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Why Would You Go Without An Epidural, Other Than To Feel Superior To Other Women?

“Why would anyone go without an epidural, other than to feel superior to other women?” This was the question posed to me recently by a student in my childbirth class.

The person with the question– an expectant father–didn’t ask it in a sneering or defensive way. I know it’s a fraught topic but this guy had been a very attentive and thoughtful all through the childbirth series and was genuinely curious about the answer. Hey, and it’s a good question.

Feeling superior is a pretty compelling motivation, I said with a smile. They laughed. But seriously, aside from the few women whose behavior in childbirth is motivated entirely by  one-upwomanship, many more consider a non-medicated birth for other reasons. Here are some of them, in no particular order:  

1. Curiosity.

2. A phobia of needles, numbness or narcotics.

3. A desire to be more present for the birth (note, this is also on the list of reasons why women want to get an epidural.)

4. A desire to labor in the tub or in a gravity-friendly position or in a facility or location where epidurals are not available.

5. Religious beliefs; some religious women believe in laboring without medical intervention. The Amish believe in giving birth without technological intervention.

6. A hope to avoid any potential side-effects and/or risks of epidural anesthesia.

7. A hope  to avoid medical interventions– such as assisted delivery– that are slightly more likely with an epidural.

8. A known adverse reaction to the drugs used in epidurals.

9. A previous back injury that has left scar tissue that may block the effects of the epidural or make it a complicated, possibly fruitless option for pain relief.

None of these reasons may be important to you. Maybe you are thrilled about the epidural, it is incredibly effective at eliminating pain.  Or maybe some of these reasons are meaningful, but negotiable. Maybe, in the throes of labor, pain will trump curiosity or a fear of needles. It’s hard–especially when you’ve never given birth before–to make an easy cost/benefit analysis of epidurals when one key item on the  benefit list– pain–is of unknown quantity.

Also, the “risks” of an epidural are not static. In early labor and early active labor an epidural can increase the likelihood of a c-section. However, at the end of a very tiring, extremely long labor, an epidural can actually give a woman the relief she needs to push her baby out– in fact, it may reduce the risk of a c-section. This is one reason I think it’s so important to learn your choices, understand how birth works, and arm yourself with lots of ways to cope with pain including any number of the following: doula, water, massage, positioning, medication, TENS machine and vocalizing

I’m curious, moms out there, if you didn’t want and/or didn’t get an epidural, what was your motivation?

photo: Blackwood XL/Flickr

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