How is that for a mashed up style of birth? Where some go for all-natural unmedicated birth, and others choose an epidural when they find out they are pregnant (kidding!), I chose both.
For my first 5 births, I went into them set on having a labor and birth as natural as possible, and fearful of an epidural. I heard all the horror stories of epidurals not working, failing in transition, leaving moms stuck in bed for days (ok, possibly that is an exaggeration). And the thought of ginormous needles going into my back? No, thank you, very much.
Only with my 2nd did I change my mind, because I was given pitocin (aka drug from hell) to speed up progress. I was yelling, begging for the epidural, only to have the anesthesiologist show up 20ish minutes later and tell me it wouldn’t work because I couldn’t be still. Those contractions HURT. I was beyond being in control to hold still for the enormous needle to safely go into my back.
Next 3 kids, I again chose to labor unmedicated, and it was fine. My 5th was the most relaxed, as I listened to a few calming tracks as I walked the halls of the labor and delivery floor.
Once we found out I was expecting again, my dread of labor set in. The idea of getting an epidural crossed my mind several times. I am older. More tired. Tired of laboring. Have anxiety about labor. When I talked to my doctor about epidurals, she told me what I knew about having to stay in bed, and that basically made up my mind. How on earth could I handle staying in bed? That was torture before. All my best progress was made while walking.
About 6 months in to this pregnancy, I started listening to CDs from a hynobirthing course. They are about relaxation, thinking positively and confidently about a woman’s ability to birth naturally, embracing the process of labor…and I enjoyed them. I was deeply relaxed every time I practiced, feeling good about my ability to birth a 6th child, and growing in confidence that I could even get through transition and pushing without my normal panic and anxiety at the end.
And then a week before Small Fry arrived, stress, anxiety, and stressful things started happening. Among them, a kid wandered off, we talked to the police, wasps in our yard stung Firecracker twice, and my husband spent half a night in the ER (that happened the night before my labor started). By September 24th, I was out of nearly all emotional and physical strength. I decided that morning (after some last-minute reading on epidurals, again), that an epidural sounded good.
After the kids were in bed, Fence and I sat and watched Netflix. Around 9:30pm, I felt definite pressure and tightening, and it became more consistent over the next few hours. By 11pm, I knew it was the real-deal. By midnight, I was timing contractions at 6-7 minutes apart, and they were getting closer. I was listening to my hypnobirthing tracks, and while I was calm, I felt exhaustion to my core. Spiritually, emotionally, physically, I felt like I had nothing to give. No strength to muster to endure and manage contractions.a I told Fence it was time to leave, so I would have time for an epidural.
(My husband, meanwhile was being his amazing supportive self. He jumped out of bed, changed clothes, carried my bag to truck…all while freaking out on the inside, I am sure. He and I both shared our reservations about epidurals and unnecessary interventions during labor…and he still wasn’t convinced of my decision, but supported me.)
Off we headed, on the 7ish minute drive to the hospital. I had 2 contractions along the way, and another before I had a chance to walk through the doors. More on the way up and while signing admit papers. At this point, I was already becoming vocal. When I was in triage, before the nurse had a chance to ask much, I told her I wanted an epidural.
After 30-45 minutes, maybe, I was in the delivery room, eyes shut, vocalizing through contractions, listening–still–to the hypnobirthing tracks. I had loaded them onto my phone and listened to them non-stop from 10:30pm until after the epidural was placed.
The anesthesiologist came in and did his thing, I sat still, squeezing Fence’s hands through it all. It truly wasn’t so bad. I refused to think about how big the needle might be, and kept focusing inward with the hypnobirthing tracks. Yup, I still had my phone by my side playing my dear hippy-dippy crunchy natural-birthing relaxation tracks all while getting a medicated birth. Contradiction much? Meh. I’m a mixed bag. It worked. It was amazing. I was at peace. (Note: I was also completely at peace with my decision, I believe, partly due to some soul-searching I had done while coloring a beautiful labor mandala sent me by my faraway online-blogging friend and long-distance doula Colleen. More on that to come.)
Remember how I thought laying in bed during labor would be pure torture?
Well. How silly of me. Staying in bed when labor is progressing and you can’t feel it–because of medicine’s gift to women, and epidural–is pretty durn nice. I was able to rest. I nearly slept. While I my body numbly and blissfully continued to labor and contract, I felt little. I was still aware of some pressure, and could still feel Small Fry moving around. During this time, I enjoyed our last cuddles with him in my womb, as I rubbed his kicking feet and tush while he moved into position for birth.
Just a few hours after the epidural, my body was ready. Or so they told me. I never can tell when it is time to push. Pushing was still work, for sure, and I could still feel the pressure and stretching as Small Fry *finally* entered life outside the womb, but PRAISE BE HEAVEN and the people who gave us the option of epidurals, with 3 quick (and HARD) pushes, my sweet 6th baby was in my arms.
It was, overall, a great birth experience. Hypno-epidural-birthing maybe a hot mess of contradictions in ideas, but it worked. I felt calm, I relaxed, I felt very little pain. And the best part is that I am home now, snuggling and nursing my adorable 2-week old son, perfectly content with his birth story.