There are many decisions that a woman makes during the course of her pregnancy. Perhaps no choice is more hotly debated than whether to opt for natural childbirth or get an epidural.
Let me start by saying that I have an extreme respect and admiration for anyone who chooses natural childbirth. It’s similar to the way I feel about those freedivers who plunge 500 feet in the ocean while holding their breath for 10 minutes. I’m fascinated by these concepts, yet I would never do either of these things on purpose.
That being said, I have an even more extreme respect and admiration for anesthesia. I’m one of those cliche pregnant ladies who started asking if it was too early to administer the epidural around week 20. For several weeks after delivering my first child, I seriously considered renaming her “Epidural” as a tribute to this amazing gift to modern science.
By the time I got pregnant with my second child, I was 37 and considered a “geriatric pregnancy.” Due to my senior status, for the final six weeks of my pregnancy I had to go in for blood tests and nonstress tests twice a week where I would repeatedly have nurses say: “Wow, that was a big contraction! Did you feel that?” I’m the lady who wanted the epidural at week 20; you’re damn right I felt that!
At week 38, I received a mysterious, distressing call from my doctor. All she told me was that I needed to head straight to the hospital because of my latest blood test results. She was vague, but said she would tell us more when we got there and to bring my hospital bag just in case.
We arrived at the hospital around dinnertime, and I was immediately taken to a room and strapped up to the monitors. We were told to wait for the doctor since she was “just in the last few pushes” of a delivery in the next room. So, there we sat, nervously staring at a muted TV, making a little small talk (“Isn’t it weird how many of the doctors and nurses smoke out in the parking lot?”).
And that’s when we heard it. It was a sound that I had only heard in movies and on TV until that point, but not even an Academy Award-winner could do it justice. It was the sound of epidural-less childbirth.
My husband and I looked at each other, wide-eyed: part fear, part curiosity, mostly “Oh, thank God the nurse said that the poor lady just has a few pushes left.”
20 minutes later: Oh my! Find the remote so we can turn up the volume on this TV.
40 minutes later: So there really is a “screaming obscenities” point.
1 hour later: Is it too late to rename our daughter, “Epidural”?
Finally, the nurse came back into our room.
Us: Wow, these walls really are thin, aren’t they?
Nurse: Actually, the walls are quite thick. What you’re hearing is the sound going out her closed window and then coming in through yours.
Us: *blink, blink*
Nurse: I’m going to go ahead and take your blood for a follow-up blood test while you wait.
Us: Why are we here again?
Nurse: You’ll have to wait for the doctor. It should be any minute now.
1 ½ hours later: I’m kinda rethinking this whole baby thing.
2 hours later: At this point, I bet that lady wants to name her kid “Epidural.”
2 ½ hours later: “Hello, Doctor!”
The doctor proceeded to explain that the reason she had called us in is because my latest blood tests showed I had “Snarfenflephograph” (that’s what I’m going to call it because I genuinely can’t remember the name of the actual condition). The follow-up panel the nurse had just taken showed that the Snarfenflephograph had become slightly worse.
She continued, “The good news about Snarfenflephograph is that there’s no risk to you or to the baby. The only bad thing is that if the condition continues to get worse, we won’t be able to administer an epidural.”
That last part echoed in my head for a while, as the room started to spin.
Me: Are you telling me that you just scared the shit out of us with your cryptic phone call, had us drive across town in rush-hour traffic only to sit here for two and a half hours and get a surround-sound experience of what the “last few pushes” of epidural-less childbirth sounds like just so you could tell me that I don’t get my fuckin’ epidural?!
Okay, that part was just in my head.
Me: I’m so glad the baby’s all right.
Doctor: Now, go on home and try not to worry. Who knows, maybe the baby will come early before your levels can hit the no-epidural point.
Me: Go shove a watermelon in your vagina!
That was in my head again.
Me: Thank you. Goodnight.
Well, my brain must have had a little chat with my uterus while I was asleep that night because when I woke up the next morning, my mega contractions were coming more frequently than usual.
My husband was at the pediatrician’s office with my daughter getting her flu shot, so I called him and as calmly as possible suggested that he tell the pediatrician that “my wife is about to give epidural-less birth in our living room.” As it turns out, this is a pretty effective way to get bumped to the front of the line in a pediatrician’s office.
By the time we finally got to the hospital, I gratefully accepted the wheelchair that was offered and was shocked to discover that I was already 7-centimeters dilated. The clock was ticking. Don’t they say that if you progress too far along that they can’t give you an epidural? How far is too far? I remember when our daughter was born the nurse told me to “get in line” for the anesthesiologist as soon as you get to the hospital, because sometimes they have a big rush of pregnant ladies showing up at the same time, and by time they’re available, it’s too late.
“I’m here, I’m here! Get me in the epidural line!”
But first, I had to pass one final Snarfenflephograph blood test.
I lay there in pain, waiting, eyes closed, flushed and sweating, trying to remember my prenatal yoga breathing exercises. Fortunately, there was no epidural waiting line that day, so the anesthesiologist was kind enough to stay in the room with us, all his tools locked and loaded in the hopes of a favorable blood test result.
I don’t remember seeing the doctor come in or hearing the test results. I got all the answer I needed when I felt the coolness of the antiseptic being wiped on my back in preparation for the epidural. Who knew a giant needle to the back could be such a welcome relief.
It’s a very surreal experience to go from being in a place where the only thing in the world is you and your excruciating pain, to having a switch flipped and realizing, Oh, hey, there’s my husband. Was he in here the whole time? A minute before I couldn’t remember how to breathe and now my only concern was which DVDs we packed, and can someone please pass me my magazines?
I know that there will be women who think that by getting an epidural that I missed out on the full birthing experience. That may be true, but I liken it to how I also opted for anesthesia to miss out on the “full experience” of my appendectomy. Sure, it’s not how women have been doing it for hundreds of years, but I’m guessing it’s how they would have been doing it if they had been given the option.
So, if you’re still on the fence about whether or not you want an epidural, let me give you a gentle nudge over to the epidural side. It’s the side where you get to enjoy your labor while reading trashy magazines and watching movies. Just make sure you have the remote so you can turn up the TV volume if there’s an epidural-less lady in the next room.