I have mixed feelings about pain relief in labor.
For myself, I have had 4 unmedicated births and would not do it any other way. I am a bit of a control freak, and couldn't deal with giving up sensation, or the ability to clearly think. I hate to be restrained at all, and would have felt very claustrophobic with the blood pressure cuff, IV running, epidural catheter trailing off, etc. I felt like walking and moving were absolutely necessary, and couldn't manage being stuck in one place. My first labor was very intense, with back to back contractions and back labor. My second was nearly pain free. My third was harder work, and a couple hours of intense pressure, but my best attended birth because of how supported I felt. My 4th labor was intensely painful - I'm glad it was my last.
I attend a lot of births, though, and while I wish every woman could have wonderful, empowering, unmedicated births like mine, that isn't the case for everyone. I had one woman so traumatized by her unmedicated birth (which I did not attend) that she needed treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder afterward. I recently attended another birth of my own patient, whose intense labor was very frightening and overwhelming too. Her first labor had been unmedicated, and she ended up unmedicated this time too, but she was so unhappy afterwards, and also had difficulty bonding with the baby.
I want for every woman a birth they can remember with at least a sense of accomplishment, if not any more pleasant memories. Most of the time, I feel good preparation, and good support can achieve that, and pain meds aren't the answer. For some women, in some labors though, judicious use of pain relief is necessary to make the experience bearable.
I don't want to minimize the possible risks of pain relief, either, though, and feel it's important that women understand those risks. Anecdotal stories are not enough for that, either, women must have available the actual data. I try to cover it in detail with women long before labor, so they know the truth ahead of time, and then can hopefully make good decisions at the time.
I do want to mention also, that occasionally epidurals don't work perfectly or even at all. The most pain I've seen mamas in labor experience has been from either a partially functioning epidural, or a woman who was dead set on an epidural and then either couldn't get one (like one woman who had too low a platelet count) or had one that didn't work. I always tell the women I attend that regardless of their plan, they must plan on getting through some labor without pain relief (most people start labor at home, anyway, and an epidural can't be started in the first 5 seconds you're at the hospital) and they must realize that occasionally perfect epidural pain relief can't be achieved.