This brings up a lot of thoughts for me. I'm not sure I have anything great to contribute, but I'm just kind of thinking "out loud" here. With my first, I think I was quite unprepared, despite having a mother who is a CNM (and was out of town for the delivery
) and my dh and I were really scared, because the baby was 4 weeks early, our family wasn't there to help support us, and he was not coping well with seeing me in pain. I asked for the epidural, and got it, and was very disappointed in myself and a little bit in him for not trying to talk me out of it even once. I knew just enough to think "I can't do 10-12 more hours of this" when they said "3 cm." Turned out the baby was born 4 hours later.
The second one was completely different. I felt that I was preparing myself well (with Hypnobabies), I knew my mom would be there to help coach me if my dh couldn't cope, and I thought I'd be able to handle the pain much more easily since I knew what to expect. I also thought labor would be shorter since it was my seocnd (which it was). My daughter was born 7 weeks premature after an illness that made me vomit for 3 days, unable to sleep, and the hydration and drugs that they tired to stop labor with gave me pulmonary edema (fluid was filling my lungs). I was not prepared for this in any way. I didn't know that I'd be going into labor without food or sleep for 3 days and an oxygen tube in my nose. When my water broke, I was so exhausted that I wanted to cry. I was also miserable, because I knew within minutes of my water breaking and my contractions intensifying that I was going to ask for pain relief and no one would talk me out of it. I knew my last chance at a natural birth was gone.
And yet, my second birth was much better in some ways than my first. the epidural was much less strong and left me with a great deal of sensation. I didn't need a catheter, I could feel and move my legs on my own, I could feel contractions, pressure, some pain, and the urge to push. I absolutely felt my daughter's head as she passed through the birth canal, and I felt my perineum burn as she crowned.
I'm a little sad that I didn't get the natural birth that I wanted, but after what I went through, I feel like a lioness anyway. Part of the sadness I feel is just sort of part of the overall sadness of having a premature baby (she was taken away right after birth, I couldn't see her for 26 hours after birth due to my illness, she didn't come home for 23 days, no baby shower, no month 8 or 9, etc.)
If I were to have another baby (which I'm not planning on) I would probably try again to go natural. But I'd try really hard not to be disappointed in myself if I wanted pain medication. A lot of what bothers me about having epidurals is that I "knew better" and wanted to go without both times, but failed. I don't like the feeling of being a failure because I wanted pain relief, and it is hard for me to read threads like this, that list all the damage I could've done to my babies and myself. I know that many here are aknowledeging the differences in labors and circumstances, which is great. I don't know exactly what I'm trying to say...maybe it is important to be aware of the feelings of guilt and sadness a woman can have if she feels that she failed to live up to a certain standard (her own, or someone else's). It's a hard place to be after what is supposed to be one of the happiest events in your life.