Eighteen months ago, I gave birth to my first child—a darling son whom I love more than life itself. Before the experience, I—like many first-time moms before me—spent a fair amount of time wondering about childbirth. I attended classes, read books, and became a regular on pregnancy blogs and forums. I wanted to know what exactly childbirth would be like. In other words, I wanted to know just how bad it was going to hurt and what my options were for pain management. While I had confidence in my mental fortitude, I was intrigued to learn more about epidurals.
I should preface this story by saying that my research first began with the various midwives and nurses I saw throughout my pregnancy. They all remained clinically objective, giving me the pros and cons of both options. As a self-proclaimed journalist, I had to know more. So, naturally, I took to the internet.
Learning More About Epidurals
In my research, I quickly learned that epidurals are a tad controversial among the mom community. There are many who advocate for being completely med-free when delivering their child. Much to my horror, I learned other individuals who had epidurals claimed to still experience pain at the injection site years later. On the other hand, many women swear by the modern procedure, adamantly professing that receiving an epidural saved their birth experience.
Because the viewpoints I read about online were so starkly different, I found it difficult to know what the right decision was for myself and for my baby. I always thought I wanted to receive pain management medication during birth, but I began to doubt myself. And so I removed myself from the internet and sought out a new source: friends and family.
Because the viewpoints I read about online were so starkly different, I found it difficult to know what the right decision was for myself and for my baby.
Unfortunately, the personal anecdotes only added to my doubts and confusion. Similar to my internet findings, a number of women warned me against lifelong side effects and the general risks (as they interpreted them at the time of their delivery) that come with getting an IV in your spine. Then I had someone who had delivered med-free advising me not to do what she did and have the epidural if at all possible. If I’m being honest, I walked into the delivery room undecided.
How It Felt Having the Epidural
Long story short? I got the epidural. And now, reflecting back on the experience, I can happily identify as one of the women who will credit the miracle of modern medicine with saving her birth experience. I always expected childbirth to be quite awful. I didn’t anticipate I would actually get to enjoy welcoming my son into the world. Allow me to explain.
Prior to receiving the medication, I was in an incredible amount of pain. I always expected contractions to feel like severe menstrual cramps. Perhaps they would have if my son was not positioned so that his spine was pressed against mine. Suffice it to say that each contraction felt very much akin to all of Snow White’s seven dwarves swinging sledgehammers and pickaxes down onto my vertebrae.
I was not yet defeated, but I was, after 36 hours and only 3 centimeters dilated. This all changed after the epidural. Once the medicine hit my system, I felt absolutely nothing. The relief was instant and I could have cried in joy (It’s quite possible that I did, but was too tired to remember doing so). It’s also worth mentioning that receiving the IV didn’t hurt at all. The medical staff numbed the area before placing the much-feared needle, and the procedure was over quickly.
It was a major turning point in my labor. I watched the contractions make increasingly monumental peaks on the monitor next to me but I couldn’t feel a single thing. I was at peace. So at peace, in fact, that I was finally able to sleep (something every person on the cusp of parenthood desperately needs). I spent the next 12 hours napping, watching TV, and contentedly drinking coffee and hot broth (I wasn’t allowed to eat solid foods—a tradeoff I would gladly make again). When it came time to push, I could feel pressure but—again—felt zero pain. This made it easy to concentrate on the job at hand and within 15 minutes, at 5:44 p.m. on a snowy November Tuesday, our son had arrived!
Would I Have Another Epidural?
Is the prospect of having an IV placed in your spine terrifying? Yes. Are there risks to the procedure? Yes. Would I do it again? One thousand times, yes. Prior to receiving an epidural, I was completely exhausted and in an excruciating amount of pain. Receiving pain management medication allowed me to relax, be present, and truly enjoy the birth of my son—something that I didn’t even know was possible.
Every woman, pregnancy, and birth situation is different, and we all must do what feels right based on personal beliefs and the situation at hand. For me, that meant getting an epidural and now—currently pregnant—planning to get another while delivering my second child this fall. I’d encourage any woman who is on the fence about receiving one to let go of fears and stop reading horror stories. If you think you’ll have a better experience with medicinal pain management, then do it. You only get to welcome that child into the world once. Do whatever will make you the most comfortable and enjoy it!