One thing I learned about myself after becoming a mom is that I love hearing other women’s birth stories. I am fascinated by them, because each varies from my own. I don’t consider the birth of either of my children particularly extraordinary (other than the amazing achievement of growing and presenting a fully formed human being to the world) but I have yet to hear someone share an experience exactly like mine. One factor is the inclusion of drugs, in my case. While medicated births are common, there are things no one will tell you about having a medicated birth; Things that shape how we talk about medicated births; Things that made each birth, medicated or otherwise, completely unique for the woman experiencing them.
I’m in awe of moms who choose (or have no other option) to have unmedicated births. Honestly, I think every woman who had any type of birth, whether it was in her living room or a scheduled c-section in a hospital, deserves major props and endless celebratory praise. By talking to other moms about birth I have become acutely aware that any kind of childbirth, under any circumstances, includes moments of stress, worry, and pain. Pain medication or any other drug being administered during childbirth can't take every stress and every worry and every pain away. In the end, while there are so many different ways to give birth and every birth is unique, all women who have given birth know what it is like to experience a very specific kind of stress and worry and pain. The degree might be different and the way in which it was handled might be different, but we are all connected by having experienced it.
So, if anyone tries to tell you that including medicine as part of your childbirth is an “easy” way out, send them my way and I'll share things no one will tell you about having a medicated birth. After all, I had two of them.
Nobody told me this. Sadly, there's a stigma attached to women who choose a medicated birth, as if we are too weak to handle the pain of “natural” childbirth. There are so many reasons that go into choosing a medicated birth. Pain management is one factor, to be sure, but there is no such thing as feeling zero pain during labor and delivery. My mother has no memory of any pain when she was in active labor with me, but that was generation ago when they were still putting women in a "twilight sleep" to deliver babies. Since that practice has gone by the wayside, ask any mother — whether she had any kind of vaginal or cesarean birth — and she will let you know that at some point in the process, she was feeling way more than “discomfort.”
I felt a loss in power when I started getting hooked up to meds and told I had to stay in my bed. Until that point, I felt a great and all-consuming pride in what my body was doing: growing a person. With the knowledge that my doctor wanted to induce me, I felt a loss of control. My body was now something to be invaded by medicine, not under my complete and total command. I was resigned to be as in touch with my body and its abilities throughout labor as possible. I really do believe in that mind-body connection, but it was hard not to feel a little defeated admitting that drugs were now going to be part of the birthing process and, in turn, an outside factor I couldn't necessarily control.
With both of my children, my labor was induced. With my first baby, I was 10 days past my due date and my amniotic fluid was on the low end of normal, so my doctor got me a bed. A capsule was inserted near my cervix in the evening to start induction, I was given some sleep medication that provided me with a very restful night’s sleep. The next morning, they dialed up the Pitocin via an IV and my labor shot up to 11 immediately. I was overcome by intense, frequent contractions. There was no reprieve, and I wasn’t dilated enough to start pushing, so I requested an epidural.
Once you request an epidural, sh*t gets real. Papers were brought in for me to sign. The anesthesiologist came in for a consultation. After about 45 excruciating minutes later, she returned wheeling in a tray of scary instruments. Though I was doubled over with contractions, I had to perch upright on my bed so she could get me in the proper position to administer the drug. Yeah, that needle hurt.
The gel they slather on your back is so cold, and then once the needle is in and the liquid starts flowing, it felt like ice is being poured down your spine. Not cool.
In the New York City hospital where I gave birth both times, my husband was not allowed to be in the room when the epidural was given to me. I do realize that this isn't the same in every hospital, and many women are allowed to have at least one person in the room when the epidural is being administered. However, that was not the experience I had, and it could very well not be the experience you have, either. I say, if a medicated birth is in your future, you ask your doctor what the hospital does and doesn't allow.
Trust me, you don't want to be in an extreme amount of pain while sitting up and having a needle jammed into your spine, when you're alone.
As the epidural takes effect, my legs felt like a million little pins were jabbing at them from the inside. They were quaking and I couldn’t control it. It was more weird than painful, though, and it didn’t last too long.
Once the epidural was given, a catheter was inserted because I couldn’t walk anywhere with my numbed lower half. So much for my hopes of moving around to help with labor. Once I had the epidural, it was time to stare at the clock and hope I could start pushing soon.
I do not speak for all women who opted for medicated births, but having an epidural was the right choice for me. It numbed the pain, and allowed me to conserve energy for the pushing. My labor was short, both times. Having that stamina allowed me to really focus my efforts and, I believe, aided in the successful births of my two babies.
I don’t think I would rule out an unmedicated birth if I were to have more kids. Obviously I couldn’t handle the Pitocin without the epidural, and I don’t love the idea of so many synthetic substances coursing through my body while still pregnant, but I am grateful that my choices resulted in healthy kids and I have no regrets.