5 Things Every First-Time Mom Should Know About The Epidural
The epidural is wonderful. It’s magical. It’s heaven.
This is how many women describe the drug that takes away the pain of contractions during labor. And they’re right. It is all those things, but it’s not all sunshine and daisies and easy-peasy pop-out-a-baby childbirth.
Just like a genie in a bottle who grants you three wishes, there’s a price to pay for getting the epidural. You think you’re making an obviously amazing wish that will solve all your problems, like, “Make me a prince,” so the princess will fall in love with you, but then the princess hates your arrogance and you still feel like a street rat pretending to be a prince, anyway.
So, is it worth it?
After experiencing two child births — the first without the epidural and the second with — here’s five things every first-time mom should know about the epidural.
1. The administration of the epidural is not fun.
And it’s not quick. It took the anesthesiologist 10 minutes to complete it. Ten minutes is a long time when it hurts, and at the same time you’re having painful contractions while needing to sit still.
Here’s how it goes. You sit on the side of the bed facing away from the anesthesiologist. My husband sat in a chair facing me and held my hands so I could squeeze him during painful moments, which happened to be the entire time.
The anesthesiologist told me it may feel like my funny bone was being hit, except in my back. This was a spot on description — but with your funny bone it's a quick pain and then it's gone. This lingered, went away, came back. It made me queasy. I couldn't see what he was doing and he wasn't talking me through what he was doing so each time I felt the pain it surprised me.
In those moments I started to question my decision to get the epidural in the first place. Did I really need it?
2. You won’t be able to move or feel your legs.
Don’t panic. I panicked.
Maybe they do tell you you won’t be able to feel your legs. (They do.) But it freaked me out. I imagined my belly would be numb. I imagined the pain would stop. I did not imagine the nurse would literally have to pick up my legs and move my body side to side while I lie there essentially paralyzed from the chest down.
This was right on the heels of the unpleasant experience of getting the epidural in the first place, so I lay there squeezing my husband’s hand, breathing heavily, and wondering what the hell I’d just done.
But once the panic subsided, those contractions that were the most painful thing I ever felt? I couldn’t even tell they were happening.
And oh my God, now I understood why women loved the epidural. This. Was. Amazing. Sweet relief!
3. Be prepared for side effects.
At this point the nurse encouraged me to sleep.
She placed me on my side (this took a while because I was basically dead weight) with my legs wrapped around a peanut-shaped birth ball.
Then every 30 minutes she had to come in and flip me to the other side. When she did, I got so nauseous I felt like I was going to throw up. Then I was shaking with chills, almost to the point of convulsing.
So on the one hand I wasn’t feeling contractions and could let my body relax. Score! But also, WTF was this bullshit? I didn’t sign up for this.
Or did I?
4. The best thing you can do for yourself during labor is SLEEP.
Even with the undesirable side effects, I was still able to sleep for a couple wonderful hours. That kind of sleep where your mouth-hangs-open-and-the-pillow-gets-soaked-with-drool kind of sleep. The best kind of sleep.
Without the epidural there’s zero chance for rest or relaxation. And that sleep is what gives you energy when you need it most.
For the end.
5. The epidural does not last forever.
Not for all of us. Like Cinderella before the clock struck midnight, I was just buying time.
And if your epidural wears off towards the end, God help you, because the closer you get to giving birth, the worse the contractions get. So if you’re feeling them at the end, you’re feeling the worst of it.
After my nap the doctor checked my cervix and decided to break my water. After that the contractions got really bad really quick. I was confused as to why I was feeling so much pain even though I got the epidural. It hurt so much.
In hindsight, the pain wasn’t as bad as when I did labor naturally. But it was bad enough for me to think the epidural wasn’t working at all.
The nurse thought I might be ready to push so she suggested I do a couple "practice pushes," which is the exact same thing as real pushes except there’s no doctor in the room.
A note about pushing: pushing actually felt better than not pushing. I found myself looking forward to pushing for the slight moment of relief. It was all the time in between that was unbearable.
After one “practice push” the nurse could see the head and then she calmly but quickly called the doctor to get in there. I pushed for less than 10 minutes and my daughter was born.
Was the epidural worth it?
I went through 14.5 hours of labor without medication for my son’s birth and when he was born I was overcome with exhaustion rather than love. It was difficult to be present with him after being in so much pain for such a long time. My husband cried tears of joy while I cried tears of relief that it was finally over.
With my daughter I was able to relish in that motherly love when she was born. I was able to think about her and how she was doing. The epidural allowed me to relax and rest and store up the energy needed for that exact moment.
Is the epidural right for you?
Let’s say you do get the epidural and the administration is a breeze, you think it’s cool you can’t feel your legs, you don’t have any side effects, and it does last the entire time.
The bottom line is everyone’s experience with childbirth is different. Expect for the best and prepare for the worst. The more you can know and understand the options and possible outcomes, the better you’ll be able to wrap your mind around it when it’s happening.
There's no right or wrong answer. Do what feels right and remember that all childbirth is heroic. You are a badass mother.