So I’m filling out my pre-registration form to deliver at the hospital and one of the questions listed asks something to the effect of “Do you plan to use medication as part of your pain management?”
Um, yes please. I’ll take everything you have, and please have it ready when I get there. Did they really have to ask me that question? Are there women that actually say no??
Of course, I know that there are. Not every woman desires medical intervention during labor and for the most part I totally get it. If you are of a holistic lifestyle in which you abstain from any drugs as a standard of living anyway then I get that you would want your labor to follow suit. Maybe you are of the freebirthing mindset, or even if not that extreme, you may just believe that labor and childbirth should be as natural a process as possible. And to that I would agree. It certainly makes sense for a laboring woman to be as relaxed and comfortable as possible, and to move around as much as necessary, trying different positions for pushing. Hospitals can potentially restrict such natural movement, will severely limit the number of family you can have around for support, and often times can be quite pushy about getting a c-section simply if you are laboring “too long” (and not because anything is actually wrong.) So a natural, more relaxed environment in which to have a baby, I get. Every woman should be able to (attempt to) deliver her child in the manner that she best sees fit. And if you can manage it and get through it and all goes well then more power to you. It would truly be wonderful if every birth could be that way.
But of course that’s not always how it goes. And here’s the part that I don’t quite get: the women who deny themselves medication because of the unfair notion we’ve somehow ingrained in ourselves that we should be superwomen and shouldn’t need it. Before I had my first child, I, too, thought the same thing as may others; that our bodies are designed for this and women have been doing it since the beginning of time without intervention, so if they could do it, why couldn’t I? But now, however, I believe this may be a faulty line of reasoning. Yes, women’s bodies are designed to do this, but there is still no shortage of complications that can arise. The many things that can sometimes go wrong during labor and childbirth even now also happened way back when, and unfortunately, sisters, neighbors, midwives, and even doctors did not always have the necessary (or safest) means and methods to correct. And as a result, both infant and mother mortality rates were extremely high. It kind of lessens the desire to want to channel your ancestors in the same manner that they gave birth when the stark realization washes over you that many of them actually died doing so. And yes, women have done it for centuries on end without epidurals, but that’s because they didn’t have any choice! Who’s to say that our great-great-great-great grandmothers didn’t want pain management? They birthed without it because it didn’t exist! But I have to wonder just how many of them would have loved to have had an epidural if given the chance. After reading Get Me Out and learning about all the many ways women did try to ease the pain (herbs, chloroform, twilight sleep, just to name a few) I’d bet a great many of them would have jumped for joy with our pain medication options. Just saying.
With my first, labor wasn’t progressing very well and delivering in a timely manner was essential due to extenuating medical issues. So I was given the synthetic drug pitocin to help move things along. It immediately intensified my contractions x 1000. I’m sure I wasn’t actually about to die or on the verge of going insane, but in the moment, it sure did feel like it. It was not pleasant, and that is putting it in the most benign words possible. When the anesthesiologist finally arrived and I felt my epidural kick in, well, I can’t even describe the relief that came over me. I was pain-free the rest of my labor and able to relax and enjoy the time with my family while sitting up in bed playing cards and cracking jokes. When it came time to push, I still felt the urge to do so (another common reason women decline epidurals, because of the belief that they will not feel this) but without any pain and discomfort. And the pushing still didn’t take long at all.
With my second delivery, I went into labor on my own. The contractions really were completely different than the first time around. Not saying it was a picnic, but it was not the unbearable, agonizing pain of pitocin contractions. These definitely still hurt, but I could work through them with breathing and focus. I was getting through it, but I still preferred the memory of just simply laying in bed relaxing and not feeling anything, so I still requested an epidural. And I received one, but for whatever reason it did not work. The anesthesiologist came back and did it again and it still did not work! I did not numb at all and I felt every last one of those contractions for each and every single one of those 10 looong centimeters. And you know what, I survived it. I just wish that it had worked because it left me so exhausted. They don’t call it labor for nothing. You are working with every contraction and it takes so much out of you. By the time it was time for me to push, I was completely out of it and weary and barely had the energy to exert. I would have much preferred the calm, quiet, focused, energy that I possessed for pushing the first time around rather than feeling zapped and depleted. But it did show me that yes, women most certainly are capable of delivering without epidurals and it is indeed 100% do-able. But we already knew that, and no woman should feel like she has to prove that to anyone, least of all herself. If your labor is just too excruciating and exhausting, well, there is simply no need to make yourself go through that pain just because. It doesn’t make you any less of a woman or a mother to get some help!
As for this time around, my plan is pretty simple, to go as far and as long as I can without the epidural, but just as soon as I’ve hit my pain threshold or just don’t feel like agonizing through it anymore, I will have no qualms requesting it. My only fear this time around is what if I’m given pitocin like the first time, but then like the 2nd time my epidural doesn’t work? That is a nightmare thought that I can barely stand to entertain. Hopefully it won’t come to that, but I know things don’t always go as planned. Here’s hoping instead for a healthy, happy and safe delivery!