New NHS guidelines have been issued with the aim of improving women's experience of childbirth.
Epidurals are administered via the spine and numb the lower body
Anna Davidson is a 30-year-old journalist and mother of two. She says access to effective pain relief is key to improving maternity services.
When I was pregnant for the first time I read a few books, went to one of those parentcraft ante-natal sessions, and thought I was quite well prepared. It must be a case of mind over matter, I thought naively. How much could it really hurt?
After you've actually been through labour you wonder what the point is of these classes which give you a few tips on breathing and leave you totally in the dark as to what is ahead.
I won't go into the gory details of my first labour but suffice to say it was awful. I lost a huge amount of blood in the aftermath and needed transfusions.
But it was the pain that was phenomenal. It was hard right from the outset and I remember asking for an epidural because my logic was, if it hurts this much now, how much will it hurt later?
But the midwife kept telling me: 'You don't need one yet', or 'Now's not the time to have one'.
I don't think she ever actually said to me 'You can't have one', but she made me feel it was not the done thing and that I should just keep going.
I trusted her.
You do because they're supposed to be the professionals, they know what they're talking about.
And yet there was no reason why I couldn't have had an epidural then, which would have enabled me to cope much better with what was ahead.
She took all the decisions, and I was just a bystander.
Price worth paying
When I became pregnant a second time, I knew what would be the most important part of my birth plan: an epidural.
There's this great emphasis on 'natural' childbirth, but it's not what everyone wants and women shouldn't be led to believe it's the be all and end all
I was induced, so in a sense I had more control.
I said what I wanted from the outset and the midwives this time were very helpful.
True, there was intervention in the form of a ventouse [a vacuum device used to assist the delivery of a baby when there are difficulties]. That's how my second baby was ultimately delivered.
Epidurals do increase the chances of intervention, but however awful it sounds, if that was the price I had to pay for pain relief then it was a price worth paying.
There's this great emphasis on 'natural' childbirth, but it's not what everyone wants and women shouldn't be led to believe it's the be all and end all.
It's no great failure if you end up having an assisted delivery, and I really don't believe that having a ventouse somehow hurt my child.
I think what's really important is that women have a more realistic idea of what may be ahead before they go into labour and understand that they need to be assertive, and press for what they want.
If these guidelines mean women are taken more seriously and treated as individuals, then that will be a big step forward.