Childbirth: Natural vs. Epidural

My wife's choice to give birth naturally (little Lauterbach is due this month) is based on our learning the benefits of an unmedicated birth against the risks of medicated birth.

Still, I needed to address a few aesthetic issues. I'm pleased to report that natural childbirth doesn't entail squatting in a barn. Images of sweaty hippies homebirthing, or an umbilical cord wrapped around a helpless newborn's neck needn't enter your mind either. A woman can plan to give birth naturally in a hospital with her obstetrician and access to emergency services should they be medically necessary. But it isn't easy. Natural childbirth requires education and training.

Plenty of moms who plan to go natural change their minds and request an epidural — a dosage of a narcotic delivered via spinal tap designed to numb the lower body and reduce the pain of contractions, just the way Mother Nature intended. In weighing our options, we learned that the acceptance of pain medication doesn't guarantee painlessness, and pain medication is not required.

Giving birth naturally poses its risks, of course, but so do pitocin (a contraction-inducing synthetic hormone), epidurals, and caesarean surgery.

For the latter, one study shows that women choosing caesarean delivery (that is, electing to have a c-section without medical necessity) had a 550 percent greater incidence of death as a result of that childbirth procedure than women delivering naturally. Caesarean delivery is a medical necessity in many cases, including my own.

The risks associated with epidurals for mothers include spinal headache, muscle injuries, paralysis, and death. But all of these risks must amount to great benefits for the child — why else would mothers put themselves through it? Really, the epidural does nothing for the baby's health. The Demerol only addresses the mother's discomfort, which is exactly what natural childbirth training does.

Excuse the medical jargon, but this is, after all, a health issue. And the best choice for the health of mother and child is to go natural.

Preston Lauterbach

There are moments in a person's life that will always be remembered: A wedding, a big promotion, an engagement, and, most certainly, the birth of a child. For my wife and me, one of our moments came on a cold December evening in 2005, the night our son was born. The day was filled with excitement, nerves, terror, and unbridled emotion, and — albeit briefly — an incredible amount of pain. Luckily, in the eighth hour of the labor, our little gift from God was finally delivered. No, not the beautiful baby boy we were expecting — he came in the 12th hour. No, this magnificent creation came by way of a needle eight centimeters in length. And I can tell you with certainty; the epidural was the second greatest thing that happened that day.

Like many couples faced with the decision between natural childbirth and an epidural, we sat down and discussed the pros and cons for each. The conversation took less than two minutes. Our judgment: It's the twenty-first century. If either of us has a headache, we take ibuprofen. If heartburn is our ailment, an antacid will alleviate distress. And when it comes time to push a bowling-ball-sized object through the most sensitive of sensitives, we're asking for some pain relief.

Don't worry; we did our research (Ashley is finishing her first year of residency in anesthesia), arriving at the conclusion that the benefits of an epidural far outweigh the risks. An epidural relaxes the mother, reducing stress that can prolong the labor process. Mothers are still able to remain active in the birth and feel the contractions, but without pain. If there are labor complications and a caesarean is necessary, the mother already has a catheter in place, avoiding any prolonged procedures for possible surgery. And future fathers don't have the stress and guilt of being a helpless bystander while she suffers from the pain. It lets them participate in the birthing process as a teammate, and not the victim of displaced anger so often portrayed in movies and television.

Now if we could only do something about these darn dirty diapers . . .

Drew Ermenc


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