I knew labor was going to hurt. In fact it’s something I’ve known most of my life – its common knowledge that childbirth is painful for a woman and I guess it’s something that’s drilled into us from an early age.
Naturally then, when I first found out I was pregnant with my first baby I had a load of fears immediately running through my head. These included, but were not limited to – will I get fat? Will I be a good mum? Will my baby be healthy? How will I work and raise a family? Just how painful is childbirth going to be?!
Now, I am the type of person that can worry a lot…but only if I let myself. I guess something I have developed over the years is an “I’ll just cross that bridge when I come to it” coping mechanism. And it works – in fact ask any friend or colleague and they’ll probably tell you that I’m one of the most chilled people they know (*my husband will likely say the opposite).
So, as with all my worries and fears around pregnancy that were not immediate, I tried my best to take it one step at a time. The first bridge was keeping myself and my baby alive through 20 weeks of horrific pregnancy sickness…which I guess in turn tackled my worry about putting on a ton of weight (aka I was too sick to even eat, awful)! But as the sickness disappeared and the due date drew closer, my anxiety about how on earth I was going to get this baby out grew and grew alongside my ever expanding belly.
I discussed it with my husband and I discussed it with my baby doctor – “I would like to aim for a natural birth, with no medication, but because I have no idea what the experience is going to be like, I am open to an epidural should I need some stronger relief.”
Okay then modern mama.
On 6th August, 2014 – delivery day (D-Day as I like to call it) arrived.
I’m going to be honest – the first few hours were nothing like I was promised in the movies! I knew this of course, but still, there was no sudden panic that “OMG I’m in labor” with my husband comically driving to the hospital. No sudden dramatic water-breakage! Nope, instead, I was sat there minding my own business at the kitchen table when I felt a slight “pop”. I thought nothing of it at first believing it was just the baby moving. But then I felt a slight trickle…“oh my good god I’ve wet myself” I thought!
A bit mortified I went to the bathroom to tidy up. But the trickle remained. I started to freak a little bit but then it seemed to stop. Then started again. But then no more. Then more. It was very slight. And I don’t know why, but I was scared to tell my husband. I kept it a good secret for about two hours. But then the trickle started to go red – aha the “bloody show” (I know, such a gross name) at which point I got up the nerve to tell him.
It was all very exciting and crazy. We did a little kitchen dance and had a cuddle. And then I called my baby Dr who told me to stay at home until contractions got closer to five minutes apart. Then I called my Mum, of course. And then I got a random call from a neighbour to tell me he’d found my cat, so I went out and picked the naughty thing up…but that’s a different story.
So what can I say? What does labor feel like? Well if anything the first few hours were just like period pains. Period pains which progressively grew worse. So to put this into time context – it had been around 7:00pm that I had felt that first “pop”. It was around 2:00am that we decided to head to the hospital. It was around 6:00am that I had an epidural.
Now from what I recall I had been asking for it from around 4:00am, but I was encouraged by everyone – my husband included – to wait a while longer. To breathe. To wait. To hold on. To breathe some more.
But no – I wasn’t breathing – I was freaking out. The pain was like nothing I can describe. And I don’t mean that in a scary way…but until you have felt it, I don’t believe it is actually possible to describe it to you. It is a very…different pain. It’s all consuming and comes in waves which intensify as you grow closer to delivery. Waves of pain that make you scrunch up and scream obscenities.
And I wish, I wish, I wish that I hadn’t freaked out. That I had been “brave” enough to withstand it a while longer. But I was exhausted from zero sleep and I needed a break. I was completely naked. There were people around me in a blur. I had just lost control. I am not going to lie – I panicked.
My Dr asked me a final time if I wanted the medication, and I clearly remember her saying “if you don’t have it the baby will be out in an hour. If you do it’s going to delay it for several.”
I couldn’t stand an hour of intensifying pain. I wanted it…and I had it.
So what does it actually feel like to have an epidural? Well for some reason I thought it would be painless. My friend’s sister had one and said “it didn’t hurt” so of course I took that literally. But I’ll level with you…it’s a needle going into your spine! Of course it bloody hurts!
But then magic. It was almost like instant relief. The fear and the pain and the panic washed away with the ceasing contractions. I was made to lay down and relax (my legs were completely numb so it wasn’t like I was going anywhere – in fact I distinctly remember telling my husband that it felt like I had “elephant legs”). And low and behold, I actually fell asleep for a couple of hours. Fell asleep…while in labor!!
But I needed that sleep in preparation for what was to come next. You see the thing with epidurals is that they relax the muscles and therefore relax your body’s ability to push a baby out. In many cases that is what leads to C-sections following epidurals as the baby just doesn’t have the force behind it to come out.
Luckily however my baby did come…after two hours of intense pushing. And while the “pain” from the contractions was gone, it was replaced by a very different kind of pain. Again it’s like something you won’t understand until you’ve experience it, but all I can say is that it was like a deep internal pressure – like you’re doing the biggest poo in the whole entire world (god I’m really really sorry for that description!)
My boy finally made his way into the world at 11:23am. His head came out, and then his shoulders, and then my Dr said I could grab him and pull him out! I remember reaching for him under his arms, but he was so wet that I said (and I kid you not) “noooo, I’m going to drop my baby!” – great intro to your Mummy, hey Zachy? So instead my Dr passed him to me – he was bloody, he was wet, he was puffy – he was the most amazing thing I had ever seen!
And it’s funny – I thought the drugs would last several hours, but I clearly remember saying “ouch” when the oxytocin injection is given to help deliver the placenta. And yep, I kinda felt everything as I was being stitched up down there, gah!
My husband and I stayed in the labor ward cuddling and cooing over our beautiful new baby for an hour or so, but once moved to the ward I was up and around in no time. And you know what? Despite the slight feeling of disappointment in myself that I wasn’t “brave” enough to have an un-medicated labor, I was (and still am) so so proud of myself. A tiny perfect person came out of my body – how incredible is that! Yes, I know people give birth every day, but when you break it down to truly look at what the female body is capable of, you really ought to marvel!
So that’s my experience of having an epidural. Would I like to try an unassisted birth if I am lucky enough to ever have another baby? Absolutely!! The more I have learnt about the power of self-hypnosis to relax, the more intrigued I am to see if it is a power I could actually harness.
But if I can’t?
Well, let’s put it this way – if I ever felt scared or like I’d lost control or that I couldn’t cope for one second more, would I ask for an epidural again? Yes! Most definitely. I know this may upset people who are all about the pro-natural, and this is absolutely not my intention, but my stance is this: childbirth is not a competition to see who is “bravest” or who can withstand the most pain. It is about getting your baby into the world healthy and alive and well. And to do that it’s about doing what’s right for you…especially in those moments of panic. I needed it.
So regardless of whether you’re a natural Mamma, an epidural Mamma or a C-section Mamma – congratulations – you are amazing, and we should all feel proud enough to share our experiences with each other. I would love to hear yours x
Our first hour. A bit tired and bewildered but relieved and happy.
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