I was just discussing epidurals with my midwife this evening. Or rather, they came up when we were talking about the transformative nature of birth.
Laboring and giving birth was for me a life-changing event. No, I didn't have a pain-free childbirth. No, I didn't have a trauma-free childbirth. Yes, it was the most painful thing I've ever done (possibly close to being drawn and quartered, though I'm not certain as I've never been drawn and quartered). No, I didn't feel fabulous and empowered afterwards. I didn't think it was fun. I didn't feel like I could climb Everest or like I had climbed Everest. I felt like I survived childbirth, and that I'd barely survived it at that.
However, given a little time I began to realize what I had done during my labor. For the first time in my life I was totally in my body. For the first time ever, I was completely, irrevocably in the moment. I gave myself over to the force of my body and my body worked just as it was supposed to. Given time, I came to realize just how amazing I am for having done it. Given time, I came to use birth as the metaphor that informs how I live my life. I gave in to the nature of what I needed and what my body needed. I healed past sexual traumas by owning my body for the first time. I birthed myself as a mother and was made a confident mother for it. I believed in the knowledge of my body and my baby and that gave us the confidence we needed to become a couple and to face our first, quite difficult year together.
Because of birth, I now know how to take what is given to me and deal with it however I can. Because of giving birth, I trust my instinct in a way I didn't before. Because of giving birth, I want to do it again. Even though I know it sucks. It is the ultimate metaphor for everything. It is the rite of passage written again and again into every religion. It is the beginning of life.
What happens when we anesthetize ourselves to that? What happens to the process when we cannot feel it? Birth is a deeply psychic, emotional journey - I just can't understand wanting to not be present for it, wanting to avoid the experience.
Note that I am not saying that all epidurals are bad. I am questioning the psychological side effects that may result from the choice for the sake of the choice. I do believe in the compassionate use of drugs in childbirth. I also believe, however, that home is the best place to birth and that hospitals make birth an unnatural experience in the first place, though I also understand that individuals make these choices for deeply personal and very different reasons.