A Discussion on Epidurals

San Clemente Family Photographer-3758With the rise of influence via social media in conjunction with the over abundance of glorification of natural births, epidurals have – in my opinion – gained some weird association with turning your back on the ‘real experience’. I remember a family member telling me after my birth with Hooper that women who give birth naturally don’t deserve some special trophy. It hurt my feelings some at the time because I felt like she must have inferred that I chose to give birth naturally because I had some crazy notion that doing so would win me some prestige. It was quite the contrary, actually. I was scared to get an epidural. So scared, in fact, that the idea of giving birth screaming and yelling and feeling every single contraction somehow seemed more appealing. I didn’t want a c-section and I understood the connection between having an epidural and ultimately needing a c-section. And, in hindsight, had I gotten an epidural with Hooper I can almost guarantee that I would have ended up on the operating room table. I mean I delivered him on the operating room table anyway but was luckily afforded that final opportunity to push, something that would have been more challenging had I been numb from an epidural.

Some use the argument that those that receive an epidural aren’t fully present for their birth but as someone that has given birth three times now sans an epidural, let me tell you, neither was I. I don’t even recognize the person on that video on Willy’s phone pushing out that baby. It’s not me. It’s not sounds I make. All I wanted to do in that time was escape myself.

Had it not been for my fused spine, I may have just opted for an epidural this third time. In fact, when I got to the hospital, even in my rushed state, the nurse asked if I wanted something for pain. And my answer was quite different than my first birth with Hooper where, in my sober, non-labor-land state, I told the nurse to kindly not offer me an epidural. This time, instead, in my full-on-labor-land-state and between rapid and strong contractions I said, “what can you give me?”… By the time the exchange of info was made – they learned of my fused spine and I learned that the anesthesiologist was in the OR assisting another patient – it was time to deliver Sonny anyway. But the point is, I wanted a way out and dammit, if given more time and opportunity, I would have taken it.

My sister recently sent me a link to this blog post, via Scary Mommy, which serves as a hysterical pat on the back for anyone that may be leaning toward an epidural but feels like there is a certain degree of scrutiny associated with such a decision.

Final point being, you have to do what you feel comfortable with. I wasn’t initially comfortable with the idea of an epidural and now that I am, it’s not an option for me. Ho hum. Fortunately, Sonny came fast enough that whatever pain I experienced is already a fleeting memory… but not really, cuz – I mean – ouch.

I’m curious to hear from any mamas that have given birth both ways – with an epidural and without – and what your experiences were like when compared. And, of course, any random thoughts on the topic are also invited… if you chose not to have an epidural, what was your reasoning? Would you do it again? And for those who had an epidural, did you experience any complications? Also curious to know what it’s like watching your baby come out in the absence of the hysteria that comes with a natural, un-medicated, birth… I imagine it’s pretty surreal. I mean it’s surreal anyway… but I digress. I’m rambling now.

25 Responses

  • I can see both sides of the story. It’s become so common place to choose an epidural. In fact, I recall a conversation with my two younger sister-in-laws (when they were TTC) telling me that they were hoping to have a “natural childbirth” when in fact what they meant was that they were hoping for was a vaginal childbirth. I made sure to thoroughly explain the difference, but my point being is that it seems that some think having an epidural is so ritual that it is natural. I’ve known many women who wholeheartedly loved having an epidural (including both sister-in-laws since that one conversation) and a friend who was even happy to have one despite experiencing a spinal headache from her epidural.

    I on the other hand knew from the start I wanted a natural birth and did not want an epidural. At first, like you, I was too afraid of getting one. The thought of a needle that big going into my spine seemed like it’d be worse torture than whatever pain labor could bring. Then I read about the benefits and the risks and decided that the risks and the unknowns were too steep for me. Mother and baby experience special chemical and hormonal secretions that help labor along and aid in bonding and breast feeding. I did not want to interfere with that process and change or alter that natural balance unless it was absolutely necessary. I also knew I didn’t want a c-section and the stats all show that getting an epidural increases your chance for a cesarean.

  • With my first I didn’t want an epidural because I was afraid. I didn’t like the idea of being completely numb and was worried because I’d heard it was harder to bond with your baby and blah blah blah. After 19 hours of labor, I was exhausted and asked for the epidural. I got some much needed relief and was glad to know that everything wasn’t completely numb. I could still feel enough. However… I ended up with what I later learned was a spinal headache. I was in some of the worst pain of my life for a week or so after giving birth and didn’t know what was wrong. The nurses and doctors said nothing and I felt they weren’t taking it seriously. I did my own research and without a doubt, that’s what it was. So, when it came to my second birth, there was absolutely no way I was going to get an epidural. If I was going to give birth again, I might gladly accept some other form of pain relief, though…

  • My first two I had an epidural. I went into those pregnancies wanting natural births but that didn’t happen. I was 20 and 23 and I didn’t have the information online that we have today. I know that if I had had the information available today things would have been VERY different.

    My last three were natural and for me, I would never do it any other way. Not feeling anything takes away SO MUCH…for me. I could care less what other women do, it’s their choice. I don’t get judgey but do wish every woman could experience the empowerment that a natural birth gives you. If I could survive that, I can anything! I missed out on feeling that way with epidurals and that bums me out. Oh well!

  • I have a gazillion fibroids, one of which was in the fundus so I was told long before I even got pregnant that I’d not be able to deliver naturally. I was fully prepared for a C-section and was seen by a Gynecologist/ obstetrician throughout my pregnancy. About five weeks before my scheduled C-section, the doctor noticed the fibroid had moved out of the fundus so I now could deliver vaginally.What the!?!?! I was totally unprepared and freaked out. I’d done no prep classes and hadn’t given delivery any kind of thought. It had been 5 years since the same doctor had told me I’d never be able to deliver naturally.

    Thankfully my doctor went on vacation and the doc covering was a woman who had 3 of her own kids. She reassured me that I’d be fine unprepared, that women had done this for hundreds of years and that the nurses would talk me through it.

    I started talking to friends, especially those who had both epidurals and those who hadn’t. My mom had delivered me naturally and had an epidural with my younger much larger sister. She hated the epidural but that was now over 40 yrs ago and things have changed but I was also really scared of the epidural.

    My favourite response was from a girlfriend who also had one of each- she described the epidural birth as calm and blissful and the second birth, the non-epidural birth, as shear hell. Have the epidural, she said.

    I had to be prepped as though I’d have a C-section anyway b/c they weren’t sure I’d be able to push hard enough with the fibroids- the largest was 12 inches by 8 inches and in the uterine wall- so I decided to just go in open-minded.

    I took the epidural pretty quickly b/c the pain was horrendous and I had no other tools in my basket. I was also so ridiculously hungry b/c of the possibility of the C-section. I could feel that massive fibroid contracting even with the epidural but I don’t know what it would have felt like without the fibroid. I certainly felt the contractions, was able to push well and remember vividly seeing the little black head of hair moving in and out of me in the mirror until finally out he popped. I’m teary writing this and he’s almost 5.

    Ultimately we can only make the best decision for ourselves that we can and it will be different for everyone. I’m thrilled I was able to deliver vaginally and am quite sure the epidural was a big part of it for me.

    Congratulations on your new little fellow! He’s just lovely!

  • I had my daughter 7 years ago without an epidural. I never wanted one and refused when they offered (wouldn’t have had time anyways.. Fast and furious labor here). It’s not that I was afraid of actually getting one. I think it had a lot to do with the fact that I thought having an epidural would take a way from my sense of empowerment on doing it all my own. And let me tell you, I was a crazy woman and don’t even recognize who I was. With that said, I still feel that personally for me, getting an epidural would take away from my damn stubborn headedness, and I’m not willing to give that up.

  • I chose not to have an epidural. One because my daughter was my VBAC and my dr was already standing in the room pushing for a repeat csection. I know if I would have gotten one he’d have me on the operating table right away. Second they scare the hell out of me. Now do I judge people for getting one? Hell no. That ring of fire ain’t no lie. It’s fire. And you’re so right, I had a baby by csection. Don’t remember most of his first hours. I had a vbac. I don’t remember that labor much. Either way I think we are programmed to forget (most or some) of it on purpose. I do get the “well I had an epidural and you’re crazy for not” comment. But I also get the you’re brave for doing it just as much. So that’s nice. I just wish people didn’t give as much a fuck about others births.

  • I had my first with a midwife at a hospital and after 48 hours of active labor had an epidural- best moment EVER when that baby kicked in! I remember the young-ish nurse and my husband encouraging me to stick with our birth plan “You CAN do this!!” and in my memory I turned into Linda Blair from the Exorcist and was like, “GET THE F#$KING DOCTOR IN HERE NOWWWWWW”. I had my second at home, sans any drugs, and it also was not the peaceful yogic birth I had in mind. My second son was 11 lbs. and had the biggest head my midwife had ever delivered. I had a friend who was in labor at the hospital at the same time and I remember thinking that I would give a toe to switch places with her. I too was more terrified of doctors and drugs than pain, but in retrospect that pain was NO JOKE. My labor and delivery both times felt traumatic and decidedly not peaceful, and I wish they could have been. C’est la vie. We all have our own issues and anxieties and limits…

  • Hmm…this is such an interesting discussion. And my experiences seem to maybe be an exception to the rule.

    I planned a natural birth with my first, but 30 hours in and stuck in transition, I was begging for relief and the epidural felt like a breath of fresh air. A nap and an hour of pushing and our son was born. It was the most emotional and empowering experience of my life. And I honestly felt like I had lost out on nothing from having the epidural. It allowed me to be present and engaged and the experience was everything I had hoped and prayed for.

    Three years almost to the day later, our daughter flew into the world in four hours flat. We barely made it to the hospital, let alone even considered an epidural. The natural birth was so overwhelming and exhausting, even though it was so much shorter. It took a good while for me to even mentally or emotionally catch up to the fact that our daughter had finally come and that was the beginning of a very dark season of post-partum depression. Her birth was much more traumatic emotionally and mentally, even though physically it was natural and my physical recovery was much smoother and quicker.

    In the end, as I am expecting our third in the Fall, these experiences mostly make me terrified of experiencing birth again. I’m completely terrified of giving birth naturally again and am afraid that the pain of it will hinder my ability to emotionally bond, as it did with my daughter. I’d honestly probably go for the epidural, but I’m expecting to not have the option again if the baby comes flying out.

    I guess it’s just different strokes for different folks. :)

    • My second was a three hour labor and my third a 45 minute labor… so I’m guessing, based on my experience alone (which I realize is ignorant and dangerous), that you’ll have a speedy labor come this fall! Ha. That said, if you don’t have a chance to get an epidural, I hope it’s a better experience. Thanks for sharing.

  • I had an epidural with my daughter almost 4 years ago. I was definitely not myself and there was lots of hysteria involved. My birth was complicated for other reasons, but with the epidural I could not feel what the hell I was doing and it took 2 hours for me to push that kid out. Then I couldn’t feel my bladder for 24 hours and ended up with some insane amount of urine stockpiled in there and had to be straight cathed to get it out. It caused some damage to my bladder resulting in my having to pee a lot more than I used to. So that’s always fun. I’m currently pregnant with my second and planning on going the unmedicated route this time, then again that was the plan last time too. But knowing the issues it caused me I’m sincerely hoping to avoid it this round. Hopefully then I will have some insight on the differences between the epi birth and non -epi birth,

    • I highly encourage you to take a class to really educate yourself on unmedicated birth… It’s so empowering just to be prepared! (Plus some of the stuff you learn is just really cool!) It’s also important to know coping techniques to get through the pain. All my friends who took a class specifically designed for unmedicated birth did it, whereas those who “just hoped for it” often end up with a epidural. My husband and I took a Bradley class and I can’t say enough wonderful things about all we learned! I hear great things about other classes too… Hypnobirthing, etc. Just something beyond the hospital class basics. Good luck either way! I’m sure you’ll do great!

      • Perhaps you haven’t read my previous posts (I’ve already given birth)… I’m quite educated on unmedicated births and have experienced three. I felt very empowered during each of them. I also felt a lot of pain. I don’t have any regrets and I’ve found peace in each of my deliveries (even if I had to work a bit harder to get there with the first one). Just opening the door to say there is no right or wrong, better or worse…

        • I’m sorry… I was replying to Katie’s response above. No judgement at all for anyone. I was merely trying to encourage her since she said she wanted to go natural after complications with her epidural the previous time. I have read your posts and love your blog and feel just like you about epidurals… Really didn’t mean to offend or sound judgemental at all. So sorry.

          • I actually took an extensive class last time around, through the birth center I intended on delivering at. But shit went haywire and I ended up having to be induced at 42.2 and delivering at the hospital instead. Hopefully this time I avoid all of the crazy complications of last time, but either way I’m going in open to anything so that no matter what happens, I feel at peace with my birthing experience.

  • I disagree with the last remark of your post. I dont remember any feelings of hysteria during my unmedicated births. It was painful, but it was pain with purpose. And a temporary pain that would end with the birth. I brought both of my children from my body into my hands and above water for their first breath on this earth.
    I chose not to have an epidural, and chose to have a homebirth in part so that drug pain relief was not an option.
    In my research the side effects of epidural were scary and I wanted an alert baby and the full sensation of experiencing birth. I feel proud that I was able to have unmedicated births

    • Yes, I can see your point. Hysteria was probably the wrong word… I agree with all you’ve said, especially pain with a purpose… and a pain that ends in the best gift ever… Traditionally pain is associated with trauma and recovery but it’s not like that with childbirth, is it? The pain exits pretty quickly and looking down at your new one sure takes whatever residual pain you have away.

  • I had an epidural with my first after labor was stalled at 4cm after 12 hrs of active, real, in-hospital labor & the dr said it was countdown to C-section time if I did not dilate soon, I was group B strep positive, my water had been accidentally broken by an incompetent doctor at a routine check up close to 24 hrs earlier (long story there but i was 37.5 weeks at the time) baby not in distress, but I was. Anyway, Doula, nurses, husband & I decided if I had an epidural I could relax & maybe sleep and see if that helped. I did it. Then i either passed out from exhaustion or fell asleep – I was awoken by screaming pain & urge to push. I was 10 cm, baby was close to crowning, and i had pooped in the bed. Go Time.

    That epidural did nothing to dull the searing pain of the next THREE hours of pushing. Baby was stuck. Cord wrapped twice around his neck. Very very stressful. Also he was stuck on my pelvic bone. After almost three full hours of pushing, crying, praying for help, screaming, begging… my first son was born. Level three tear. Trust me, I felt it. All of it? Maybe not. Enough of it? Hell yes. 8 lbs 15 oz 23 inches long. Huge hematoma on his head from where he was stuck. I couldn’t walk properly for weeks afterwards. Had i not had the epidural, I would have had a C-section for certain because my body was not relaxed or ready for his birth. We still grapple with birth trauma issues (he is a very difficult child with emotional issues, and i suffered terrible PPD, and we had awful feeding issues (he was GERD) and whoa. tough). How much was epidural, how much was cord wrap, how much was the fact that my water was accidentally and violently broken in a dr’s office at 37.5 weeks, we will NEVER know.

    Second baby two years later: I was induced at 41 weeks (i waited as long as i could because the first one – “accidentally” forced out at 37.5 weeks – see above– didn’t go so smoothly). Because I had waited so long, the baby was gargantuan. 40 week ultrasound estimated 12-13 lbs. Midwife who was scheduled to deliver me backed out at the last minute (like the week before my scheduled induction) because she was not confident enough to deliver such a large baby. Referred me to a dr who said C-section only.

    I fired them all. I got the on-call list from the hospital, and I cold-called each doc until i found one who said “I’ve delivered a 13 lb baby vaginally, if you want to do this, I will be your partner.” Dr. Hero was hired.

    I arrived at the hospital the next day, got my pitocin, and sat back to wait. Labor was active, strong, steady… but … every time they lowered the pitocin drip, contractions would stop. For hours this went on until i finally decided I was just too uptight, terrified, controlling, type A, what-have you to continue without an epidural. So i got one. Then i dilated to 10 cm in under 1 hr and pushed my second son out in 8 pushes in under 9 minutes. He was a healthy 10lbs, 23 inches. Huge, healthy, happy, mellow. Required one stitch to close me up. Baby latched & nursed immediately. Beautiful, ideal birth all around. So thankful for that epidural.

    I honestly think, had it not been for both of the epidurals, I would have had C-sections and would have been bitter and angry about my children’s births stories. As it is, I have nothing but praise. Would make the same choice again if I could.

  • I had an epidural with my first and it was a bit disconcerting, feeling nothing and being told when to push. They immediately took him away to clean him and check him. He was handed back to me swaddled and already had been given a pacifier. All of this, I believe, attributed to the difficulty I had with breastfeeding.
    With my second I was determined to have a natural birth. 10 days before my due date I got up to pee and my water broke. I called the midwife, my mother and told my husband I would be waking him up shortly. After I took a short shower my contractions had gone from none to every 3 and a half minutes. We called my father in law, who was closer, and had him get to the house to watch our son as soon as he could so we could go.
    We got to the hospital and my contractions were extremely quick and painful. By the time I got put in the gown and the midwife checked me they were less than 2 minutes apart. I was still pretty determined to deliver naturally but within 10 minutes I could barely stand and they were right on top of each other. I tried relaxing and breathing through them, but it was like one constant contraction that never ended. I finally broke down and asked for an epidural. At that point all they could give me was a local, still delivered via the spine and isn’t as fully effective but kicks in quicker. I much preferred the second version as I still felt a good deal and was able to push more effectively. We did skin to skin for a couple hours after she was born and I was able to nurse her within an hour or so. Breastfeeding has been much easier this time around. My labor lasted only about 3 hours and my midwife mentioned that contractions that start after your water breaks are usually much more painful, which I can certainly attest to.
    The first time I don’t feel like I was mentally prepared for a natural birth, this second time around I was much more prepared, but not for the super quick labor. I don’t regret the decision to get an epidural either time and I certainly don’t feel ashamed. I feel like both of my births were special. I think that each woman makes the decision that is best for them.
    If we have a third child I feel like I would definitely aim for a natural birth, but know that things are different with each birth, each baby and I’ll make the decision that is best for us both.

  • I had an epidural with my first. With my second, an epidural was administered but I literally pushed her out 15 minutes later & the epidural did not kick in. With my 3rd, I wanted one but there wasn’t time to get one! Having been through both ends, I honestly don’t think pushing as harder with or easier without. Pushing is hard no matter what. I did have in an episiotomy with the first and it may or may not have been due to the epidural, who knows? I tore naturally the second and third time and found recovery to be infinitely easier those times. Recovering from an episiotomy is a bitch…. Either way, if I go a fourth round (but I won’t) I probably would still ask for an epidural. Childbirth is not for the faint of heart and I was a LOT more present with my first birth because I was in a lot less pain. I was beside myself the next two times.

  • I had epidural a with my first two babies. The main downside for me were being stuck in bed for a long time. I think my labor dragged on because of being trapped in bed. With my first child, I lost the epidural in my left side so I was able to feel more during delivery. With my second, we cut off the epidural close to delivery to allow some time to get some feeling. With both babies, I pushed 3 times and they were delivered.

    I am having a 3rd (surprise!) baby in August. I started considering having this baby without an epidural for 1 reason only: the actual insertion of the epidural was traumatic for me. I have slight scoliosis in my back and it took 3 & 4 times of the Dr (nurse couldn’t) trying to insert the epidural. My 2nd experience receiving the epidural was so awful that I just can’t go through that again. I had no after effects, thankfully, but I am terrified of getting another epidural. I’m nervous about a natural childbirth too, but I’m reading and educating myself in preparation.

  • I had an epidural with my first born and I did that because it was all so foreign to me. I gave it a good go without the drugs but I felt the pain was unbearable, I worried that it would go on and on forever and I just didn’t have a clue about what to expect but I then went on to have two more children and going into both of their births I felt very sure that I didn’t want to have an epidural again because I felt like I had a bit more confidence about what I was doing the second and third time around. For me it felt like the epidural was a hinderance and just got in the way of allowing the body to do what it had to do (which luckily enough I didn’t have any problems delivering).

  • I had hoped to give birth naturally, but after contractions for 7 days, the final three being extremely painful and consistent (but not textbook 4-11 consistent) , not to mention no sleep that week, by the time I was finally admitted into the hospital, my body had been through so much that week I could not fathom how I would have the strength to push this bebe out! I asked for an epidural and it was wonderful. My body relaxed for the first time in a week! I could still feel the pressure of the contractions, but not the pain. They gave me a low dose, and I had the option to press a button to release more (which I did!). I was so relaxed I was able to take a nap (for the first time in forever) and eat lunch. My nurse told me to notify her when I felt an urge to poop, so that she could check me because that usually means it’s “go time”! I felt that urge right after lunch and sure enough! I met my girl 45 minutes later! During pushing I was able to feel the pressure of when to push and that was very helpful. I only teared the minimal amount and could walk immediately after! I had a great experience with the epidural and would do it again, especially if my labor drags on again next time! :)

  • I “gave birth” to mcda twins via caesarean due to positioning, so had to have epi and would have to have one in -if the first was head down- in case their was trouble with the second. This is what was recommended and I trusted the reasoning.
    Honestly tho I don’t feel like I “gave birth”. Was all pretty full on, surreal is a good description, in theatre heaps of people, a lot of meds and a haemorrhage that made me woozy. I kind of feel like it may have felt more real and I would have been more there had I been a bit more active in the birth. I felt like it was done to me – quite external. I think that was also it being my first pregnancy and it all being new though! I am unlikely to have more children, but I’d want a more involved active role next time!!

  • I’ve experienced two really different births. One with an epidural and one at home, without. I felt like masking the pain, also masked some of my joy. Of course there was joy, but it really really was different. The first time I didn’t have that natural high that i heard about and then finally got to experience, without the epidural. i would give birth many times over, naturally, to feel that feeling i felt for the moments, days, and week after. Of course, i did not say that in the middle of a 48 hour natural birth. :)

    i’ve always been a really deep feeler and for me to feel the full spectrum, that is motherhood, i think needed to ride all those waves of crazy sensations to be able to fully comprehend the new life that laid in my arms. I sometimes draw parallels…when the days with my children mirror the highs and lows, and plateaus, of labor and birth, i tell myself that if my body can naturally create these sensations in a 24 hour period, then the chaos and beauty that runs in and around our 24 hour days must be normal and natural too. Maybe? But every woman is different and sometimes i think it’s all the amount of power you give it. if you think an epidural will be a barrier to your experience then it probably will. If you think it will be your ticket to a calm and peaceful birth, then it probably will be. to each their own, as in everything. :)

  • I have four children. Three of them were delivered with an epidural and one without. The natural birth came because I developed a blood condition that was only discovered after my pregnancy. My platelet count was too low to allow for an epidural. I was informed of this a week before I delivered. I had not prepared for a natural delivery. I was induced for this delivery. I hear that natural childbirth while on Pitocin is worse than going completely natural. This was a very intense unpleasant experience for me. I found myself yelling at my husband and begging the nurses to just “Get it out”. I thought that was something they only said in the movies, but there I was pleading for it all to just be over.

    My other three deliveries all involved epidurals and only one required being induced. These were wonderful experiences. I was able to calmly chat with my husband and mother while I was in labor. I was able to snooze a little . I felt like I could just peacefully take in the whole experience. But all of my deliveries involved less than five hours of actual laboring in the hospital, and all of my babies only required five or ten minutes of pushing.

    This is certainly a very personal decision. My mom refers to women’s birthing stories as their “war stories”. Often women do like to hang a badge of courage on their experience as somehow more heroic, more special, more painful, more something than every other woman’s birthing experience. The truth is , women have been bringing children into the world for thousands of years. Rather than trying to distinguish ourselves from every other woman, should we not be reveling in that great sisterhood that is childbirth? To grow a living thing within our bodies and to give that little person the chance to emerge from our bodies and to take that first breath is a pure miracle. How that emergence occurs matters very little when that tiny bundle is handed to you. Childbirth is miraculous whether it happens in a bathtub, in a car, on an operating table, in stir-ups, or on the kitchen floor.


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