I'm surprised that I've never heard a Christian argument against epidurals.

After all, the pain of childbirth is, according to Genesis, a result of sin. And one could probably argue that the extreme pain of giving birth brings one closer to God. Older versions of the Book of Common Prayer include a service called "the churching of women," during which the following prayer was read,

God, we give thee humble thanks for that thou hast been graciously pleased to preserve, through the great pain and peril of Child-birth, this woman thy servant, who desires now to offer her praises and thanksgivings unto thee.

If childbirth is now both less perilous and painful than it was when these words were penned in 1789, is the praise and thanksgiving of a woman after childbirth also less fervent and sincere? And should Christians then consider not using epidurals, so as to experience both birth and gratitude more intensely?

I don't think so. As a doula, I support women who choose to have an unmedicated birth, but not because I think pain is more spiritual. And as a doula (and a mother) I recognize, too, that the pain of unmedicated birth can be helpful: not to mince words, but when you feel the burn as the baby's head is coming out, you know to slow down the pushing and are less likely to tear.

Sometimes, though, the intensity and length of labor, as well as the health and strength of the mother, make pain relief a wise, merciful, and advisable choice. I've heard more than one Christian woman praise God for epidurals.

Even so, pain can be good thing, as when pain tells a laboring mother to ease up on the pushing. Years ago, Philip Yancey and Paul Brand co-wrote a book called The Gift of Pain, which told some troubling and astounding stories of ...

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