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I was too worried about judgment to speak up about the pain of childbirth

Before I had my first child, I did a lot of research on medicated and medication-free births. I had read so many stories about women who had opted for a “natural” birth, and they all talked about how it was amazing for them. Many moms said it made them feel like one with nature, their partner and their baby. Then there were the birth extremists, who cursed the “poison” that Western medicine had cast upon innocent, unborn children with the use of epidurals and pain medication.

All the contradictions left me a bit befuddled, to say the least.

So I turned to the message boards online. While most of the women I spoke with about birth were extremely helpful to me, there were some who made me feel like I was unworthy of motherhood for even considering using an epidural. One woman in particular told me that “getting an epidural could lead to my baby being addicted to heroin in the future.” Really? No, really? Heroin? Of course it was nuts, but for some reason those words stuck with me.

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When the time came for my own delivery, I didn’t make promises that I would give birth without medication, but because of the echoes of the women who labeled pain medications as poison ringing in my head, I wanted to go as long as possible without interventions. That mindset led me blindfolded into what I consider the most miserable experience of my life.

When the day finally came for me to meet my son, I entered the delivery room confident and unafraid. My water had broken at home when I’d gone to bed, so I called my doctor for instruction. He told me to hold off until my contractions were consistent and close together. But they never came. So the next morning, my husband and I headed to the hospital, still with no sign of contractions. The nurses and my doctor checked me multiple times over several hours, but I hadn’t dilated or effaced in the slightest. They all concluded that I had a “crappy cervix.”

My doctor instructed the nurses to start me on Pitocin and to “crank it up” in an attempt to dilate my cervix so I could avoid having a C-section. In all of my research, I never paid attention to anything involving Pitocin, so I had no idea what was about to happen to my body. It is apparently universal knowledge that Pitocin contractions are exponentially worse than natural contractions, but at the time, I was unfortunately clueless.

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I soon discovered how very effective Pitocin is when my first contraction hit me. The nurse asked if I would like some medication to relax me, because it was only going to get worse, and I declined. Soon the news that I was in labor had spread, and my delivery room filled with friends and family, all awkwardly staring at me as I held my breath through my contractions, which were then coming on hard and fast.

Many hours later, I had dilated to 5 centimeters. My contractions were terrible. They came every two minutes and hit me so hard that I would black out momentarily. The people in the room would just stare at me and cringe, saying things like “oh, that was a good one” and “ouch, that must have hurt” every time another contraction would show up on the monitor.

The nurse would come in every few minutes and ask if I wanted my epidural yet, which I continued to decline because I didn’t want to feel judgment from my friends and family in the room like the shame the woman on the message boards had made me feel. I didn’t want them thinking that I was putting my baby at risk for a heroin addiction or that I was weak or an unfit mother or a failure. I lay there, writhing in intense pain for hours and hours, opting for misery instead of judgment.

When I reached the 8-centimeter mark, my nurses again asked about the epidural. I mustered up every bit of strength I had left in my tired, defeated body and told them, “Fuck her. Give me the drugs.”

My epidural arrived a few minutes later. I immediately felt a wave of relief wash over me. Not being able to feel anything from the waist down was the greatest feeling in the world, and being able to remain sane throughout the duration of my labor felt like a miracle. I had my son just an hour later. I was so happy he was finally here and that my labor was finally over (24 hours later), but I was also too tired to even keep my head up. Had I gotten my epidural sooner, I might have had the energy to sit up and enjoy my son’s first hours of life, but instead, I passed out while my husband took care of him.

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I hate that I allowed the judgment of others to interfere with my own very real needs and had a miserable experience because of it. When my second son was born, it was entirely different. When what that crazy woman said popped into my head again, I said, “Fuck her. Give me the drugs.”

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