When I gave birth to my children, I chose natural childbirth all three times. With my first child, I had no idea how painful it would be. I remember it being so bad at one point that I thought the birth had to be imminent after 12 hours of labor—only to find out I was just three centimeters dilated!
Whenever I hear other moms who had natural childbirth discuss their experience, it often echoes my thoughts way back in my first labor experience: I might not make it through because the pain became so heightened.
Many describe the delivery as excruciating, and some even go as far as to say that they didn’t know how they would handle it once it got intense, and thought, “how do women do this?” Ironically, many of us get a second wind and think, well, if other women have done it for thousands of years, then we can too (whether we have to is entirely another question).
I have to admit, I felt the same way. I have never been a wimp in the pain department and I thought that if others did it, I could do it too. I wanted to be fully present without having to feel drowsy or delusional from medication. But when the pain kicked in with no sight of even being remotely ready to push, I considered an epidural and spoke to the anesthesiologist.
It turned out to be basically out of the question because I am so prone to headaches. The anesthesiologist questioned me on my headache history and informed me that an epidural could bring on more headaches or a very long headache after the birth. The last thing I wanted to do was have more or worse migraines, so I decided against it.
Eventually, my daughter was born at the 18-hour mark without pain medication. By the second and third pregnancies, I knew I wanted to experience natural childbirth again because, despite the pain, it was a beautiful experience that I will never forget. I felt amazing right after giving birth, could walk, was not drowsy, and had no need for any pain medication the entire time.
But I also remember going to the hospital the second and third time in labor and knowing exactly what I was in for that day. It was better in the sense that I knew exactly what to expect, but it was also much worse simply because I did know exactly what to expect. Luckily, each subsequent pregnancy ended in a shorter labor. My second daughter was born after just five hours and my son was born in a little more than three hours of active labor.
I am finished having children, but sometimes I wonder if I were to have another child, would I choose natural childbirth again? I have heard so many fabulous accounts of labor with an epidural. I watch “A Baby Story” on television and I see the mothers talking and joking while in active labor—even when pushing the babies out—and I am truly amazed. By the time I reached the transition phase, I was completely unable to speak. I was grunting and screaming on and off, and squeezing the life out of my husband’s hand. I’ve also heard from other moms who said that although they were prone to headaches, the epidural didn’t worsen them, so I likely could have had one.
Like many things in pregnancy and even more in parenting, there is rarely a right or wrong answer for every individual. You do your homework, rely on your doctor or midwife, and do the best you can. Make a plan, but feel free to change your mind in the moment, too.
Danielle Sullivan is a writer living in New York City. Follow her on Instagram