To epidural or not to epidural

As I mourn the passing of the Packers’ glorious 2011-12 season, I am trying to keep my mind occupied with other things. After drying my eyes and taking out some crankiness on Aaron, I watched the Golden Globes. This effort was only moderately successful as the show wasn’t quite as entertaining as I needed it to be (though I probably expected too much by asking it to raise the bar in the wake of the worst Packer game of the season). As that’s now over, and I’m still feeling pretty morose (and AO is sleepily breathing quietly next to me), I’m going to try my hand at a blog post. A Blog Post to Move Forward with Life in the Offseason.

Lately when I hear the word ‘epidural,’ I find myself singing — to myself, in my head — “Epidural, Epidural, Ep-i-dural,” which is sung to the tune of ‘Rock Me Amadeus.’ Is this because epidurals and Mozart are two peas in a pod? Or maybe because ‘epidural’ and ‘Amadeus’ are the only four syllable words I know? Whatever the reason, the song in my head is quite catchy. And its existence also — not surprisingly — coincides with my rapid approach to the finish line. I’m staring down the barrel of under eight weeks until Baby Girl Sweet Potato makes her post-womb debut and I generally prefer to talk and think about and research mobiles on Etsy and Pinterest than read about what’s actually going to happen on The Day o’ Birth. I don’t think I can be that unusual in this regard. For one thing, I have always loved design and decoration more than human anatomy. For another, mobiles are cute and sweet and — to me, at least — gobs of goo and blood and who-knows-what and a baby coming out of me are anything but. This is not to say that I’m a complete ignoramus when it comes to birth; it’s just more that I’m not in love with the idea of what I need to do to get the Sweet Potato from one side of my body to the other.

For a long time now, well before I was with child myself, I thought, “Why not have an epidural?” I went through a period, when I was a child, when I would refuse pain medication or allergy meds — for things like headaches and, you know, my eyes swelling shut and things like that — because I thought that I was *strong* enough to just deal with it and that being so — strong enough — somehow meant something. I’m not entirely sure when I grew out of that stage, but I am so glad I did. I now take Advil when my head or uterus hurts (not while I’ve been pregnant, people – calm down), I take Zyrtex (the brilliantly affordable Costco variety) daily and in the last month I’ve been popping Tums — for the first time in my life — like nobody’s business. And I am glad that I feel comfortable and am able to take these brilliant examples of modern medicine. So, maybe not naturally but certainly not unnaturally, I also thought I’d go for an epidural and never look back. I had long been confused by women who rail against the epidural as somehow dangerous for the baby. Granted, I am obviously no doctor and, frankly, have a fifth grader’s sense of my own anatomy, but I still wasn’t sure how there would be nearly enough time for any harm caused by the epidural to reach an about-to-be-born baby. I now understand, though, that I was being too simplistic and not appreciating that anti-epidural women, or even women who are trepidatious about drugs and childbirth, have a range of concerns with medication at the time of birth. Of course there’s whether the baby will be affected, but also — and this seems to be the concern I hear most often — whether the drug will affect the woman’s experience with childbirth. It seems there are serious concerns about whether the epidural will prolong labor, increase the likelihood of a c-section, or cause the woman not to have the full range of her sensations and mental capacities so that she isn’t fully aware of what is happening.

I do think there is another component to the current and common aversion to epidural-y-ing it during the child’s birth. I think there are a lot of women who feel like I used to feel when I got a headache as a child; women who feel they *should* be able to labor without drugs or, “naturally” as they fancy calling it, and that they are a stronger or better or more womanly or certainly more motherly person for doing so. I think, though, that there are also a lot of women who choose to go drug-free for all of the reasons listed in the previous paragraph, and probably a million more I don’t know about, and because they simply want to know and feel what it is like to bring their child into this world uninhibited by any alteration.

I admit that this last possibility only recently occurred to me as I began to really think, for the very first time, about what I wanted to do when the time comes. Because, it seems, that the time is coming no matter how many mobiles I look at, no matter how many Packer games are won or lost, and no matter how much I worry about whether we are ready. And as I think about whether to epidural or not, I realize that I just don’t know. I definitely want the epidural as an option on the table, and I still tend to lean toward making the whole experience the least painful that it can be, but I also admit to a curiosity about what it will feel like, how much I can handle, and whether Baby and I would fare better meeting face to face, for the first time, drug-free.

So, I continue to read things like this. And I appreciate hearing from my friends who made the choices they made — I have friends who have epidural-ed, c-section-ed, vaginal birthed sans meds, and home birthed and I think they are all amazing. I try very hard to understand and respect women who feel very strongly about these issues, while recognizing that I cannot manufacture concern for issues that don’t worry me so much and that it doesn’t make me an insta-bad mom for concentrating my worry on things other than whether Baby Girl will be affected by an epidural.

The thing is, I don’t have to please or impress anyone else. Life is hard enough without adding unnecessary pain and stress. So, I think I’ll just keep reading and thinking and listening and, in the end, make a decision that I think is best for me and for Baby. And maybe even Aaron.

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9 Responses to “To epidural or not to epidural”


  1. 1 Sara H January 18, 2012 at 8:14 am

    The dilemma of all dilemmas! What’s your doctor’s approach to the whole thing? Mine was very no-epidural-unless-you-really-need-it, while I think others are a little more free with the pain meds.

    I think it’s hard to decide ahead of time – you don’t know what your labor will be like, and it sort of depends on how it’s going, IMHO. It’s always an option (until it’s time to push).

  2. 2 kateandgracie January 18, 2012 at 5:52 pm

    Good question. My doctor has not said one word about it. I don’t believe the term “birth plan” has left her mouth…Or even “birth” now that I think about it. Hmm. Should this be an alert to me? Yikes. And yes, it does seem like sort of a strange thing to plan in advance, unless you have given birth before and even then, your labor could be very, very different than the previous time(s). At least though, if you’ve labored before, you are in a better position than I to have some idea of what is coming.

    I have to admit, I thought this would be a more comment-inducing post. I hope that I have not inspired boredom or offended anyone. If I have, I sincerely, truly apologize.

    Also, I am starting to feel like a real invalid over here — my waddle is, at times, extreme. When I first get up from a seated position, it feels like none of my joints are working properly. Ugh.

  3. 3 Sara H January 19, 2012 at 8:40 am

    Pretty sure my doc never said “birth plan” either. Which makes sense to me, given that the whole course of things is so unknown. Although I think there’s some truth to looking to your mom’s birth experience. My mom and I both had very fast labors.

    Which hospital will you be at?

    Nice on the waddle. 😉 I bet sleeping is getting more challenging.

  4. 4 kateandgracie January 19, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    Oh my gosh, sleeping is the worst! Well, actually, once I fall asleep, it’s not so bad — except for the bathroom trips — but getting to sleep is a bear. I have to change positions a minimum of three times before I can even get to the point where I think sleep might come. And that’s after already being in a bed for awhile and moving around. My pelvis and hips are not very happy and they seem to like to bring everyone else down with them

    We’re headed to Meriter. Where were you?

    And you’re right — I need to just accept the unknown and be ok with that. I think I am, actually, but then I hear or read or whatever that I need to be doing, reading, practicing x,y, and z and get all worried about how I behind I am again. Sara — you should write a piece about how to just go with it and deal with the challenges as they come. I feel very zen listening to your advice. Thank you. For reals.

  5. 5 Andra January 19, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    I was ready for an epidural when the time was right with Baley–I had had contractions all day, was exhausted, and frankly, when the meds kicked in, I was happy to be pain-free and able to sleep. I suspect you will know whether you want it or not when the offer is made. With Henry–well, that was crazy for different reasons, as you know. Bear in mind that you will get to make decisions even as labor is progressing–but at a certain point, the epidural is no longer an option. So if you have questions, ask the doctors, nurses, etc!

  6. 6 Sara H January 20, 2012 at 9:12 am

    I remember all I wanted to do was lay on my stomach and sleep. Ha! Glad Sweet Potato is not keeping you up at night – I think this bodes well for her sleep schedule after she is born!

    I was at Meriter also, but before they got the posh new birthing suites. The nurses were great, very helpful during labor and when getting ready to go home.

    Totally agree with Andra – you can make decisions during labor depending on how it’s going. But I’d say make sure you have the available info as needed – they are averse to checking dilation early (under the assumption that your labor will last like 18 hours), but you’ll know if things seem to be going faster or slower and should stand up for yourself if your body is telling you to so that you have all options.

    But, that said, I survived non-medicated childbirth, so I am sure anyone can!

  7. 7 Raoser January 22, 2012 at 9:45 pm

    Ok, I feel pretty silly and useless commenting this one. I realize I have zero knowledge but here’s my naive two cents.

    I just want you to truly feel good letting yourself get the epidural if you want it. I understand that you’ll have to see how it all goes, that of course makes sense. It it does seem though, there’s an unfair stigma around getting the epidural. I think women feel enough pressure in society to do everything the hard way and prove our worth. I realize I’m not medically schooled on this topic and I know it’s a very complicated decision. I would of course support whatever you decide on this highly personal matter. I just want to say though, if you feel it’s what you’d like and it’s safe for all parties, I truly hope you’d feel 100% good & supported about getting it. Life really is hard enough, and it will get more so in many ways, so it’s time to make sure you’re not thinking about taking care of anyone other than you and that little sweet potato.

    Also, I’d like to add- you really still are a little stubborn about taking meds, let’s say if you get a cold or flu or something. Love you! 🙂

  8. 8 megan January 22, 2012 at 9:53 pm

    You sound just like me! I could write a book on this (not really), but maybe we can talk at book club? Long story short, I have read since my delivery that concerns about epidurals have to do with old meds they used 20 years ago, its not as dangerous, blah blah. I still don’t know what I’d do next time. People have strong opinions on both sides but I really don’t think there’s a right answer. You’ll get to feel labor either way. Make the decision when you get to the hospital and they ask you. Or wait and asl later. I got mine at 10 cm but I would not do that again. Ugh. Should have done it earlier or not at all.(I was never told that pushing relieves contraction pain, and I didn’t think I could survive pushing without something).

  9. 9 kateandgracie January 23, 2012 at 10:47 am

    Good comments, peeps! Thanks so much for the insight! And yeah, Megs, that’s pretty much what the doc at our class on Saturday said — that a lot of the myths out there from epidurals are not based at all on how they give them today. He said a lot of the misinfo comes from docs themselves who aren’t aware of the changes they’ve made to dosages, etc. And yikes! 10cm?! Oh dear. I’d want my money back 🙂


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