Epidural vs. Nonmedicated Childbirth

Nowadays pregnancy and childbirth are much more stylish than when I started bearing children in the mid-90’s. And it seems there are even more opinions about what’s right and what’s not right. (Of course my opinion is superior.) I feel like I can offer a different viewpoint than most women because I have delivered six babies (well, seven if you count the stillborn. Which I did completely naturally but it was such a different experience we won’t be including it here) and I have done both epidurals and natural (using  Hypnobirth).

–Let me just insert a disclaimer here. This is my opinion. These are my experiences based on my views of life and the universe and reflect my personality. Yes, I know the most important thing is that the baby arrive healthy. Believe me, I know that better than most women. Don’t get all up on your high horse and think I am attacking your childbirth choices, whatever those might be.  This is just me talking. On my blog. So please keep that in mind before you comment.–

Most women have this desire to deliver a baby naturally. Somehow it has become the pinnacle of a woman’s achievements. A woman who can deliver naturally, breastfeed for 16 months and teach her baby a full vocabulary of sigh language is the woman who is a success. If this isn’t you, you’re a loser. At least that the unspoken message out there. I happen to not agree with that at all.

These are the reasons women claim to want an unmedicated birth and what I have to say about them:

1.)You can walk sooner after giving birth. You just had a baby! Where is it you’re going to be walking? There is nowhere to go. Listen, you need to get in bed and stay there as long as possible. Do nothing if you can avoid it. Your life is about to get a million times more difficult. Rest while you can.

2.) I don’t like needles.  Where have you been, you wilting Victorian violet? Needles are part of life. Get over it. Nobody likes them (except heroin addicts maybe).  Newsflash: the epidural is in your back. You won’t see it.  Also, you will eventually be in so much agony that you would welcome a needle in your eyeball if you thought it would make the pain go away.

3.) It is better for the baby. While this has generally been proven not to be true, I can say from personal experience that my drug-free baby was one of my sleepiest. She has since turned into my feistiest child. But all my epidural children are extremely mellow. I’m not saying that their births are the reason why, but is it just a coincidence?

4.) It’s cheaper. Very true. I have had to pay for epidurals out of pocket and it’s a drag. With epidurals costing upwards of $1000 it can be tempting to skip them. With baby #6 I had an epidural and he was born ten minutes later. You can bet I wanted a partial refund. But when you’re in pain you’d pay anything, anything!, for the pain to stop.

5.) I just like the idea of doing things naturally. Well, having a needle dripping chemicals into your spine is certainly not natural. But this seems like a pretty weak reason.

6.) I want to feel superior to women who’ve had epidurals. Nobody ever says this out loud. But I think it’s definitely the #1 reason most women go natural. I know the smugness of being able to say, “oh yeah, I’ve done it without an epidural.”  We mothers are a competitive bunch. Let’s just admit that right now.

7.) I watched some documentaries and read some books and they say that’s what’s best. Oh my gosh, really? Okay, you’re entitled to your opinions, as is Ricki Lake and lots of people who think that painting a nursery with non-organic paint is the most cardinal sin.  Let’s be pragmatic, though, and look at some of the benefits of going medicated.

The benefits of having an epidural:

1.) You are at a party and you’re the star! Having a baby is such a thrill and it’s so fun to call everyone you know, update Facebook and Twitter and take last minute votes on baby names.  It’s so exciting to be at the center of the best party ever. Guess who doesn’t care about any of this? A woman who is having to focus on doing relaxation exercises every three minutes during her contractions (excuse me, “surges”).

2.) You can make sure there is good music playing. Guess who doesn’t care about music? Yep, that woman in labor who doing those hypnosis exercises.

3.) You can make sure you look good for the pictures. Everyone sneers when I say this, like “how can you think about doing your makeup when you’re about to have a baby. You must be really vain.” But let me remind you that there will be about a jillion pictures taken and you will be in most of them. And those pictures will be around for a very long time. If you want to look haggard and terrible, go right ahead. But I prefer to have nicely done hair and makeup. You’ll be forever grateful you took the time. Guess who couldn’t give a crap about looking good? That lady who’s in transition and about to die a thousand deaths!

4.) You remember to take pictures. I wonder who’s husband was a little busy helping his wife deliver a baby? And who forgot to take pictures or even turn on the camcorder? The husband who is constantly telling his wife in a soothing voice to imagine she is walking down a staircase, and with each step she is becoming more and more relaxed . . . . When there’s an epidural happening, your husband gets to take his rightful place as #1 cheerleader and cameraman.

5.) You can savor the moment after birth a little better. I know a lot of women say that the pain disappeared the moment they held their babies, but all I could think after I delivered my baby sans epidural was “Pain. Pain. Pain. Damn. Damn, Shit.”  Holding my baby was the last thing I felt like doing.(and Heaven forbid you just had an episiotomy without anaesthesia. Yowee!).

Obviously I’m very pro-epidural. I had my first four children with epidurals but I felt like by baby #5 (Adelaide) I should be pretty loosey-goosey down there and hopefully the baby would just fall out.  It did not happen that way. And having learned my lesson, I went back to an epidural for #6.

This is how the unmedicated childbirth actually went down: I did my Hypnobirth exercises (I’ll be talking more about Hypnobirth tomorrow because I feel like if you are determined to go naturally this is a pretty good method) and the labor was actually not too bad, especially considering I was being induced.  I bounced on a yoga ball the whole time (about five hours). I am not a water-lover so the idea of getting in a bathtub or shower was completely unappealing.

Everything was pretty swell except I really needed my husband a lot. Husbands are very involved in Hypnobirth. It would have been nice to have him go get me something to eat (oh yeah, I eat during labor. I’m totally crazy like that.) I guess that’s the point of a doula but that doesn’t really appeal to me. The nurses at the hospital were pretty cool and let me do my own thing and barely bothered me. I guess since I’d had enough babies they figured I knew what I was doing.

At some point I started feeling horrendous pain and sure enough I was ready to push. Things quickly spiraled downward and I though I would die/burst into flames/split in half at any second. I only pushed for about three minutes but it felt like three days and by the time I was done I was crying and swearing.  I was so worn out and in pain that my husband caught the baby and I didn’t even want to hold the poor thing.  I couldn’t open my eyes, I was so miserable.  Mister was standing there going, “open you eyes!  It’s a girl!  Look!” I peeked one eye open and went back to my whimpering and cursing.  And then the doctor told me to push out the placenta. WHAT??? I never had to do that with an epidural!  Oh no, with an epidural it somehow magically appears. But if you are going natural you have to find the fortitude and courage to start pushing all over again. Let me tell you now, it’s daunting.

Thankfully I didn’t require any stitches down there. But it still hurt like someone had set my nether-regions on fire. There was no waning epidural residue to cover up the pain. Instead I just kept asking for more and more ice compresses and all the Vicodin in the hospital. Even though my legs were working just fine, my poor privates made it pretty impossible to get out of bed.

I felt like a truck had just run me over. It was about fifteen minutes before I felt strong enough to hold little Adelaide (who at the time was named Clementine). And then I wanted everyone to leave me alone so I could sleep for the next two days. This was quite different than the epidural experiences I’d had where I was the life of the party and thought every single aspect was perfect and delightful and I felt superb afterwards.

Honestly, it was not the beautiful, joyous experience that I’d had with my epidural babies. The pain really, really detracted from it. Maybe it’s because I had something else to compare it to but ultimately when it came time to have another baby, I had to go with the pain-free experience. It’s just so much nicer. Such a pleasant, lovely way to have a baby. And that’s what’s important to me.

28 thoughts on “Epidural vs. Nonmedicated Childbirth

  1. Do you know a lot of ladies having babies right now? This little post cracks me up so much. I was laughing while reading it and my kids were looking at me like I was crazy for laughing out loud. Obviously they don’t get it.

    I have a few friends that like to hold the “natural birth” over my head, because they really do feel like that makes them better women and mothers than me. However they only have 1-2 kids. I know this sounds weird but I actually had good experiences having my babies, and I liked seeing and having visitors afterwards, so I didn’t give birth to my children without medication, but at least I can say that I don’t abhor the thought of ever doing it again.
    To each her own, but like you I happen to like my own opinion too. Thanks Jennie.

  2. I haven’t ever been able to really give birth naturally because my blood pressure goes too high during birth. Once the epidural starts pumping through me the BP goes down and my comfort level obviously goes up. Your brilliance in writing makes me super ready to deliver my next baby any day, with an epidural, because I am no dummy.

    Thanks for the laugh!

  3. I am going to leave this one comment and then leave and not ever read any comments that follow just in case someone gets mad at me for saying this and starts saying really mean things about me.

    So many women with their elaborate birth plans come off as so self-centered. The are seeking this “experience” when they have a natural birth. Guess what, you are a merely a vehicle, a greenhouse. This isn’t about YOU. It’s about your baby. It doesn’t matter how they get here. They will still hate you and want to eat crappy food and stay up late and not do their homework. A delivery is such a small moment in time.

  4. BTW, remember that crazy lady who wanted to murder me for my opinions on this very matter? Nut job, that one.

  5. I totally agree that it is up to each woman, but I have to say it is interesting because there appears to be a reverse judgment from those who do not like, understand, care for, desire, believe in, etc, unmediated birth. So much so that some of us who want to or have chosen that way prefer not to share because people assume we are trying to be stronger, better, healthier, etc when really some of us, just chose it quietly.

  6. Oh let me clarify, I do not mean that people who do want epidurals do not understand unmedicated birth, I was just throwing in all options, truly did not mean any offense to anyone. Also need to correct my typo of “unmediated” above.

  7. I have to admit to being one of those scared of needles types and I’m sticking to it. I did also believe that not having an epidural would somehow keep me more “in control” of it all and “actively” manage the labor. That is hilarious in retrospect. The whole thing was totally out of my control so it was a good lesson in parenting I suppose. I did not hypnobirth- no strategy at all, but according to my husband I did listen to the same cd over and over again for about 8 hours straight. He threw out the cd as soon as it was all over. The second time I has some sort of balance bar I broke during the whole thing. Happy with my choices but definitely understand why people get epidurals!

  8. I had all my 5 babies completely unmedicated. My reasons were 1) my mother had done it and I figured if she could, I could 2) I wanted to see what it felt like, as in ‘women had done this for centuries’ type of thing 3) There was no internet in 1993 and I hardly knew what an epidural was, the women around me were my biggest influence and they said try natural. After the first baby, if I could do one, I could do them all. I felt pretty ok after and held the babies right away. Yeah and I needed stitches every time!! I think I have a high tolerance for pain.

  9. I literally HATE needles! Really. Show me a needle and I turn into a 3 year old. I have had dental surgery with no novacaine because I hate needles so much. I had to have an epidural before I had kids for another surgery. My back has a curvature to it from a riding accident and it just killed me for about a week after. Now, don’t get me wrong, I hate pain but I hate needles more. I went au naturale with my kids. It wasn’t too bad. It really did disappear after the baby came out. I think everyone needs to make their own decision based on their own personality. I also think that people need to stop making those that do decide to use medications feel bad about their decision.

  10. This was so funny! My grandma who had 12 children and had her first epidural with the very last one, told me one thing GET AN EPIDURIAL. I didn’t end up going that route with any of mine but I think there must be something to it. Now I totally understand why there seemed not many birth pictures and I look like I’ve been run over by a truck in the ones I do have. The last three births the hospitals were equipt with jacuzzi bathtubs so I just stayed in the tub on high jets till it was time to push the baby out. Only the last five minutes seemed unbearable, but boy it was really unbearable.

  11. Ok…now write about “natural vs. voluntary c-sections”.
    Maybe I will. My doctor told me that Anna was going to be 9 1/2lbs give or take 2….uh. Her dad wears custom helmets for hockey b/c of the hugeness of his head. 7 lbs i could have done. 11 1/2, not so much. My doctor refused to recommend a c-section (spouted his 90% “natural birth” record)…i asked if he would block it, and he said no. Asked my OB brother for his opinion and 2 days later my 10lb+, beautiful Anna was born via scheduled and voluntary c-section. Perfectly pink, full cheeks, intact shoulders, no forceps required. Can’t tell you how many condescending “wow, I’m so sorry ” responses with the clear implication that I have missed out on the great mystery of life. Sad? She’s awesome, beautiful, healthy and happy and I had enough percoset to quickly recover.
    PS: My bladder remains in place and effective
    PPS: Anna’s sister was born less than 11 months later (tmi???) –and she wasn’t a premie. So…you bounce back from c-sections too.
    I loved your post–I always do.

  12. I like your opinions.

    Here’s mine!

    (Doesn’t that just sum up blogging in general?)

    I had an epidural with my first and I really didn’t like it. I had a bunch of the side effects and nope. No, thanks. Not again if I can help it. Here’s why natural was fantastic (for me) 1. I have a very high pain threshold. I don’t know if I don’t feel as much pain, or if I’m able to mentally game myself.
    2. I hate the way that pain meds make me feel (and I generally need a lower dose of any med.) I’d rather feel the pain than feel drugged.
    3. I just wanted to, gosh.

    I don’t write birth plans because I’m lazy. I’ve considered a doula because my husband is freaked out and useless. Needles don’t freak me out, because please. My unmedicated birth was my favorite. 14 minutes! So fast! I read the first few pages of Hypnobirthing and didn’t have time for the rest. I just winged it. I’d have another unmedicated birth in two seconds because it was so awesome. You take the baby, though, I don’t want another one of those.

  13. great post! i tried to do the natural thing….thought i was going to DIE, and ended up with an emergency c-section (which by the way was the EXACT thing I was trying to avoid by going the natural route). now, on my third, i hear from other moms how i now have the easy way out…(having my third csection in two months) and go on and on about VBAC which isn’t allowed in our state. the thing is, you can’t predict how it is going to go. you can write a plan and you can decide things all you want, but when it comes down to it, you never know. moms need to stop judging other moms. who cares if you were unmedicated? who cares if you had a csection? what matters is now…are you a good mom? are your kids well taken care of? was your baby healthy? great! the only thing that matters at the end of labor is whether or not you and your baby are healthy!

  14. Jennie! I love you for saying this! I know I have offended others when I adamently declared “women who don’t use the technology in medicine we have developed are CRAZY!!!!” So at least I know there is one other out there who agrees! I went from almost blacking out from the pain (literally) to smiling and calming breathing and pushing, aware of everything the in the moments I saw both children for the first time and I wouldn’t have it any other way! 🙂

  15. Such a great post. I agree with Whitney (altougth she is never going to read this). All the hoopla about natural seems so overblown and self focused.Look its about the baby. Just get the baby out. That’s the goal.

    My friends with the water births in their kitchen are the same ones with a kid on their bosom at age 3, with a happy meal in one hand and boob in the other. At playgroup.

    Do what is right for you and your family. But when presented with the choice, you choose between ripping and cursing and burning, or smiling and pushing and calmness. Cha? Is there a question?

    P.s I know of what I talk about. BOTH deliveries had epidurals, but both deliveries had them taken out cause “I don’t push well” with them! WHAT? I don’t feel anything?? ISN’T THAT THE POINT???
    So, I got pain free pushing and then I got full on ripping apart, on fire, squeezing a 10 pound baby out of you pushing. OY! Always choose the epidural

  16. I’ve never commented before but have to on this subject. I am planning a natural birth for my 3rd baby because my first 2 epidural experiences were awful. I had serious negative reactions both times. I could care less what other people think. Motherhood is going to be a long road if you start competing at delivery. Have babies however is best for you. As far as wanting something out of the experience… Not selfsish at all. Its not just about a healthy baby. Healthy moms matter to. Ask anyone who has had a traumaic delivery due to a cascade of interventions and then severe ppd…twice. Healthy moms matter just as much as healthy babies.

  17. at the risk of offending others, i find that ‘medicated’ mothers are quick to criticize the things i found important in my own 6 unmedicated births (4 at home). 1. privacy (only 2 midwives and my husband, in the comfort of my own home) 2. spirituality. i honestly felt the presence of God and the experience really cemented the relationship between my husband and myself. i mean, he was really experiencing it right along with me as i wrung his hands to rubber. 3. the power of the human body. i get a rush and a confidence with each baby as i conquer the difficulties of childbirth and know that i can do ANYTHING. 4. minorly, a lesson in control. as in, you have to submit to the needs of your body and forget the idea that you are in control of this baby and its appearance. as a pp said, a parenting lesson.
    the only women i would think of criticizing are those that are unwilling to inform themselves about all options. once you know, choose for yourself.

  18. Another reason you didn’t mention why epidurals rock is the effects it has on your husband!! My poor husband was dying watching me try to labor doing hypnobirthing. Once I had to give that up and got the epidural, HE was so much happier! I was laughing, talking, playing xbox, and no longer groaning and moaning and obviously suffering. Maybe some women have husbands who enjoy watching their wives in extreme pain for 27 hours, but mine was super glad I gave up on natural childbirth and got the epidural. YET I do understand the desire to try it. I wanted to try it. I wanted to feel what my body was doing, see what labor felt like. I dont regret getting the epidural(s) I got after that, but I’m glad I got the chance to labor for 8 hours on my own so I’d know what I know and have something to compare the wonder that is an epidural to.

  19. Oh, and I have to say this too: I feel terrible for my friend who is pressured by her die-hard natural childbirth in-law family into giving birth naturally every time. Because of it, she DREADS getting pregnant and having kids just because of the few hours of labor/delivery. It makes me sad because giving birth is my favorite part! I absolutely love love love it. And I feel bad that she robs herself of that joy and forces herself to endure such horrible pain because she has been taught that epidurals are so bad.

  20. Reason #6: TRUE. I feel totally smug about the one birth (third of five births) I endured without an epidural. I did it! But I never talked myself into doing that again!

  21. I’ll first say that I don’t have children yet, so this is based on women I’ve known rather than my own experience. But the reason I am concerned about using an epidural during labor is that I’ve seen several women have bad reactions to it. It generally seems to go like this: Labor starts, contractions are painful, so you have an epidural. Then labor stops progressing. So the doctor gives pitocin to speed things back up. The baby goes into distress and you have an emergency C-section. Or sometimes it’s pitocin first to induce labor, then epidural, then baby distress and C-section. Has anyone else had this experience or have I just had unfortunate friends and family experiences?

  22. As an old lady who lived through the time when there WERE no epidurals, and having suffered 3 natural births whether i liked it or not, I would have embraced any kind of pain relief treatment with shouts of Hossanah! I was so terified of the pain after my first birth, I wept when I got pregnant again, even though I WANTED to be pregnant.

    Man, if you want a lot of reader input, just ask about delivery stories!!

  23. Best baby birthing experience? Baby #4 delivered in the back of an ambulance. Seriously. I was so concerned about the where, I forgot to worry about the pain.

    Least favorite? Baby #5 with induction and my only epidural 2 weeks early to avoid another ambulance. It was awful. The epidural kicked in just as I had the baby. Nothing like pain medication for when you don’t need it!

  24. Summer – no, you’re not alone. That’s pretty common. The cascade of interventions and all. These things are all tools that we can use effectively or to great detriment. I think listening to yourself, having a responsive health care provider, and education can help you be an active participant in the process who feels empowered to make the best decision in the moment.

  25. I had an epidural with my first pregnancy and it was awful. I did Hypnobabies and got a doula for the second and I LOVED my natural childbirth experience. Natural childbirth was a much more positive experience for me and I will never go back to the drugs!

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