I was a complete mess the first time I was administered an epidural. While the anesthesiologist calmly inserted the needle into my back all I could tell myself was "this is going to hurt," "you are weak," and "you failed." Turns out, none of those internal comments were true. My epidural was beautiful, sweet relief after 18 hours of excruciating back labor, and even now I wish I had been kinder to myself and tried reciting some positive mantras while getting an epidural. I didn't deserve to feel so many negative feelings at a time in my life when my body was doing something truly extraordinary.
Thankfully, I learned my lesson the first time around and during my second labor and delivery decided to be a bit more flexible when it came to pain management. So once I decided to get an epidural after another long back labor experience, I told myself things like, "you've got this," "trust yourself," and "good job." And while it doesn't sound like much, those positive comments helped me feel better about the overall labor and delivery experience. I didn't pay attention to the on-call midwife that decided to shame me for choosing to have an epidural, but instead focused on my freedom of choice and the courage I had to change my birth plan when it was necessary. Honestly, I was so damn proud of myself.
As a woman in labor you know what you need and when you need it. As a human being you deserve to go through a physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding process with all of the support and pain relief modern medicine can provide if that is, in fact, what you want and need. You also deserve to feel confident and proud of your labor and delivery decisions, which is why I encourage every laboring mom to recite the following mantras when she's getting that magical epidural:
"You're Not Failing"
When I shared my birth story and mentioned that I got an epidural, no one really asked me if I liked it or if it was right for me. Instead, almost everyone I shared this information with acted sorry for me. Of course, this response made me feel as if I had failed and that my birth story was something to be ashamed of. Hell, one person really close to me even said, "Don't worry, you can try again next time."
Make no mistake: getting an epidural doesn't mean you have failed. It means you had a choice and you made it.
"Focus On Something Else"
I learned the hard way that it's an incredibly bad idea to ask the anesthesiologist if you can see the needle that's eventually going to be inserted into your back. I almost fainted and, to be honest, that image made me so much more nervous. Even if you're not all that freaked out by needles, this needle is particularly huge and can cause a lot of anxiety. My advice? Focus on something else, anything else, and it will help you get through the epidural process.
"You're So Smart"
If you can get over our cultural obsession with so-called "natural" childbirth and ask for — or in my case, beg for — an epidural, that makes you one smart, powerful individual. You knew what you needed and you didn't shy away from making sure you received it. In my experience, the only thing I did that wasn't really smart was trying to get through back labor without pain management.
Whether you decide to wait and see how it goes, or you ask for an epidural as soon as it's humanly possible: trust yourself. After all, you're the only person who has to endure labor pain and birth that baby. Whether or not you have an epidural is entirely up to you.
"Good For You"
In my experience, when people find out you give birth without pain medication they treat you like a goddess or Wonder Woman or some other-worldly being. In contrast, when most people find out you had an epidural it's almost like they think you are weaker than moms who opted for a birth sans pain medication. The thing is, we're all strong AF. Getting pain medication during labor doesn't make you less deserving of kudos or a high five. You might as well be the first person to tell yourself that and congratulate yourself.
"It's No Big Deal"
If you Google the phrase "should I get an epidural" you will discover that there's a lot of people out there that think that it's some huge catastrophic decision that will change the course of your labor and has the potential to ruin your birth experience. That was so not the case for me. I loved my epidurals, and they made my births better. Just remember that every person, and every labor, is different. You know what is best and, in the end, you get to decide how big of a deal having an epidural actually is.
"You're Almost There"
Getting an epidural usually means you've made it to active labor and are on the homestretch. You can do this. You're almost there, mama, and with a little help from your friendly anesthesiologist and their magical epidural meds, you're going to meet your baby before you know it.
I was so stressed out about the doctor putting a giant needle in my back that I dug my fingernails into my arms and held my breath. It didn't really hurt. There was some pressure, sure, but pain relief came almost instantly. The next time around I told myself to keep breathing.
"Epidurals Are Awesome"
In the end, I am so thankful someone invented epidurals and that I was (and still am, of coursed) alive during a time when they exist. I can't imagine what labor was like before they were around, and I don't want to. If you get one, just remember that you are experiencing a true medical marvel.
If you choose to get an epidural, remember that you are in good company. About 2/3 of laboring moms decide to get an epidural in the United States, according to What To Expect. The procedure has very few risks and one very large benefit and, again, in the end you know what is best for you.