A woman’s choice for pain relief during childbirth is always a very personal one. There are many factors to take into consideration when deciding whether or not to use anesthetic and if so, which one. Some of those factors include a woman’s tolerance for pain, how her labor is proceeding, potential and known medical risk factors for her and the baby, and the type of labor and deliver experience she is hoping for, among other things.
When a woman opts for a birth center or homebirth experience (described in more detail in this post), she knows that her options for pharmaceutical pain relief are very limited. And on the flip side, some women know immediately that they want an epidural as soon as possible (in the parking lot, please?), while some women prefer to ride out the contraction pains as they come and make a decision while in labor.
All of these approaches are equally valid. In fact, I’ve personally taken each of these approaches myself (several times over!) in the 10 times I’ve given birth.
It was in my last two surrogate births that I was in the “I’ll take the epidural in the parking lot, thank you very much” camp, and here’s why.
My first eight births resulted in a wide range of experiences. I’d had four unmedicated births, two c-sections, and two vaginal births with an epidural and although each of the different kinds of deliveries had its benefits, it was the deliveries with the epidural that I enjoyed the most.
It wasn’t so much that I enjoyed being free from the pain of labor and delivery (though undoubtedly that was a real bonus), it was that because of the relief the epidural offered, I was able to better enjoy the labor and delivery experience with my intended parents.
You see, the unmedicated births I’d had by then taught me that I’m a pretty antisocial and crabby person when I’m trying to manage the pain of labor and delivery. I don’t want anyone talking to me and I definitely don’t want anyone touching me. Even though I knew that people were only trying to help me and make me comfortable, the stress of the pain causes me to snap easily and be angry and demanding.
Now of course all this is understandable when a woman is in labor or pushing out a baby – it’s absolutely understandable! However, once I’d experienced multiple drug-free births, I was looking for something else. I didn’t want the birth to be so much about my labor and delivery experience, I wanted it to be about an event that my intended parents and I went through together. And knowing that I needed solitude to cope with the pain of an unmedicated birth, I opted for an epidural so I was mentally, emotionally, and even physically in a frame of mind to share the experience with them.
And it worked. During my last two births, both of which I had an early epidural, I was able to relax and enjoy my intended parents’ company throughout my labor and the delivery. I was able to talk with them, observe them and their nervousness and excitement, and really soak in the experience from their perspectives, which was very memorable and a pleasure for me. I never could have interacted with them in that way had I been trying to manage the pain of contractions and pushing.
Had I not already experienced natural childbirth and epidural births, I can’t say that my choice to opt for pain relief would have been so easy to make. But to me it boiled down to two very different experiences – one more about my own personal labor and delivery experience, and the other about fully sharing my labor and delivery in a positive way with my intended parents.
There is no right or wrong in childbirth, of course – a healthy mother and a healthy baby is the outcome that everyone wants and works toward. Whatever makes the woman in labor feel most comfortable, safe, and successful is almost always the most appropriate decision, and the same applies when a woman gives birth as a surrogate mother. Sometimes, though, what makes the intended parents feel comfortable, safe and successful turns out to be a good decision for their gestational carrier, too.