Far be it from me to tell any other woman how to have her baby, let alone what is right or wrong for her during the process. I have had two children and while both are glorious blessings today, the labor and delivery of each was as different as night and day. I have been on both sides of this spectrum: delivery without the epidural and delivery with the epidural. I can best describe the former as sheer HORROR and the latter as a piece of cake.
Both pregnancies were similar; I was sick much of the time and had premature labor requiring medication, bed rest, and hospital visits to stop them from arriving from about five months gestation forward. However, despite the similar pregnancies, the deliveries were wildly different experiences due to one big factor: the EPIDURAL!
I live in the South where we have sweltering, humid summers. With my first child, I was so sick of being pregnant in August that, around 39 weeks, I tried everything to get that child to move out. I stomped on a walk around the neighborhood, jumped up and down around the house, and even gagged down castor oil to kick my uterus into delivery mode. That night, shortly after 2:00 a.m., I awoke to find my water had broken. Yes! I jumped up, grabbed a quick shower and leg shave, and headed for the hospital. Because it was relatively new in those days, the thought of an epidural really didn't cross my mind. All I knew was that some time later that day, I would be meeting my daughter as angels sang, harps played, and family "ooh-ed" and "ahh-ed."
Once I got to the hospital, my labor stopped, so they gave me Pitocin to stimulate contractions. Soon, we were moving right along...2 centimeters, 4 centimeters, and then stuck for nine hours at 6 centimeters. The contractions were excruciating at that point, so they gave me some Demerol which did nothing but make me vomit. "Where's the doctor?" I asked. Oh, he was out for his Sunday golfing, but no worries. I still had plenty of time before he was needed...or so they thought. My truly wonderful nurse kept checking me, and every time, I was still 6 centimeters. Sure, maybe a 6 on the centimeter scale but a 10+ on the pain scale. Pretty soon, rage set in from the pain. "Give me an epidural. I can't take anymore. I just want an epidural." After a page to my oh-so-attentive doctor, I was informed that, at 6 centimeters, I wasn't ready for an epidural. I exclaimed, "WHAT?! I know women who were 4 centimeters and got theirs. GET THAT MAN ON THE PHONE AND GET ME AN EPIDURAL...NOW, DAMNIT!" Over the next 5 minutes, the pain got so intense that I was blacking out, writhing in pain, and literally visualizing myself with my own gun ending it all! If I could have gotten hold of my husband, that MAN who DID this to me, I'd have probably choked him to death with my bare hands. Suddenly, pure waves of agony swooped through my body and I screeched to my nurse, "I gotta push. I gotta push!" She told me that was impossible because she had just checked me 5 minutes ago and I was still 6 centimeters. I bolted upright in the bed, probably with the expression of an alien gremlin on my face, and emphatically said, "I GOTTA PUSH!" The nurse came to check me and, lo and behold, not only was my baby crowned, but that doctor was nowhere to be found. The nurse rushed everybody out of the room except my husband (who wasn't off the hook just yet, mind you), ran into the hallway yelling for help, and within a few minutes of pushing, in strolls the golfer...I mean, "doctor"...as if all is well in the world. He arrived just in time to grab the last half of my daughter coming out, see me tear pretty badly, stitch me up, and collect his $5,000 for it. Had he brought in his clubs, I'd have smashed his skull with his own nine iron. It was so bad, I don't really remember seeing my baby after she emerged. I just passed out. When I awoke, I swore then and there that there were no more babies in my future.
A little over 3 years and one missed birth control pill later, I discovered I was pregnant with child #2. Panic immediately set in as I reflected on the ordeal with delivery of child #1. During the pregnancy, which was riddled with problems just like the previous pregnancy, I made doggoned sure I visited an anesthesiologist. No way in the world was I going to have baby #2 with no epidural...I didn't care if I had to use a mirror and put the thing in myself! Nine months later and almost 2 weeks past due date in late July (oh goody, another summer pregnancy), my labor was scheduled and induced. This time, I used a nurse midwife and was sure it was a woman who didn't play golf. (However, the same man who did this to me the first time was there for his second assist.) She broke my water about 7:30 a.m., gave me some Pitocin, and I progressed along just like the first time...2 centimeters, 3 centimeters, then 4 centimeters. When I reached 4 centimeters, I said, "Okay, call the anesthesiologist." He came, gave me the epidural during a couple of intense contractions as I bent over sitting on the side of the bed, and said, "There ya go." Ahh. No more pain! During contractions, I just felt some pressure. I spent the next 7 hours watching TV and halfway through Guiding Light, my midwife said, "Okay, time to push!" I looked up to see the epidural drip bag empty and went into a panic. She assured me that the numbing effects would stay through the delivery. I sat up, pushed a couple of times, and before my eyes was my beautiful son...accompanied by my imagined angels singing, harps playing, and real "oohs" and "ahhs" from my husband and mom. With the memory of no epidural resurrected by the vision of the empty drip bag, I wanted that boy out as soon as possible. My midwife said, "Boy, you must've really had a bad experience last time. You really 'whomped' down on this kid!" I replied with a smile, "I wanted him out." After some stitches and peaceful, happy recovery time, I was taken to my room where I eagerly awaited the entry of my new bundle of joy. The entire experience was a beautiful scene, especially when his big sister was brought in to meet her new baby brother...and I was blissful and coherent enough to see it all! Why? Because I got the epidural!
For the record, my first child was a sickly child while my second one has been as "healthy as a horse". My first child was tough to raise with some personality issues, while my second child has been an absolute saint. So don't tell me there's some sort of risk to the child because of an epidural. When young pregnant women I know today ask for advice, I always reply emphatically with the same thing: "GET THE EPIDURAL!" It makes all the difference in the world.