There are lots of options available to you as you prepare for birth, particularly when it comes to pain management. There are classes that will teach you techniques you can use, mantras you can follow and, of course, drugs you can take. Today I would like to talk about those medications, so I asked women to describe what a medicated vaginal birth feels like. I believe we can learn from our sisters' experiences, and hearing what is possible can help you decide what's right from you.
When I was preparing to give birth to my second child, I knew going in that I was almost certainly going to "go for the drugs," as they say. My first child had been an emergency C-section, but I experienced 18 hours of active labor, start to finish, before they wheeled me into the operating room. I wanted to labor for as long as I could without getting an epidural, but by the time hour 13 rolled around I was ready. It kicked in fast and I reveled in languid relief. "This is best thing I've ever done," I told my husband. "Like... this is amazing. I will never not get the drugs. This is the best." It probably sounded like I was high, but I really wasn't. I was entirely present, but I was giddy from the whole "not being in such awful pain after so long" thing. So when Baby Number Two came along, I waited until my pain was starting to take its toll on my body and got the epidural again. But now I was curious: what was it going to to actively giving birth while anesthetized?
Turns out my epidural gave out almost completely just when it was time to push out that nine pound baby. Lucky me. Fortunately, I was able to ask some other ladies who had varied and interesting insights, and here's what they had to say about their medicated vaginal delivery experiences:
"It feels like regular birth,but without as much pain. You still get that labor exhaustion, and much like a surgery once the meds wear off, your vag is there to tell the story of what happened."
[Writer's note: if my vagina spoke, I would absolutely accept her speaking in the voice of Samuel L. Jackson.]
"I had two experiences with this. With my first it was an induction. The pain was manageable, until they broke my water with Pitocin. Then I couldn't open my eyes I was in so much pain. The epidural felt like a wave of relief washing over my body. I couldn't move but I didn't care. I just tried to rest and then I felt pressure when it was time to push. So, yeah, I knew when to push.
With my second I went from zero to 60 in terms of laboring. I arrived at the hospital room and asked for drugs as soon as possible. They had me Fentanyl to 'take the edge off.' The nurse said, 'This may make you feel like you've had a few drinks,' which sounded delightful because I really wanted a margarita and I had been on all fours groaning in pain for a bit. The Fentanyl was cold and then I felt slightly woozy, but mostly relieved. I could still feel the contractions and still had to breathe and move through them, but I no longer felt that I was dying. Then I got the full epidural. It seemed stronger, in that I was shaking and cold, but the pressure to push was much more intense and painful with the second. I didn't feel the 'ring of fire' when crowning the first time, but did the second time.
The first postpartum poop was definitely worse than delivery."
"I felt like my body was going through changes that I was numb to. I couldn't feel when to push, or if I was actually pushing, therefore the drive to push wasn't really there. I couldn't lift my own legs either; a really surreal feeling."
"After receiving the epidural I still felt some of the contractions on my left side. I was able to feel when they started and I could feel myself pushing, but it was far less painful than before the epidural. I could relax between contractions and be in the moment and enjoy what was happening. I could feel the pressure of my son descending and it was the most amazing feeling when I pushed him out. It was like a big moment of pressure followed by a burst of energy and then everything relaxed. I remember feeling so proud of myself and also so in awe of what my body was capable of doing. It was such a beautiful and perfect experience. I felt so connected to my body and so connected to my baby in that moment. I wouldn't have changed a thing. I had two more vaginal births after and opted for the epidural both times."
"Having a medicated birth was great for me! I was very relaxed during labor, eating popsicles and laughing with the nurses. When it was time to push, I still felt connected to my core and felt the pressure of the contractions, and could feel my daughter making her way out. It was nice just to be able to focus on pushing and not on managing my pain as well. The worst part was actually getting the epidural. I had a bad experience with a spinal tap at age 14, and those memories came back to haunt me. There was lots of tears and stress during that part, but smooth sailing afterward!"
"I did 15 hours with no drugs, then decided to get the epidural. My left hip had been a pain point for me my whole pregnancy, and go-figure that same spot ended up being the only spot I had any sensation after the epidural kicked in. I remember feeling a tiny heat sensation there with each contraction, but otherwise nothing. When pushing, I had nearly no pain at all, just that primal need to push. After, there were little pinprick pains a lot. Sitting was meh, but also the only thing I wanted to do.
Honestly, I was in so much pain during my pregnancy, I remember having such relief that [my daughter] was out. I didn’t even take much pain medication. Just some over-the-counter Motrin."
"With my first, it was amazing. The sweet relief of the epidural was so incredible that I was able to take a nap! It wore off just enough that I could still feel everything when it came to the birth, with just enough pain coming through to really feel present. I could feel my body enough to know when to push and could tell when I pooped (yep).
Second time around the pain was a little bit different (I had Pitocin) and the epidural worked on only half my body, so they gave me a second dose which numbed me completely. I did not feel contractions, I did not know when to push, and I didn't feel the baby come out (granted, he was only five pounds). It was a bit upsetting in comparison to the perfect first delivery. Part of me wishes I'd toughed it out at half coverage so I could feel the birth of my second."
"I've had babies all different ways: an unmedicated vaginal birth, a medicated vaginal birth, and a C-section. My medicated vaginal birth was my favorite experience. The C-section recovery was hard and the procedure itself wasn't quite as intimate (but it wasn't bad), and my unmedicated vaginal delivery was hell on Earth. Like... without getting too into it, let's just say that when moms-to-be ask me for advice, I tell them: 'Get the damn drugs!'"
"Intense, big, powerful, painful, but bearable. I think unmedicated I would have gone into a panic."
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