Like many other pregnant women, I spent a good portion of my pregnancy thinking about my birth experience. My mother had given birth to three children without an epidural, going from 5 cm to baby out in a half hour, and damnit, I could do that too! Birthing TV shows told me that if I just hopped in some water, the baby would slip out easily and peacefully. The hospital I planned to deliver at had tubs to labor in (although not large enough for delivery). I told myself I’d leave pain relief on the table of options, but my goal was do without it. I was smug.
I started taking regular walks through my neighborhood starting around 37 weeks, and at 39 weeks, I finally had the first of many true labor contractions after one on a Friday evening. Perfect! My mom generally had babies within twelve hours, I should be holding my sweet girl soon.
36 hours later on Sunday, I caved and asked for the epidural. I had spent the two previous nights not sleeping due to contractions and intense back labor, and was desperate for sleep. The epidural went in easily, and the needle was not nearly as terrible as I imagined it would be. My water had broken naturally a couple hours before and I was finally progressing quickly. I laid back and waited for blissful sleep to come so I could prepare for pushing.
I didn’t count on the epidural failing. In my mind, I equated it to a spinal block and expected to feel nothing but stoned-like giggles. Instead, my right side was dulled and I felt no difference on my left side, despite laying on that side to coax the medicine into it. The idea of sleeping was a joke. I had full control of my legs. I was able to inform my nurse when I was ready to push, and they did away with the contraction monitor because it was unnecessary. The anesthesiologist later expressed his regrets on how it turned out to the doctor.
I had spent months getting my hopes up for an unmedicated birth, to wind up medicated with little pain relief. To top it off, I wound up getting pitocin and cytotec after she was born due to complications. I was disappointed. Women have been birthing babies on rocks in caves and been sent back to pick berries the next day for thousands of years, why could I not tough it out? I didn’t even see if the hospital bathtub possessed some magical labor healing that mine at home apparently did not. I now had the stigma with none of the relief.
In the days following, my head cleared. The details of Toots’ birth became somewhat unimportant, as I realized how much more important things like breastfeeding and swaddling were becoming. My mom might have done it three times, but the length of her labors (aided by a doctor breaking her water) made that a necessity, not a choice. My sweet baby did not appear negatively affected in the slightest and was impressing her pediatrician with her quick growth.
After I had spent a month getting sleep in 2-3 hour bursts, I really began to question why I spent my pregnancy obsessing over pain medication when everything that came after was so much more relevant. Don’t get me wrong- I think childbirth is amazing, and we should all strive for good experiences. I can see why it would be traumatizing when something goes wrong, and I think the importance of immediate skin to skin and nursing should be promoted. But why obsess over the “naturalness” of it? Why is the mommy community focused on who bore the most pain?
All that being said- my goal for future births is still to go unmedicated again. Not for bragging rights, but because being confined to the hospital bed really does suck. I will allow myself the option again and perhaps research better pain management techniques, but I hope to spend more time considering life after birth, instead of obsessing over that first day.