Before I gave birth to my first daughter, I knew that childbirth was going to be extremely painful. Everyone had stories of their own horrific birthing experiences, from a friend of a friend's sister-in-law who almost had her son on her way to the hospital, to a woman I met at the nail salon who had excruciating back pain during her entire delivery. People had a lot of advice about how to minimize pain during labor, some of which was actually helpful. But one thing others' advice did do was convince me to stop asking myself, “Should I get an epidural?," and start saying, “Oh, yeah, I’m definitely asking for an epidural.”
After watching countless episodes of Teen Mom and plenty of rom-coms (which usually include a birth scene where the woman goes from crying in pain and yelling obscenities, to mellowing out immediately after the epidural kicks in), I knew the pain medication was for me. Plus, pretty much every woman I knew who had given birth had had an epidural, and they had nothing negative to say about them. They did not complain of any side effects, nor did they express any regret over having one.
The only aspect of this whole process that I was still unsure of was when I should get the epidural, because I knew I wanted to hold off for as long as possible. My decision to wait was not because I was worried about the potential negative effects an epidural might have on my daughter, such as making it more difficult for her to latch on to nurse. I also wasn't worried about an epidural causing a rise in blood pressure levels, which can happen to some women, according to La Leche League.
The prospect of not being able to get up and walk around or even use the restroom on my own bothered me. I don’t like not being in control, and I also did not want to risk pooping on the delivery table.
My specific concerns about receiving an epidural had more to do with my fear of not being able to move around during labor, because regular epidurals numb you from the waist down. (That's not the case, however, for combined-spinal epidurals, or so-called "walking" epidurals," which give you a bit more leeway for movement.) The prospect of not being able to get up and walk around or even use the restroom on my own bothered me. I don’t like not being in control, and I also did not want to risk pooping on the delivery table.
Aside from these concerns, there was another reason why I wanted to hold out before asking for an epidural: I wanted to see how much pain I could endure. I had this ridiculous fantasy that maybe, just maybe, everything would happen so fast that there would be no reason to get an epidural, that the adrenaline would kick in and I’d somehow end up laboring for hours without needing any pain medication at all. Of course, this was ridiculous, especially because I know my pain tolerance has always been on the low end of the spectrum. I just hoped that my body would someone cope with the pain and the adrenaline rush would be enough to push through it.
In the delivery room, I was doing all I could do to focus on anything other than the contractions and how badly I wanted that epidural. I tried to watch some bad reality TV on my phone, then I tried watching my go-to feel-good show, Gilmore Girls. After that, I tried to just focus on my breathing. But nothing worked.
My nurse, the doctor, and my husband knew I was in pain and told me several times that it was OK to ask for the epidural whenever I needed it. But I kept waving them off. I tried walking around the hospital to help jump-start labor, but the contractions were so strong I was stopping to grab onto my husband every 10 steps. My contractions felt like period cramps and intense diarrhea cramps, mixed with these sharp jabs of pain that radiated through my stomach and literally took my breath away.
I was trying to push through the pain — until I just couldn't anymore.
Back in the hospital room, I tried to get comfortable, but nothing worked. There were so many signs that I was ready for an epidural, such as my contractions being extremely close together, but I was trying to push through the pain — until I just couldn't anymore. Lying on my side hurt. Lying on my back hurt. Sitting up was worse. I couldn’t lie on my stomach, and I didn’t even attempt any of the other positions I learned during Lamaze class, like bouncing on a medicine ball. There was no way I was getting comfortable, which made me extremely anxious.
I began to focus on the pain, which made me worry that something was wrong with my daughter. I started to get aggravated and incredibly anxious. 30 minutes after the nurse’s second attempt to persuade me to get an epidural, I pushed the call button and let her know that I was ready for it.
When the anesthesiologist prepared my back and spine to administer the medication, I had a small panic attack. I never saw the needle go in, but the thought of it entering my spine freaked me out. Luckily, my husband allowed me to squeeze all the blood out of his hand until the anesthesiologist gave me the all-clear. A few minutes later, an all-encompassing warmth filled my body and I could actually breathe again.
Once the epidural kicked in, I was able to rest and actually nap for a little while. My husband popped the movie Chef into the DVD player so I could watch it while I waited to dilate and get to the point where I could finally push. As I relaxed, my husband went out to grab himself some food and took a short nap. A few times, the nurse came in to check on me to tell me when I was actually having a contraction, because the epidural numbed me to the point where I was no longer feeling them.
I'm not sure if having an epidural slowed down my labor, since the nurses and doctor did not share this information with me. But even if it did, I'm glad that I had one. I needed time to rest — which is exactly what an epidural enabled me to do. There was more discomfort than there was pain, which made contractions and delivery more tolerable.
I understand that epidurals aren’t for everyone, the same way a home birth or water birth is not for every woman, but I’m so glad that I asked for one. At the very least, the epidural helped enough to allow me and my husband some time to take a breather and prepare ourselves for active labor. You can never fully prepare your body for labor, because pushing a baby out of your body takes a lot of energy. But I was ready for it.