Preparing for labor and delivery was, for me, an intense process. I looked up YouTube videos, I watched a bunch of documentaries, I read a slew of birthing books and I asked other mothers a ridiculous amount of questions. I had some mantras in mind to handle the contractions, I practiced my breathing and I became familiar with the birthing ball. What I didn't realize I would need, however, were the necessary mantras for women getting an epidural. I knew an epidural was an option I could take advantage of, and I wasn't against asking for one if necessary, but I was also planning on having a drug-free labor so my thoughts were focused on dealing with contractions, and not dealing with a needle going into my spine.
I had a difficult pregnancy that turned into a difficult labor and delivery. I was pregnant with twins, lost a twin at 19 weeks and experienced a few pregnancy complications, including a few pre-term labor scares. I knew that labor and delivery meant, for me, that I would have to birth a baby that was a live and a baby that wasn't, so I was prepared to deviate from my birth plan. Still, I was hellbent on trying to remain as close to my desired labor experience as possible, so I endured 10 hours of drug-free labor (and back labor) in the hopes that I wouldn't have to have an epidural. Then, when standing became the only way I could handle my contractions and I had been standing for hours upon hours, I waved that white flag proudly and asked (read: demanded) an epidural.
Before I knew it, I was sitting on the edge of a hospital bed, contracting every two minutes and waiting for an anesthesiologist to put a needle in my spine so I could get the relief I desperately needed and wanted. Suddenly, all the mantras I had planned to use during labor and delivery went out the window, and I was finding myself reciting mantras I'm sure every woman who has an epidural ends up using (repeatedly). Since an estimated 60 percent of laboring women will choose to use an epidural, it definitely doesn't hurt to add the following mantras to your "getting ready for labor and delivery" repertoire. After all, you can never be too prepared.
"The Needle Is Worth It"
I've never been afraid of needles. Shots don't bother me; I've watched every nurse that has ever given me an IV or taken my blood; I have a few (read: many) tattoos; I can watch someone else administer a needle just fine. So, honestly, seeing that big needle didn't phase me in the slightest. As a matter of fact and thanks to some horrific back labor, the doctor could have told me they needed to stick a needle in my eye in order to get the pain to subside and I would have been game.
My partner, however, is not a fan of needles. He didn't like looking at that needle and I watched his skin tone change a few shades after the anesthesiologist pulled that bad boy out. I told him what I told myself, "The needle is worth it." And it is, my friends. Oh, how it is.
"The Anesthesiologist Knows What He Or She Is Doing"
I know that doctors and nurses and anyone else, for that matter, are humans first and foremost. I know that people make mistakes and I know the potential affects of those mistakes (after all, the hospital made me sign a paper that said I was aware of the potential risks of having an epidural).
Still, I had faith in my team and in the anesthesiologist that was administering the epidural. I knew that he would be able to do his job, even though I was ten seconds away from cussing him out if he didn't hurry it up. I knew that even though I was suffering through contractions two (or less) minutes apart, he would time everything right so I would be able to sit still when I needed to. I kept telling myself he knew what he was doing, and he did, and it all worked out beautifully.
"It Looks Worse Than It Really Is"
Yes, that needle can be menacing (especially to those who don't like and/or are afraid of needles) but it's really not that bad.
If I'm being honest, I barely remember what it felt like to have a needle inserted into my spine, but I definitely remember what those contractions felt like. Any pain I may or may not have felt is a distant memory. What I remember, instead, is how quickly my labor pains went away, how quickly I was able to fall asleep and get the rest I so desperately needed, and how quickly I felt rejuvenated so that when it came time to push, I actually had the energy to do so.
"I've Been Growing A Human Inside My Body, So I Can Do This"
In the moments leading up to the second that needle was inserted into my back, I started to have my doubts. Yes, the chances of anything going awry with an epidural are slim to relatively none, but when you're in pain and vulnerable and experiencing labor for the first time, it's somewhat easy to panic.
So, as I was fighting to sit through another contraction and waiting for the talented anesthesiologist to do his thing, I told myself that if I could grow a human being, endure horrible morning sickness and constipation and insomnia and handle 10 hours of drug-free labor, I could handle this. I could sit and let someone administer some pain medication. I got this.
"They Need To Take Their Time In Order To Do It Right"
I had to remind myself, more than once, that the anesthesiologist really shouldn't rush. I mean, he's putting a needle in my spine. Take your time, buddy. Yes, hurry, but don't hurry to the point that you're going to screw something up and we have to do this all over again. Take your time, do it right, and then be on your way.
"This Too Shall Pass..."
Sitting on the edge of a hospital bed in a position that only made my contractions worse, as I was being told to sit still while the back half of my body was exposed and a stranger was getting ready to insert a needle into my spine, isn't really my idea of a good time. I honestly can't remember a moment in my life when I have been more miserable, and I've been through seven knee surgeries and a few too many horrific first dates.
Still, it was just a moment in time and, eventually, it was a moment in time that passed. I had to tell myself that just like my pregnancy (a difficult pregnancy I couldn't wait to be done with) this would be a distant memory before I knew it. Yes, those few minutes seemed like eternity, until they were over and I could look back and be like, "Yep, I'm a bad ass. I just had a needle inserted into my back while I was contracting. Call me a goddess, for that is what I am."
"..And I'll Be Able To Sleep In A Few Minutes"
I focused on one thing and one thing only, while my epidural was being administered. It wasn't the pain subsiding and it wasn't the impending ice chips and it wasn't even my child. Oh no, it was sleep.
After being awake for over 24 hours and in active, painful labor for over 10 hours, I needed to sleep. All I thought about was staring at the inside of my eyelids. The thought of sweet, sweet unconsciousness is what got me through.
"Catheters Aren't So Bad"
It's funny what you end up caring about during certain moments you've thought about and/or attempted to prepare for. It wasn't really the needle in my back I was worried about, it was the catheters going into my you-know-where. It's hilarious, because a baby was about to come out of my vagina, but I don't really like catheters (I had a few surgeries prior to experiencing an epidural, so I have had catheters before and they're the worst) and wasn't looking forward to getting one again.
Still, they really aren't that bad and when the bottom half of your body is numb, you can't tell you even have one. In the big scheme of things, catheters are small potatoes.
"My Baby Is Worth It"
I didn't know it at the time — and, honestly, had a few moments when I thought I had made a big mistake because wow labor is horrible — but my kid was and is worth it. He was worth the 10 hours of drug-free labor and he was worth the few minutes I had to sit in the most uncomfortable position known to man in order to get an epidural. He was worth a needle in my spine and he was worth the catheter. He was and is worth it all and I would go through it all over again if it meant ending up with him in my arms.
"Modern Medicine Is Glorious"
Epidurals exist for a reason, and I'm not one to deny the wonders of modern medicine. Of course, not every woman needs or should feel like she has to have an epidural. Every woman should feel empowered to make her own decisions about her body, including whether or not she has an epidural during labor.
Still, I am thankful this option exists, and I was very thankful that I was able to take advantage of this option when I couldn't handle drug-free labor anymore. If it wasn't for my epidural, I know I would have been too exhausted to push and I would have ended up having an emergency c-section.
"Suffering Proves Nothing"
I had it in my mind that if I was going to prove myself to be a "tough" woman or a "strong" woman or a woman who was physically and mentally able to handle all that motherhood was going to throw at me, I had to go through labor and delivery sans drugs. I felt like I needed to have my kid the "old fashioned, natural way" in order to be the woman I knew I was.
Suffering proves nothing, and a woman shouldn't have to suffer in order to prove she's a woman. Getting my epidural was the best decision I could have made, and I'm so glad I was able to make it. Suffering for the sake of suffering proves nothing, and that's no way to bring a baby into the world.