I have given birth to seven children. All but one was completely natural and drug-free. My first time was an awful experience with an OB-Gyn who yelled at me throughout the whole birth and had me flat on my back, pushing up into the air. I was 19 and really quite dumb…I mean naïve about the whole thing. I had gone to childbirth education classes, but when you don’t know what to expect and when you can’t yet fathom the kind of pain you’ll be in, you relent to almost anything the doctor says. No wonder so many women end up with c-sections.

By the time I was pregnant with my second child, I was much smarter. Rather than rely on the good old, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” medical model for pregnancy and birth, I had found Ina May Gaskin and Spiritual Midwifery. Before my first birth, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a Certified Nurse Midwife. I thought midwives were from the Civil War era and didn’t know they were still “legal.”

I had my second child with a CNM kneeling beneath me on the floor of a local hospital. I was “allowed” to use gravity to push my daughter out and I had relatively easy, quick labor and delivery – and a very fast recovery (I was standing on the hospital bed taking pictures of my baby girl the day I had her). Natural Childbirth was for me, I decided. And I became one of “those” women.

Yes, you know who we are. We are the ones who look at you disdainfully when you say you have a doctor to deliver your baby, or that you had an epidural, or that you wouldn’t consider having a homebirth.

That was me. A judgmental, crunchy, no drugs…ever mom. I’m still pretty crunchy about a lot of things. I question every vaccination my kids get – even though I feel a moral obligation and civic duty to give them. I also try and not buy plastics, prepared meals, fast food and too many toys with cartoon characters on them.

I was so dedicated to the natural childbirth movement, in fact, that I was seriously considering becoming a midwife. I hesitated, though, because babies don’t exactly come on a schedule – and with seven kids, I need to have things on a schedule!

Instead, I dedicated myself to not only having natural childbirths – I’ve had a homebirth, a water birth (unplanned), an almost “in the car” birth (but we made it to the hospital just in time) and two other rather uneventful, very fulfilling natural experiences in a birthing center.

My last birth, though, was something quite different.

After being diagnosed with preeclampsia, I was sent to the hospital at 38 weeks and there delivered a healthy 8 lb. 10 oz. baby boy after about four hours of labor. I must say I’m pretty glad he came early – he was obviously getting pretty big and after naturally delivering a 10 + pounder, I have to say I wasn’t looking forward to it again!

The difference between this birth and all of the rest was that in addition to being exhausted from a long day out already and being completely unprepared to go into labor (I usually can tell I’m going into labor and get a few days of warm-up, if you will), I knew that as soon as they broke my water and gave me that little bit of pitocin, I would go from 0 (or actually 4cm) to full blast in a few hours. And I was tired. It was 9 pm before they started the induction procedures and I was ready for bed – I was not ready for the work of labor.

So I did it. For the first time ever. I asked for the epidural. And I got one before the first pain ever came. Then as I felt my body surge through hard labor (I could tell from the pressure that my contractions were getting very hard), I napped. I didn’t sleep deeply. The nurse kept coming in and bugging me for vitals and to make sure I could breathe and annoying things like that. But I did rest. And then a few hours later I pushed my baby out. It did feel a little strange, not having the extreme urge to expel the child. And I could see how difficult it would be if you had never done it before – you wouldn’t know what it’s supposed to feel like and how to get “behind it.”

But for me, it was a perfectly pleasant experience. I did notice that the euphoria of having the baby did not happen this time around. After pushing out a baby without drugs there are so many overwhelming emotions (mostly relief) that you have this euphoria around you for a bit. For me, though, having experienced all that before, I didn’t feel the experience of Seamus’ birth suffered at all.

However, I could see how if you always got the epidural, or never had anything else to compare it to, that you’d be missing out a little bit. But I have to admit, I also felt a little duped.

The epidural was not nearly as bad as it had been made out to be. Now, granted, I seem to have no trouble getting pregnant or having babies and for those that do, there could be problems. Also, having done it so often, I am very aware of how to push a baby out fairly quickly – although even after seven they don’t in any way shape or form “fall out.”

But all the bad stuff I’d heard through the years about the catheter and not being able to walk around and the IV and the like was not close to being true. And I never felt pressured at all to get the epidural or not. I know the medical establishment is often portrayed as villainous, but I never felt like it was anything but my decision and they would help me out in any way they could. They were all perfectly nice people doing their job. I feel fortunate that they did their jobs so well.

While this was by far my most “medicalized” birth, it was also fairly pleasant. I had never before had an IV or any kind of medication. The only scary moment was when my blood pressure dipped very low after the epidural was administered and I had an in bed fainting spell – very strange. But all in all, I never felt out of control of my body or of my birth experience.

After my previous poor experience giving birth with my first, I was tempted to “throw the baby out with the bath water," as it were. And while I don’t know that I would choose medication again, the fact that it was available to me and that the choice was mine alone was important to me. I have gotten the feeling over the years from the natural childbirth movement that they would rather women not even be given the choice to opt out of the pain. I might have gone along with that a few years ago. I wouldn’t now.