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The epidural I never had but desperately wanted

Jill is a sometime runner and expert wine taster from sunny San Antonio. She has a degree in social psychology, one husband and three children. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, Huffington Post, and Babble and she's regular...

I survived natural childbirth, but I really wish I'd gotten the epidural I wanted

It seems like there’s no such thing as “too personal” anymore. Nowadays, it seems like people feel free to ask anyone anything without regard to how sensitive, invasive or straight-up none of your damn business it may be.

You would think asking a stranger — yes, a total stranger — about her birth plan in the grocery store would be considered off-limits. “Hi, can you hand me that little bar thingy so the cashier doesn’t accidentally ring up my stuff on your order? Thanks! Ooh, you’re pregnant! Natural childbirth, I assume?” 

Like that’s not awkward.

But seriously, why do we place so much emphasis on the goodness of natural childbirth and how women attach some kind of sancti-mommy badge of honor mentality to squeezing a watermelon out their hoohah without the benefit of any sort of pain-relieving drugs?

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It’s been about 25 years since I’ve been pregnant. I don’t recall anyone asking me about my birth plan at the grocery store, but I do remember being super annoyed that everyone seemed to think I was cool with their touching my stomach (this was back before we called it a baby bump). I don’t remember anyone in my circle being concerned about my loudly publicized plan to have an epidural and whatever other narcotics I could legally get my hands on. This was pre-social media, but if you came within earshot of me during my third trimester, you knew all about how I planned to have a pain-free birth and be really nice to the nurses.

This was a quarter of a century ago. Nobody talked about natural parenting or baby wearing. Most of my friends who were having babies weren’t planning to breastfeed. New moms today are probably shaking their heads in horror about how much we didn’t know back in the Dark Ages of motherhood.

As it turns out, I was kind of an ass to my nurses, and when I think back to this pain-free birthing experience I’d planned to have with the help of modern science, I have to laugh. It’s been long enough to where I can laugh, but my birth experience was anything but pain-free. Twenty-five years is a long time, but I still remember the pain and the epidural I didn’t get.

My doctor offered natural childbirth as an option. I’d never had a baby, but I knew I didn’t want to do it drug free. I’d heard childbirth compared to stretching your bottom lip up past your nose and over the top of your head. That didn’t sound like my kind of jam. She explained how an epidural worked, and I decided the risk of having a needle threaded between my vertebrae was worth the potentially scary things that could happen. See also that I never fully read that paper before I signed it. My doctor also mentioned a shot of narcotic painkiller to “take the edge off” if I needed it.

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So I kind of imagined childbirth as this event where I wouldn’t be able to feel my vagina and that narcotics would make me feel like I’d just had a triple margarita. How bad could this be?

You see where this is going, right?

I was prepared for an epidural and painkillers on demand. I didn’t attend one single birthing class. I didn’t learn how to breathe through a contraction. I didn’t learn how to “read the signs of my body.” I never bothered to ask the question, “What if for some crazy reason I can’t have the epidural?” No one ever said, “If X happens, no epidural for you.” 

There was no plan B, because it never occurred to me to make one.

The anesthesiologist took my blood pressure before he got ready to do his magic with the numbing drugs that would shoot directly into my lumbar region. I guess the blood pressure check was some kind of precautionary step, and unluckily for me, the nice man in the green pajamas regretfully shook his head and told me he’d have to wait until my blood pressure went down. They had me lie on my left side and told me to relax. Riiight.

My blood pressure finally dropped enough to where the anesthesia man felt comfortable going forward with the epidural. It was unfortunate timing that my nurse chose that moment to pop her head between my legs and cheerfully announce that I was about 8 centimeters dilated and too far gone for an epidural.

My friend and his bag of pain-relieving goodness left the room. I got totally ripped off.

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When my nurse reminded me to “remember your breathing, sweetie,” my response was, “I don’t know how to breathe. I want my epidural. Or morphine. Or maybe general anesthesia. I didn’t take the fucking class. I can’t do this. You can’t make me.” 

Of course I did do it and, not surprisingly, decided it was all worth it when I held my daughter.

If I could have a do-over, I’d still choose the epidural. Childbirth hurt like a mofo, and although nature has a way of making us forget the pain over time, if given the choice, I’d still choose less pain and feel zero guilt. Even though I proved to myself I can survive natural childbirth, I don’t really need to prove anything to anyone else. I say, if you want the epidural, get the epidural, and don’t be a hero.

If you’re expecting, you might think that epidurals are evil, unnatural and bad for your baby. Maybe you think, “If I have to push a small hippo out of my nether regions, I’m getting drugs.” It’s your choice. If I see you at the grocery store, I promise not to ask. Or touch your stomach.

I don’t give out unsolicited advice very often, but here’s one thing: Have a backup plan. You always need a backup plan.

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