For some reason the epidural has recently got a pretty bad rep. If you are within five miles of an NCT class during your pregnancy you’ll hear sermons from afar regarding the devastating effects of epidurals. You’ll hear them talk of women who had epidurals as if they’ve forgiven them for some selfish act. Put simply, what’s trendy right now is natural and an epidural is not natural.
Don’t misunderstand me…natural is good. We all love natural especially when it comes to the welfare of our offspring, but that doesn’t mean that ‘unnatural’ i.e. medical help is bad. You only have to read my incredibly pretentious birth plan to know that I was all about the natural…I fell hook, line and sinker for the mantra that natural was good, everything else was less good. I didn’t want ANY drugs…I wasn’t even sure about gas & air.
Well, let me tell you, I’m not too proud to sit here and admit that I was acting under a huge illusion. I was wrong. I was so wrong that if I could go back in time and speak to my former self I would give my arrogant little self a big, fat slap in the face and tell her to get over herself.
My first mistake of a gargantuan nature was that I assumed I would be in control. Insert amused face here. Secondly, I didn’t plan for things not to go to plan. The Bear Cub was back to back, I was vomiting violently with every contraction, they wouldn’t let me in the water because I was only 4cm dilated and not 5cm dilated (they were worried that the water would stop labour…I would have done ANYTHING to stop labour at that point), gas and air made me really sick, the anti-sickness drugs didn’t work and I was hugely dehydrated.
I was naked, throwing up on the floor of the room in the birth centre, writhing in puddles of my own vomit as my husband ran around with cardboard, kidney-shaped bowls that he tried to place in strategic vomit-catching spots. A midwife named Clover (yes, really) was telling me that I was doing really well and asked if I wanted to use the swiss ball to help with the pain.
If I hadn’t been a hot minute from turning feral, I would have summoned the strength to get up and shove the Swiss ball up her bum bum but I was, luckily for Clover, otherwise engaged. I decided there and then with absolute certainty that the vomiting was caused by pain and that the pain therefore needed to stop.
“I want an epidural,” I announced.
“Babe,” said my husband tentatively at a distance beyond arms reach, “you told me that if you said you wanted an epidural I was to say to you that you didn’t want one and that you could do this the way you originally decided to do this.”
“I love you,” I said clearly and slowly. “But, if you don’t make it possible for me to get an epidural in the next twenty minutes I will rip my own head off and stamp on it until I am dead.”
Clover decided that this was the moment to interject.
“Why don’t you give it another hour or so? We can examine you again then and see if you’re ready to get in the pool? How does that sound?”
“Unless you just said that you would immediately organize a transfer to the labour ward and an epidural on our arrival there, then it sounds shit. Make this happen now.”
I was, clearly, not in the mood to beat around any bushes.
Clover left. She returned thirty seconds later with another, more senior midwife who again tried to convince me to stick it out in the birth centre. I was so angry, I couldn’t even look at them, so to avoid charges for violent behaviour I ignored them and addressed Jimmy instead.
“Baby, I don’t care who you need to speak to or who you need me to crawl to naked and covered in vomit, but if I am not on my way to the labour ward in less than two minutes I will lose my proverbial shit. If these ladies will not help us achieve this goal then we will walk out of here now and bang on the door of the labour ward until someone lets us in.”
A heartbeat later we were escorted by a secretary to the labour ward. Half way there I collapsed on the floor in the corridor and vomited. The secretary ran off and left my husband desperately worried watching me as if I was possessed. I genuinely remember him shouting down the corridor, “Please help me. She’s gone all exorcist.”
Eventually we were led to a room. Eventually they recovered our notes and eventually, we were informed that the anesthetist was on her way. A whole hour after arriving in the labour ward, the door suddenly opened. She entered like the Terminator version of hospital doctors – she was my superhero and she was armed with enough weaponry to make all the pain go away.
“So, I heard someone wanted an epidural?” she said with a wry smile on her face. “I’m guessing it’s you?” she directed her question to me.
She is literally the only person in the world at that point who could have got away with making a joke at that moment. I smiled through gritted teeth.
She had had two children. I was still worried that having an epidural was going to harm my baby.
“Is it safe?” I asked.
“Totally safe. I’ve had two children both with an epidural. You will be fine. In about ten minutes the pain will be completely gone and you will be able to rest. No one gives you a medal for doing it with out pain relief.”
Throughout the biggest contraction yet I remained as still as a very still thing as she injected me in my spine. Within minutes the relief was palpable.
On our arrival at the hospital, my husband had started to joke with the midwives and doctors. I had curtly and loudly informed him that there would be, ‘No jokes.’ Once the epidural was in, I smiled and said, “Babe, you can joke again now.”
I slept. He slept. Every time I felt a tug of pain seeping back through my consciousness I informed the nurse who carefully injected more anaesthetic and instantly, the pain would recede. My husband, when he was awake, watched the contractions happen on the whizz-bang machine next to me and informed me that ‘this was a big one’. I would smile and yawn and go back to reading Grazia.
When the morning came, I had been in labour for over thirty hours, during the last eight of which I’d been blessed with an epidural. When the drugs suddenly seemed to stop working the midwife informed me that it was time to push. THAT was a lot easier said than done. The epidural meant that everything down there – all my muscles, nerves, everything – was numb. I mentally made the right motions to push but I had no idea whether I was actually pushing. That was hard. It was weird and I found it a bit stressful but the midwife assured me that I was pushing, even though I felt as if I couldn’t have farted a feather away, and on I went.
Eventually, after only 45 minutes of pushing and with a little help from an episiotomy (also not part of my plan), Billie Scout burst forth into the world. At that point, I couldn’t have cared less whether I’d had drugs or not; I couldn’t have cared whether she was scraped out with a blunt spoon. My baby was out, she was healthy, I was alive, we had survived…
…thanks to the epidural.