Photo: Victoria Kegg at Blue Daisy Art
Disclaimer: My birth story is my own. My views and recovery are my own. My choice of whether to epidural or not was my own and this was discussed with my doctors and nurses.
I am very lucky that I had an amazing birth and recovery that has not scarred me from having subsequent babies. Looking back, I don’t even remember giving birth because the pain was pretty much over within a day or two. Yes, I was that lucky! Having said that, I still find birth scary and overwhelming. I spent the majority of my pregnancy obsessing over every little detail about birth! One topic in particular, Epidurals: to Epidural or Not?
Firstly, my pain tolerance isn’t very high. However, I do want what’s best for the baby and this was my biggest dilemma. After speaking to my doctors, they informed me of the risks involved with having an epidural for both myself and the baby. Paralysis, headaches, shivering and a drop in blood pressure to name a few. This scared the crap out of me. So I wanted to do it all au naturel instead and opted for a water birth, disregarding the persistent nagging thought of whether to epidural or not.
On the day I went into labour, I discovered that I overestimated my abilities to handle the contractions. At home, I already had 3 showers to take away the pain. When we eventually arrived in hospital, I was fully effaced (a thinned out cervix) but only 3cm dilated! I thought to myself “Oh my, I still have another 7cm to go!”
They placed me in an observation bed of the Emergency Department. In the next cubicle was a very brave young lady who was doing it without any medications, and I overheard that she was 9cm dilated. Her moaning and screaming is what I still remember today. It was then that I realised I can’t do it without an epidural. I needed it and wanted it badly.
The following are my experiences from having an epidural:
1. The pain from having an epidural didn’t hurt: By the time my contractions were settling in, the pain I went through was enough for me to black out. I was dreading the next wave of contractions. The pain of the needle going into my skin was nothing compared to these contractions.
2. It took 20 minutes for me to be pain-free: I gave birth at one of the top public hospitals in Melbourne, so the anaesthetist who did my epidural knew exactly what he was doing. It was pain-free and everything went smoothly (thank goodness). I think my husband was more afraid than I was. To test whether or not the epidural was working, they put an ice pack on me and asked if I could feel it. Once the epidural was in, I wasn’t very mobile and they had to monitor both of our blood pressures and heart rates (Madeleine and mine. Not my husbands!). I didn’t mind as my contractions were too painful for me to move anyway. At my hospital, it was a policy to have your water broken (if it hadn’t happened yet) after the epidural was given. I did not feel a thing when they did this!
3. Shivering and feeling cold: As soon as the epidural kicked in, I started feeling really cold and started shivering. It is listed as one of the main side effects. I guess it didn’t really bother me as I went from screaming in pain to just being cold.
4. I slept like an angel: Yep the epidural was so good that I managed to get some sleep!
5. Baby’s heart rate dropped: When I got to about 8cm dilated, I had more doctors come in to check on the baby. Her heart rate was reacting to the epidural. This was when I began to worry.
6. My labour slowed down: Epidurals do tend to relax you so there is a possibility that your labour could slow down. My contractions stopped at 8cm so I had to be induced.
7. My baby got tired: So this was when I really began to worry. More and more doctors were coming in and I overheard them asking whether a bed was available in theatre. Because Madeleine reacted to the epidural and my contractions had dropped off, things had to move a little bit quicker. If there was no progress after being induced, I’d be having a caesarean.
8. Episiotomy: So luckily I progressed to 10cm in just 5 minutes after being induced. The room filled with 5 doctors, including a paediatrician, which is usually not normal unless something went wrong. They all said to me, we are going to get this baby out now. After just 5 minutes, an episiotomy and 3 pushes, out popped my baby. I pushed like I did a poo. Yep, TMI.
9. Forcep delivery: I didn’t really get a chance to push as there was a hurry to get her out quickly, so it was basically an episiotomy and a forcep delivery. However, because I was induced, I could feel the contractions through my epidural and therefore had no issues with pushing. I still felt the need to push.
10. I didn’t feel the catheter go in and out: Unfortunately with an epidural that means there’s no bladder control. Which meant that you need a catheter to pee.
11. First pee: I had read so many stories about the first pee being so painful so I struggled to pee. I was absolutely petrified of the first pee. Four hours had passed since I gave birth and the nurse told me that if I hadn’t passed urine in the next half an hour, the catheter would have to go back in. That scared me so I went back in and did a pee. To my surprise, it did not hurt!
12. First poo: This happened 5 days after birth (this is normal for me), took a while but did not hurt. Laxatives did help though, so double check if you can have some!
14. Episiotomy took a while to heal: I didn’t bleed much after birth. Pretty much within 5 days, my bleeding had halted. The site was healed but was incredibly itchy from the stitches. However, what lingered was an ache that was deep within the layers of my skin where the episiotomy happened. I am told that this is due to the inner skin layers still healing. The ache I was feeling was similar to a muscle ache from pulling heavy weights at the gym, so it wasn’t too bad just noticeable. This occurred particularly on days where I was standing for longer periods but pretty much went away 6 weeks after birth.
Despite the pitfalls of having an epidural, I was pain-free, and I’m not scared to go through it all again. I would love to be an au naturel person, but I don’t think I could physically or emotionally go through it. I am so glad that in the 21st century, we have access to these types of pain medications and that they are readily available. It might be a very different story otherwise! The side effects that occurred aren’t great but I was lucky that I had such incredible doctors and nurses looking after me that, thankfully, everything worked out.