I did not have an epidural. My birth plan was to birth as naturally as possible with no interventions... I felt it would increase the chances of labor progressing quickly and decrease the chances of a forceps/vacuum or cesarean birth. I also hated the idea of being stuck on my back, unable to move and having a catheter + IV line in me - more afraid of these things than the prospect of the pain I would experience, I guess... however I have nothing against the epidural itself and I would have asked for one if I felt I needed it in the moment, but I didn't - thanks to labour progressing so quickly (8 hours from start to finish). 'Managing' the pain took so much energy, that I can see how one would require an epi just to make it possible to rest & build up the strength to push once the time comes.
I read a book by Juju Sundin http://www.jujusundin.com/ called Birth Skills - I found her pain management methods to be the most helpful!
Whatever you decide, sounds like you have a great supportive partner who will help you through it.
I would highly recommend not having the epidural. I attended Bradley Childbirth classes during my pregnancy which teach women how to give birth naturally. We learn exercises (that help the body prepare for the athletic event that labor and childbirth are), relaxation techniques (because more pain comes from being tense in anticipation of the pain), and how your husband can work with you during labor. One of the things that became very clear during my self-education during my pregnancy is that any medication affects the baby, and your uterus and baby do more work during labor that you will do. The epidural DOES affect the baby, and (s)he will not be able to help as much, or if at all.Unfortunately, after 36 hours of natural labor, and 30+ hours after my water had broke, I was recommended to take pitocin to help me get past the 8-9 cm dilation (that I have been at for the last 12 hours). This is due to their concern that the baby could get an infection, without the protection of the bag of waters. However, with as long as I had been in labor, that an epidural would be best to help me maintain my energy for the actual birth. With a heavy heart, knowing the long-term health issues that I could be subjecting my child to...and they are are finding out more and more health problems associated with medicated births...I chose this route. End result 46 hours of labor, with 2 hours of pushing.So coming from both sides. A self-educated women basically dead set on having a natural childbirth...and having to have an epidural and pitocin. I can tell you what I found out.1.) Labor pains themselves are not that bad. There is a tightening, and as long as you stay focused on being relaxed, they don't even really hurt. (Not to say that there were a few positions I couldn't use because it hurt to badly to be in, but the contractions themselves were just...well...contractions).2.) Epidurals not only numb you, but they can make movement almost impossible. The is a major benefit with actually being able to move during labor. Epidurals, you are limited, and they can (and for me) they made my left leg unmoveable by itself. 3.) When it is time to push, you might not be able to feel the contraction enough to push with your body, and may be wasting effort.4.) Epidurals increase the second stage of labor (pushing). Mine lasted two hours.5.) You will be flat on your back with an epidural vs being able to choose your birth position in natural childbirth and being able to use gravity to your benefit.6.) Epidurals can inhibit bonding with your new baby, because you will be out of it. I know the moment after my daughter was born. She was put on my stomach, and all I could think of immediately is , "Hold on, I need a moment.", then...wow she is darker than I expected. But I was able to touch her before she was whisked away to the nursery with breathing issues. (She's fine, and was back within an hour.) However, the moment she was brought back...I became completely awake and in-love with my baby. SUMMARY (Sorry for being long winded)Choose natural if you can, it truly is the best for you and your baby, including recovery. But be open to keeping you and your baby safe above all your plans.