Birth itself is hard work. That is why it is called labor. No matter how you have a baby - it is hard work. NCB, OTOH, is hard because it involves the woman taking an active rather than passive role in her labor and birth. She must work through the labor and work with the labor - working with her body and her particular birth experience to bring forth a child. This most commonly involves little to no intervention from medical staff (nurses, OBs, MDs, MWs, etc...) and relying on the woman and her support people to work through the hard work called labor.
The reason, I believe, so many women decide on medicinalized labor or surgical birth is that it is 'easier'. We are a culture of ease. We want things fast and easy. The fastest easiest way to lose weight, the fastest easiest way to make money, the fastest easiest way to have a baby. But - you loose so much in getting things easier. The number one thing in getting things the easy way is not appreciating the end result. The second thing you loose in getting things easier is that you don't learn and grow (mature and develop) from getting things the easy route. What do you gain from loosing weight the easy way? You don't learn better eating habits, you don't gain a healthier lifestyle, statistics show these ppl gain the weight back more often than those who work hard at loosing the weight... this is just one example. And these are only two of the things lost in 'easier' births.
That said, if you plan on an epidural - it does not mean you will have an easier or better labor. Around 1/3 of my clients, their epidurals don't take at all, are inadequate (they still feel discomfort and were not planning on it OR they have patches of pain), or have dire side effects paired with them (depressed respiration, decreased bp, short-term paralysis, spinal headaches, infection, etc...). As well, if you plan on a c-section, it does not mean that it is without pain. Women who have Cs have a harder time in recovery, have long term consequences (scar tissue, increased incidence of infection, increased incidence of ectopic pregnancy and miscarriage in subsequent pregnancies, increase incidence of hysterecomy).
As Dr. Robert Bradley says "It is not good to fool with Mother Nature".
It is proven that there is a greater bond, and less incidence of PPD when an NCB occurs. Also, there are higher doses of oxytocin and other biological and chemical productions that occur during an NCB (check out this article and this article). There are other benefits as well. Psychologically, a woman feels a sense of accomplishment and strength. Children who attend an NCB come away with a deeper respect for life, their new siblings, and have a healthier view of sex and and their bodies. Physically, there is an easier, faster recovery, and less incidence of serious complications. Risk is cut out of the picture and women are shown to actually celebrate their births - rather than look back on them in fear and avoidance.
I was recently asked why, though there are so many risks, women still opt for medicated births... my answer was this:
I firmly believe it stems from the culture we live in. In addition to and as a biproduct of that, I believe it is also because we have lost trust in our bodies, ourselves, and the natural process. Check out Healing Birth Healing the Earth. We want a diagnosis and subsequent 'cure' for everything. We are missing 3 or more FULL generations of women (in most families) who understand and can teach the next generation of women about true labor. Birth is dying; as in, birth as nature intended is dying. There are a few women (and the numbers are growing) who know these inherent truths and are reclaiming their trust in birth and their bodies, are educating themselves to the risks of Obstetrical deliveries, and have decided that the risks, not only of the medications used, but of the experience lost, do not outweigh the benefits and instead, opt for natural childbirth.