Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Epidural: A Love Story, or Why Having a Medicated Birth Doesn't Make You Less of a Supermom

I was reading parenting.com today, as I often do, when I came across a post by Jenny Feldon, one of the Project Pregnancy bloggers. In Supermom Does Childbirth-The Natural Way?, Jenny, pregnant with Baby #2, wonders if she should opt for natural childbirth this time around vs. getting an epidural as she did with Baby #1.

Jenny writes, "Shouldn’t Supermom be able to handle natural childbirth with strength and grace? I’m fascinated by women, like my own mother, who have delivered multiple children without the benefits of anesthesia. If she could do it, shouldn’t I be able to? If I’m strong enough to be a mom, then maybe I should be strong enough to go it alone starting with that very first contraction."

The tone of this bothered me a bit. I mean, don't get me wrong, if you want to do natural childbirth and not have an epidural or any other kind of medical intervention, knock yourself out. I'm all for women having the freedom to make these choices and if Jenny or any other woman chooses this, that does not bother me at all.

What does bother me is the implied subtext here--that giving birth completely "natural," aka unmedicated, makes you a better mom or a stronger woman or something, and that if you choose to have an epidural, you are less of a woman or weak or a worse mother or something. I mean, if that were true, what would that say about women who end up having to have a c-section? Are they not Supermoms then because their bodies couldn't deliver their babies without major medical intervention? Of course not! Can we stop ranking the levels of our motherhood, ladies? We're all equally mothers from the moment the lines appear on the pee stick, and we're all trying to do the best we can. We're all Supermoms here!

Now all of that said, I didn't title this post "Epidural: A Love Story" without reason. I think the epidural is AWESOME. I'm all for it. And I don't think it makes me less of a Supermom or a woman because I do. I never questioned whether to have one or not to have one--I always wanted to have one, partially because of the birth story I'm most familiar with--my own.

When my mother was pregnant with me, she had gestational diabetes, and as a result of this, I was a very large baby. The military doctors my mother was seeing also allowed her to go a full three weeks past her due date with me, so I was extra large (9 lbs, 11 oz). When my mother finally went into labor, she labored hard for about 18 hours...at which point, they gave her an epidural for half an hour to give her "a chance to rest." My mother, in retelling the story, always describes the time period when she had the epidural as "THE BEST 30 MINUTES OF MY LIFE." When it wore off, she had eight more hours of hideous pain, and then the doctors realized, duh, this baby is too large to have ever been delivered vaginally AND she's stuck sideways in there, so maybe we should do a c-section before both mother and baby die.

The story ends with my mother recounting how she wasn't very happy to see me after all that (LOL) and it was a terrible experience. Now, she loves me very much, but my birth story IS pretty awful. And I think she's a Supermom for surviving all of that, especially because what she went through meant she couldn't have any more children after me, which is why I'm an only child.

When I was pregnant and thinking ahead to labor, my only thoughts were, "I want an epidural and I'd like to avoid a c-section if I can, but if we need it, I'll do it sooner rather than later. Oh, and I'd rather tear naturally than have an episiotomy." That's it. That's all I thought, and that's all I communicated to my doctor. That was the sum total of my birth plan.

As I approached my due date, I did do all sorts of things to help along the dilation process, so that with 11 days to go, I was already 2.5 cm dilated. I had a checkup with my doctor and he was concerned about how big the baby was going to be in 11 days--his estimate was over 8 pounds. How did I feel, he asked me. I don't want to go past my due date, I told him. I'm worried I'll end up like my mom with a big baby and need to have a c-section and I'd like to avoid that if I can. Since my due date was on a Saturday when he would not be on call, he suggested we induce me in exactly a week--four days before my due date.

So that was the plan. I was only a little concerned about being induced early -- I had one friend where induction didn't work for her and she ended up having a c-section, but they induced her a few weeks early, which was more likely why that was her result. Another friend has been induced twice a few days before her due date and both times, the baby was born a few hours later, no problem, so I was hoping I'd be more in that situation.

As it turns out, I didn't have to worry. A mere 12 hours later, I spontaneously went into labor 10 days early. It was 12:30 a.m. and I was on my way to bed when what I thought was my water broke. I called and they told me to come in, but no need to rush. So I took a shower, styled my hair, and applied fresh makeup--I am Glam-O-Mommy for a reason! My husband also took a shower--hey, for all we knew, I had 26 hours of labor ahead of me! While I was getting ready, my contractions started. The first one wasn't bad. Seven minutes later, the next one wasn't bad. Five minutes later, the next one still wasn't too bad. TWO MINUTES LATER, OMG BAD!! Less than two minutes later, OMG BAD!!

At this point, it was 1:40 a.m. and we were on the way to the hospital. My husband wasn't speeding or anything crazy, although I urged him to, because the contractions were less than two minutes apart, OMG BAD!

We parked at the hospital, walked down LITERALLY the longest hallway ever, with me having to stop every few feet because OMG BAD! OMG BAD! and finally entered Labor and Delivery. I walked right up to the nurse at the desk and said, and I quote, "If you need to wake up the anesthesiologist, please call and do so NOW because I want an epidural as soon as possible." Seriously.

They checked me out in triage and I was 4.5 cm, my water hadn't broken yet (apparently, it was the plug), but they were definitely checking me in. They asked me what seemed like a thousand questions, got me into a Labor and Delivery room, put IVs in me (I was positive for Group B Strep so I had to have an IV), and then asked me a thousand more questions. (I got asked my height over and over--still have no clue why!) The whole time I was OMG BAD! OMG BAD! less than a minute apart and in the less than 60 seconds between contractions I was all, "WHERE'S THE ANESTHESIOLOGIST?! WHERE'S MY EPIDURAL?!"

Because y'all, contractions HURT LIKE HELL. I had mine up front AND in my back and the back ones hurt way worse than anything I've ever felt in my life. They kept saying the anesthesiologist was on his way and would be there any minute and I should just focus on breathing and all I felt was OMG BAD! OMG BAD! OMG BAD! And it wasn't like how they described contractions in my childbirth class, where they said you would have a BREAK between contractions where you could REST. I did not have that! As soon as one contraction was ending, I could literally feel the next one revving up. I couldn't catch my breath, my blood pressure was sky high (gee, I have no idea why! OMG BAD! OMG BAD!), and I just wanted my epidural.

Then, the pain became so intense, I threw up. Twice. OMG BAD! OMG BAD! And then I heard the magic words, "The anesthesiologist is coming."

Dr. Johnson arrived and I was so happy to see him. I was also worried, because I didn't think I could hold still for him to get the needle in my back because the contractions were so intense I was shaking all over. No problem, he told me. He got the needle in and in seconds, I felt blissfully numb from the bump down. No more OMG BAD!

"Dr. Johnson, I could kiss you!" I told him. "If you hadn't just thrown up, I'd take you up on that," he replied. Favorite. Doctor. EVER!

It was now 3:30 a.m. I had endured two straight hours of OMG BAD! contractions less than a minute or two apart. They checked me and I was 7 cm. My parents had just arrived at the hospital, so everyone cleared out of the room and my husband brought them back to hang out with us. For the next three and a half hours, I zoomed from 7 cm to 10 cm dilated without feeling a thing but BLISS. I was relaxed, savoring my last moments of pregnancy, talking with parents and my husband, taking little cat naps, and eagerly anticipating meeting my daughter.

I pushed for an hour and 15 minutes with no pain but enough pressure to guide me in my pushing and out my daughter came, screaming loudly, pink and healthy and beautiful, a mere eight hours after the whole thing started. She was 8 lbs and 6 oz, which is what my doctor thought she would weigh on my due date, so it's good she didn't wait till then. I did tear in two places, probably on the last big push that got her out. I felt amazed at myself and my body and my baby. I felt like Supermom. I felt like I could do anything, including scale Mt. Everest! It was an awesome feeling--an amazing high!

So that's my love story with the epidural, and that's why I think having a medicated birth doesn't make you less of a Supermom. Truthfully, I don't even describe my daughter's birth as medicated. Given the OMG BAD! OMG BAD! contractions I endured, I had natural childbirth! I experienced both sides, unmedicated and medicated. For me, the epidural was the way to go. I have absolutely no doubt I could've gone on without it, but I'm so glad I didn't have to.

And I'm glad that thanks to the epidural and the eight short hours, I remember labor as one of the best experiences of my life (even though I still remember the OMG BAD! very distinctly) rather than one of the worst like my mother. When she came in afterwards and was holding my baby girl, she looked at me and told me she was so happy for me, because I had had a better birth experience than she had. And I told her that I loved her so much and couldn't believe she'd had 25.5 hours of OMG BAD! OMG BAD! to endure epidural-free, plus major traumatic surgery, to have me.

However, your birth story goes--natural, medicated, c-section, we're all Supermoms here, ladies. We are--every single one of us! We have given birth, brought life forth.

But the epidural's kind of awesome, I'm just saying.


  1. I love this post! There is such an implication that doing things naturally somehow makes you better. Hell, I didn't even really get to labor with my babies, but I don't think that makes me less of a Supermom.

  2. This is a great story! My sister-in-law just gave birth to my niece on the 4th. Her birth plan included getting an epidural and being in the military hospital (my brother is currently deployed). She was sent home after 3 hours in triage (and having lost her mucus plug the day before and laboring all night) for failure to progress and told to go home (40 minutes away off base) and take a bath. Which she did. Her friend left to run some errands and 20 minutes later, while in the tub she heard a pop. She called EMS who got there in five minutes, barely enough time to deliver my niece. She did it without an epidural, but not by choice! She did it at home, again, not by choice. She said she will not try for a home birth or unmedicated in her next pregnancy. My niece is thankfully okay. (My sister-in-law had to crawl to the door to let the paramedics in.)

    I had 3 c-sections, one frank breech, one transverse breech and one scheduled because in my family four women have lost their uteruses after attempting VBACs and I didn't want to be number five. I actually have been told that I did not "give birth" and that I harmed my children. NOTE: Transverse breech babies CANNOT be delivered vaginally and without caesarean will result in both maternal and fetal death. Women are intensely competitive about their births, who "suffered" the most, who didn't let their doctor bully them, who did it au naturel and it needs to stop. All this time we spend tearing each other down does not in fact build ourselves up but creates in us an unhealthy and sinful case of pride and vanity.

  3. Hi Sonya,
    Someone forwarded your post to me and I'm glad to have read it--and in many respects, I completely agree with you! It was NEVER my intention to imply that women who choose epidurals are anything less than Supermoms. I think all women who raise children are amazing, and I also have a more-than-healthy admiration for anesthesia. My "supermom" comment only referred to myself and my own (often unrealistic) expectations to take on new challenges, in parenting and in life. I'm morbidly curious about natural childbirth--my fascination with it is not about being able to brand myself a "better" mother, but about whether or not I personally am strong enough to endure it. My 2+ hours sans epidural with #1 were horrific; partially because I'd gone in expecting an epidural immediately and had done zero preparation for feeling any pain at all. Your description--and especially your statement that you've done it both ways--is accurate.
    Anyway, great post and I appreciate the conversation you've started. Just wanted to make it clear I wasn't indicating any woman wasn't a Supermom for choosing what works best for her in the delivery room. I'm all for supporting other moms whatever their choices. As a mommy blogger, I've been torn to shreds enough by other cyber-moms to know how important it is to support each other!
    I love your blog, look forward to reading more posts.


  4. Erin and Kristen-thanks for your comments and for reading. I always enjoy hearing your perspectives!

    Jenny, I am completely amazed that this post made its way to you. I guess that is the power of the internet! I read your Project Pregnancy blog regularly and enjoy it, so I hope you don't feel I was trying to tear YOU down with this post, as that was not my intention at all. As I said, if you want to do this, knock yourself out! (And then write about it--I'm really curious what you will think/feel afterwards if you decide to go this way!)

    When I read your post yesterday, it just struck a chord in me and inspired me to write about my own birth experience with the epidural. Rereading your post in the context of your comments here, I can see how you might've just been just contemplating this for yourself and not making a judgment on other moms...I guess I just feel that as women we are often made to feel that if we don't do things in the hardest way possible, maybe we didn't give it our all and that makes us a lesser mom. I thought you were putting unnecessary pressure on yourself to do that, to be a Supermom. And sometimes, by wondering about it for ourselves, we put that pressure out there on other moms too, even if we don't mean to, you know?

    It sounds like you and I had a similar experience the first time around...I didn't really think I was actually going to feel much of the pain either LOL! So I had had enough by the time Dr. Johnson arrived. My experience definitely gave me an appreciation for my mother's long and painful labor and for friends who went drug-free.

    Thanks very much for reading and for your lovely comment, and I will be staying tuned to see what you decide for birth #2 in the end! :)