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My Epidural Didn’t Work and I Couldn’t Be Happier

Photograph by Twenty20

I know there are tons of very strong opinions surrounding epidurals. People seem to be passionately for or against them. Honestly, I hesitate to even utter the word out loud or put it in writing because of the strong feelings regarding medicated or unmedicated births. So, as I tiptoe through the subject, let me just say that I am 100 percent middle-of-the-road on epidurals.

I will sing the praises of an epidural because anything that can make that much pain invisible to a human birthing another human is both a miracle and a scientific work of art. On the other hand, I think my mama friends who have knowingly gone into what is likely the most painful experience of their lives—ready to bear it all with no assist from meds—are rock stars. This is not about my opinion on epidurals. It’s about my experience with them.

It never occurred to me NOT to have an epidural with my first pregnancy. Get that baby out with as little pain as possible! I didn’t regret it, either. I had a happy and healthy baby boy. And, with the number of stitches that were said to have been administered afterwards, I’m pretty happy I was oblivious to all that went on down there.

I loved my birth story: Nearly two weeks late. Had a scheduled induction. Got to get a full night’s sleep and showed up bright and early to the hospital only to have a baby five short hours and six quick pushes later. Easy-peasy, right? It was a walk in the park, actually—thanks to a baby that was very ready to come out and a little thing called an epidural.

But, as I started comparing stories with friends who went about this whole pushing-a-baby-out business with no drugs, I found myself with birthing envy. Birthing envy is when you hear other people’s birth stories and become jealous of their short labor or exciting water breaking story or their calm home birth ambiance.

Some people’s birth experiences just seemed so much better than mine.

I mean, here they are, “bragging” about how intense it was when the baby crowned or the animalistic noises that they made through contractions and I’m all: “Crowning? What’s the ring of fire?” I mean, I played Uno through most of my labor and contractions. The doctor came in and checked me as I was about to lay big, fat "Skip" card on my mother and said, “It’s time to push." Lovely as that all was, I felt like I’d somehow missed out on this amazing experience because I didn’t feel it the way they did. Did I not “earn” my birthing badge because I didn’t feel all the pain?

Even through my slight envy of other people’s natural birth stories, when I was about to give birth to my second child, I went ahead and wholeheartedly signed myself up for an epidural without a second thought. Obviously, I wanted drugs, right? My labor was progressing pretty fast and just as my contractions were getting unbearable, my knight (anesthesiologist) in shining armor (scrubs) rode (rolled his cart) into my delivery room. We did the whole “turn and hug a pillow/act like a cat” bit so he could administer this magic potion into my spine. Relief was eminent … or so I thought.

Thirty minutes later, I’d been poked with what I can only assume was a 10-inch long needle into my spine numerous times and still felt every damn thing.

“Sometimes epidurals aren’t 100 percent effective,” my anesthesiologist said.

“Umm, come again?”

But as I look back on the birth of my darling daughter I find myself thankful that my epidural failed me.

How did I not know this?! My little magic shot was now off the table. I was left to labor alone—and by “alone,” I mean with my entire family, husband, parents, son and nurse going about life around me while I gritted my teeth and moaned through my contractions cursing the doctor and the medicine that failed me.

Fast-forward through a couple more hours of pain and discomfort and begging the nurse to let me push, and I finally emerged on the other side with a sweet baby girl on my chest and all the memory of pain out of my mind and onto her. Epidural? What epidural?

In the moment, when the epidural didn’t take effect, I was pissed and desperate and worried that I would not survive the pain. But as I look back on the birth of my darling daughter, I find myself thankful that my epidural failed me.

Here’s why:

I felt really good immediately after birth.

I’m talking AMAZING. Like I was energized and exhausted at the same time. There is nothing that feels better than the absence of pain after you’ve been experiencing it for a lengthy period of time. No drugs give you that kind of high.

I wasn’t paralyzed.

When I had my son, the epidural was 100 percent effective. I couldn't move from the waist down. While it was nice to not feel any of the trauma taking place in my nether regions, I felt paralyzed after birth. I couldn’t sit up straight in bed. I couldn’t even cross my ankles or scoot over for my husband to sit next to me. This time, I could curl up and cuddle with both of my kiddos. Even get up and use the restroom.

I felt like a WARRIOR.

Here’s the thing: I did it. The thing I thought I couldn’t do without meds, I did. I was forced to overcome my fear of pain and I pushed that baby out feeling every little damn little thing. Me and my body did that. Now if that’s not brag-worthy, I don’t know what is.

I’m now six years removed from my successful epidural experience and six months past my second birth with all the feels. And you know what? After time has passed, I don’t sit here remembering the pain or lack thereof for either of my children’s deliveries. It’s all a blur when it comes to that business.

What I do remember is seeing these two beautiful babies for the first time. Being a mama is a powerful thing, both emotionally and physically. Nothing—not even an epidural—changes that.

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