When I found out I'm pregnant with Shira, I had no idea that in a few short months, I would become a natural birth advocate. In fact, it was very obvious to me that I would have an epidural. Why would I want to suffer?
The credit, like many other times, goes to Yitzhak. He was the one who introduced me to the knowledge of the potential harmful side effects of epidural and other drugs used to relieve labor pains. It turns that those drugs have an effect on the baby, and can interfere with the progress of labor (because the contractions aren't felt the way they normally would be) and also with establishing a successful breastfeeding relationship afterwards, because the baby might be too sleepy to nurse. What about all the mishaps of epidural? Many women experience back pains for months afterwards, and a few are paralyzed for a lifetime.
Epidural might even fail to achieve its purpose - relieving pain. I have a friend who had an epidural administered so badly that she could still feel the labor pains, but she couldn't move around or do anything to make it easier for her.
I won't elaborate further about the side effects of drugs used during labor, but you can find literally an ocean of information through a simple Google search.
It's true that with modern medicine and hospitals, the rate of maternal and infant mortality is wonderfully low, but there is a great number of self-induced "emergencies" and an outrageous rate of c-sections. I think it comes in a large part with the prevalent interference policy practised in most hospitals. If the mother and baby are fine, the focus should be on monitoring and not on interfering, but many doctors just don't seem to understand that. They are in a hurry, they want the labor&delivery room free, and the policy of giving a healthy woman pitocin or breaking her waters for no medical reasons is "Why Not?"
Even if there were no dangerous side effects to epidural, I think natural birth would be worth it for the emotional benefits alone. And by natural I don't just mean unmedicated, but mostly quiet and uninterrupted. I don't believe it's a coincidence that my labor stopped after a couple of hours of constant poking, prodding and pressure, and sped up beautifully after we had the sense to escape to a quiet, homey environment for a couple of hours.
When I told my birth story, I was accused of being not entirely truthful because I failed to describe the overwhelming pain and fear I was supposed to feel during labor and birth. But the truth was, I didn't gloss things over. Giving birth was no picnic. It was hard work, but it was also an incredibly beautiful, uplifting emotional and spiritual experience. I can't say I loved every moment of it, but I'm looking back with fond memories and a smile.
I realize that every birth experience is different, and that all women are different. While I breathed through my contractions and hopped up and down on the birthing ball, I could hear women from other rooms screaming for the anaesthesiologist. One woman broke down in hysterical sobs when she was told she will have to wait. I'm not trying to show myself off as superior, or able to do something other women could not. I'm simply telling how things were for me.
Of course there are also women who had epidurals and loved it and had no side effects and no problem to breastfeed afterwards. But how could I know which one I would be? I was so happy I was able to avoid it.
Some people say it doesn't matter how you give birth, because the final result (unless something, God forbid, goes terribly wrong) is the same. Of course the most important thing, at the end of it all, is to have a healthy Mom and baby. But I do believe that the memories matter. Ask any mother, and even if all her children are already grown, chances are that she remembers every moment of labor, birth, and the first few days with her baby. Even my Grandma remembers, and she is 93. It's like a wedding: of course, in the end what matters is a good, life-lasting marriage, but the wedding is a big day and most people hold precious memories of it!
I loved it that most of the time, it was just me, my husband, and God watching over us. It was lovely to have the help and encouragement of midwives and a doula, which made me feel more confident, but when it comes to the bottom line, I think I could have made it on my own as well. I didn't need drugs or a team of doctors supervising. There's something very empowering in the thought that God made your body with the ability to bring a baby into this world, from start (conception, which happens on its own) to finish (birth). And it was beautiful.
I'm already waiting to find out how next time goes!