Like many first time mothers, I took a childbirth class when I was pregnant with my oldest. It was useful and terrifying at the same time. I absorbed so much information that my head started spinning. The instructor talked about what might or might not happen during birth, how to recognize labor, how to breathe through labor, how epidurals worked, how to formulate and implement a birth plan, and about a million other things.
I remember sitting through those classes thinking, “I don’t really care how this child comes out as long as they do it quickly.”
Both of my children were born at 36 weeks gestation. My labors have only two other things in common: back labor and my choice to have epidurals.
Going into both of my labors, I didn’t really have a plan. I was not the hyper-organized, birth- planning-with-a-doula pregnant lady. Prior to my first birth, I didn’t even have my hospital bag packed. Instead, I was the terrified but go with the flow type.
With my son, I was apparently in labor for a long while without knowing it; I didn’t feel well and I had a backache for the better part of a day. That was nothing new, especially that far along in my pregnancy. The extra baby weight put a strain on my already bad back. I didn’t feel any definitive contractions.
The back pain eventually became rhythmic, and it was only then that I decided to call my doctor. When I finally made it to the hospital, I remember using the tub and the shower but the knowledge I had about breathing during contractions disappeared from my brain. The nurses had to keep reminding me to breathe at all. When the time came, my doctor asked if I wanted an epidural.
I was on the fence about epidurals. Not because I’d read all about possible side effects, or heard horror stories of anesthesiologists who had not correctly placed the needle the first time. I was on the fence because I felt like so many of my friends and family members had their children without the use of drugs. I felt like I was being a wimp. At the time, I wondered what others would think or say if I told them I had an epidural. The thought of being judged really bothered me.
This seems kind of silly to me now.
I have friends who are very respectful of my opinions and choices even if they differ from theirs. I just kept replaying conversations with all those people who told me they had given birth ‘naturally.’ While all had admitted it was intense, they all were happy that they had done it. Was I missing out on some once-in-a-lifetime activity by getting the epidural? Should I just tough it out without drugs?
I recall looking at my husband. He gave me the, “Oh please get an epidural, don’t put me through watching you in this much pain anymore,” face. My uncertainty instantly faded. I needed nothing more than his encouragement.
So, what do I remember about that first epidural 6+ years ago? RELIEF.
I had absolutely no complications in the placement of the needle and I slept for three hours after it kicked in. Seeing as my labor continued into the wee hours of the morning, I was so grateful for the sleep. I was on my 20th hour awake and there was nothing more I wanted at that moment. I woke up ready to welcome my baby and I’d like to think I was less crabby because I had the rest.
Three years and a week later, exactly, I was faced with a similar scenario.
This time, I’d been induced hours after my water broke because my labor wasn’t progressing. For those of you who have had Pitocin, I am sure you know how quickly the pain of contractions can spike once it kicks in. Again, labor was entirely in my back. I decided to try to get as far as I could without the epidural. It wasn’t long before the nurse asked me if I wanted an epidural due to how fast my labor was progressing. She basically told me it was now or never and I did not have much time to decide.
I wasn’t afraid this time, and I didn’t sit on the fence for long. I knew if it was anything like the first labor, I’d get some rest. God knows I needed to soak up as much rest as possible knowing I’d be going home with two children to take care of. I also wanted to be awake and in good spirits when I saw my first born, my son for the first time as a big brother. While I had tucked him into bed that night, he would be waking up to find his Grandma at our house instead. My husband and I had not yet discussed with him what might happen when I had to go to the hospital (because I delivered at 36 weeks again) and I was not quite sure he would fully understand why his parents weren’t home.
So, again, I opted for the epidural. It did the trick. I was able to sleep for a couple of those wee morning hours.
Some people say the epidurals can cause you to be a bit loopy or drowsy when the baby is born. Maybe for some people that is the case. However, I remember both of my children’s births and hardly any of my memories are foggy.
To the ladies who birthed babies without an epidural, I commend you. You are awesome and much braver than I am.
To the expectant mamas out there. Do your homework. Understand the pros and cons of getting an epidural. Make an informed decision as to what works for YOU. I know epidurals are not for everyone. But, if you believe you might want one, do not be afraid to share that information with anyone. There’s no shame in doing something that works for a lot of people. Besides, it is your body, your labor, and your baby. No one has the right to make you feel bad for doing what you thought best for all of you (within reason, of course).
These days, when I see negative comments about epidurals on Facebook, I skip over them. I have two happy, healthy children. I do not feel like I missed anything about their births at all.
In the end, having epidurals for both of my births was the right choice for me.