Should I get an epidural?
July 20, 2017 1:48 PM   Subscribe

This is my first pregnancy and I've gone back and forth a lot on this question. I don't have any complications and my doctor says I can try to a totally natural birth although obviously have to be prepared for anything just depending how things go. I'd love to hear your experiences with this...I feel like I just keep going back and forth on all the statistics and advice!

We are planning to hire a doula but could look for one who is okay with working with someone getting an epidural if I decide to go that route. Either way this will be a hospital birth so I will have access to a full range of options. Our hospital does have birthing tubs and other options for supporting natural birth if I end up doing that.
posted by rainbowbrite to Health & Fitness (66 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I have a very low pain tolerance. While I admire women who are able to endure natural childbirth, getting an epidural was, for me, the best decision. Depending on how early your contractions start, you may or may not have time to receive an epidural. There is a point of no return.

Mine left me with no sensation below the waist, although I could sense contractions. I didn't feel pushing through a contraction was impeded in any way. My son was born about three hours after I was induced and only after half an hour of pushing, so I think I was fortunate in that sense.

One thing that stands out to me is that once I received the epidural and the catheter was inserted, I took the best nap I've taken in years!

I know many women feel blessed to have felt every contraction, push, and movement of the birth process having not received an epidural. As someone that did, and definitely did not feel the intense pain of contractions, or the small tears that resulted in an episiotomy, I can safely say that the birth process felt just as organic and valid and real for me as I've heard it described by women who've undergone a natural childbirth.

Congratulations, and good luck to you!
posted by Everydayville at 1:59 PM on July 20, 2017 [12 favorites]

You don't need to decide now. See how you feel while it's happening.
posted by Sassyfras at 2:00 PM on July 20, 2017 [20 favorites]

Get a doula who is flexible. You have no idea how you'll respond or what it will be like in the moment. If you have a doula who is prepared for anything and not going to shame your choices, you will be in the best position. You might find yourself getting a C-section if something comes up later in the pregnancy and it would be good to be able to retain the doula for that too. You may find stress is alleviated if you know that your doula will support your decisions, regardless of what route you take, and that may actually allow you to defer or go without the epidural...or feel supported if you choose that too.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 2:01 PM on July 20, 2017 [9 favorites]

The book Expecting Better has a great chapter on epidurals, with statistics to back it up. Highly recommended (the entire book, actually).

In my personal experience, I was throwing up from the pain 15 hours into labor and was so grateful to get my (planned) epidural at that point that I could have cried with relief. I ended up being in labor for another 21 hours after that. I can't imagine what that would have been like without an epidural. That said, I did end up getting an unplanned C-section. Did the epidural have anything to do with that? I don't know... but I do know that I would absolutely get an epidural again, if I get pregnant again.

Anecdotally, and again from personal experience, a pretty high percentage of the women I know who planned to give birth naturally (without an epidural) ended up getting one. Things can change so quickly.

I've always heard that the best birth plan is really to be flexible. You can plan for a natural birth (including things like having nobody offer you an epidural/tell people not to keep reminding you that epidurals are an option, good doula support, making sure you have alternative pain management options that you ARE offered regularly, etc) but if you end up needing an epidural , that is absolutely a valid and good path to take as well. It's a cliche, but the only thing that really does matter in the end is a healthy baby and mother. You do you.
posted by warble at 2:02 PM on July 20, 2017 [5 favorites]

I wanted a natural birth with Baby Kitty. Then I went into labor. I was in labor for 64 hours before Baby Kitty made his appearance, 52 of those were at home, unmedicated. I had contractions every 7 minutes and could not eat or sleep. I got an epidural when we went into the hospital. I got a "Happy Button" that allowed me to manage the amount of medication I had at any given time. I was fully involved and aware during my active labor. We had midwives at the hospital the whole time, and it was an amazing experience. I was able to walk very shortly after giving birth, and was very happy that I had the epidural.
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 2:03 PM on July 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

I should probably add a bit more detail: with each of my children (3) I went in with complete flexibility as to whether to get an epidural or not. Ultimately I did get an epidural for all three - mostly because lack of sleep really affects me and contractions did not allow me to sleep at all. Go figure. So after many hours of labor and pain, I opted for the epidural just so I could have a break and rest. I'm glad I did in each instance. My last child's birth was so serene and pretty much perfect for me. Although the epidural wiped out the pain, I still felt sensations and pressure and relief. That birth was pretty neat - it was quiet and intimate with just my husband, the doctor, the nurse, and me. The lights weren't bright. It was almost cozy. I felt in control and on top of things and I really liked that atmosphere where his first experience of the outside world was serene.
posted by Sassyfras at 2:12 PM on July 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

I went into my first birth with the plan to go as long as I could without medication. Then I started experiencing it and I was having back to back contractions and could not get on top of it. I got the epidural and was able to sleep for a couple of hours. When I signaled the nurse that it felt like it was wearing off, she said, "No, the baby is ready to be delivered." It was an easy, uncomplicated delivery. Second was faster and much the same.

You should do what feels right to you, but please do not feel guilty if you choose some kind of pain relief. It does not make you any less of a loving parent.
posted by goggie at 2:13 PM on July 20, 2017

Yes you can decide at the last minute, actually. Totally fine.

Please don't hang all your hopes and dreams on everything going a certain way. It won't, and if you expect it to all be the way you think it will be right now, you're setting yourself up for disappointment. It's ok to have a plan, but be absolutely 100% prepared to change that plan when you're in the middle of things.

On preview: actually all of that applies to life in general, so take twice daily, repeat as necessary, forever :)
posted by SaltySalticid at 2:15 PM on July 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

You really can't plan this in advance.

I know you are so excited about giving birth (we all were!!) and the Type A's among us like to think and plan and weigh and research and prepare. But you just can't plan this one. Things happen. It may hurt more than you could ever imagine. You could need a c-section. Baby could start crowning in the parking lot and slide right on out of you before you're even admitted. Things happen.

The only plan you can make and stick to is to remember that the goal is a healthy you and a healthy baby, and any route that gets you there is the right one. You get no points for anything other than this result.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:17 PM on July 20, 2017

I agree that you can certainly decide when you're in the situation, although I 100% understand the desire to get it straight in your mind/plan now. I think people saying "you can't plan this" are really fucking irritating and being condescending - yes, things change, but that doesn't mean you can't go in with a plan, with the understanding that plans and your own desires can change.

My experience:
I could not get an epidural due to a blood clotting disorder that doesn't allow for big needles to be inserted near the spine. I knew this going in. I was induced (with a cervical ripener & a foley ballon) at 39 weeks in order to manage my clotting disorder, and then natural labor took over after my water broke (i.e. no pitocin). I had laughing gas & a birth tub available to me for pain relief, and my labor team was a doula, my husband, and a really awesome nurse who had had two natural births. I ended up with a relatively short labor (18 total hours, maybe half of that active labor) and a second-degree tear. Pushing took about one hour.

I would have really really really really really really liked more pain relief. My throat was hoarse from screaming for three days after labor. I have a high pain tolerance.
posted by Jaclyn at 2:26 PM on July 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

So funny, this article just popped up in my FB feed after reading your question. Great final paragraphs there.

I planned on trying to go without, but ended up at the tail end of 12 hours of intense back labor (starting in the evening, so no sleep for me). The epidural was the sweetest relief. Unfortunately I ended up in a semi-emergency c-section situation so going natural ended up not being in the cards for me anyway.
posted by LKWorking at 2:28 PM on July 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

Yeah, you can totally decide once you're in. Some people have an easy time. Some people have a hard time.

My water broke early on, and every contraction HURT LIKE HELL. It took a while for them to get me into a room where I could get an epidural, because there were lots of people in labor and they ran out of suites. Prior to the epidural, they could only give me one (1) hour of relief with fentanyl and some fucking Benadryl. So I went nine hours without an epidural, and when it did go in, it was incredible.

It may have resulted in me getting an un-planned c-section, but I do not, for one second, regret getting an epidural.
posted by joyceanmachine at 2:30 PM on July 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

I had a wait-and-see mindset regarding the epidural: I was fine with getting one, curious to see if I could go without, not really fussed about it going a specific way. I think I requested it four hours into active labor. I do wish it had been clearer when it was an option: I remember thinking I wouldn't be able to get one so early, but I can't remember why, and I recall being like "you mean I can get the epidural now??" Pain can be incredibly distracting, which is why it's good to have a doula who can be mentally on top of the situation as it unfolds. (I did not have a doula, but the nurses at the hospital were wonderfully attentive and I had at least one with me most of the time.)

I do distinctly recall that the quiet time between the epidural kicking in and the pushing was so relaxing, almost like being at a spa. Labor and parenting a newborn are two of the most exhausting things you can go through, so having that short break can be really lovely.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:36 PM on July 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

I went in with the goal of waiting as long as possible (ideally till 6cm or so) before getting the epidural. I was pretty sure I wanted it (hate pain), but my understanding was that it can slow down labor and make other interventions necessary.

Like joyceanmachine, though, my water broke early and I spent about eight hours in seriously painful labor (also at night!), so I hadn't slept in 24 hours when I found out at 7am that I was only at 3 cm and I got the epidural.

It was fabulous. Delightful. I got to rest, my body got on with the work. I did have to have pitocin later in the day after my dilation stalled out a bit, but I was in labor for 23 hours total (starting with my water breaking), delivered vaginally, no significant tearing or episiotomy. I'm glad I went in with an idea of my goal, but it's important to know that that's just a general guideline and to be ready to be flexible.
posted by gideonfrog at 2:37 PM on July 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


My wife has extremely good pain tolerance; she didn't even realize she'd been having contractions for a few days until the nurse saw her. Despite keeping our planning to a minimum, the entire process went considerably differently than expected. All I can say is that my wife says that she wished she'd asked for the epidural earlier instead of toughing it out as long as she did.
posted by Comrade_robot at 2:37 PM on July 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

I had an epidural. At first i wanted to go natural but when i was in the throes of labor my mother said to me: "honey, take the drugs, I would have if they had them when I had you." I had one the second time too. I have never regretted it.
posted by Requiax at 2:42 PM on July 20, 2017

My wife has very high pain tolerance, and thought she could do it naturally, so she persisted past the point of her being able to think clearly. When she finally got the epidural (after 20 hours), it interfered with the anesthesia for the c-section we needed to get (because the kid was, unbeknownst to us, upside down and stuck) and she felt every bit of that C-section. I've never seen, and hope to never see again, pain and fear like that.

Everyone can do what they want, but as far as my family's concerned, get the epidural. The alternative can be great, but it can be absolutely horrifying.

Alternatively, just know that doctors take that 1-10 pain level thing seriously. If you say you're a 4, they're going to treat you like they would most people at that level. My wife said she was a 4 when she should have said she was an 8.
posted by Pacrand at 2:49 PM on July 20, 2017 [4 favorites]

If you want a serious science resource, check out this fairly recent and freely accessible scholarly article. "In this review, we trace the history of the use of epidural analgesia and its refinements. We then outline the goals of treatment and methods used to attain those goals."
posted by SaltySalticid at 2:50 PM on July 20, 2017

I planned to have a unmedicated birth. I decided to have an epidural two thirds in. No regrets. I held out for as long as I could, then accepted the pain relief. You handle what you can handle. I'm not sure what it is about childbirth that makes people leery about accepting pain relief. You wouldn't have major surgery without anasthesia.
posted by Ruki at 3:06 PM on July 20, 2017 [8 favorites]

My wife had an epidural for all three. What she said to me was, "Sure, I could probably live through the pain, but that is like saying I could live through having a knee operation without medication. Why, when there is modern medicine that alleviates the pain while letting you be an active participant in the process."
posted by AugustWest at 3:09 PM on July 20, 2017 [13 favorites]

I had a hospital birth, one that had birthing tubs. I have just one kid and I feel like I got to experience every birthing option during my long labor. I did not have a doula, maybe things would have gone differently if I had, if I was ever to do it again and doula was an option, I would totally jump at that, especially for a first baby. I labored for a long time in every kind of position, eventually I got the birthing tub (it was awesome!) at some point I got a dose of fentanyl, labored for awhile, and then at some point, after being in the hospital about 18 hours, we went for the epidural. And then I took a long, wonderful nap. Seriously. It was amazing. I took a nap, my husband took a nap. I should have eaten something (where's that helpful doula?). Laboring under the epidural once we were ready to go again was not that much fun. It was what I wanted to avoid but, frankly, I have a small pelvis, my baby turned out to be pretty big with a big, round head and around the time they were talking about interventions (forceps, vacuum) we also started talking about a c-section. So I ended up with that! 1 hour later, my big, beautiful daughter was born and even after all that, it was magical. Total laboring time: around 30 hours.

But I still think back on that epidural and how amazing it was. I can see why they use it and I can also see why it can be a bit annoying, too. I think some of it is how you relate to your body anyway. But, my goal with my birth was to try and go natural and see how things went. I felt that everyone there respected my choices and at the point where I had to decide on intervention, they were helpful and willing to do what I was comfortable with and I just couldn't handle mentally the kinds of interventions they were offering just to get my baby through the vaginal canal. At that point, I was done.

A friend on her third baby let them know well in advance to have the epidural ready and when she called to say they were on the way she said, have it right there. She was a little annoyed though because third baby came very fast and easily and so she got the epidural in place and then moments later the baby was there. Then she had to wait out some of the effects to wear off.
posted by amanda at 3:13 PM on July 20, 2017

I think it is a great idea to be flexible, but it was also important to me personally to think about what I would want in an ideal scenario and try to go for that while being open minded about things changing once I was in the situation since it's difficult to really understand what it will be like beforehand. I read so much before having my baby, but it's impossible to know what the experience will be like ahead of time, and it can be different for each person.

My goal was to have a natural birth without interventions or pain medication, but I also thought through a Plan B of using Nitrous Oxide (laughing gas) if things were becoming intolerable for me (I learned that this is widely used in Europe but only recently approved for labor in the US. I liked the idea that it acts really fast but also leaves your system really fast, doesn't negatively affect the baby or interfere with bonding and I would have control of administering it to myself. My understanding is that it doesn't exactly take away the pain but takes away your anxiety over the pain.). After that, other interventions would be a Plan C and I would make decisions in the moment with my doula, midwife and husband. I personally didn't want to get an epidural, but I wasn't an absolutist.

Ultimately, I ended up having my water break without contractions starting, so I did have to be open minded and alter my plans to use Cervadil to start contractions, but after that I was able to progress without other interventions. I will say that there was one point when I got a little pang of fear, wondering how intense it was going to get and thinking "Maybe this will be too much for me to handle...", but after that it kind of plateaued. I think the strange thing was having no idea if it would keep getting more intense, so even if I could handle things then I wasn't sure what would come next. After I realized it had reached peak intensity and I could handle it it was just a matter of keeping going until it was over. I had a pretty long labor, too--but time gets really strange in labor and I wasn't totally aware of how long it had been (water broke Friday, contractions started Saturday early afternoon, she was born early Sunday morning--her little arm was up by her face so it was slow going and I was (literally) pushing for 7 hours).

One thing that I found really helpful was reading birth stories, so I could feel informed about the many different ways labor can unfold. This helped me not get panicked about how mine progressed slowly. The anxiety can really increase the physical pain. I have a few friends who had natural births, so I knew it was possible. I read Ina May Gaskin's books which have many birth stories and a positive message about trusting your body--but be warned that she is a little judgemental about the American medical birth model in general. I also loved Penny Simkin's Birth Partner book, and she has lovely videos on Youtube. If you want more perspective on natural births, they are good resources. It is true that the US is the most interventionist and also has higher rates of mortality for mothers than any other industrial country (along with higher costs of care, as with so much of our medical system). I did absorb the idea that interventions can often lead to other interventions, and can sometimes pose more risks to mothers than are really communicated well.

Obviously, everyone's experience is different, so I don't judge anyone at all for decisions they make about this. You should do what's right for you! I just wanted to offer a counterpoint since you are hearing from mostly people who have gotten them.
posted by ialwayscryatendings at 3:16 PM on July 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

Do what's right for you in the moment. That's really all you can do. I was determined to go natural with my first, but after 16 hours of induced labor, all the ball bouncing, massage, showers, and birthing tubs in the world weren't even touching the relentless pain, and then my labor just stalled. I got the epidural after a lot of hand-wringing and tears and suddenly things started to progress again, and I felt more like an active participant instead of just a giant ball of pain.

With my second, I walked into the hospital and said "you can get the epidural ready right now," the anesthesiologist was ready to go and started prepping as soon as I got into the birthing room, until they checked me and OH HEY there was her head. So the anesthesiologist literally backed out of the room with his hands up, I didn't get that epidural, and my entire labor was less than three hours (two and a half of which were at home and on the way to the hospital). Other than my "but my birth plan was to get an epidural! I don't know how to do this!" freakout, it was fine. I might even try for it again should we have a third, but every labor and every birth are different, and even if you have a goal, it's okay if your plan changes.
posted by ThatSomething at 3:32 PM on July 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Definitely be flexible. I wanted to avoid an epidural, partially because I wanted to try, partially because ew needles in spine, but I was in unrecognized back labor with my daughter for 26 hours and the epidural saved my sanity. I slept for a few hours through transition, which was absolutely critical since I didn't get much sleep after finally having the kid, either. Just be flexible and see how you go. You can ask your doula to help you objectively take into account how quickly your labor is progressing (if it's not, you might want the epidural to help you manage the marathon), whether your kid might be posterior (that is some fucking difficult labor let me tell you), etc, to help you make the decision.

Also - my epidural started wearing off conveniently right around the time I was finally fully dilated, and I was able to feel contractions and push. After a while my daughter was still not coming (see: posterior) and started experiencing distress so they re-upped me in case I needed an emergency c-section. My daughter was finally born vaginally, about an hour and a half later, pulled out of me with forceps (like, doc had his foot braced against the table while pulling), and let me promise you that despite the new heavy dose I definitely felt her head being born, and before that I was able to push along with the forcep pulling with a midwife telling me when each contraction was coming by feeling my stomach. An epidural definitely takes away the pain, but it does not take away all sensation by any means.
posted by olinerd at 3:34 PM on July 20, 2017

I just had my first baby. I had planned to go as long as possible without an epidural then get one. My goal was to not be stuck in bed numb for hours, but also i wasnt set on having a natural birth.

Aparently i was in labor all day at work (basically felt like i ate something really bad and was going to explosively shit myself). I had to do a lot of walking around so i basically stopped at every bathroom i knew on my tasks around my work campus thinking this stop would be the one where i would purge the knarly from my system...but it never came. I went home my normal time and ended up going to the hospital when i was getting constant super bad period cramps curled up in my bathtub. I got to the hospital and in less than an hour i had a baby vaginally with no medication save for a saline drip for hydration.
I would say my pain tolerance is pretty high but what i did need through my hospital experience were the various nurses to answer my questions and tell me things were normal. I would yell things like i feel like im going to puke, i have the shakes, im gonna poop on the table, something just gushed out of me etc and they just assured me that it was normal or common.
In the moment it wasn't unbearably painful, it was more scary because it was an unknown very uncomfortable feeling. The pain really doesn't last once everything is out. Afterwards i mostly had a feeling of disbelief in what had happened because it went so fast and my baby was taken away for a little bit because they had menconium in the fluid.
So since most answers are about people who didnt want an epidural and got one, i just wanted to share that you can be open to an epidural and still go natural. No need to be full granola either way. I do believe though that stayinh out of the hospital as long as possible helped me avoid an epidural. I feel like if i was there all day and not distracted by walking around i would have gotten one thinking it would get it all over with faster.
posted by WeekendJen at 3:46 PM on July 20, 2017 [4 favorites]

I tried for a natural birth with my first and it just did not work and we just kept trying more interventions until I ended up with a c-section. I'm so glad I did because he just was not going to come out any other way. I found the pain to be excruciating, far worse than I had thought. I'm so glad that I hadn't had my heart set on a birth without interventions because it would have crushed me to feel like I had "failed" or put my kid at a disadvantage because of the way he was born. My second I had a scheduled c-section and it was glorious.

Everyone here is giving you good advice. The really intense natural birth advocates make it seem like you can will yourself into an easy birth and that is just not true.
posted by TheLateGreatAbrahamLincoln at 3:53 PM on July 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

My data is very old (over 19 years at this point!), but I had wanted to have an unmedicated birth, and didn't understand why everyone wanted an epidural. Then I went into labor and decided I really wanted one, but the birth was so fast, that by the time I was in the room I was so far dilated that said that they could not give me one. I know things have changed, and they can give an epidural much quicker now a days, but remember too, that you might not even get the chance to choose, and as everyone has said, it is best to go in with an ideal plan, and know that things might change.
posted by momochan at 3:56 PM on July 20, 2017

Just want to chime in that your doula is not there in lieu of the epidural; your doula is there to help you navigate as much pain as you can take and then do whatever you need her to do to get you through to delivering your healthy baby.

I had an awesome doula. She advocated for me, helped me deal with the most intense pain I've ever felt, and stood up for me when I needed to eat something mid-labor, and when I was drugged up and rambling and needed someone who was not my husband to talk me down. I labored for twelve hours without pitocin. They gave me pitocin because I only dilated to 1 centimeter in that time. After the pitocin, I labored for 7 hours with my doula's help. I only got to 1.5 centimeters, even then. Finally I decided I needed the epidural to keep going and I didn't want to end up in a C section. They gave me the epidural, I got two hours of sleep, and when I woke up, I was fully dilated. I pushed for 30 minutes and my son was born vaginally, even though for part of the placement of the epidural I'd felt an almost uncontrollable urge to push when I wasn't fully dilated. In hindsight, the pitocin was less useful and more distressing than the epidural. Had I to do it over again, I'd have told them no on the pitocin and gotten the epidural earlier so I could have relaxed and labored pain free.

Get the doula. Know the epidural is there if your wife needs it. Take things as they come.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 4:21 PM on July 20, 2017

Just like Everydayville, my son was born about three hours after I was induced and only after half an hour of pushing. I started out booked into the hospital’s midwife led birth centre but was induced (two weeks late) in the labor ward. I have a high pain threshold and by the time I asked for an epidural it was too late and he was born about half an hour later. So I sort of wanted a natural birth and sort of got one – I also ended up wanting an epidural and not getting one. It’s good to be flexible. We had a doula too and it was a huge help.

Like TryTheTilapia, the only time in the 36 hours of early labour I made any progress was when they’d send me home with codeine and a sleeping pill – but experiencing this made me super open to the idea of an epidural for my particular physiology. There is no way to know this sort of thing ahead of time.

If you think you might want one, ask your doula to check with the nurses on wait times periodically. Not only was I fully dilated when I asked, but there was a 45min wait time for the anaesthesiologist. If there’s a long wait and you think you might want it, go ahead and have them put you on the list – then in an hour (or whenever) if you don’t want it you can just decline or ask them to do someone else first and check with you again later.
posted by jrobin276 at 4:39 PM on July 20, 2017

I was glad I got it; I'd had a couple of days of prodromal labor at home and hadn't slept much, so the epidural gave me a much-needed chance to rest. I could feel and move my legs, couldn't feel the contractions for a few hours, and could feel the pushing but it wasn't painful.

It did slow things down - when I got to the hospital I was 8 or 9 cm dilated and they didn't know if there would be time for the anesthesiologist to get there and do his thing, but after the epidural it was 7 hours and eventually some pitocin before the baby came. Not every hospital would have tried for an epidural at the point I came in, so it's worth checking on when is too late for your providers.
posted by songs about trains at 4:45 PM on July 20, 2017

Before my son was born I was hoping to get through labor without an epidural because I really wanted to be mobile. I knew I couldn't be too attached to my plan, though.

I ended up getting induced at 41+4. I had no dilation and no effacement, but as soon as they gave me cytotec I had contractions (strong enough that I couldn't talk through) every 2-3 minutes for about 34 hours straight. That got me dilated to 1 cm. It was kind of ridiculous. The induction STARTED at 8 PM so after 34 hours of nonproductive labor I had been up and laboring for 2 days and I was running out of steam.

I chose to get an epidural at that point so I could rest because I was afraid (and my midwife was afraid) that I would be too tired to push, necessitating a C-section. 30 minutes after the epidural was placed, my water broke naturally. 5 hours later I was fully dilated. Pushing was still a long, exhausting affair and I was in pretty terrible condition afterwards.

But later, the midwife said that although it's rare, they sometimes find that for some women, possibly particularly with posterior babies (my baby was posterior until 10 minutes before birth), an epidural can finally relax the pelvic floor enough to let labor progress. I haven't been able to find any scientific explanation for this, but that's what my caregivers said. So. Not what I expected, but there you go.
posted by Cygnet at 4:51 PM on July 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

I was induced and the contractions hit you like a truck, there is no slow buildup. I swear to dog, I'm still a little bit in love with my anaesthetist for taking that pain away with an epidural. Hands down best thing ever. Zero regrets (except that I had a ten pound baby which ended up being delivered by c section, had I known that, I would have jumped straight to it.)

I will just leave you with a medical opinion. My brother is a specialist doctor, though not an obstetrician, and his wife has had four children. When I asked his medical opinion on epidurals, he told me she'd had one for every child and he'd encouraged it if she wanted them, because why would you go through pain if you don't have to and there's a medically safe way of taking it away? Just another point of view.
posted by Jubey at 5:13 PM on July 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

I have never had a baby and have no interest in having one, but I agree with the people above who say why would you go through pain you don't have to?
The idea of "natural childbirth" always seemed to me like a leftover from Victorian morality, where women are supposed to be atoning for Eve's sin by having painful births. RIDICULOUS.
People also used to have their legs cut off without anaesthesia, but we don't do that any more because it's fucking horrifying.
posted by exceptinsects at 5:17 PM on July 20, 2017 [10 favorites]

Everyone who says that if you want an epidural, you should get one, is right. On the other hand, if you think you might not want one, it's not all that implausible that you might be fine without one.

I had two babies unmedicated, which means I was lucky enough to have fast, easy labors (still impressive, not the worst pain I've ever felt, but I'm certainly not saying it didn't hurt at all). See how it goes for you, and ask for whatever you need as it's happening.
posted by LizardBreath at 5:31 PM on July 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

The epidural fucked up my partner's back. Her spine is a little odd and they were digging around in there with the needle for a while. She has had years of back pain since, was fine before.

It also seemed to stop the normal progression of the birth, which had been going fine up to that point, and she ended up needing a caesarian.
posted by w0mbat at 5:50 PM on July 20, 2017 [4 favorites]

I had 50 hour labor with 3 hours of pushing without medication. Having a doula was helpful as was having a pro-natural birth CNM on staff at the hospital. My. Birthplan was not rigid but it didn't seem worth the potential complications to me.

But maybe I have a high pain tolerance? I had a filling replaced (including drilling) without Novocaine too (I don't think I do though I just think shots hurt more than drills or baby heads.)
posted by vespabelle at 6:17 PM on July 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

I went in hoping for an unmedicated birth but open to whatever. And then my kid was born in 2 1/2 hours start to finish-the next two were faster than that-the third was an hour total. Those are pretty freaking intense hours, by as soon as it was done I was golden (and obviously there was no time for an epidural-my second was born ten minutes after I got to the hospital). So, plan away, but perhaps spend some time gathering info about how births have gone in your family-for me, that was the best indication of how my own went.
posted by purenitrous at 6:47 PM on July 20, 2017

Had one 30 hours into a 36-hour back labor. Pretty certain I would have ended up having a C-section otherwise, because labor stalled, and I was just too exhausted to endure any more contractions. It was a fucking miracle, and I have no idea why I waited so long. I felt much more present for her birth and able to welcome her calmly into the world than I would have been otherwise.
posted by xylothek at 6:50 PM on July 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

I probably love the doctors that performed my epidurals more than I love the father of my children.

It wasn't even a question for me. Two completely different labors and I got an epidural as soon as was practical for both of them. A++ would recommend.
posted by lydhre at 7:00 PM on July 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have had two unmedicated births, at home, where any pain meds weren't an option. I have a high pain tolerance, and really didn't want to go to the hospital so I was motivated to deal with the, *ahem*, discomfort of labour.

Here is how I prepared: I talked lots with friends who had birthed, listening to how their labour progressed and when (or if) they decided to use laughing gas or have an epidural. My partner and I took a midwife-led birthing class, that focused on the progression of labour. I read Ina May Gaskin's Guide to Childbirth. Some of it wasn't for me, but I appreciated the use of visual metaphors for thinking of contractions as 'opening forces' that come (and go) in waves. And the hint about keeping your jaw lose was crucial!

During labour I had three jobs 1) drink water, 2) pee, and 3) fully relax between contractions. I managed to birth without pain-meds (and at home) because I had a quick active labour. If you get tired, your resilience to pain drops dramatically.

When things got gnarly in transition, I knew this was a short and intense phase of labour. The prep reading, listening, and support I had got me through this.

So to restate what everyone else has said: There are no gold star stickers given out after birth. It doesn't matter how you do it, as long as it works for you. Pain-meds or C-section or no pain meds are all great if you come out of it with healthy parents and baby.
posted by Sauter Vaguely at 7:06 PM on July 20, 2017 [5 favorites]

I had two children with no epidural or indeed anything. First one was 24 hours labor, second about 18, both were back labor all the way. It was important to me to go through it clear - and I also read Ina Mae Gaskin and just immersed myself in labor stories. I kept saying, my body is designed to do this, it's a process, there's a beginning, a middle and an end. And there was indeed an end - they're all grown up now! I do feel birth is too medicalized, was then, is still and in some ways even more so now. I went in thinking, no, I won't do it, and I didn't. I don't think of myself as having a super high pain threshold but I am stubborn. I delivered my son (2nd child) kneeling and that helped with the back labor a lot. My 1st child was with a doctor, lying in bed. I had an episiotomy and that was super painful and got infected later. With my second child I had a midwife and she just let me tear. I didn't notice it and it healed up perfectly. So, data point from natural childbirth: it was fine, the midwife was better than the doctor.

That said, though, the best plan is as everyone has said, be flexible, do your research so you know going in what you're going through, relax as much as possible and whatever happens, happens. Baby is baby and labor is the least of it. Congratulations!
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:24 PM on July 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

I had back labor and blacked out between contractions. Seriously, blacked out/passed out from the pain between each contraction. My plan was to make the decision when I was giving birth as to whether I needed an epidural. I needed an epidural. There is not a day that goes by that I don't think about that epidural fondly. Not a day...

Did I mention I'm a former boxer? I'm not new to pain. I love modern medicine.
posted by Toddles at 7:28 PM on July 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

More anecdata: based on measurements taken during a sonogram when my first was just a couple of days overdue, my doctor estimated the baby would weigh ~9.5-11 lbs, so she induced labor by breaking the membrane. When things didn't seem to be progressing fast enough, I was given pitocin, which ramped up the pain by orders of magnitude, so I requested an epidural. Unfortunately, it as a busy night and it took about 3 absolutely miserable hours before the anesthesiologist could get to me. Once the needle was in place, the very idea of "natural" (i.e., unmedicated) childbirth seemed as absurd as having a "natural" root canal.

However, things did not end well for me. The epidural compromised my ability to push the baby out, so she was a forceps delivery with a significant tear and recovery was a bitch. (Btw, she weighed 8 lbs 14 oz).

Three years later, I was given Demerol (in tablet form) when I was in labor with my second child. I would have loved more pain relief (e.g., to have the Demerol injected), but that would have required being transferred to the traditional obstetrics ward, rather than the "birthing center", which was more home-like, so I stuck it out. My son weighed 10 lbs, 5 oz--recovering from that birth was MUCH easier than recovering from the forceps delivery.

That said, I still like the idea of an epidural (in theory, anyway). You don't get any ribbons for enduring the pain of childbirth.
posted by she's not there at 7:33 PM on July 20, 2017

A++ would epidural again
And I, too, came out with an almost holy appreciation for anesthesiologists.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:44 PM on July 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

I had two no-medications labors. For the second one, the pain got bad enough that I said, hey, I could consider some medication or something, and the nurse-midwife said no, we passed that point 45 minutes ago. (Which was fine; I could deal with another half hour at that level; I didn't want to deal with another three hours.) Both of mine were less than 4 hours between "arrive at hospital" and "give birth." Both were preceded by several hours of "I can't sit down; it hurts too much" that, in the case of the first, I later identified as labor.

What I've come to realize, after talking to a lot of women, of both emphatically "pro-natural" and "there are no medals for pain resistance; take whatever they offer" perspectives:

Pregnancy is scary. Labor is terrifying. Arrange for whatever you can that will make you feel safest; be willing to change that plan if necessary; do your damnedest to have assistants (including the doctor) who you can trust to help make that decision, because you will be in no condition to consider the nuances of medical possibilities.

If natural childbirth will help you feel in touch with your body, and being aware of every ripple of contractions will make you feel like you at least know what's going on, go for that. If pain scares you more than not-pain when you know your body's going through hell, arrange for an epidural or meds or both, after discussing it with your medical professionals of choice.

(Side note: The word "contraction" may be misleading. It makes it sounds like you feel something contracting. I felt cramps. Several other women I've talked to felt cramps. Followed by feeling like shitting a watermelon. This was indeed an incredible, terrible pain, but having the warning in advance that that's what it would feel like, made it comprehensible.)
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 8:19 PM on July 20, 2017 [4 favorites]

I did not have an epidural and if I were to have another baby, I would make the same choice. I had a great labor and birth with no pain medication. It hurt a lot but not really unbearable except for around transition when I wanted my midwife to brain me with a large rock but by then, fuck it, you're in too deep. I labored in a tub which helped at ton, I took Hypnobirthing classes, read the book, practiced with my Hypnobirthing MP3s. All of this helped. It also helped that my labor was "only" eight hours long, and I have a big old pelvis, apparently.

I get sort of annoyed when people say things like, "You don't get a medal for not getting an epidural!" I mean, of course that's true, but you know what? I'm proud of my labor and birth. I wanted to know if I could do it and I could. I'm a pasty nerd who isn't in particularly good shape, I'm certainly not athletic, my baby was a crummy position (fully posterior), I had back labor, I pushed for almost three hours, and I still did it. This was important to me. It doesn't have to be important to you. But if is IS, you can probably do it if you want to. And one other benefit (for me, at least) was that I felt FUCKING AMAZING immediately after birth. Like, I could have scaled the side of the hospital like Spidey if I had to. I could, and did, get up right after, and I just felt...great.

And of COURSE you can always change your mind one way or the other when you're in labor. It hurts to much and you're getting too tired to push? DO IT. You think you can go without for one more contraction (...and then one more...and then one more), DO IT.
posted by Aquifer at 8:25 PM on July 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

My first was in a breach position and the hospital asked if I'd be willing to try a natural birth as an experiment. (Yes, I was crazy). It went fine, I was induced and had a pudendal block and laughing gas, it was very painful but also relatively fast, four hours of labor all inclusive. An epidural wasn't offered because a long labor could be dangerous in the specific situation, and epidurals prolong labor. When it was over, the midwife asked if I'd do it again, and I laughed and said yes. In spite of the pain, there is also some sort of a high in being so strong and powerful. I stayed a week in the hospital afterwards, again mainly because of their research purposes, but also because I'd had a episiotomy and they wanted to keep an eye on it.
During it all, I had a very strong sense that I could have managed the pain better if I had been allowed to do it on my own time and move more about, so next time I went all natural. It was in the hospital, but there was only a midwife and a friend of mine who is a registered midwife but functioned as a doula there. Being in the hospital meant that I had the option of pain relief available within short notice. Again, the actual labor was quite short.
This time, the hospital didn't believe I had gone into active labor because there was still over ten minutes between contractions and I was clearly not in pain. They wanted me to go back home, and I don't know how, but I just knew and was stubborn about staying there, called my friend and within less than two hours I was in the middle of giving birth.
I had a tub and sat in that for a while, which was very relaxing, and otherwise stood and walked around in the room. In my experience, a lot of the pain comes from lying on your back when you should be standing up or moving about, letting gravity work for you, or sitting in a nice warm tub chatting with your friend. Even ten minutes before delivery, I wasn't in pain. The last 2-3 minutes were extremely painful, but most of the rest of the time the labor was more like an odd sensation combined with restlessness than actual pain. When those last minutes started I asked for pain relief (well: I screamed: stop this right now and get me some gas), and the midwife just laughed, because it was too late, the head was already half out.

In both cases I was fine right after it was over. I could have gone straight home the second time, but was allowed to stay in the maternity ward for a couple of nights so I could have some needed time alone with the baby.

During both pregnancies, I attended birthing classes religiously, but lots of my classmates had painful long deliveries, so there is no magic bullet there. Maybe a bit counterintuitively, doing your kegel exercises is a good preparation: it seems that one of the problems with very long or very fast labor is that your pelvic muscles get tired out and sore from the contractions, so being fit gives you more stamina.

No two women are the same, and I don't think you really know what you need before you are in the situation. I do think induced labor is much more painful, from my own experience, that of friends and from what people are writing here. If you for some reason need an induction, you will probably also need some type of pain management. Since moving about is what worked for me, I'd never recommend an epidural, but that pudendal block was a damn fine thing that I would have appreciated the second time round. For it to happen you need a great team of experienced doctors and midwives who know exactly when to do it because it has become an unusual procedure. Maybe ask your doctor about it now already. On the other hand, that intense pain was less than 5 minutes, maybe less than 3. The general experience was good, and the best thing was that it was all so peaceful without all the doctors and nurses who were involved the first time.
posted by mumimor at 8:58 PM on July 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think the entire idea that women should be "proud" of unmedicated birth is pernicious. It carries the implicit idea that those who get epidurals ought to be the opposite: ashamed.

If your baby and your body can handle an unmedicated birth and produce a healthy child then you are lucky and that's great. If you need anaesthesia and produce a healthy child, then you are entirely typical, as this thread shows, and that's also great.

As a data point, what I'm proud of is my healthy, happy, kind and accomplished daughter, who was positioned 1/4 turn wrong in the womb, would never have been able to emerge on her own, and would have been stillborn without a c-section. She was born with a red mark on her little forehead where she'd been bouncing it against the inside of my pelvis. I still resent the brainwashing to which I was subjected in birth prep class about how c-sections are a suboptimal outcome.

Good luck, and don't let anyone load their own weird baggage onto something that is just a means to an end - that of getting your baby safely into the world.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:06 PM on July 20, 2017 [16 favorites]

I've had one each way- first labour was augmented (so I started naturally but was given induction drugs to speed things up due to my daughter having passed her meconiunm already) and had an epidural...about 6 hrs in? And she was born about 6 hrs later. Honestly it was the tiredness more than anything else- it was 3am and I had been doing contractions for hours and I just needed them to go! I still pushed her out 'naturally' even though I couldn't feel the contractions. They just told me when to.

Labour 2 was induced at 41 weeks and I went overnight again, this time with a nasty virus added for fun! I was a bit more mobile this time (with both labours I had monitors and a drip- this really makes getting 'comfortable ' more challenging) due to, frankly, a more sympathetic midwife who just let me move and kept re-finding the heartbeat. Eventually they monitored the baby internally by attaching clips to his head while he was still inside. To give you an indication of what labour is like, I don't even remember/didn't notice them doing that. My
Labour sped up very quickly and I asked for an epidural. I decided to go to the loo first when the anaethetist arrived and the baby started coming. I went from 5 cm to holding my baby in 20 minutes. So I didn't get my epidural.

I'm kind of glad I've experienced both, just cause now I know. However, if I do it again I will get the epidural and I was BEGGING for one. I would not wish that pain on anyone.

I think it does really depend on the labour that you have. Yes, people have different pain thresholds and different attitudes, but ppl also have really really different labours.
posted by jojobobo at 10:43 PM on July 20, 2017

Get a doula. You don't have to decide on an epidural now.

I had an epidural that only worked for about two hours, but it was the only and best sleep I had maybe for a week. Then they tried another one that they couldn't get the needle in right and didn't work at all and it was HORRIBLE. Then I got a C-section. I'd still get one (epidural) again, and get it sooner than I did (I think I waited until I was in hour 40 of labor - hour 18 of active, hardcore labor).
posted by wannabecounselor at 1:48 AM on July 21, 2017

My wife was induced a week early so we were in the hospital a long time as the contractions and pain built up.

First they suggested that she could take a pain medication through her IV. I think it was Nubain. I wholeheartedly do not recommend this. We thought it was going to be a drip of medication to take the edge off. Instead, it was just an injection right in. So it was a blast of pain relief and she immediately got really loopy and sleepy, but she still felt the contractions so she wasn't able to sleep with it, and then it wore off after about an hour anyway.

Eventually she asked for an epidural and the anesthesiologist came in and gave her one. It wasn't effective and provided no relief. He said that happens about 7% of the time and then gave her another one. It was a little better but still not what you'd hope for. She could still feel intense contractions. He offered to try again but we declined because we were unsure what was going to be different about that attempt to make it better. The OB told us that another anesthesiologist was coming on shift soon and she'd send her in. That one did a combined epidural/spinal and even thought it was more painful to get the needle in, it was a night and day difference in pain relief and finally allowed my wife to get some relief.

The next morning, the epidural needle had shifted and she only had pain relief on one half of her body. Yet another anesthesiologist had to come in and adjust it.

Long story short, the epidural might be the magic that everyone talks about, but it might not, and be firm in advocating for yourself if it's not what you think it should be.
posted by cali59 at 5:28 AM on July 21, 2017

I read a lot of birth stories and talked to a lot of women before giving birth, and all of those stories made me realize that labor and delivery is really traumatic for some women. So my birth plan going in was: try and have an experience that is as un-traumatic as possible.

So I got an epidural when the pain got too intense. It didn't stall labor for me, and I had a pretty easy delivery 10 hours later. So it was the right decision for me.
posted by colfax at 6:15 AM on July 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

my wife got one, and never even for a single moment considered not getting one. Because she hates even mild pain and has zero interest in the "magic of natural childbirth".

I didn't try to influence her either way but secretly I was worried sick because of the risk of complications that I had researched on Dr Google. But that was mainly just my anxiety disorder at work; I had similar worst-case-scenario fears at every stage of the pregnancy.

It was her decision, made without hesitation. It was the right decision for her, and everything went smoothly.
posted by moorooka at 6:21 AM on July 21, 2017

if you end up getting an induction, I'd definitely recommend an epidural, as it's a very different experience, and often much more painful. With my wife they've had varying levels of effectiveness, and she was quite able to feel everything during active labour. The only side-effect hse experienced was numbness in one leg for about 12 hours with our first, but it went away and never returned.
posted by blue_beetle at 6:40 AM on July 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

A couple of thoughts based on my own labor and labor of friends...

I thought I wanted natural childbirth, and if I had been able to go into labor naturally I maybe could have done it, but due to some concerns at my last exam my labor was induced. Medically induced contractions were more intense than I could handle, so midway through I chose the epidural. No regrets here, and no problems bonding with my baby, breastfeeding, or recovering physically. Roll with it and see how it goes. And don't let anyone make you feel bad/guilty/regretful for the choices you end up making... If you end up healthy with a healthy baby, your delivery was a success no matter how you got there.

My friend recently gave birth, and wanted the epidural from the beginning. Totally fine. They gave her a button to control how much she got on her own (hey where was my button?!)... She was so terrified of labor pain that the minute she felt the slightest sensation, she'd hit the button... but doing that over and over and over again, her labor definitely stalled. She ended up with a C-section. But, she ended up healthy with a healthy baby, so again, success.
posted by somanyamys at 7:03 AM on July 21, 2017

I recommend The Birth Partner. It does a nice job explaining various pain relief methods and how they work. It says it's for birth partners, but I read it for myself.

I gave birth a few months ago with an induction. My water broke after about four hours of pitocin drip, and the pain skyrocketed so I got the epidural.

Everyone is different, of course. In my case, once the kid was really moving down, I could feel my contractions and still had pain. And they couldn't up the dosage any more. Fortunately I was also still able to move my legs and pushed for a while squatting with the bar, which I liked.

I felt alert afterwards, and the kid was very alert and nursed right after delivery.

If you do get the epidural, you might ask for the nurses to use the "peanut ball" - they helped me change position every fifteen minutes or so. I think this helped keep my labor from stalling.
posted by ewok_academy at 7:51 AM on July 21, 2017

I have had three babies, all at home so no pain relief except some gas and air with the first one. After the first I felt stunned and in shock because I was expecting a 12-24 hour labour and it was 84 minutes. After the second I felt like an absolute deity, it was faster, 61 minutes, but I was prepared for that and felt amazement and thrill at how efficient my baby and body were. The sense of power I gained on that day has never left me. After the third I felt exhausted and broken because I had a nice 77 minute labour and a healthy 9lb boy then a largish bleed and had to transfer into hospital for treatment. The blood loss wiped me out but an epidural wouldn't have saved me anything but possibly the horrible sensations of arms inside me in my initial treatment. Either way I absolutely treasure my son's birth and his first 3 hours which we had at home and wouldn't trade it for an epidural in hospital.

Look at the epidural stats for the hospital you're giving birth at. My hospital was 86%. I knew I didn't want one (I was abused as a child and can not be paralysed with strange people touching my genitals - I know that's not how most of the world view epidural but as I have to live in my own head it seemed wise to listen to the inner NOPE I experienced thinking about it). So I chose to have a homebirth because if I went in I knew I'd almost certainly end up having one. Without exception the women at my hospital who didn't have one came into hospital within an hour of giving birth.

You think you are deciding but you're not. There are a hundred factors from the way you baby is lying when labour begins to the attitude of those caring for you to how your partner responds to seeing you in pain that will hugely sway the arguments in the moment so that you get what you get and not whatever you thought you would want when you thought about it in advance. The only way to ensure you don't get an epidural is to be somewhere you can't access them. You can decide anything right now but when a nurse tells you the anaesthatist is about to go to theatre for 3 hours and do you want an epidural before they go at the peak of a contraction in an unfamiliar setting you're going to say yes.

Natural birth in a medical setting is something you have to really prepare for. You need to know every intervention they might suggest, what it is for, when it is appropriate and useful, whether you want it. You wont be able to think straight or argue well in labour. You need to know the techniques you will employ if it hurts too much because in a vacuum the medical setting inserts it's own solutions. Just look at the responses here, only a handful of normal unmedicated births and how many in a hospital with a normal length labour..?
Looking at the stats for your chosen place will tell you the likelihood of the birth you will get.

There are always arguments about pride, shame, medals etc. I personally feel extremely proud of my births. Does that mean others should feel ashamed of theirs? Other people are and should be proud of having run a marathon but I don't feel like a failure of a person that I haven't. I'd feel bloody proud if I'd survived a csection. Birth is more emotive than other sports I suppose. I ran a half marathon once and it was much harder and took considerably longer than my births.
posted by intergalacticvelvet at 8:49 AM on July 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

I went in with a flexible plan and that worked best for me. I decided I would avoid the epidural until I felt like I needed it (if I ever did), and then ask for it when I felt it was time. I've had three births now, the first and last I ended up asking for an epidural and the second I didn't need it. Knowing that I was in control of the decision worked for me.

The first time around, the biggest advantage of the epidural was the ability to rest. After a long time laboring, unable to sleep, I started to worry that I would be too tired to push when the time came. An epidural let me get several blessed blessed hours of sleep before the big events.
posted by Ausamor at 8:49 AM on July 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Of course, everyone has their own viewpoints and experiences that are personal to them. Circumstances change and each labour is different. However, this was a video that made me reframe my thoughts on births with C-sections/ epidurals vs natural births.

What would it be like if sex were treated how birth can be - insightful and funny.
posted by moiraine at 9:39 AM on July 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

I have had 3 births each was completely different. First was hospital setting, induction for baby being " too big" but I had a birth plan and doula and was super stubborn and committed to a " natural" i.e. No pain relief birth.
The pain for me personally was Much Much worse than I was expecting, despite extensive reading and prep. By a certain point I was begging for an epidural. Doula had me try a hot shower and baby ended up coming soon after so I didn't get epidural.
I chose a home waterbith with my second. I had some ptsd from the level of pain from first birth and prepared for second thru enducation, meditation and therapy.
The second birth was shorter, but the pain was literally exactly as intense as it had been in the hospital on the pitocin drip. It was honestly more than I could bear. And I've had a root canal abroad with no novacaine.

12 years went by and I had my 3 rd. I was planning to get an epidural for sure. Zero, I mean zero interest in repeating a no pain relief birth. But I ended up with a scheduled c section for various medical reasons. Although I was scared of a surgery, the c section was the least painful birth for me. Zero issues breastfeeding, bonding etc. just took a lot longer for me personally to be back on feet and physically active.
posted by Rapunzel1111 at 10:34 AM on July 21, 2017

I wanted an epidural. I did not receive the epidural I wanted, so unwillingly had a natural birth. No health problems precluded me from getting an epidural - the nurses and doctor just did not page the anesthesiologist at my many requests over many hours.

I don't feel proud of myself for making it through and I am woman hear me roar. I feel frustration towards the hospital that did not provide me with the pain relief I wanted. I don't spend my days reliving the trauma or anything, but I will damn sure not deliver another child at that hospital. I feel I suffered for nearly 24 hours for absolutely no reason - my daughter would have been here, strong and healthy, even without my agony. There was no purpose for it. Screw that. Take advantage of life in the 21st century and get the epidural.
posted by srrh at 12:20 PM on July 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

I am a doula who primarily does hospital births, most of which have involved epidurals. I have had two births -- one with an epidural, and one without. Epidurals are awesome. There are some potential physiological benefits to avoiding one in an otherwise normal labor (the book Expecting Better is great at explaining this stuff), especially in the earlier phases of labor. I have also seen and personally experienced them making the difference between surgical births and vaginal births.

If you want a doula, find one who is comfortable supporting medicated birth. (Any good doula should.) Plan to be open to whatever makes sense for you in the moment. I always recommend making a plan for a potential emergent situation -- if the baby needs to go to the NICU, what do you do? -- and then set that aside so you can focus on the joy of greeting your baby.
posted by linettasky at 1:01 PM on July 21, 2017

I planned to have a "natural" childbirth, and I labored for almost 30 hours without making much progress in terms of dilation when I chose to be transported to a nearby hospital, where I received an epidural. I'd been really reluctant to get one, wanting to go the no-medication route, but under the circumstances it was f***ing great. I slept for five or six hours, which I desperately needed, and I woke up fully dilated (they gave me some pitocin too) and ready to push. An hour or an hour and a half later, my baby was born. I felt the sensation of pushing, which was super cool, but no pain.

But enough about me--my point is that you can start labor and then decide about an epidural later, based on how things are going. I've heard of cases where it's suddenly "too late" for an epidural, but that definitely wasn't my experience and I think it may not be most people's.
posted by toomuchkatherine at 6:51 PM on July 21, 2017

My childbirth experience was extremely traumatic, and I can say that if I hadn't had the epidural my PTSD would be much worse than it is now. "Natural" childbirth is may be ok if you have a textbook birth where there is nothing out of the ordinary and everything goes according to plan, but otherwise I think it's a terrible mistake. And you will never know what kind of birth you will have until you're in the thick of it.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 6:50 AM on July 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

I think the entire idea that women should be "proud" of unmedicated birth is pernicious. It carries the implicit idea that those who get epidurals ought to be the opposite: ashamed.

I know what you mean, but I think women can (not should, but can) be proud of unmedicated birth just like women can be proud of running a marathon. It's a physical ordeal that takes strength and it's often very difficult. There's nothing wrong with being proud of it or talking about it. If you run a marathon and feel proud, nobody tells you you're shaming people who haven't run marathons. Some people want to run them and some people don't and I think we can all agree that's fine.

(I say this as somebody who got an epidural...)
posted by Cygnet at 7:59 AM on July 22, 2017 [5 favorites]

Epidurals can vary. Mine gave me the ability to move my legs a bit, and feel pressure, movement, and some manageable pain. I had a button I could push to get more relief if the pain was getting bad; it was awesome. I felt like I was present and able to experience the birth with a feeling of being in control rather than losing my mind with pain. No question I'm glad I got it and absolutely would do it again.
posted by beandip at 1:53 PM on July 22, 2017

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