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Epidural allows Mom to focus on what's important

Editor's note: We thank Mary Ann from Minneapolis for sharing her experience giving birth to her first child with the help of an epidural.

Everyone says what a wonderful experience it is to give birth. Being a first time parent, I would have to agree. Every day I count my blessings when I look at the little miracle I was given.

They also say that the "pain" of birth fades and becomes a forgotten memory - or why else would people have more than one child? Months after my daughter was born I could honestly say that the "pain" of birth does fade, only because I had a little help during labor - the magical effect of an epidural.

When I first became pregnant, I was so excited about having a baby. My husband and I thought of names, picked out a theme for the baby's room, registered, shopped, and dreamed of the big day. However, as the big day came closer, I suddenly found my focus switching from the important -- my baby -- to the much less important but seemingly ominous -- labor and delivery.

From excitement to fear

My emotions changed from excitement to fearful dread of the pain of labor. Yes pain. They tell you in the baby classes that it will hurt (a softer word for extreme pain) and that it is common for women to lose their self control during the "transitional phase of labor" (this would be the moment you see depicted in TV movies where the woman is writhing in agony and screaming at her husband "you did this to me" or "I need something for the pain"). Then everyone you know has their version of a labor horror story to tell you -- you know, the stories about the poor women who has been in labor for over 24 hours and finally needs an emergency C-section. But of course, they will also tell you (after they've seen you turn a grayish color) that not all labors are like that.

Needless to say, I was on a mission to find some way to get through labor. First, I signed up for all the birthing classes to learn the correct breathing techniques to get through the contractions. However, learning how to transport my mind to my "happy" place while breathing in and out through the pain of the contractions was not going to cut it.

I then asked anyone I knew who had a baby how they coped with labor. Some said they just focused on the baby and once the baby was born, the pain was forgotten. Others felt pain relievers, such as the epidural, allowed them to get through labor without losing control and made the experience that much more special. I opted for the epidural.

An induced labor

My baby was two weeks overdue and had to be induced. Most people say that after two weeks, a pregnant woman is doing everything she can think of to start labor. Not me. I cried on the way to the hospital, telling my husband that I wasn't ready and couldn't do this. Don't get me wrong, I desperately wanted to see and hold our baby. It was just the fear of the unknown. Would my labor be long? (The doctor said that it could take up to three days when one is induced with no signs of effacing or dilation!) And what if the epidural didn't work?

As it turned out, my labor was a tough one. The pill they inserted to help start the labor process reacted too strongly on my system, causing what the nurses called "an unhappy baby," which was their comforting way of saying that our baby's heart was not taking the effects of the contractions very well. As a result, they had to go in and try to find and remove the pill. Unfortunately, the pill was not locatable, so they put in an IV to slow the contractions, placed an internal fetal monitor on the baby and put me on oxygen.

However, our baby was still "unhappy." Then it was discovered that our baby had a bowel movement in the womb and more than likely swallowed some of the fluid. So, they inserted a catheter to flush clean water into the sac around the baby. They also inserted a catheter so that I could go to the bathroom. By this time, it had been seven hours; I was only dilated to three; they were talking c-section if things didn't change soon; and I was hooked up to every sort of machine available and could only lay on my side (so even if I wanted to walk around the room and do the special breathing/relaxing techniques I learned in those class, I couldn't have). That's when things changed.

The right timing for an epidural

You can only have an epidural if you are dilated to two, but not beyond an eight, so make sure to remind the nursing staff that you want the epidural or it could be too late. It took the Anesthesiologist only a few minutes to administer the IV and I could start to feel the relief almost instantly. I know it sounds scary to have an IV inserted into your spine, but it really didn't hurt at all -- it was sort of like a finger prick, the anticipation of the prick is worse than the actual event.

The anesthetic is slowly administered through the IV and your body from the waist down becomes numb, but you can still move your toes and legs. You can still feel the contractions, but the tension/pain is gone. It's amazing what a relaxing effect it has on you muscles, because within an hour I had dilated six and our baby was doing well enough that the doctor said we should able to deliver vaginally. Within another two-three hours, I was dilated to 10 and ready to give birth.

Calm enough to focus

The magical thing about the epidural was that it calmed me enough to be able to focus on the birth of our daughter. I could push without pain. I could focus on helping her into the world rather than fighting nature because it hurt. After just 12 hours of labor, I gave birth to a wonderful 7 lb 12 oz healthy baby girl. I didn't loose control of my emotions until after she was born - and then I was just plain happy!

Some say that the epidural is an easy way out for women, that you don't truly experience what it is like to bring a life into this world. You know, the "no pain, no gain" theory. That sounds great and more power to those women who can do it. But I believe modern medicine has given women a chance to better enjoy the birth experience. To me, the miracle of birth is the baby; not the process, not the experience. The epidural was a means to that end. Besides, I personally didn't feel the need to be a martyr to enjoy our daughter's arrival into this world.

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Source: Mary Ann from Minneapolis, Minnesota

First published: 03/07/2000
Last updated: 10/14/2007

Reviewed by: Michael Slama, MD, Allina Health Mercy Women's Health Clinic