One of the most common dilemmas as a pregnant mom is whether to have a baby naturally or with some sort of pain management. There is so much controversy, conversations and opinions surrounding this subject. There is such judgment placed on the mother’s choice; by friends and family, caregivers and spouses. The people I find to be most unforgiving are the pregnant moms themselves. The perception being that an epidural or other medications during labor is like admitting a weakness, disqualifying them as a good mother. The ultimate failure.
What is it in our culture that has brought us to this point? I cannot imagine a time when a woman will go to the dentist and choose to have a tooth extraction without any kind of analgesia, just to prove their strength and worth as a human being. Even less likely still, a man who would choose this with his wife’s encouragement. Telling him he is less of a man if he gives into the novocaine. Really????
My nursing perspective
As a labor nurse I have watched many struggle with this choice. The peer pressure typically steamrolled by the ultimate choice made in pain, with regret and self hatred soon to follow. I will never forget a teenage girl I cared for, holding so dearly to a fear of paralysis that she refused to listen to knowledge and reason. In more than eleven years, I have not witnessed nor heard of an epidural causing permanent damage. Unfortunately she refused to listen, and consequently was completely miserable in her experience. She was so exhausted and in so much pain by the time her little one arrived she did not seem to enjoy the precious moment of holding her newborn son. It was incredibly sad to watch, mostly because it was unnecessary.
As a momma
I can speak about this from the other side of the bed as well. I have labored three times, and had very different and beautiful experiences with each one.
My firstwas very typical of a first time mom. My water broke at home, the contractions started and slowly built in intensity. I was able to manage well until I hit about 6 centimeters, and then was overcome by the intense pain so many fail to describe. I went from walking the halls with my husband to doubled over with tears streaming down my face. I was unable to fathom the will of a woman who chooses to endure such an experience. The epidural soon followed and I delivered my beautiful baby boy eleven hours later. It was bliss.
My second son was a different story. I had planned on an epidural again, remembering the intense pain and ultimate relief of my first experience. When my water broke promptly at 11pm, I thought this baby would be the same. By the time we were halfway to the hospital my husband was driving close 100 miles per hour, mostly because I was scaring the bejeezus out of him. When we arrived at 12:18 AM I declined to wait for a labor nurse to pick me up, desperately needing that epidural I knew would save me. My husband eagerly drove my wheelchair to the labor unit and an IV was placed…I was almost there! Alas, the urge to push prompted my labor nurse to check; I was indeed 9 centimeters dilated. She was nice enough to pretend the epidural was on its way (thank God for kind labor nurses), and as I delivered my son at 12:37 AM the doctor hardly had time to put her gloves on. It was the most intense, exhilarating and surprisingly wonderful experiences of my life. I now understood what the hubbub was all about! This was amazing! This was bliss.
So I had nine months with baby number threeto decide. What was my choice going to be? I knew I had the physical strength to be without medication for my delivery. Now it came down to making that my choice. Honestly I wasn’t sure I could do it. But as these things go, I was presented with the option. My labor was not strong like my second one, I had decided to go for it! I could do it, what was the big deal? I had already passed the test. The test of all mothers…I was a superwoman!!! When my midwife wanted to break my water I avoided her at all costs. I was waiting for my husband. Then I walked the halls. I couldn’t bring myself to let her do it, I knew what was in store. Oh the doubts that floated through my mind! Was I crazy??? Why would I intentionally go through such an experience a second time? I was so torn.
Eventually I gritted my teeth and got it over with. I warned my labor nurse I would beg for the epidural at some point, and asked for her help though that moment. It wasn’t much later that my husband recognized my behavior as the same in the car ride 6 years before (he was pretty grateful to be in the hospital room at that point!). I wanted nothing more than to wipe the smile off my nurse’s face when she told me I was almost completely dilated. Didn’t she hear me? I CAN’T DO THIS!!!! But she was a dutiful nurse, and a very dear friend, so she did what I had asked when I was lucid and sane. (Come on… was I really sane when I made that choice?) She got my my midwife and they both coached me through the last few minutes of my labor (wait…it wasn’t hours???). One very intense hour and 15 minutes after my midwife broke my water, I was holding my sweet precious boy. It was…bliss.
It was so empowering to deliver my baby like this. With nothing but my own strength as a woman, a mother, hell a HUMAN BEING to guide me. The truth??? I did not feel any less empowered or any less like a strong beautiful momma with the epidural. Nor so when I had no choice in the matter. It really and truly didn’t matter. Each birth was special, unique and incredible beyond words.
I am convinced it has nothing at all to do with how you deliver your baby but is really about the belief you have in yourself. So many factors go into your birth, many of which are completely out of your control. My advice? Trust your doctor or midwife, trust your labor nurse and trust yourself. And above all…know yourself for the beautiful mother you are and are about to become. Nothing in the universe can change that. It doesn’t matter how you get there, participating in and bearing witness to the amazing beautiful miracle of your child’s birth is simply put…bliss.