I remember feeling very lucky when I had my first child that I had spoken with my about her childbirth experiences first. Several teaching points stand out from what she told me:
1) If you get an epidural for pain relief, the longest part of your labor is the window between the time you decide you want the epidural and the time you get it.
2) The window for an epidural is not always open.
3) If you feel intense rectal pressure, you’re probably about to have a baby.
These were useful things for me, since my eldest child was born about 20 minutes after we got to the hospital. (My husband felt very cheated on the birthing classes that we took together, since most of the advice we received was effectively useless.) While in agony at home, I remember thinking that I would take ANY kind of pain relief anyone offered me if I could. After Cecilia was born, I remember some nurses saying “That’s the way to do it!” and laughing to myself that I hadn’t had a choice. After asking for an epidural with my second child and getting it only minutes before delivering, we kind of gave up on epidurals. With my third, the option wasn’t there, but with my fourth, it was—and I rejected it.
Labor is brutal. There’s no getting around it. A friend with five kids said it’s like walking around knowing that sooner or later, you’re going to get shot. I think of it as a sort of battlefield equivalent for women. It used to be that you went into labor—like battle-- not knowing if you’d come back alive (or if the baby would make it, either). Nowadays, we’re blessed with a high degree of confidence that mom and baby WILL emerge relatively unscathed. For modern women, natural childbirth is more like a marathon—you may have to get somewhere 26 miles and 385 yards away but whether you’re going to suffer the pain of running that distance is another question. Me-self, I’ve wondered about marathons ever since my husband did the NYC Marathon and I learned that runners are told never to run that whole distance when they’re training. How can it be good for you when you’re not supposed to prepare for the distance during training? But I digress…
All this is prelude to the fact that with #5, I got an epidural that actually kicked in BEFORE the baby was born. And a little bit of me feels like a failure—even though I have always rejected the idea of suffering through labor as being a critical decision in a mother’s life. I’ve always thought the health of the baby is the focal point and everything else is truly secondary. This time ‘round, everything was a bit scarier for me since I was being induced for the first time (*and* my “Hynobabies” track wasn’t working..). My husband, Colin, is very supportive while I’m in labor and it’s hard for him watching me in acute pain without being able to help.
Honestly, it all went well. I delivered 20 minutes after the epidural started working (5-10 minutes of which we were waiting for my faithful husband to return from dealing with our car); I didn’t need any stitches; I felt good afterwards, and Genevieve is a healthy and happy 8-lb. baby (by far the biggest of my newborns).
At the same time, I do feel a certain nostalgia for that battlefield solidarity with the women of all time that going “natural” leaves you with….
Do you think I made the right choice? And how important is this choice, anyway? I'd love to know what you all think--and why. But for now, my focus on my beautiful, healthy, new girl.