Getting an epidural was a given for me. When I first learned as a child that childbirth (typically) involves a woman pushing a baby out of her vagina, I was terrified. Little-kid-me was all like, "How?" and "Why?" and "No thank you." And these feelings hadn't changed by the time I was ready to start a family.
My mindset going into my first birth was, "Give me all the drugs!" And they delivered (so to speak). That first childbirth happened without any complications – and because I was medicated, I didn't feel much of anything, aside from some pressure. I opted for epidurals again when delivering my second and third babies, because, why not. As before, no complications. I was able to bring my children into the world without being in complete agony, and all of my recoveries were typical.
When I was pregnant with baby number four – I knew it was going to be our last baby, and therefore my last birth experience – I briefly considered med-free childbirth. It would be my final chance to experience fully the miracle of bringing life into this world.
I mulled over the decision for a while, but decided to stick with what I already knew. Because of my three previous medicated deliveries, I had full confidence in the process and never once considered the possibility that the epidural wouldn't work. But that's exactly what happened.
It all started with a scheduled induction. I went several hours with little to no progress on dilation before opting to get the epidural again. I was handling contractions just fine, but the intention was to allow my body to relax so things would move along more quickly. So I went ahead and got the epidural.
Everything numbed up just fine, and I continued the waiting game. But after quite some time being stuck at 6 centimeters dilated, I started ever so gradually feeling more pressure during contractions. I wasn't concerned yet, but then the feeling went from pressure to the beginnings of pain. I told my nurse. She told me I could push the button myself to administer more numbing medication through my epidural. So I pushed the button.
My discomfort continued. I kept pushing the button every 20 minutes or so, as instructed. Nothing. Then transition happened. That's when I knew I was in trouble.
I was suddenly doubled over in pain and told my husband it felt like I had to poop – a sign I knew indicated that "go time" was near. He quickly fetched the nurse, who determined that I was 8 centimeters dilated. Then she looked into why I was feeling everything. That’s when I noticed her holding a section of separated tubing in her hands with a shocked look on her face as she mouthed a four-letter word.
From then on, everything happened crazy fast. As I coped with the intense pain that is transition, my doctor (who had been on call) was on her way; the anesthesiologist was in my room; and more nurses were coming in to prep the area with tools for delivery.
The kind anesthesiologist explained that he couldn't simply reconnect the tubing because of the potential for contamination. He also said it would take 40 minutes after he inserted a new epidural for it to take effect. Too late. I was fully dilated!
I knew it wasn't his fault, but I just hated him so much. My head was spinning. I could hear the words he was saying, but tears were streaming down my face as my body coped with constant, intense pain and I grappled with the horrifying reality: I was going to have to go ahead with this, and I was going to feel everything. And I'd had no time to mentally prepare.
Then, out of nowhere, I had a strong urge to push.
"I need to put my legs up," I said to no one in particular. The nurse set up the stirrups and I quickly put my legs in them. "Do whatever you need to do, honey," she told me, as other nurses continued to prepare for my baby's delivery. My body started involuntary pushing. It felt like I was about to have a large bowel movement, when my OB hurried into the room just in time to glove-up and do her thing. I was pushing, and no one was coaching me when to do it – a first, for me. But I pushed reluctantly and angrily. "WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?!" I asked aloud during a brief pause in contractions.
My husband tried to hold my hand, but I batted him away. "No, don't touch me … I need to GRAB something." So I wrapped both arms around the side railing of the bed and bore down some more. "WHY DO PEOPLE DO THIS WILLINGLY?!" I shouted at my doctor and nurses at one point. Everything felt like it was moving in slow motion.
After a few minutes of pushing, my doctor told me she was giving me a numbing shot so she could cut me for an episiotomy. One last push – and one involuntary scream of pain escaped my lips. I felt like I was taking the largest poop of my life. Except, it was actually my baby coming into the world. They immediately set her on my chest.
I just looked at her and wrapped my arms around her slimy body, as nurses continued to dry her and wrap her up. (Holy eff, I thought. I did it!) I was so glad I had my newborn to distract me at that point, because delivering the placenta is not a pleasant experience.
The first thing I said to my husband after we were taken to the recovery room was, "So that happened."
I couldn't believe I had just given birth without pain medication. I'm not going to lie; I felt sort of bad-ass in that moment.
Ultimately, though, having an unintentionally unmedicated delivery was a bit traumatizing. I had had zero desire to feel that pain. And I had done nothing to mentally prepare for it. But I did what needed to be done.
For me, the recovery was pretty much the same as when I was fully numb while giving birth. I suppose I was able to get up and walk a little sooner. But I just chilled out with my new baby for the first couple of hours anyway. The crappy part? I still had to pay for the epidural and the services of the anesthesiologist, even though the epidural had failed me when I wanted it the most. Ugh!
Although we're not planning to, if we were to have more children in the future, I would still prefer an epidural – but the kind that actually works.
Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.