I got some interesting responses when I posted my sister's story. Some I expected ("Those are familiar feelings!") and some not so much. They are all valid points though, so I wanted to take a couple of minutes to share why I shared her story here, and also to respond to my commenters.
First of all, I had pre-scheduled both her post and my response last weekend, and then my computer crashed for a couple of days (whole other story) anyway, I did not see any of the comments until this morning, otherwise I would have responded sooner.
The natural birthing community often spreads stories of 'painless birth' and even 'orgasmic birth.' They tout birth as a beautiful thing. I do believe that the entry of a child into the world is a beautiful event, but I know that not every woman experiences it as beautiful. I've shared my own stories so you probably know that my take is that "birthing is hard work, although it's totally manageable." My sister doesn't fall into either of those categories though--she has given birth in loving, supportive environments, and done everything 'right' as per being able to have peaceful gentle birth (hypno-classes, good support people, etc), and yet she describes her births with words like "difficult" "suffer" and "excruciating."
I shared her story here because I think it is important to share both sides of the natural birth coin--there are people who seem to glide through it, and others who struggle but still choose it because they deeply believe that it is a healthier, safer, better choice.
Now I want to respond to my commenters.
Liz spoke of being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and rape. She--after careful thought and consultation with her provider--decided that the intensity of birthing sensations in the vaginal area would probably trigger all kinds of horrific emotions for her. She chose epidurals for her births, and I think that sounds like a very wise choice in her situation. I believe in something which BFW refers to as "the compassionate use of epidural" which is essentially that it's not healthy to make medication the default choice, but it's also not healthy to rule it out entirely, because there is a time and a place for it. I think Liz's situation is certainly an appropriate place for the compassionate use of an epidural.
I know a young woman whose first baby died in utero just a few days before her due date. She had planned to birth naturally, but once they learned of the baby's death she then was coping with the intensity of grief on top of the intensity of birthing. She also chose an epidural. I think this was another appropriate and compassionate use of epidural.
Another woman I know has twice tried to birth naturally, and both times had a very long, very painful labor with minimal dilation, and both times has ended up having to transfer to the hospital for a c-section. She is now expecting her third child, and has decided that this time she is going to try laboring with an epidural, to see if the reduction of pain will allow her to relax enough to dilate and give birth vaginally. Again, I see an appropriate use of an epidural.
Where I have a problem with epidurals is when the woman doesn't take the time to consider all the options. When she isn't willing to consider trying. When the intervention becomes the default and no one stops to question it. Liz concluded her comment with this thought: "I shouldn't ever have to justify my reasons for choosing to have an epidural. But I share the reason for my decision because it's a different point of view and might shed some light on the deeply personal experience that is birthing." and she's right. She should not have to justify her reasons to anyone except herself. But there again that is the key--she does have reasons for her choice, it was not just going with the flow or doing what everyone does, it was a carefully-thought-out choice. It's true that it is a deeply personal decision, but I (we) share our stories not so much to condemn as to stimulate critical thought. Because "Birth is not merely a means to an end, it is an event that [is] imprinted on a woman's life forever. The memories of their children's births are among the most vivid memories a woman will ever have." So these choices should not be made lightly.
I also want to respond to Nicole. As usual, she has some perceptive thoughts to share. Thoughts that may be hard to hear, but which are valid all the same. She thought that the post seemed self-righteous, judgmental, and unkind. "This is exactly the attitude that bothers me about some women who choose to give birth naturally," she wrote. "I've given birth both ways, and I respect other women for whatever they choose to do. My ego or sense of self-worth is simply not based on how I chose to birth my babies." Her comment is a good reminder that no matter how strongly we may feel on a given topic, no matter how confident we are in our own views of the issue, the way we express our message is going to influence people at least as much as the message itself. Yes, I do genuinely believe that it is better to birth without medication. I don't see it as a choice between two equals (just as I feel about breastfeeding vs formula feeding). I do believe that there are valid exceptions to the rule, but that they are few and far between. But we must also remember that, as they say, "presentation is everything."