Birthing: Natural Birth or Epidural?

Thursday, March 6, 2014

I wanted to take a week off from my book reviews this week to write about birthing. Now that I'm 34 weeks along, it's something I've been thinking about a lot. I've tried talking to a few people about it, but most just say "everything is going to be okay" rather than considering how important this experience is to me emotionally. So I would love to have a conversation with moms who have been through this or are currently going through the process of making decisions on birthing.

First off, I want to say that I have no judgement in this post on what any other person chooses to do for themselves. I just need a forum to vent my concerns because I'm honestly not sure how to mentally prepare. I would very much would love to hear what you plan to do if you are a first time mom or if you have had kids, your experiences with natural birth, medication of any kind, and c-sections, and whether or not you would choose differently if you could go back. 

At this point, I have not decided exactly what I am going to do. I can see benefits to both having an epidural and having a natural birth. I'm going to try to post what I see as the pros and cons of each, but PLEASE comment and let me know if I missed anything or if you disagree. I would love all the information possible so I can make my decision for the big day!

Natural birth vs. Epidural
Natural birth pros:
-Being completely aware and in the moment without the fuzziness of drugs
-No needles!
-Lower chance of the use of forceps, vacuums and other tools
-Lower chance of C-Section
-Potentially faster labor than with epidural
-Ability to move around more freely (less wires)
-For some, a more spiritual experience. But I don't believe you can only have that experience with a natural birth.

Natural birth cons:
-Well, you will feel more pain during labor and during recovery
-Takes some serious will power
-Lamaze or Bradley techniques may go out the window in the moment! 
-How it might mentally impact you if you plan a natural birth and end up needing or wanting medications & interventions

Epidural anesthesia pros:
-A potentially more positive birthing experience if dealing with the pain is too much. This is only one point but it's a BIG deal!
-The ability to ease into recovery since there will still be medication in your system
-There are many types of epidurals that may allow more movement

Epidural anesthesia cons:
-More monitoring & wires
-Feeling sleepy or drowsy 
-Sudden drop in blood pressure, shivering, nausea, soreness & other adverse reactions to medications
-Lengthens labor
-Makes pushing more difficult and may require Pitocin, forceps, vacuums, or a C-Section
-Feeling numb for several hours after delivery (though not necessarily "out of it")
-Can sometimes make breastfeeding more difficult, according to some studies
-May still feel pain when pushing (according to mom who has 5 kids - 2 natural, 3 epidurals) depending on the strength of the medication

As you may be able to tell, I am leaning towards a natural birth. I want to be flexible and open to an epidural if need be, but up until recently, my main concern has been avoiding a C-Section. This is especially a concern of mine because I will be delivering at a hospital that has one of the highest rates of cesareans in the state, which is one of the major scenarios to avoid if you can. Having a Cesarean terrifies me and its just not the ideal birthing experience for me, and I don't know if I am willing to increase my chances by getting an epidural. 

Since I started researching more about birth options, I've began to see the birthing experience as something more spiritual. I don't mean spiritual in a religious sense, but spiritual in the sense that I want to connect to myself and have a deeply empowering experience. And I am not afraid - I am truly excited to go through this life changing experience. But won't it be life changing whether I have a natural birth or not, just getting to meet my son? Birthing and meeting my boy are two different experiences to me, but both are extremely important for me to soak in and remember clearly. 

My issue with accepting an epidural is that if I mentally go into it thinking that medications are an option, I think it'll impact my ability to stick to my goal and continue having a natural childbirth. In order to have the will power to get through the toughest thing my body has ever experienced, a large part of me thinks that it's important to only consider an epidural as a last resort, meaning if my health or the health of my child is in danger. The only other circumstance where I would be more open to medications would be if I am in labor for several days and haven't been able to sleep. I know my body can handle a natural childbirth, but going into the experience with this type of "all in" mindset, I also don't want to be inflexible or disappointed if I end up getting an epidural.  

So, how do you make a birth plan where you set realistic goals for yourself when you have no idea what the experience will be like for you? I am a goal oriented person and can stick to my goals, but I do feel disappointed when I fall short. How do you remain flexible while staying strong in your goals?

If you feel comfortable sharing, what type of birth experience have you had or do you plan on having? Do/did you believe things can go as planned when you're in labor? Do/did you want a "spiritual" birth experience? Are you as afraid of having a Cesarian as me? Do you believe it doesn't matter as long as you remember that you have a happy, healthy baby in the end?
So many questions! I'm very much interested in your feedback. I know the end goal is a healthy baby, but I also value birthing as a separate experience and would love to hear from others who have been through or are going through this decision. So please tell me what you think! :)

xo kristen genevieve


  1. I wish I could give you some insight about either or, but I unfortunately had to have a c-section, and it was an absolutely terrifying experience for me. The epidural did not feel good because I have scholiosis at the base of my spine (something you may not have to deal with), I had a panic attack throughout the entire surgery, and I had terrible body control after and was trembling uncontrollably for about 2 hours after. If you read Julian's birth story on my blog, you'll know that it was one of the worst days of my life and I blame it all on a c-section. So you definitely want to fight for your birth plan unless it's extremely life threatening, and try everything you can to get that baby out vaginally, whether or not you accept drugs or not. It' definitely a spiritual thing, and if it doesn't go as you planned you might end up really resenting it, even over a year later (i still do, even though my son is perfect and amazing!).
    Good luck with whatever you choose, and make sure you get all the facts and make sure you are on the same page with your doctor. Also aybe ask around to see what your doctor usualy does in a stressful situation. I learned after that my doc was very pro-cesarian!
    Sorry for the super long comment- I should have just emailed you!!


    1. No don't be sorry! I am SO grateful that you shared this with me and I'm sure there are others reading this that might have similar feelings about c-sections. I fear that if I have a c-section, I will feel the same way - out of control. Of course you love your son, but I totally am with you that the birth itself is a separate experience. I'm so sorry that it was such a horrible experience for you. Did you have a birth plan that was not honored or do you feel like you might have been taken advantage of because you didn't have one?
      I am planning on addressing my concerns about being pushed into a c-section and just going over how important my birth plan is with my doctor. The trouble is, she is on a circuit with 11 other doctors so it is very likely that I will not have her with me when I deliver. So I'm also planning on bringing several copies of my birth plan to the hospital with me and having my husband fight for me!
      Thanks for the well wishes and for being so candid about your experience. Can you reply here with a link to Julian's birth story? It's nice to hear it from a woman who's been through it! I really appreciate your advice! :)
      xo kristen genevieve

  2. So the biggest thing I learned and will take with me from my baby was this: anything can happen. I've learned that by going in with a rock solid birthing plan you can end up being too hard on yourself. No one will EVER judge you, no one will ever think you were prideful or gave up too easy or whatever the situation may be. The best thing you can do for you and your peanut is keep an open mind. Because I've heard some crazy stories about women having completely pain-free births...and some know...not. Every birth, every baby will be different. In my opinion, if you want to go natural, try it! But don't ever think for a second that you are a failure or a bad mom for choosing help with pain meds.

    Here's my story: My goal when I had my baby a year ago was to go as long as I could without medication until I truly felt I needed it. Little did I know (this is where the "anything can happen" part comes in) I was in labor for THREE days. THREE. I finally went into my midwife a crying, flailing, blubbering mess asking her to induce labor if I wasn't far enough along. I hadn't slept or eaten in 3 days from the nonstop contractions I was a total mess. But when she checked me I was finally 5 cm, 100% effaced and was able to go to the hospital. By the time we arrived and got into a labor room I had to be at least 5-6cm. I was told to get changed...and my water broke the MOMENT I sat on my bed. At that point, as much as I wanted to continue naturally my body was telling me otherwise. Between the lack of sleep and the non-stop labor my body was DONE. And I received an epidural when I was likely around 6-7cm. It was the BEST thing I could have done for myself. For the first time in over 72 hours I was able to relax. I practically kissed my anesthesiologist! And the dosage was absolutely perfect for me, I was able to feel without being in tons of pain so I wasn't pushing blindly. And there is NO WAY it slowed down my labor either. When you get an epi they want you to lie on your side because it is in your back ..and periodically they ask you to turn to your other side. Well...after about an hour my nurse came in and asked me to flip for her, so I did but not more than a minute or so later I felt different. I was able to feel my contractions slightly through the epi the whole time but these were different there was PRESSURE. BIG TIME. And my body felt like I needed to push. I told my nurse and she said that it was likely too early but that she'd check me. She moseyed around not really thinking much of it since the last they had checked me I was a 7 and it had only been an hour. Instantly everything in the room changed. Because I was rimming...(9.5cm). She couldn't believe it. I progressed so quickly that my midwife wasn't even available to deliver my daughter, another doctor had to rush in to basically "catch" her (if you will).

    Longest story EVER, short....anything can happen darling. You could have a perfect practically painless birth, you could labor for a couple hours or a couple days, you could even end up needing a c-section. Anything and everything is kind of up in the air with all births. The best thing you can do for yourself is set a goal but don't be hurt or feel ashamed if you aren't able to make that happen. Number 1 is your baby's safety and yours, mama, don't forget that.

    Don't let people run around telling you you won't be able to accomplish a natural birth. Only you know your body and your threshold for pain, you will know if the pain is unbearable. Keep an open mind. THAT is the best birth plan of them all. :) You'll do great, and don't doubt yourself for a second!

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your story, Karen! I really appreciate reading your straight-forward experience. If I have a long labor like yours, I will be much more willing to accept an epidural. I'm sure the epidural was helpful not just for labor, but so you could relax a little more once your baby arrived. I will also of course do whatever is medically necessary for me & my baby to be healthy- even if that means a c-section! I just don't want to be pushed into surgery because the doctor wants to make it home for dinner. You know what I mean?
      I agree with what you said - I don't want people to tell me what my body can handle. You're also right that I need to keep an open mind (& heart!). I want to stay strong and not doubt myself while also being open - it just feels difficult to balance that right now! But in the moment, I hope I will be able to make the right decisions for myself and my baby.

      Long labor is something I have definitely thought about because my mom was in labor for three days with me also! She had a different experience, though. She was an RN & Lamaze teacher, so she wanted a natural childbirth (I was her first baby). But because she was in labor for so long with sleepless nights, she accepted some type of sedative medication (not sure which) that was meant to help her rest. Soon after being given the medication, she went into active labor. She totally regretted accepting medication, not just because she was so close to the end, but because during active labor and then once I was born, she was super drowsy and out of it! It was horrible for her. Maybe if she had gone with an epidural, she would've had a better experience than what she had with the sedative medications.

      Thank you so much again for sharing your experience. I know there are people reading this that it has helped, including me! It's great to hear that you feel positive and accepting of your experience, even though it didn't go exactly as you planned. Thanks, mama! :)

  3. I am a first time mom, I'm also 34 weeks pregnant expecting a beautiful baby boy. After much reading and listening to other women. I've decided not to go into the deliver room with a set plan. Yes I am extremely terrified especially of a c - section but I will do whatever my body is telling me it needs. I've also mentally prepared myself in thinking that my child will probably be experiencing some type of pain as well I mean he is being pushed from a tight space I can't imagine what he will be feeling, so I'm going to try and connect with my baby and follow my instinct and what my body wants

    1. Congratulations, first of all! And thanks for commenting! I have read that babies delivered vaginally definitely go through a lot - as you said, it is a tight space! But ultimately, they are benefited so much by the bacteria on the way out that I think most doctors agree that it would outweigh the struggle. Plus babies have been born this way for thousands of years - so try not to feel guilty or worried that you'll be causing your baby pain!

      It's great that you're so open to whatever comes. I agree with you about following your instincts and listening to your body. Of course, only you know what your body can handle. It's also great that you have talked to other moms about this. Aside from my mom & mother-in-law who had natural births, of my few friends & family members that have given birth, all have had medically necessary c-sections. I love hearing from pregnant & mom friends on the blog to get a wider perspective. Every story is so unique.

      I hope you're feeling well and that the rest of your pregnancy is wonderful! Stop back here and let me know how everything goes and how you're feeling! :)

  4. I'm 100% sure that I want an epidural. I'm honestly completely scared just thinking about labor and I don't have a very high pain tolerance. I've read on other blogs about moms who were planning to get one and it was too late or they couldn't get one for other medical reasons, which is something I'm concerned about.
    I don't want a C-Section, but in the end we'll do whatever is best for the baby and me of course. Hopefully it doesn't get to that, but I'm trying to keep my mind open to the possibility. I'm worried about the longer recovery period that comes with it. Right now, I'm mostly worried that the baby comes late and my doctor will induce me (he won't let me go any longer than 41 weeks), because I heard that the C-Section rate goes up by a lot, when you have been induced.
    I'll just trust that the doctors will do whatever they can to deliver our son safely and I will have to keep my expectations low and not focus too much on a birth plan.

    1. Thanks for being open about this, Nadine! I think the majority of women are in the same boat as you, so it's really great to hear your side of the story. Only you know your body.
      It sounds like you do have the beginnings of a birth plan - wanting an epidural and avoiding a c-section. Depending on how strongly you feel about it, you might want to tell your doctor your feelings about wanting to avoid the c-section.
      On being induced though - I have to share my husband's advice to me on this one - don't get caught up in statistics. I'm delivering at a hospital that has one of the highest c-section rates for first time moms in the state - over 30% have the surgery. BUT that still means almost 60% deliver vaginally. So it's all relative. Try not to worry! (I am speaking to myself too!)
      Also on birth plans, this part isn't just for you, Nadine, but to everyone - birth plans also describe your other preferences - wanting a dark room with quiet, calming music during labor; how long you want to wait to cut the umbilical cord; whether you want to hold the baby immediately after for kangeroo care (skin to skin) or if you want the baby to have all the check ups, a bath and then be brought to you; whether you want to room in with your baby after birth; whether or not you plan on breastfeeding...there is so much! It might be good just to google "birth plan" to find out if you do have opinions on the way other things might me done.
      But I definitely hear you about being flexible when it comes to the actual delivery part of the with plan. This is the part I struggle with! I tell myself to be flexible, but I don't know how to emotionally get myself there, you know? Is it better to think about and visualize each experience or would it be better to just not think so much anymore? I'm not sure what will work for me. :/
      I am looking forward to when we both have our babies! I hope you'll share your birth story afterwards and that it ends up going the way you wanted. Also, I hope you're feeling well this week, mama! :)

  5. Oh, gosh. This is a really tough topic for me because I dread talking about this. I don't deal well with any medical procedure or doctor talk. I have tried to avoid this topic all together. Pure denial. I will be addressing this side of me on the blog this week. I will say that I prefer a natural birth, but I am open to an epidural if I am in torture because I know I have a low tolerance for pain. I don't know what to say I will handle since I have no barometer to gauge how it will be. I would hope i can have a natural birth, but I don't want to rule out the possibility if I really need help when it comes to epidural. However, I know I do not want narcotics or vacuum etc. Regarding c-section, I also don't want that. However, I am also keeping my options open if it's for the health of myself or baby. I know someone who insisted not having a c-section, even though her doctor advised her, and she ended up having a lot of complications. I don't want that to happen. Everyone I talk to says, it never goes according to plan so I guess flexibility is the name of the game. In our labor and delivery class, they told us that 90% of women get epidural these days. That's a lot, but it doesn't make me feel so alone knowing that other women struggled similarly. No judgment either way, of course! Wishing us both luck!

    1. Thanks for your response! It's not a fun thing to have to face - when I first started reading about birthing I had a lot of anxiety about it. Over time, I've felt much better with the more knowledge & advice I've gotten.
      Going to read your post now! **For those interested in Carmen's post on birthing, go to:



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