Do you want an epidural?

If giving birth in a hospital, you’re going to be asked if you’d like an epidural. It’s such a normal part of birthing in America that most nurses will assume you’re going with the plan..or how it’s normally done. However, whether you’re getting an epidural or not is a question you should think about and have an answer for months before you give birth.

I’ve heard so often how wonderful giving birth with an epidural was for the mother. And then from others how wonderful it was without it. But, unless you’ve had both — how do you know the difference? My experience in unique because I did give birth under the influence of an epidural and also without and can talk from personally knowing the difference between the two.

My Epidural Experience

I would say that my first birth was very mainstream. I went to my OBGyn, I followed each order and recommendation, I took the hospital birthing class and I gave birth in a hospital. I knew when to call my OBGyn during labor since she prepared us for when to know it was time to come to the hospital. Labor pains started out pretty easy to handle and then became very painful early into labor. By  5 centimeters I thought I was going to die. It was the most painful experience of my life. I gladly accepted the epidural and spent the rest of the birth taking naps, resting and waiting for when it was time to push. What a difference from when I was on the verge of death (or thought I was)! After pushing, which I could barely feel (now especially knowing what pushing is like after having given birth naturally), my baby girl was born. She was beautiful and alert and soon began to nurse.  However I was not able to walk for the first two hours as that’s about the time I started to feel my legs. And hours later my baby girl was super sleepy. I’ve now learned that the effects of an epidural happens not right after the birth – most babies are alert right after birth. It happens hours and stays for days after the birth with babies being very sleepy making them harder to keep awake for nursing. After discharge and once we were home, it took a few days, but my legs were engorged with the liquids from the IV that is given in the hospital and because of the epidural. So, for about two weeks my legs didn’t feel the normal. I also felt a little out of it and not back to myself for about two weeks.  All this time though I thought this is how birth was supposed to be, so if asked how the birth went I told everyone that it went really well. I had a great birth as far as I knew.

My Natural Birthing Experience

A year and a half after my first birth, I was pregnant again. And having explored other options and talking to friends that had given birth without an epidural and how differently they all had felt after birth, I decided that this time I would not get an epidural. However, I remembered how painful my first 5 centimeters were and so I did what I highly encourage all pregnant women to do — prepare for natural birthing. I skipped the hospital class (not substantial enough at all) and signed up for a Bradley Method series with my husband. I learned through Bradley Method the stages of labor and how to mentality and physically go through labor naturally.  I quickly realized that because I wasn’t prepared with my first labor, I would clinch my body at each contraction – and that actually made the contraction more painful! Instead, I learned to relax my body at each contraction and to mentality picture it coming and going and encourage my body to work at bringing my baby to me. What a difference that made in labor!  I learned how to build a support network that included my midwife, my doula and my husband. I learned that if birthing in a hospital, which we did again but with a midwife, to stay home longer than I did before.  And I learned how to prepare and implement a birthing plan. And so when labor came, my body knew what to do. And because I knew how to go through each contraction, I can tell you that my first birth I still refer to as painful up until my epidural and my second birth I will happily tell you was POWERFUL.  It was the most powerful, liberating, magical and amazing experience of my life.  And as a huge perk, I gave birth to a baby that was alert like most babies are after birth but he stayed alert and was easier to nurse than my first. I also felt amazingly good after the birth. I was able to jump right out of bed after the birth and go use the bathroom. My body didn’t swell from the IV weeks later and I felt good and just like me after the birth – but with this feeling of a goddess. What a difference!

So for me, epidural or no epidural — hands down it’s a no epidural. Would my answer be difference if I went into my second birth without a real birthing class and without the support I had? Probably it would and I’d have chosen an epidural again since I wouldn’t have known how to go through contractions without feeling like I was dying. The key for me was preparation and the result was one I couldn’t wait to repeat again…and so I did another 2 years later.

Our American culture doesn’t prepare us women for natural birthing. It’s unusual for nurses and doctors to see a woman give birth without an epidural. So, we can’t as women just rely that we’ll “figure it out” during labor. We need to learn about natural birthing months before the birth. Choose your birthing method, your doula (a must when giving birth naturally and worth her weight in gold) and a midwife or doctor that truly supports you in giving birth drug-free. And most importantly, believe in your body’s ability to birth your baby and then surround yourself in an environmental that does too.

– written by Giselle Baturay, the Granola Mama

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