Several of my friends chose to have an epidural for the birth of their first children. My immediate thought as a pregnant–and as it turned out utterly naive–prospective mother was
We all knew the potential side effects of epidural… a slowing down of labour, exhausting the baby even further during its long passage out into the world, meaning perhaps the necessity of forceps or caesarian to yank it from its safe haven. Versus less pain… clearly something only beneficial for the mother to be. Selfish.
My way, would be natural I’d decided (with not a little smirk of superiority). A water birth, maybe with a kick of gas and air to get me laughing like Uncle Benny in Lethal Weapon.
Birth for many women is traumatic. It was for me.
It’s not just the pain – although this is barely imaginable. It’s the fear, the shame and the utter lack of control that leave you reeling. And not only for the duration of the labour. Parenthood is a new world, and the whole thing can take years to recover from. It took me almost precisely two years. I know because two years after the birth of my daughter, I gave birth to my son with an epidural… if only I done it with my daughter too.
In those two years – those precious formative two years of attachment – my daughter and I went to hell and back. I suffered from post natal anxiety so severe that I screamed when the pram first hit a bump in the road, risking so I thought, my baby’s death. A lot of the time I longed to be away from her because I was so afraid of the damage I might inflict all the while wanting to be precisely by her side awake 24/7 just in case anyone else harmed her.
The stress was excruciating. I don’t know how much could have been avoided if the birth had been calm, assured and painless. But I do know that some of it could have been avoided. And any less would have been better than what we had.
When I went into hospital two years later to deliver my son, still more friends – believers in natural birth – had pleaded with me not to get an epidural. They said I was selfish, thoughtless and willing to risk the life of my baby (yes, karma can sometimes be a bitch). But by then I had other people to think about quite apart from my own birth experience. If I was to be in the same state as I had been following the birth of my daughter, our entire family would be under the most enormous pressure. I don’t like to think what might have happened but I know that if past experience is anything to go by, I would have not been able to function, let alone be mentally fit enough to look after my 2 year old daughter and my newborn son.
It is my profound belief that good natal care is about what’s doing the most appropriate thing for the interests of all who are intimately involved.
Because a birth is not just about a new baby. It’s not just about what is in the best interests for that baby during birth, but what is in the best interest for the family unit as a whole. Then and later. And how that family can cope with the stresses and strains of dealing with a new member of which it will (hopefully) forever be a part. And that includes your mental health. It is not a decision to be taken to the exclusion of everyone else but the possible side effects on the baby. Not least because your ability to care for your baby is directly impacted by your birth experience.
Even so, I was in two minds… but when labour started I remembered the pain, the trauma and called the anesthetist. I knew it was the right thing for me. And for my family.
I thank my lucky stars that I ignored those who criticized my decision to take an epidural for my second baby, because it meant that I was able to better cope with the insecurities of my daughter. I was home and happy earlier. I wasn’t traumatized. I didn’t have that pain etched into my mind for months afterwards. I had no anxiety surrounding my son (even if the anxiety still lingered around my daughter). In my case, the epidural meant I totally relaxed and – we presume – he was born quicker… at least I’ve never heard of any baby being born faster than 45 minutes.
Yes, you read right. Less than one hour from the beginning of official labour to the end. Twenty minutes after that and we were all eating pancakes, toasting each other with sparking apple juice.
So for all you women out there who worry about what an epidural might do to your baby. Read up on the risks. Consult your doctor. I’m not pretending to be a medical expert. But know that there is always another side to the story. Make your decision without shame because taking the epidural might the best thing you ever do for everyone involved. It was for us.