I remember talking to friends and coworkers – all of which lent the helpful advice that childbirth without an epidural is ludacris and anyone who willingly chooses to opt out is simply naively brave – wishing me the best of luck, of course.
One of my reasons to attempt a natural labor and birth was because I had gained a tendency to favor the natural way of doing things since my first daughter was born. With my first labor/delivery, I was unknowledgeable about what interventions were to be expected in a medicated labor (ex. epidural or induction). I also had no comprehension of the risks those interventions carried for me and my baby. I was mainly focusing on what clothes to buy, what color to paint the nursery and what to register for at Babies-R-Us.
There was no one in my life that talked to me about natural labor and birth. Not even my OBGYN.
That’s the thing about learning – it’s hard to unlearn and go back to the person you were before.
With my second pregnancy, willingly requesting drugs during labor wasn’t something I would choose anymore. There were aspects about birth that I had learned since then.
Whatever a woman decides, it is essentially her choice – however, there is value in researching both options (especially for first time moms) so you are able to make an educated choice.
The choice for at least trying a natural childbirth reflects a certain understanding.
You Understand that Interventions Add Risk
Of course, having a natural childbirth doesn’t mean swearing off all medical interventions in absolute terms. Circumstances may arise when such interventions become life-saving and I am grateful that those interventions are available.
Though, lessening the discomfort of contractions was not something I was willing to add risk, however incremental or acceptable they are.
The following is a brief list of certain risks that accompany the use of epidural medication during labor:
An increase in the length of the first and second stages of labor[*]
Decrease in uterine performance (during oxytocin-stimulated labor)[*]
An increased risk of instrumental vaginal birth[*]
More operative intervention[*]
An increased risk of developing maternal pyrexia (fever)[*]
A risk of dural puncture (up to 3 out of every 100 women)[*]
Increase in maternal hypotension[*]
Increase in urinary retention[*]
Increase in oxytocin administration[*]
Increased risk for cesarean section for dystocia (three- to six-fold increase)[*]
General risks include:[*]
Allergic reaction to the anesthesia used
Bleeding around the spinal column (hematoma)
Drop in blood pressure
Infection in your spine (meningitis or abscess)
An epidural is not an actual medicine; instead it’s the process in which drugs are administered into the body.
The medication will be injected just outside of the sac of fluid around your spinal cord (the epidural space). [*]
The drugs administered via epidural are a combination of local anesthetics and short-acting lipid-soluble opioids (usually a combination of narcotics such as fentanyl and sufentanil).[*][*][*]
When choosing a natural, drug-free labor, a newborn eliminates the risk of being affected by these narcotics.
This means no additional risk of not being able to stabilize heart rate. No added risk of allergic reaction. No added risk of respiratory complications.
You Understand Pain is Not Without Purpose
With my first labor, I attempted to avoid the pain when I got the epidural. Midway through, the medication wore off and the pain was horrendous.
I was tethered to an IV. I was wrapped up in a fetal monitor. I was inserted with a catheter. I was attached to a hollow wire located in my spine. Laying on my back with limited movement – the only option I had was to ask for more drugs…and hence more risk for myself and my baby.
I promised myself that I wouldn’t willingly put myself in that position again.
When I found out I was pregnant again, I decided that I would do everything in my power (by researching, preparing physically and mentally) not to find myself in that position again.
I remembered what the contractions felt like before the epidural, and honestly, they weren’t unbearable. It was only when I was required to be still, on my back, that they were intense.
It was only when I didn’t have the gradual experience of pain that it felt extreme. Imagine going from 1 to a TEN THOUSAND on the pain meter once the drugs in the epidural wore off!
In my experience, the purpose of pain during labor was a profound connection and communication with my body and my mind.
I moved a lot. I didn’t lay down for very long periods of time. I rocked around. I breathed, deeply.
If you look more deeply into what those actions were doing you will see and understand – the pain made me stay vertical and helped the daughter’s head down, it kept my oxygen levels high. It allowed me to find natural pain relief through my own reckoning.
My first daughter acted as a catalyst for so many great things in my life. In experiencing a medicated birth, I was given the opportunity to choose a different path.
I was given the opportunity to learn that I must rely on myself to place the effort into choosing the safest and healthiest choices for my life.
One can anticipate that events will happen during labor that is going to be unexpected and you will have to adjust your plan or even throw it out the window completely.
In the end, it’s not about choosing natural birth or pain medication. It’s about agreeing that it is a considerable decision that carries significant consequences.