When I first became interested in childbirth and maternity care I undoubtedly favored as natural a childbirth as possible for all women. Unmedicated, vaginal, home waterbirths were my golden standard. That is until I realized that all women are different, as are their labors and each individual birth. One size cannot fit all when it comes to birth.
What is most important to me, nowadays, is for childbearing families to gather comprehensive reliable information well in advance, so that they may explore their personal beliefs and needs to formulate a preference during pregnancy, and then adopt an open stance towards what may come their way during labor and delivery so that their decisions may be made with calm, confidence, and self-love.
Being open to giving yourself permission to stray from your preferred plan during the various twists and turns of labor and birth, will allow you to own your decisions with an empowered stance, backed by the knowledge and self-exploration acquired while still pregnant. While I have supported plenty of unmedicated vaginal births that went just as the family had preferred and planned, I also had the honor of witnessing empowering births that, while different than what had been planned/preferred prior to labor beginning, were exactly what the family needed at the time. They practiced informed choice.
I have also had many opportunities to share other options and alternatives with families who wanted to know more about different ways to cope with the anticipated discomfort and pain of labor. When I meet prenatally with parents, we explore different ways of thinking about labor pain, so that they can try to reframe it in ways that are more positive and less scary. After all, pain is Purposeful, Anticipated, Intermittent, and Normal (P.A.I.N.) and it sometimes helps to know that on that same day, 300,000 other women are also gathering their strength, love, and energy to give birth to their miracle. It also helps to learn that not everybody feels pain during labor… and some people experience quite the contrary!
We talk about mindful birth and the power of natural coping mechanisms, self-hypnosis, vocalization, position changes, movement, hydrotherapy, visualizations, non-focused attention, breathing patterns, aromatherapy, distraction, comforting touch, feeling love and safe to promote the production of oxytocin and endorphins. We also talk about the logistics and documented evidence of benefits and risks of different pharmacological options such as epidurals, analgesics, narcotics, and more. We cover it all so that we know what tools are at our disposal on d-day.
So no: epidurals are not the answer for everyone, but merely one of the many tools that laboring women and their families have at their disposal. As a childbirth doula, I believe it is my job to share comprehensive information about your various alternatives, to invite you to explore your preferences and needs, and to remind you about the questions you may want to ask your provider to ensure an empowered, safe, and healthy birth experience and outcome. Your birth is unique, one size does not fit all!