epidurals in which I experienced severe pain. After my second birth, I developed a spinal headache, which was worst pain than delivering the 8 pound 14 oz baby with the batched epidural. During, my third pregnancy I decided that I would not have an epidural. I hired a dula which was the best thing that I ever did. I have to admit that I did ask for an epidural, but at that point the labor was progressing so fast that I decided that I would not be able to remain still for it to be administered. The dula was essential in helping me manage the back labor. For my fourth birth I used a midwife. She was also great at helping me manage the pain. The best part was I didnt tear at all this time. During both my epidural free births, I did receive pitocin. My advice to anyone planninng for an epidural free birth is to have a trained experienced labor coach by your side. My husband is the best support, but child birth is emotional for men as well. Having a trained professional one step removed is a wonderful support I wish every woman could avail herself to. Good luck to all those planning for a natural birth. Believe in yourself you can do it! Idursls aren’t always all they are cracked up to be.

  7. I read the article and comments with interest and i hope the ladies who had a particularly bad time are finding a way to come to terms with things. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    My planned home water birth ended in an emergency cesarean which i would class as only mildly traumatic, but i too had an amazing high afterwards and it did last weeks. Compared to any joy i’d know pre-baby, this was off the scale!

    I was told natural labouring would give me the highs, make breastfeeding easier, and mean a shorter recovery but i ‘only’ got to 3cm during my 30 hour labour and breastfeeding was terribly tough, so it makes no sense to me… My husband said the pain fell away from my face as the epidural took effect.
    On reflection i think the preparation we do for a natural birth can be very helpful afterwards when dealing with the trauma but taking a flexible attitude so that you can move on to plan b, plan c or even make it up as you go, is vital, and your partner needs to feel the same way. the change in plan may be changing caregivers or supporters – you never know what’s going to happen and have to try and be ‘ready for anything’.

    Being told to be greatful for what you’ve got when you’re feeling overwhelmed with trauma is fairly typical (and a few people said it to me) but it’s so unhelpful!!! Having said that, I recently suffered a late miscarriage and at that point I was already terrified about the birth, i’d spent hours researching and agonising about how my much-loved unborn baby was going to make it into the world. So next time round i am going to find some calm in my heart and go with the flow, and i know i will be greatful for my baby, but wow what did i suffer to get to that point (i am still hoping for another high though!).
    Do we make too much of all of this?? i try and tell myself that i do…..

  8. Hi there,
    I had natural childbirth with both of my children. I took Bradley classes and had a wonderful teacher. I had a birth plan, but my doctor replied “Youve never done this before, if you want natural birth you better not come to the hospital till your at the end” with a condescending tone. We didnt have birth centers or doulas, just mentions from net research on midwives even though they werent “legal” in the sense to do a home birth but there were names floating around.

    I had back labor for my first child, I spent most of it in the shower, standing and hot water beating on my lower back to deal with the pain, then sat on the bed from there with my husband putting intense pressure in my lower back, it was to the point he had his foot jabbed in my lower back. I couldnt take the pain anymore and told him lets go to the hospital, I could handle it, he kept telling me “Your going to get drugs!” and at that point I was in so much pain and didnt want to hear anything, just get me to the hospital. As soon as we got in the car I had the urge to push. Hospital was 5 min away, I was wheeled in middle of the night unable to walk cause I was pushing with contractions. The staff looked at me like “Yeah right” when I said I was ready. They examined me and said SHES READY and wheeled me off to deliver. I had my son 15 min after arrival, my water broke on the table when I got on it (laying on your back with back labor is horrid, you want to be upright to deal with the pain) But I was fine and with it once the baby was there. The dr said “Well you did it, you got what you wanted” that was one of the pluses to all this, that I told a doc what I wanted who doubted me and I was “In your face!” if you will. She did cut me, episiotomy, but otherwise nothing else was given, no IV, nada. I breastfed fine and everything went well.

    Second birth I had a midwife an hour away that was covered by ins and had a birth center. My water broke middle of the night but was more like a small dribble gradual. We called and she said if I started to feel pain, as I wasnt, call back, it started after I hung up, I phoned back and she told me to head out. We drove our hour with me breathing thru contractions.

    I did water birth, but to be honest I was so out of it when I got there nothing mattered other then getting the baby out. She manipulated my cervix with her hand, she used homepathic remedies she said that soften the lining, that I took later in the pregnancy. I had my second son within an hr after arrival, and didnt tear enough for even a stitch. She ordered food of our choice( i wanted Dennys grand slam) My baby stayed in the room, which was like a bedroom. And I went home in a few hours, I was almost shocked how soon they let me go home. And it never stung to go pee afterwards like the last one!

    I had ideal births, and I must say. I dont like being pregnant and I dont like labor, ITS HURTS. I dont wish for an epidural or pain meds either. But despite it going well, IT HURTS. And Im not a woman who has forgotten that once the baby came as other say. I remember. IT HURTS!!!! And back labor OUCH that is rough.

    I wasnt sick all through my prenancies, in good health, and Im just not big on the whole ordeal. So we are all different.

    I am glad I did it and have great stories to tell and feel empowered, but I also dont want to do it again. Id rather adopt.

  9. Sandi! Believe it or not, I JUST read your comment! Please contact me if you get this! Click on Arkansas support groups for my contact info!

  10. I just wanted to say thank you for sharing this. I have had 3 naturally and I am 33 weeks with no 4 and I am leaning towards epidural because it hurts!! I feel pretty much exactly like you did with your reasons for choosing one and its nice to hear that it’s just OK both ways. I’m looking forward to not feeling it this time. Very refreshing to not hear its always better this way or that way, they’re just different. Thank you for sharing.

  11. Thank you for sharing this. My experience was very similar to yours… two natural births and an epidural with the third. My second natural birth was also more difficult and left me with a lot of fear about the third. That coupled with taking care of a two other small children during pregnancy left me feel exhausted and like I didn’t have it in me to do the natural birth again. I however was planning on doing it naturally… I labored at home and got to the hospital at 7cm. I was in such a zone at home but having to go to the hospital, get checked in and answer all their questions totally broke my concentration, plus the pain was pretty bad at that point. When the nurse asked me “what have you done for pain in the past?” I said “nothing… but…. maybe I should get an epidural this time?” No one tried to talk me out of it. Not even my husband. I got the epidural. The experience was night and day… I felt nothing, including all the pregnancy discomfort I’d been feeling for months. I was relieved. It’s so peaceful and I was able to experience the birth like I hadn’t been able to before. I watched her come out. She was healthy. I got to hold her right away. It was a beautiful birth… so, I feel confused and silly about having felt more deep regret about getting that epidural than I ever have about anything in my life. I was much more tired after the birth, I didnt like how couldn’t move my legs for hours after, I got a terrible headache a couple days later, my back hurt at the injection site for months… every time I leaned back in the shower I felt it and was reminded about how I failed myself. The thing is, it was a beautiful birth, but looking back I felt like I missed her birth. I witnessed it, but I didn’t do it with her. My baby felt everything there was to feel physically and I felt nothing. And knowing from past experience, there is A LOT I didn’t feel. I wanted my mind to be a part of what body accomplished. I wanted to be in it with her. I’ve had to grieve the loss of what, as far as I know, was my last birth. Everyone is different, some people love their epidurals and there’s nothing wrong with that. I hated what it took from me and am still struggling with the fact that there’s no way to turn back time and get back what I lost.

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