There are a lot of decisions to make when you're pregnant, from choosing a care provider to thinking about what kind of birth you want and what pain management option will work best for you. Some moms want an epidural, some definitely don't, and others don't really know what they want until they're in labor. Partners don't get to make these decisions for their significant others, but there are some things a mom getting an epidural absolutely needs her partner to do... when the time comes.
When it comes down to it, the first and last word on this matter is this: whether or not your partner chooses an epidural isn't about you and is not your call. I'm not saying that in a mean way (but I will say it in a mean way if it's not getting through otherwise), but simply as a matter of fact. It's her body that will be going through labor and delivery, so it's her decision as to whether or not she utilizes this specific pain management option or chooses something else.
This fact should be sort of liberating for you, because you're going to have a lot of decisions to make with your partner as parents. This is something you don't have to worry about! Yay! It's between her and her doctor, not you! You're off the hook! But that doesn't mean there's nothing for you to do in this situation. In fact, there's lots you can and should do. And, best of all, what you can do is much, much easier than getting a two to three inch needle placed into your spine. So with that in mind, here's what grown-ass partners do while their laboring partner is getting an epidural:
Does Not Second-Guess Or Question Her
Because, trust, if this is a woman who was dead-set against an epidural in her birth plan and she's asking for it now, she has thought about it on a far more profound level than you have. She is sure. She wants it. Please do not attempt to sway her. Do not recite her own arguments back to her. Do not editorialize with what you think you would do in her shoes. Because you aren't in her shoes and you can't know and she wants to do this so it's time for you to put on a smile and say "OK, good idea, sweetheart!"
Absolutely Does Not Say "Told You So"
This is probably almost as bad as trying to talk her into it. Because it may have been a tough decision, and the last thing she needs is someone being flip and telling her (more or less) that her plan was silly and you never believed in her. Situations change. Just accept that this isn't your prescience or her not being committed but her responding to changing circumstances.
Stays Or Goes Without Complaint
Some hospitals won't let you be in the room while your partner gets an epidural. Others will give you the option to stick around. You just go with whichever option your partner prefers. If she wants to handle it on her own, privately with the anesthesiologist, smile, kiss her cheek, and say, "OK, I'll come in when you're done," even if you'd really preferred to have stayed. If she says ,"Please stay and hold my hand," smile, kiss her cheek, and say, "OK, I'll stay here with you," even if needles terrify you and you don't want to be anywhere near them.
The needle used for an epidural is huge and terrifying. You absolutely will not draw attention to that fact or let your face show any terror you may be feeling. Not only is this woman brave enough to subject herself to it, she's doing it while having contractions. In the face of that consider that all you have to do here is very, very little. Do. Not. Panic.
Asks What She Needs
Be proactive here. Offer a few options. Magazine? Phone? Music? Snack (if the hospital and doctors allow snacks)? Foot rub (she may not be able to feel her feet, depending on how strong the epidural was and how her body responded to it, so this may be more of a gesture than a task, really)? There are lots of options.
Is Mobile Whenever She Needs Them To Be
She may need you to get up a bunch of times to get her things. Do this without complaint or even a slight indication that you might be annoyed. (This is also good practice for when your baby arrives and she's going to need you to get her stuff while she's feeding them or otherwise trapped underneath them and can't move.)
Lets Her Rest
Some women are actually able to take a little nap after they've had an epidural. If she is lucky enough to manage that, let her rest. Don't try to talk to her because you're bored or anxious or whatever. Just let her close her eyes and rest, because she's got an ordeal ahead of her and she'll need all her energy.
Plus, this is probably the last time she's going to be able to sleep without being woken up by a crying baby for a while.
Does Not Address The Pee Bag
When someone gets an epidural they aren't really able to get up to pee, so they are given a catheter. The collected urine goes directly from the bladder through the tube stuck in the urethra (mercifully after the catheter has taken effect) and into a bag that hangs from the side of the hospital bed.
Don't look at it. Don't tell her about it... unless you think she'd think it was very funny.
Never Minimizes Her Birth Experience Afterwards
I would never think to bring this up had I not seen it in action.
Mom: "Oh yes, childbirth is really tough!"
Her Husband: "Oh, what are you complaining about? You had an epidural!"
This shouldn't have to be said, but absolutely not, people. Come on. It's not funny, it has no rooting in any truth whatsoever, it's mean, and it only serves to make you look like a jerk. Save it.
Does Not Shame Her Under Any Circumstances
Do not try to make her feel bad afterwards. Don't try to blame any complication on her having had an epidural unless doctors can prove it was from the epidural. (And even if they can, you do not blame her for that.) Don't suggest, "Well next time you'll be able to do it without an epidural." Just let it be what it was and move on with your life.
Look, maybe you have Big Thoughts on epidurals. Maybe you didn't like that she got one. Maybe you yourself have given birth and didn't get one so you don't understand her motivations. But this decision wasn't yours to make or ever understand.
That she's going to be OK. That she made the best choice for her. That you're proud of her. That you're there for her. That everything is going to be OK. You basically want to channel the loving, soothing, positive energy of Mr. Rogers, Bob Ross, and Lizzo combined. This is no small task, but you need to really deliver here. Because your partner may be having a lot of emotions right now and you need to catch and nurture every single one of them. This is your job, and it's a hard one, but compared to the job of brining a child into the world, you're still getting off light.