Let me first off say that my brother's girlfriend had an epi and everything was perfect and wonderful and I have a high pain threshold compared to most people. So by no means do I believe that the right choices for me are right for everyone.
However. I had an epi with my first birth and it was a nightmare. First of all, I really wanted to go natural but I was kind of bullied into it by the nurses (this was 18 years ago) who kept threatening me saying the pain was going to get worse and worse and if I waited too long I wouldn't be able to have any pain relief at all, which is true but they were using it as a threat. And they just acted like I was making this huge problem that they would have to deal with because sooner or later I was going to crack under the pressure, they were all sighing and rolling their eyes and just giving me the message that I would never be able to do it on my own, so I caved in and accepted the epidural.
Well, the epidural did not work. Not only did the baby's heart rate drop - luckily it recovered when I rolled over onto my side - but it didn't take the pain away. Rather than feeling it all over my stomach it focused all the pain into these really intense points on either side of my stomach, and it was actually worse than it was before (imagine sunlight shining through a magnifying glass.) It was really unbearable compared to what it had been like before. So they called the anesthesiologist back in and had him give me a huge second dose of the epi medicine, but unfortunately no one bothered to check to see how far dilated I was. After he left they decided to check and whoops, I was dilated to 10 and ready to push but of course I was beyond numb. I ended up having to push for over 3 hours, having to have medicine to speed the labor up and then slow it down because the baby's heart rate kept dropping, I ended up with a huge episiotomy and they were talking about a c-section but luckily the epi was wearing off by that point so I managed to push him out.
My sister had an epidural last year and for some reason it numbed her lungs so she couldn't breathe, the baby's heart rate dropped too and they called for a c-section. She ended up being wheeled into the operating room but by the time they had signed all the consent forms and gotten her prepped, the epi had worn off enough so she could breathe again and the doctor checked her and she was at 10. The baby's heart rate was still low, though. So the doctor told her she had 5 minutes to get the baby out or they were going through with the c-section. And somehow she managed to do it, but it was a terrible experience for her.
My second son was natural and a home birth, I used the exercise ball and my midwife did perineal massage and it was an absolutely magical experience. I pushed him out on my hands and knees in 30 minutes and even though he had the cord wrapped around his neck, he was perfectly fine, I think that had everything to do with me being able to choose my own position and being so relaxed from being at home.
My third son was natural and in the hospital, I almost fainted when they were putting the IV in so I couldn't get up to use the exercise ball unfortunately because I was too woozy. They allowed me to spend most of the labor on my stomach which helped a lot because he came fast and it was a very intense birth, I went from dilated to 3 to having the baby in my arms in an hour and a half. I only had to push a few times and he was born. It was a harder labor than DS 2 but still way, way better than my first experience.