Lamaze was only helpful for me up to a point. I found it helpful for very early labor and more to keep me from panicking or tensing up than helping with pain. I remember the nurses commenting on my breathing though and how I was a very good breather. I did not get any sort of award for that, though :). It sounds obvious to breathe during labor, but at the end you are so focused on pushing you can forget - my Dr. had to remind me a few times to breathe out! I was taking a big breath before each push but not exhaling. Oops.
My advice is to go in with a plan, but also 2 or 3 backup plans because most people’s labor does not go the way you think it will. Especially if this is your first and you have no idea what it will be like. Also be aware that epidurals do not always work and sometimes you miss the window of opportunity for one. It is fine to go in and tell them you want an epidural, but also having some way of coping like Bradley or Lamaze is a good idea, often several hours may pass while you are waiting for that epidural and if you can’t get one you want a way to get through. My epidural was late because he was helping with an emergency and I was not a priority (note: I think hospitals should have more than one person able to give epidurals! )
I didn’t want an epidural at first but I was so glad I got one. That feeling of relief was so needed for me at that point - I had a love for my epidural giver that I have for no other man. I joked with him that he must be one of the most adored people in the world - if you want a job where people will kiss your feet, give epidurals. There is no way I could have had the energy to push for hours after being up all night and on my hands and knees trying to get baby to turn over. I almost didn’t have the energy anyway, the biggest thing about labor for me is just how plain exhausting it was! I always laughed at the women on tv who said at the end “I can’t do this anymore, I don’t want to do this” but It Happened To Me - the Dr. had to be very tough with me and I remember hating her for a few minutes :). The epidural gave me a few hours of relief to doze and rest to get my energy up for the last few hours.
I do not know if I would have asked for one if I was not having back labor, for me the back pain was by far the worst part and I don’t know how much of that comes with a regular labor. If they would have let me stay in the tub forever I might have been able to go without one. I also had full sensation at pushing time, either they turned my epidural off or it wore off, I am not sure. I was given control of it for a while with a button I could push for more medication, I did not choose to turn mine up at all. You might want to ask about this as it gives you some control over how much pain medicine you are given.
I have gone through painful sensations before, including the above mentioned burst eardrums / infections, an adult tonsillectomy without pain meds after, and some others. It is hard to compare pain with other pain and I don’t really do it. I would just say that all were painful and I wouldn’t want to do them again. If I need pain relief and I can safely get it I will use it without a moment of hesitation.
I had a very good recovery with an epidural, and I was able to hop off the table and walk as soon as it was over, I also had full movement of my legs during pushing but I understand for many women this is not the case. Ironically, the one thing I was most afraid of and would do anything to avoid was the episiotomy, and it ended up being no big deal at all. (The main reason I was afraid of epidural was I thought I would not be able to feel when I needed to push and for me that was not the case at all, but I needed an episiotomy anyway.) The worst part about it was getting the stitches and after that I really did not have pain from it. I kept on the Tylenol schedule they gave me for a few days and never felt I needed more.
Next time I am going to look into the Bradley method more. I suggest researching all methods and be open to things once you go in. If my next baby has a quicker labor and is facing the right way I am open to not having an epidural, but on the other hand I am not afraid of having one again either. And remember that women love to tell their labor stories and tend to embellish one way or the other, and they also forget what it was really like. The second before baby is out you are thinking “I will never do this again, ever” and the second he is on your tummy you are thinking “This is the best thing in the world.”
Finally, my biggest advice is to avoid people who say always or never. "Always get an epidural! Never get an epidural! Labor is nothing, it is easy! Labor is the most horrible thing ever in the universe! Do what is right for you and screw everyone else - and keep that in mind when you are raising that baby, too. People will have strong opinions when it comes to anything baby related.