Epidural Or Natural?

 Since having Gwen I've been asked a few times which I thought was better - delivering naturally, or having an epidural.  I know this can be a controversial topic, but I thought I'd give my opinion, based on my experience.

First let me say that I have no real strong feelings about either giving birth naturally or having an epidural.  I think both are just fine, and I think epidurals and delivering naturally both have their place.  Hopefully this means I can give an objective opinion since I've delivered both ways!

I know some people have some pretty strong convictions about delivering naturally because of the possible effects of the medications (among other reasons), but I'm not going to get into all the statistics on that.  And I don't really want this post to become a debate on that aspect.  I'm just comparing both of my experiences for those who are curious. 

For any readers who weren't around two years ago, toward the end of my pregnancy with Wyatt I developed pre-eclampsia, and I ended up being induced.  I got an epidural about six centimeters in.  You can read the full birth story here.

With Gwen things moved so quickly that I ended up delivering her in the ambulance on the way to the hospital - and I delivered her naturally.  You can read that full birth story here.

So on to a few specific questions . . .

Was the epidural painful?

I think this depends largely on the anesthesiologist, and thankfully I had a great one!  It just felt a little like the end of a pencil tapping on my spine, and then it was over, and there was no more pain (except for a "hot spot", but I liked having the hot spot, so it didn't bother me).  Delivering naturally is much more painful then the momentary discomfort of the epidural (just saying it like it is).


(In labor with Wyatt.)

Did you notice any effects on Wyatt after the epidural?

Nada.  Both Wyatt and Gwen seemed equally alert to me right after birth, and both had no trouble nursing.  Obviously this might be different for some babies, but we had no issues.  (You can read about possible effects on babies here, though the research on the ways babies can be affected and the amount of babies that are affected is "somewhat ambiguous", since every situation and baby is different.)

Were you still alert when you delivered Gwen?

This was one of the biggest things I was worried about when I thought about delivering naturally.  I heard so many stories of women "zoning out" when delivering naturally and almost not even realizing when the baby had arrived - it's a way some women deal with the pain I guess, but I did not want that to be me!  I loved being alert when I delivered Wyatt and remembering every detail of the moment he entered the world, and the thought that I might not remember much of the delivery if I delivered naturally was worrisome to me.  

Thankfully this did not end up being the case for me with Gwendolyn!  I remember every little thing leading up to Gwen's birth, and I knew the moment she was born, which is exactly what I wanted.  Obviously it was a bit more peaceful with Wyatt than with Gwen, but I remembered and was alert for both deliveries.  

Now, if I had been in labor longer I might have "zoned out" when delivering naturally.  There's no way to know for sure since (thankfully) both my labors were quick.

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(Me and Gwen, shortly after we arrived at the hospital.)

Was the recovery time different between delivering naturally and with the epidural?

I honestly don't know that I can really answer this, because the situation each time was so different.
The recovery with Wyatt was much harder, but I'm not convinced it had as much to do with the epidural as it did with the medications and fluids they had to give me because of my pre-eclampsia and the fact that I hemorrhaged.  It also might have been worse because he was my first.  But I was much more swollen and sore after having Wyatt.  

After Gwen I felt great the next day - a little sore, but not that bad, and I wasn't swollen at all.  I felt amazing after a week!  I tore both times, and I think the tear was a bit more noticeable with Gwen, probably because I was exerting myself more and I probably over-did it a bit, and also because I was less sore in general so I could feel it more.

Were the pitocin-induced contractions more painful?

This doesn't have so much to do with the epidural itself, but I thought it was relevant.  And I'm going to say yes and no.  

The contractions with Gwen were just as painful as the contractions I had on the pitocin with Wyatt.  I think the difference is that the contractions started out easier when I labored naturally - they weren't that bad except for the last hour and half (and then they got really bad really fast).  Once the contractions started picking up they were the same as or worse than the pitocin contractions.  

When I had pitocin, the early contractions were more intense than the early contractions during my natural labor.  I don't know for sure how they would have felt toward the very end since I had the epidural by that point. The contractions started out more intense but they worsened more gradually as they turned up the pitocin (as opposed to going from manageable to unbearable in a half hour like they did with Gwen).

To be honest though, the contractions were still manageable on the pitocin - I got the epidural mainly because I couldn't stand the thought of being checked again - it was worse than the contractions!  But that's beside the point.

Now some people have intense contractions all the way through when they deliver naturally too (like my blog buddy, Brittany).  And some people have a much more gradual progression in their natural labors than I did.  This is just the difference that I noticed for my body.


(Me and Wyatt, shortly after he was born.)

How will you do it next time?

Honestly, I like not having a definite plan when it comes to birth.  Nothing can really take you by surprise if you are open to anything that might happen.

I am glad I had the epidural with Wyatt.  I was unable to move around with Wyatt because of my pre-eclampsia. I had bad back labor, and it was very painful to be checked with Wyatt.  I had a great experience with the epidural, no problems pushing.  With not being able to move and being strapped down by so many monitors, I was much happier after the epidural and it made my labor experience a more pleasant one than it would have been.

I am glad I had the chance to deliver Gwen naturally.  I like being able to see what it was like to labor naturally and give birth naturally, and I honestly feel confident that I could do it again.

Whether I want to do it that way again is another question, and I don't have an answer.  I was happy having the epidural - I was happy delivering naturally.  

I'm actually already worried about making this decision next time - because with the way my labor progressed so quickly with Gwen, by the time I would have actually wanted the epidural it would have been too late to get it, even if we were at the hospital.  I think I'll have to decide beforehand next time, or the decision might be made for me.  And there were aspects of both ways that I really liked.  So I just don't know.  

That's not a very definitive answer on the epidural vs. natural question, but it's where I am right now.

In closing though, I just want to say that after having delivered both ways, I firmly believe that any woman has what it takes to deliver naturally when it comes right down to it.  You might not think you would be strong enough to deliver without pain medication, but don't doubt yourself - you could do it.  Whether you want to is the question.  It's just a matter of preference.  So if you want to deliver naturally, proceed with confidence!  If you decide to go for the epidural, don't let anyone make you feel like you are a wimp or you aren't strong enough, because you are.  

Just choose whatever you think would be the best choice for you, and know that any way it happens, giving birth is an amazing thing, and such an adventure!
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Brittney Galloway said...

Good post. I've done it both ways now and I'm still on the fence as well. Both have their places- I think people need to realize it is a matter of choice. Someone once told me that delivering without any pain medications doesn't make you a better person or a mother, no one gets a medal for that. That was a good thought because I know so many people are wanting to be superstar moms these days.

Jessica said...

I'm so glad you posted this...I was hoping you would! It's good to hear your experience on both sides. I am like you, and am trying to be as open and flexible as possible about my birth plan. I am going to try to do it without the epidural, simply because I want to see what it feels like to deliver naturally, and I have heard that pushing can be easier without one, depending on how the epidural effects you. But I am certainly not taking the choice of an epidural off the table! If I have a long or extremely intense labor, I'm not going to hesitate to ask for one. I think your attitude of being flexible is a good one.

Kate Craig said...

ooo I was waiting for you to do this. I guess the one thing you know is to rush to the hospital! I think it's a GREAT plan to be flexible.

Bethany G said...

I really enjoyed reading about your two different experiences! Good post!

Claire said...

I loved this post and hearing both of your perspectives! I've had an epidural PLACED all 3 times, but only had the epidural work successfully once. With my first, the epidural took the edge off the contractions but didn't numb me from the waist down. With my second, great epidural that took care of everything and numbed me well but I was still very aware of my need to push. Then with my third, had the epidural placed was told it would be 20 minutes before it would kick in and he was born in 10 so my body moved much faster than the epidural and I didn't feel any effects from it until after he was born. I wholeheartedly agree with you that both is good! Each baby has such a different story to tell. Yes, after the successful epidural it was a much more peaceful delivery room and I was much more relaxed and able to joke and laugh... but with the others I also really felt accomplished like I had really gone through something huge and done well. I felt a sense of pride and "I am woman, hear me roar" sort of moment (ha!). I think if we ever have a fourth, I'll go naturally. Now I know without a doubt that I can do it (especially after my third where I never felt any help from the epi at all) and thankfully I have quick labors so I know there's nothing too long to endure ;) I definitely feel its a very personal choice and also a situational choice. Thanks for your thoughts!

Kristin said...

Great post! I loved my homebirth. Call me weird, but I loved feeling every single thing :) I love how you tell us that anyone CAN deliver naturally if they want to. I think a lot of women underestimate themselves, but I love how you threw that in :)

Ryan V. said...

Loved hearing your perspective on both experiences! I went into labor naturally and my water broke early on (at 1 cm on my due date). So by the end of that day, I was in a lot of pain (ok, I was dying hehe) and asked for the epi. Had a great experience getting it. I was very nervous and shaking. I don't do well with needles. The first time I ever had my blood drawn was for my glucose test! LOL! I even cringe getting flu shots. So for me to say my epi was not that bad....then that means it really wasn't! :) However, I stalled at 7cm and ended up delivering via c sec since my water had been broken for 29 hours and the baby was showing signs of distress. I have every intention of a vag delivery next time, however I and guarantee I will get another epi. I know my body could physically birth a baby without meds, but I am just one of those weaklings when it comes to pain! I had no side effects and nether did Avery.

Meghan said...

This is such an interesting post Callie. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I had Donovan naturally and really thought the experience was amazing. I did ask for an epidural at the end, thinking that I had hours left ahead of me, but when the anesthesiologist came in and I was checked before they started the process, they felt Donovan coming out and I started to push and that was that. It's really interesting being pregnant with a second now. I'm still definitely going to try to do it naturally, but who knows what the labor experience will bring. I'm not against epidurals... more just afraid of negative side effects or mishaps that go along with them. One thing I had never heard about that you mentioned was the "zoning out" thing. My reaction when Donovan was born was not at ALL how I thought I'd feel. I didn't even shed a tear... I think my whole body was literally in shock and I seriously felt like I was drugged up... such a surreal out of body experience which surprised me for having had no medical interventions what-so-ever. I wonder now, if I was experiencing that "zoned out feeling." Thanks for your perspective on this. Loved reading what you and your commenters had to say about the subject.

Tiffany @ Austin Family Diary said...

Thanks for sharing with us your perspective on both sides with us. Definitely an interesting read and something to think about.

Cassidy Robinson said...

Thank you for sharing this!! I remember asking everyone their experiences (epidural and without) before I went in labor with Micah - I really wanted to go all-natural, but when it came down to it I got the epidural. I had a 3rd degree tear, so I'm pretty thankful I went ahead with the pain medicine - the Lord knew what I needed! :)

Brittney said...

I had an epidural then a C-section with John and am not a good candidate for a VBAC this time, so I will not be having a natural birth. I have to say though that after hearing my sister-in-law's story about hers (she had epidurals with her first three babies but went natural for her fourth) as well as hearing your amazing story! I am SO in awe of women who opt for a natural birth:) I am amazed at what our bodies can do. Thank you for sharing your wonderful and unique perspective from both sides!

Melissa said...

Awesome post! I go back & forth between going naturally or getting an epidural! This was very informative, though! :) (Not pregnant yet - it's just something i think about sometimes!)

Jenni Lynn said...

I agree with so many of your sentiments on this post! I love your sharing about both sides, as I to have experienced both. Both have been great experiences, nothing negative or bad. Although I did feel like I was a little naive during my first delivery (the one with the epidural), I just thought I was suppose to get an epidural because everyone did. My healing seemed a lot easier with my 2nd birth, the one that was all natural, but I don't know if that was more because it was my 2nd birth, or because I went natural, or a little of both. I would say the one main difference for me is that my body really knew what to do when I went natural, no one had to tell me to push, I just felt the urge and she was out in 2 pushes. I also labored at home with a Doula and really enjoyed the experience, but was never opposed to an epidural if need be. I do also think sometimes women can under estimate themselves, the Lord created us to have babies! But at the same time if I ever have another child I am not opposed to an epidural if I need one, so as you can see I love your "flexible" attitude. I love that you have experienced both!

Melanie said...

Great perspectives!!! Its definately a controversial subject for sure (which is why I didn't even MENTION on my blog I was having a planned c-section!) and like most have already said..both have their places. I dont look down on ANYONE for having an epidural or not..its a personal choice..and each situation is different. Good to know how things varied in your situations!!

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