I have had two epidurals -- one that worked and one that didn't, both ending in vaginal birth. But that doesn't mean I don't wish I'd had a totally intervention- and drug-free birth both times.
And no, my aim for a natural birth had nothing to do with bragging rights, wanting a gold star, martyrdom, or thinking I was a better mom than those who don't. Having a natural birth has nothing to do with anyone else's opinion -- it has to do with the health of mom and baby.
A Baby Story and What to Expect were the limit of my education the first time around, which is to say I was pretty dang clueless. The biggest risk I knew to having an epidural was a needle going in my spine was painful and creepy. After my water was artificially ruptured for no reason and my face-up kiddo slammed into my already-injured pelvis, and I had no idea you could do anything but lie on a bed and writhe in pain, I said, "Drugs PLEASE!" His birth went really well, despite my legs being totally useless and needing people to keep them from falling off the stirrups. I could still feel when to push in a tiny place on the right side of the pelvis that wasn't 100 percent numb ... barely.
My second birth, I was much more educated. I learned about the real risks to me from an epidural, including an increased risk of c-section, sticking me on my back, which closes the pelvis by almost a third and can MAKE babies get stuck, cause vaginal trauma and tears, and seriously increase pain. Not to mention spinal fluid leaking into the spinal column or permanent nerve damage to the spine. Epidurals increase the need for pictocin, which ends up resulting in a c-section almost HALF the time. There are increased risks of death, infection, scarring, and serious trauma to the vaginal canal and uterus from all of that. As easy and simple as a question of "pain meds or not" seems to be on the surface, it's actually way, way more complex. And that's just risk to you.
For the baby, in response to pain signals, your body cranks up the hormone oxytocin that helps prevent "distress" in the baby and works as a natural pain med for you AND YOUR BABY. But when you block your body's pain sensors, YOU may not feel the pain, but your baby, without oxytocin, feels more pain than before the drugs. Restricted movement for mom means an increased risk for vacuum or forceps extraction, which can damage baby's scalp or break their collar bones; the closed pelvis can get them stuck and cause trauma to the head, neck, and shoulders; the inability to feel when to push if you end up totally numb can cause a baby to go into distress. And if you end up needing a c-section, there are potentially life-long repercussions including not having beneficial bacteria to start and not having the fluid in the chest squeezed out naturally, to name a few.
The idea of a simple pain med seems like a no-brainer ... why be in pain if you don't have to? But it is way more complex than that. It has absolutely nothing to do with trying to "prove" something or thinking you earn a spot on the top pedestal of Mommyhood from the get-go. It's just based in scientific fact -- having a natural birth is safest for both mom and baby, has the least amount of risks of temporary and permanent damage to both, and is something that should be the standard, not rare or "weird."
We don't take drugs "just because we can" normally. If your back hurts, you stand up and stretch and change positions, not stay in the same painful spot and pop a painkiller. Same thing with birth. When there are so many ways to help alleviate pain and make birth less traumatic to either party that aren't drugs, "natural" should be the default with pain meds used when the normal, logical, and risk-free solutions have already been utilized. Women who aim for a natural birth need to stop being treated like they're trying to personally offend because guess what? Their choices on their birth HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU. It's illogical to get angry at someone for taking normal, risk-free measures BEFORE they try drugs, and accuse them of having a superiority complex when they show it can be done. It's also illogical to pretend that there is no risk to a needle and tube in your spine, whether or not you feel that the risks are acceptable for you and your baby.
What's your stance on natural birth?
Image via Pewari Naan/Flickr