When I tell people I'm a doula, one of the responses I get is a shake of the head, coupled with "Nah, I go for the drugs!" Or "Why should I experience pain if I don't need to?"
I loved this entry from the blog "Empowering Birth." What woman wouldn't want to walk away from her non-medicated birth experience with the sense that now she can accomplish anything in the world? What woman wouldn't want that feeling from ANYTHING? What mother wouldn't want that feeling for her daughter? The craving for this experience is what motivated me to have my third child with midwives at a birth center.
But as I delve deeper into the world of birth -- as a mother who has had three wildly different birth experiences, as a doula who has attended many births, and as an aspiring midwife -- I dare to say that it is NOT about whether a laboring mom gets an epidural. Pain is subjective. What one woman can tolerate for 24 hours, another may not be able to tolerate for 24 minutes. Is one woman stronger than the other? Is one woman's birth better than the other? A woman's body has the ability to grow and birth a child. There is, in fact, nothing more natural than that act of creation and birth, epidural or drug free, at home or in a hospital. Witnessing a birth is a phenomenal, powerful experience no matter how the birth happened and what circumstances led to its unfolding.
Because I am a trained mental health clinician, I know that people have all kinds of experiences and make very different decisions than someone else would in the exact same circumstance. None of it is up for judgment, and as a birth professional with a background in mental health, I'm very cautious about even the mildest suggestion that a woman who chooses an epidural is less-than or that the babies had a less-than birth. In fact, I'm very cautious about the suggestion that a woman who chooses an elective, first-time cesarean is less-than.
My birth passion is more focused on freedom of choices. Is a pregnant or laboring woman making a decision about her baby's birth out of fear? Does she have the supportive people she needs to form a circle around her? Is she making an informed decision about her body, which decades of trends and popular culture have taught her to dislike and distrust, if not abuse? Natural childbirth is not only about the epidural. It is about our culture; our love and reliance of technology over our instincts. It is about our need to control a normal, healthy process that should be allowed to take its own path and power and time, and intervening only when it is medically necessary. It is about a culture that focuses on liability and lost income or productivity more than the intangibles, like faith and trust.
Actually, I think that the last thing natural childbirth is about is that epidural. It is about all that is normal about birth. That we don't know when it will begin, nor do we know how long it will take. It can surprise us, and yet if we can remain watchful while still being patient and respectful of the process, it will reveal itself as all that it is meant to be.