Childbirth is a very personal experience. And I feel confident saying that even without having gone through it myself just yet. Whether you prepare for labor and delivery by taking an intensive birthing class, prefer to know as little as possible, or simply ask your doctor for his or her expert recommendations, planning an upcoming birth is an individual choice. Yet, unsolicited opinions on the “right” way to give birth seem to come at pregnant women from all angles.
Now that I’m seven months along and showing more each day, I’m getting more pressure than ever before to forego any dreams of having a natural childbirth. I expected a few “don’t be a hero” comments from friends and family when I mentioned that meds weren’t really my thing, but I’m actually dealing with explicit pressure to get an epidural months before labor even begins. In fact, my father-in-law jokingly pesters me and my husband about this issue on such a regular basis that it’s become a weekly conversation topic that we anticipate every Sunday evening when we gather for dinner.Interested in stories like this? Sign up here for our eNewsletter New York Family Baby
It actually makes sense when I ask why my loved ones have such a strong opinion on the matter; they say they don’t want me to endure any unnecessary pain; they believe epidurals are completely risk free; and they don’t see the value in refusing modern medicine when it’s so popular to accept intervention during labor. It seems that we just have a difference of opinion. For me, the untold discomfort that lies ahead isn’t useless, it’s informative because it’s meant to help guide me into better positions for giving birth. If I’m feeling pain in my lower back, for example, I’ll know that the baby is improperly positioned and that I need to stand up and lean forward to encourage him or her to turn around. As far as any pain block being risk free, it’s pretty much impossible for a doctor to 100 percent guarantee a false promise of safety. Yes, epidurals are widely considered safe, but the potential risks are real. According to the American Pregnancy Association, they include: A drop in blood pressure, severe headache, slowing down or complete stop of labor, shivering, nausea, difficulty urinating, increased need for use of forceps and Cesarean delivery, potential breastfeeding difficulties, and rare (but potentially permanent) nerve damage.
To be honest, I’m not even a little bit worried about the risks of an epidural. Chances are, I would have a perfectly safe birth with one. But my deeply personal decision to try to have a drug-free experience is more tied to how I’ve always led my life. I like knowing and feeling what my body is going through, and being numb to any experience—good or bad—is just not appealing to me. I’m not trying to be a martyr for my unborn child. I don’t want to “be a hero” for anyone. I just want to experience the physical aspects of birth, which can be excruciatingly painful for some but not unbearable for many.
At this point, the only person who isn’t pressuring me to consider pain relief is my husband. He probably knows better than to try to convince me otherwise. And I’m just glad he’s the only one who’s going to be in the delivery room with me.
Whitney C. Harris is a freelance writer living in Westchester, NY. She is due at the end of August. Find her at whitneycharris.com.