When it comes to birth, you will find few topics more hotly debated than the subject of epidurals; whether or not the people talking have any experience with them whatsoever. Should you get one? Should you not get one? Opinions can get loud and kind of obnoxious on both sides of the fence, despite the fact that the only opinion that matters is that of the pregnant person in question. When moms describe what getting an epidural feels like, you often hear a similar back-and-forth because — to the shock of all that could possibly be shocking — every birth is different, every new mom is different, and everyone experiences pain and relief from pain in their own, unique way.
An epidural refers to epidural anesthesia, administered by an anesthesiologist, that blocks pain to designated parts of the body. An estimated 60% of American mothers use an epidural to ease labor pain. After being numbed with a local anesthetic with a regular looking needle, a very large, scary-looking needle is placed into the area surrounding your lower spinal cord. A thin catheter is then placed and the needle is removed. The catheter will continue to deliver anesthetic while you continue to labor, numbing you (to varying degrees of severity) from about the waist down. That, in a nutshell, is about as universal as the experience can possibly get.
When it comes to how exactly an epidural feels going in, what it feels like after, whether someone celebrated or regretted their decision, one can only speak to their own experience. However, as with anything having to do with birth and parenthood in general, other people's experiences can be helpful to hear when you are wanting to learn more information. So, I asked a group of moms to share what getting an epidural felt like for them.
Michelle & Amanda
"Heaven. It feels like heaven."
"The first time, I would describe it as a quick, sharp pinch, with almost immediate relief afterwords. However, [with] baby #2, they missed, nine times. Then they called in another anesthesiologist who got it on the first try. Those 9 times were pure hell. There was blood everywhere, I was bruised for weeks, and the recovery of my back was far worse then all of my stitches. This probably shouldn't be published, no one will get an epidural again*. Oh, and they never checked me first! So the baby's head was pretty much out when the doctor walked in, and I totally regret that epidural, since I never knew how close I was to being done. Bad experience."
[Writer's note: all experiences are important to share, Cindy!]
My sister really scared me, but it's just pressure. Pressure than a little prick. I may have hugged my doctor both times. Because I expected so much pain and didn't feel any.
"Like having ice cold water poured down my spine and into my legs. It was awesome."
"For my first birth, I labored without the epidural for as long as I could, and then I got it, and it was was like taking a warm bubble bath on a unicorn cloud and I took the most delicious nap of my life until it was time to push. It felt so good that I deliberately did the same exact thing for my second birth. Heavenly!"
For me it felt like having a rusty rake shoved into my spine.
"Is it weird that I really don't remember?"
[Writer's note: Nah, Heather. You had a lot going on.]
"Awful. It was a really bad nervy type of pain and I hated the loss of sensation that kicked in right away."
Better than fully feeling a baby coming out your vagina.
"I just remembered the first time being told I couldn't move and the contractions were so bad I needed to move. 2nd time I was the boss and I told him to wait till I was ready. I took a good deep breath, relaxed after a contraction said, "Do it now" and we were golden. No worries. I just hate others doing things against my wishes. I need to be in control and listen to my body and then all works smoothly."
One of the scariest and most exciting times of my life.
"The first time I was told it would feel like a bee sting. Now I've never been stung by a bee, but if that is what it feels like then I will have to stay away from bees forever. The initial prick of the needle didn't bother me it was when they entered my spine that hurt."
"I don't remember feeling anything other than the local they gave me to numb the area with either of mine. I was too focused on my contractions, I think."
It felt like a moment of true mercy after a 12 hours or relentless 'pressure waves.'
"Like electricity directly into your spine, then bliss."
"Amazing Life was awesome. My OB came in to check me and asked me to bend my knees/put my legs up. I said, 'I have legs? I don't feel them. I feel f**king fabulous.' The nurses had to tell me when I was having a contraction. I was like, 'That's nice.'"