Before I had my first baby, I thought getting an epidural was a sign of weakness or failure. I worried my choice to use medication during childbirth would be unhealthy for me and my baby, too. So I was seriously scared of what might happen if I "failed" at "natural" childbirth. After 18 hours of labor, though, my epidural was not only awesome, it was just what I needed to make it through. Still, there are so many things I wish people said to me when I got an epidural. While everyone seemed to have something to say about my decision to have a medicated birth, those comments were rarely what I needed to hear.
When I got pregnant the first time, most of my friends were proponents of "natural" childbirth and told me how horrible childbirth would be if I "broke down" and choose to have an epidural. The few people I did know who had a medicated birth thought I was silly to try to give birth without one, and told me I would "probably end up caving." The medical staff at the hospital made comments about how an epidural would slow things down, which didn't end up being true for me at all. Then, when labor and delivery was all said and done, people asked whether or not I got an epidural as if it was a sign I had "failed" in bringing another human being into the world the "right way."
I totally support pregnant people making informed choices, including choosing pain management during labor. The thing is, because I had heard so many things about epidurals, I don't think I was really able to make an informed choice. I waited until I honestly felt like I was going to die, and when I finally asked for one I felt so ashamed (which is horrible considering I wouldn't feel bad about asking for pain medicine at the dentist). Afterward, and even though it was just what I needed to deliver my daughter, there was nothing else for me to feel but guilty.
There are so many things I wish people had said instead; things that would have let me know people supported my choice and recognized that everyone is different. I needed to hear that birth is badass no matter how you make it through. So, with that in mind, if you're about to talk to a woman who had an epidural during labor and delivery, please consider saying the following things. It could end up making all the difference in the world.
"Absolutely, Right Away"
When someone in labor asks for an epidural, the proper response is, "Absolutely, right away," not, "Please wait."
When I finally have the nerve to ask for an epidural, the last thing I needed to hear was, "Sorry, I don't know how long you will have to wait." OMG, I so wish I had asked for one sooner, because waiting was so hard.
"You Know What You Need"
You are the expert in your life, it's your freaking body, and no one else has to birth your baby. In other words, the only person who should have a say is you. You get to decide what you need and shouldn't feel any shame about requesting something to help you get through something as taxing as labor and delivery. They call it "labor" for a reason: it's hard.
"Good For You"
Seriously, good job. It's amazing to be able to recognize what you need and then have the courage to ask for it. Especially considering the flack that some people may give you for getting an epidural. You rock.
"This Might Hurt A Bit"
Yeah, I don't know why I thought that a giant needle being poked into my spine wouldn't hurt, because it wasn't a walk in the park. The good news is that once it was in, I felt no pain. It was so worth it, but I wish they would have warned me.
"This Should Help"
It took me a long time to realize that feeling pain during childbirth doesn't make you stronger. I was just joking with my OB-GYN when I said if men carried babies, epidurals would be administered at 20 weeks gestation. She said, "No, I think they'd probably have artificial wombs by now." The idea that pain is necessary for childbirth is really archaic and misogynistic.
"You Have Nothing To Be Ashamed Of"
Having an epidural shut down the pain, yes, but it also shut down the voices of my friends, the one nurse who said something snarky, and most importantly, the negative voices in my head. Shaming pregnant people for needing pain relief is unkind and uncool and, most importantly, counterproductive to the entire goal of labor and delivery. I really wish someone had told me I had nothing to be ashamed of.
"You're In Control"
I was so afraid that I would be forced to have an epidural and would feel out of control. No one forced me or pressured me. That was amazing. The team of doctors and nurses that surrounded me during labor and delivery respected the fact that I was the only one experiencing my labor and delivery, and had a right to decide what I needed in the moment I decided I needed it. That's how childbirth should be.
The last time I delivered, they even gave me a button to push to increase the amount of medication being administered to me. Talk about control. Amazing.
"Admitting You Need Help Is A Sign Of Strength"
Admitting you need help is seriously hard, which means it's not a sign of weakness at all. On the contrary, it's a sign of some serious strength. You don't have to tough it out or experience pain to be strong. Sometimes the most important strength is the strength to admit your weaknesses.
"You're A Badass"
Getting an epidural made me feel a strong, badass warrior goddess. I felt like I could actually do this thing, which just so happened to be the hardest thing I had ever done in my entire life. When I finally made it through and had my baby in my arms, I realized birth is badass regardless. It doesn't matter if you bring a baby into the world sans pain medication, with all the pain mediation avialble to you, in a hospital, in a pool, in an operating room via c-section, or whatever else you decide is best for you; it's all goddamn incredible.
I really wish someone had said that to me, because it's absolutely true.