For me, pregnancy wasn’t magical. Sure, I loved seeing my babies during ultrasounds and feeling them kick. But for the most part pregnancy was just 40 weeks, more or less, of uncomfortable things happening to me that I couldn't control. I was told labor would be different, though, and that if I rejected any medical interventions I would be empowered and feel completely in control. So when I said yes to pain medication I was shocked to realize that getting an epidural was the first time I felt empowered during pregnancy.
So much of my surprise stemmed from the fact that I went into labor and delivery harboring a lot of misconceptions about the entire childbirth process. I had a very specific picture in my mind of what was an "ideal" birth: refusing an epidural, avoiding any kind of medical intervention, and having as "natural" an experience as possible. I thought that if I knew what to expect, and had a highly detailed birth plan, I would be able to control every aspect of my birth experience. I would be the one calling the shots, and as a result I would feel strong, in charge, and empowered.
Instead, I was a lost, overwhelmed, scared, and a completely panicked mess.
Despite being terrified and feeling less and less in control with every passing contraction, I held off on getting an epidural as long as I physically could. I thought saying yes to pain medication would cause me to lose control of my childbirth experience entirely; that I had "failed" to birth the "right" way.
I had been a self-proclaimed hippie for most of my adult life, and had bought into the "natural" birth movement hook, line, and sinker. I thought that forgoing pain medicine would make me feel like a natural birthing goddess who was powerful enough to have complete control over her body. I thought denying myself pain relief would help me feel empowered enough to dictate how my birth went down.
As a survivor of sexual assault, and a person who felt completely out of control for the entirety of her pregnancy, getting an epidural made me feel strong.
I was so sure that labor would be less scary and intense if I could feel what was happening in my body. After all, the birth class I attended told me that my body knew what to do. And I suppose that’s true to a certain extent, except my body wasn’t sharing that message with my brain. Instead of feeling "in the know" I was at a complete loss, and the pain I was in only made me terrified. I had no idea when it would end, so every contraction was a physical manifestation of an overwhelming fear that made me feel isolated and alone.
I learned the hard way that it’s impossible to predict what might happen during birth, and equally impossible to control everything as it happens. Birth is messy, uncontrollable, and painful. All the books, classes, doula services, prenatal massage, acupuncture, tea, chiropractic care, essential oils, and hypnotherapy in the world wasn't going to help me during labor. I needed medical intervention to feel like I was still in charge. I needed help. Hell, I deserved help. And it wasn't until I had my epidural that I felt empowered and in control.
As a survivor of sexual assault, and a person who felt completely out of control for the entirety of her pregnancy, getting an epidural made me feel strong. Finally, for the first time during my labor, I felt like I could do it. I could bring another human being into the world. I could make it through this intense, scary, physically and emotionally demanding process. I was enough.
My decision to accept a medical intervention wasn't a failure on my part, but simply me standing up for myself and my needs so that I was given the support I needed to make it through one of the most challenging experiences of my life.
By removing my pain an epidural gave me clarity of mind, not to mention the opportunity to rest after nearly 20 hours of excrutiating back labor. In my opinion, you can't put a price on that kind of support.
So the last time I gave birth I didn't even "try" to go without an epidural. I asked if the doctor could give me one before I was induced, and they assured me that wouldn't be a problem. The anesthesiologist handed me a button and said, "If you need more relief you can press this for more medication." I didn’t even know that was possible. It was my best birth, by far, and I was in control the whole time.
Now, that I have given birth three times, I know getting an epidural was the right choice for me... each and every time. My decision to accept a medical intervention wasn't a failure on my part, but simply me standing up for myself and my needs so that I was given the support I needed to make it through one of the most challenging experiences of my life. Saying yes to pain medication didn't make me weak. Instead, it made me strong; an advocate for myself and my body; a woman who wasn't afraid to say, "Hey, I want help. I need help. I deserve help. Doctor, get me some medicated help."
When you're vulnerable, demanding you receive the care you need is strength personified. And my epidural reminded me of just how strong I really am.