When I Couldn't Deliver "Naturally," I Felt Ashamed
No one is to blame for the amount of pressure I felt to have an unmedicated birth. I was pregnant with my first when I first discovered "Mom Blogs" and private Facebook groups aimed at new moms. Looking for support, I joined right away. I felt intimidated by the amount of knowledge shared in these groups, and I wanted nothing more than to fit into with these moms who really seemed to know what they were doing. As a first-time mom who wanted to be the best mom I could be, it was easy for me to pick up on a list of unspoken and spoken rules about what makes a mom a "good mom" from a bunch of strangers I met online.
One of the first things I learned about parenting online was that good moms didn't get epidurals and that strong moms powered through the pain and delivered "naturally," because that's the healthiest option for their babies. At the time, I didn't have plans for my birth. I was still figuring things out, and honestly hadn't thought about how I'd deliver until I stumbled on the world of moms sharing their opinions online. So, from week 15 of my first pregnancy until the very end, I decided an unmedicated birth was the right choice for me and my baby. I talked with my husband about my plans and he was happy to support me in whatever I chose. Friends who had given birth before encouraged me to keep an open mind about things, but I was too afraid of judgment to consider any other choice but an unmedicated birth. After listening to these women talk about their "natural" deliveries, I knew that was the only option for me. I didn’t need science or studies to back up whether or not a natural delivery was safe for me; it was all over parenting blogs and Facebook, so I assumed it was true.
By the time my due date arrived, I was fully committed to this idea that an unmedicated birth was the only proper way to deliver a baby. Then, my due date passed and at 41 weeks pregnant, I showed no real signs of going into labor anytime soon. Together with my husband and my OB, I decided on an induction. I cried endlessly about the choice, because it felt like my first failure as a brand-new mom. I knew that induction meant Pitocin and that an induced labor meant a bedridden labor, which would be nearly impossible to survive without an epidural. I was ashamed that my plans for childbirth had failed, even though when I delivered was outside of my control, I felt that I had somehow messed up by committing to an induction.
When the time came for me to decide to move forward without medication or to request an epidural, I found myself consumed with thoughts of what other people would think of me if they knew I had a medicated birth.
At that point in my journey to motherhood, I couldn’t give myself grace or see how little an unmedicated birth mattered to my child’s overall wellbeing. Instead, all I felt was pressure to make the perfect decision or the very best decision 100 percent of the time. Less than 12 hours after my first dose of Pitocin and a few hours after the administration of an epidural, I held a baby girl in my arms. She was healthy and she was strong. I wish I could say that seeing how healthy she was was enough for me to let go of my high standards for birth, but instead I found myself making promises to myself about next time even as I was learning to care for this first baby.
I kept the outcome of my birth to myself, only sharing with the few very close friends who asked how it went. They were gracious, having given birth before themselves. I avoided mentioning my medicated birth online, afraid of backlash from the passionate and opinionated moms who filled the parenting networks I'd become involved in.
Two years later, there was a next time, and there was also another epidural. It doesn’t really matter why I had an epidural, but what matters is what it taught me about myself. Even though I planned this second birth the medication free, it was not, and choosing an epidural helped me realize that the choices I made during birth did not lessen my value as a mother.
No longer do I feel ashamed of myself, see myself as weak, or feel I failed my children in some way.
When the time came for me to decide to move forward without medication or to request an epidural, I found myself consumed with thoughts of what other people would think of me if they knew I had a medicated birth. It wasn’t long before I realized that fear of judgment from others was a terrible reason to beat myself up for wanting pain relief during birth. It was in that moment of incredible pain that I realized how important it was that I learn to do what was best for me instead of caring so much about what others would think. I requested an epidural and very peacefully enjoyed the rest of my birth experience. When it was all said and done, we welcomed a second baby girl into our family.
When I look back on those births, I no longer wish I'd been stronger or more prepared to say no to pain medication. I have healthy daughters who were birthed after uncomplicated labors. I don't see any evidence that my choice to request an epidural negatively effected my children. No longer do I feel ashamed of myself, see myself as weak, or feel I failed my children in some way. Instead, I see that my ability to be flexible and to make decisions that are my best interest actually plays a role in being a healthy mother to my children. I know that, if I cannot properly care for myself, I'll never be equipped to care for my children.
Still, I do have regrets. I regret putting so much pressure on myself to give birth without medication. I regret the time I wasted feeling guilty for choosing an epidural and I regret that those negative emotions distracted me from the wonderful joy of bringing two beautiful babies into the world. Time and perspective have provided me with a new strategy for how I parent. I understand that what's best for my family, my children, and me may not align with what the rest of the world believes is best, and that's OK.
Now I'm pregnant with our third baby, I'm approaching my birth with a much more gracious mindset. Will I have an epidural? I don’t really know, but I do know I won’t be feeling an ounce of guilt if I decide pain medication is what I need to enjoy the experience of bringing my son into the world.