I’ve Finally Decided Whether to Have an Epidural (& I’m So Relieved!)

Shortly after you get pregnant, you’re inducted into an unknown magical world, kind of like getting your Hogwarts letter. All of a sudden you have secret magical powers you never knew you were capable of: What’s that smell? I think it’s a leave-in cleaning disc inside the toilet three rooms away. Wow. I really am a wizard. It also seems like you’re meeting all these other cool wizards you never really paid enough attention to (other moms). Much of your life feels like solving a mystery. Why is my belly button weird? Which potion is best for preventing stretch marks? Why am I itchy with a stuffy nose/sore hip/inability to drink milk? Am I cursed? So you start consulting with the most powerful wizard you know, Professor Google.

One of my big adventures with Professor Google has been deciding whether I should have an epidural or try for a natural birth. My instinct pretty much all of my life was to go with an epidural. I have never been super cool with pain. I cried a lot over skinned knees as a kid.  I once went to the hospital over a gas bubble. When I get shots or have blood drawn (and yes, I think it’s pretty ironic that an epidural involves a needle in your spine), I close my eyes and tell the nurse not to tell me when she’s going to do it.

But having a natural birth is very trendy, and I figured there must be something to it, like wanting to be in Gryffindor because it means you’re brave. I want to be a good wizard mom. Natural birth even sounds better, you know? “Natural” birth versus what? Drugged birth? It sounds like a choice between a fresh, free-range, heritage breed, organic chicken or some dirty frozen chicken with antibiotics and growth hormones that will probably give you food poisoning. “I’ll have the organic baby please!  Wait, what are your specials?”  

So before I just bent over and took the needle up my spine, I thought I would look into the pros and cons. Well, let’s just say there is a lot of information out there. Every mom I know has her own story. Every web search returns hundreds of articles and blogs on the topic. It can be pretty confusing, but the thing I kept coming back to was this sort of general insistence from Professor Google, books, and other moms, that I should at least try a natural birth.

There’s a lot of positive encouragement, ie. “You can do this!,” which is a statement I’ve long taken to mean, “I know you don’t want to do this, but you have to.” I admit, I took the peer pressure pretty seriously. Even though in the back of my mind, the truth was, I was terrified. I am terrified! Specifically of doing this without drugs… I’m gonna get real with you. When I think about the pain of the contractions, I can somewhat mentally prepare myself for it, but when I think about an episiotomy, or feeling myself tear, or just the biological mechanics of a baby coming out down there… not to mention all the stories I’ve heard and all the videos I’ve watched and everything I’ve read, down to the most granola natural birth advocacy, I do not, no matter how positive I try to be, feel at all prepared for that kind of pain.

I’m pretty impressed by women who have natural births and I can absolutely see the benefits and reasoning behind it. Anybody who told me they were committed to having a natural birth would have my full unwavering support, like a first year on the Quidditch team, but maybe that’s just not me. I might be more of a Hufflepuff when it comes to this.  You see, I’ve been treated for anxiety for the last few years, which is something I’m not remotely ashamed of, but is something I think I neglected to take into consideration.  So how does that factor in and why, exactly, am I avoiding an epidural? From the research I’ve done, and I’ve read a lot, the minor statistical differences in the health of the mother and baby between full-term births with or without an epidural, seem to be numbers I can live with.  

Like all moms, I want the best for my baby, and I’m preparing for that. I’m going to have a super calm, cool doula at my baby’s birth, coaching me and helping me relax. I totally trust my doctor and I’m sure he would be able to keep a cool head in a crisis. I’ve done a lot of emotional work over the years, so I know the power that your mind can have over you. I also know that I can harness that power to help solve problems… so, points for natural birth?

On the other hand, I know full well the reality of what an anxiety attack is like for me and it is pretty scary. Normally I do a great job, if I do say so, of managing my anxiety on a day to day basis. I have a lot of tricks up my sleeve, but so many of them are things that I may not really be able to count on when I’m in labor, like a good night’s sleep, like certain foods and tea, like long vigorous walks or privacy or… the list goes on.

So naturally, at the very time when I really needed it, as it so often does, the answer came to me.  It was the last birth story I heard, and it was my best friend’s. Six days ago, my best friend gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby boy. Mommy and baby are both doing great, and he is such an adorable, squirmy little miracle. The thing is, this precious guy came into the world after 44 hours of labor, from a devoted mom, who was very committed to having a natural birth with her midwife and who bravely went 36 long painful hours without an epidural (or sleep, or food) before it just became medically necessary for her to have one.  

For me it was quite the wake-up call. My best friend is calmer than me, more positive, way more committed to this whole natural birth thing than I ever have been and does not suffer from crippling anxiety attacks. I have been trying to put myself in the shoes of so many other people, but at the end of the day, nobody else can be in my shoes but me. I’ve been trying to imagine what it would be like to do it this way or that, knowing that the unexpected could happen and that no matter what I plan, how prepared I am, how much I’m relaxed and ready to use my maternal super powers, it may not turn out the way I want. There are so many variables I can’t prepare for, but there is one thing I can do that will take some of this weight off my shoulders. I can plan to have an epidural. 

I can stop fixating on pain and fear and at least until I deliver, I can stop fretting over whether or not others will judge me. The best, healthiest thing for me is to not have a bunch of anxiety over my delivery, and knowing I want an epidural helps that. I feel well informed and like I’ve made a practical and emotional decision. As long as we get to term and stay healthy and positive, me and my daughter are going to be just fine having an epidural, and I will have a lot more peace of mind not fretting about pain, and building up unhealthy anticipation or expectations. Since I decided, I’m happy to report that my bedtime routine has shifted from ruminating over how much delivery will hurt to reading books aloud to my little bump. See, I’m still pretty hippie dippie about the whole thing, even with drugs, and really, since when are drugs not kind of a hippie thing?