If there’s one thing everyone seems to have an opinion on, it’s whether or not I’m going to need an epidural when I give birth.
On the one hand, you have what appears to be most of the Internet, which is basically saying that epidurals are Evil and Bad and Womens’ Bodies Are Made To Give Birth and it’s a Natural Process etc.
And on the other hand, there’s quite a lot of people who I know in real life (which makes me wonder if these Internet people really exist), who are not only certain that I’m going to need an epidural “because I/my wife/my mum/my best friend sure did”, but who insist on launching into an Ode To The Epidural And Other Wonders Of Modern Medicine of shakespearean proportions.
Then there’s the fact that my mum, who is smaller and definitely thinner than me, had at least two of us (it might have been all three, I can’t remember) without the aid of an epidural, although I’m not sure it was entirely out of choice. I’ve mentioned before that my mum is a badass and I have little hope of ever living up to her example, particularly in this domain, because I’m most certainly the wimp in our family. I guess a small part of why I’d prefer to do without an epidural is because I’d like to at least try to live up to that standard.
Which is stupid, because as my doctor pointed out this evening (during her own shakespearean monologue, which is what got me thinking about all this in the first place), childbirth pain, like pregnancy nausea and everything else in the world, exists on a spectrum, and no two childbirth experiences are the same, just as no two women are the same.
In her experience, there are approximately 15% of women on one end of the spectrum who feel barely any pain at all, and who often don’t make it to the hospital because by the time they realise they’re giving birth, the baby’s nearly out. On the opposite end, there’s another 15% who are in so much pain right from the beginning that they even scare the nurses. And in between is the majority of women, for whom the pain is pretty bad, but not so excruciating as to completely traumatise them.
There are two more reasons why I don’t much fancy the epidural, the first of which is a question of control. My maternity doesn’t let you manage your own dose of anaesthetic, meaning I’ll be dependant on someone else, who may dose it too high, numbing my legs and the contractions, or too low, in which case I’ll still be in pain when I was expecting not to be, which I think would be worse than being in pain when I expect it. Another control issue is that I’ll no longer be able to get up and walk around, and I’ll lose the advantage of gravity to speed up the childbirth process.
The second reason is basically HOLY SHIT HAVE YOU SEEN THE SIZE OF THAT NEEDLE?? And you can’t move when they stick it in you, in case they hit something vital. Sure, they use a local anaesthetic to numb your skin, but what about the 8-odd centimeters it needs to go in to insert the catheter? Surely you’re not telling that doesn’t hurt? My boyfriend has a needle phobia, he’s not going to be able to stay in the room while this is happening, never mind hold my hand and reassure me. He’ll be able to come back in once the needle’s out and safely put away, but still.
So my philosophy so far has been to try and go as far as possible without the epidural, but – and this is important – to have one available just in case I belong to that last 15% (and knowing me and my pain tolerance, I’m guessing there’s more chance of that than belonging to the “I really need to poo… wait, what?” bunch). I’ve told the midwives that I’d like to be told when my last opportunity to get the epidural is before it’s too late, and before I get to that point, I’ll have available to me a few other methods of pain relief and/or management, including breathing techniques, an essential oil blend, a labour tub and the good ol’ gas and air.
Thing about gas and air (or laughing gas) is that it works not by taking the pain away, but by getting you high enough to no longer care about the pain. Basically, it makes you dissociate.
And that could be a problem for me. I’ve mentioned that I have a history of anxiety and depression; dissociation is one of the symptoms I’ve struggled with quite a lot. My brain has made a habit of it, resulting in some pretty bad attention problems. And I know the gas leaves your system as soon as you breathe it out… but that doesn’t mean my brain won’t remain absent out of pure habit. What I’m afraid of here is that I’ll give birth, the midwife will put my baby on my chest, I’ll hold her for the first time and look into her eyes and feel… nothing.
And that, friends, sounds like a good head start on post-natal depression, which is something I’d really like to avoid.
So yeah, if an epidural gets me through childbirth while allowing me to remain present and feel all the feels, maybe it’s a better idea than gas and air. I’ll have to look further into it.
What about doing without either, you say? After all, the Internet it right – childbirth is a natural process.
Ha. Haha. Let’s get something clear about Mother Nature: she’s one hell of a bitch sometimes. Did you know that when cats have sex, the male cat’s dick sticks sharp spines into the female’s vagina, essentially ripping it up so that she’ll avoid and fight any other male who tries to mount her, thus ensuring that that first male is the only one whose sperm fertilizes her?
Pain in childbirth may serve a similar function, allowing offspring a year or so of their mother’s undivided attention before she gets pregnant again. Humans don’t go into heat, after all, so we have to regulate our reproductive phases somehow. Maybe that’s why some of us (me) get such bad nausea, too, who knows?
So yeah, I don’t buy the whole “natural process” argument.
But that doesn’t mean I’m going to want an epidural. I still don’t like the look of that needle, I still have my control issues, and if I can do without, why shouldn’t I? Given my pain tolerance, I’m probably going to know pretty fast whether or not I’ll need one. But I won’t know until the time comes, and here’s what I want to get across here – neither will you.
You don’t know where I stand on the spectrum any more than I do. We can guess, we can estimate probabilities based on my pain tolerance, my anatomy, my symptoms so far, the baby’s position, her estimated birth weight… but in the end, that’s all just speculation. There’s not much point to it, other than to stress me out, and stress is yet another factor that defines how painful childbirth can be.
So basically what I’m saying, to all those who want to give me their opinion on whether or not I should get an epidural, is this: please shut up. I don’t need your opinion. Keep it to yourself. Because if you don’t, next time you go to get your wisdom teeth out, I’m going to tell you all the horror stories I’ve heard about the anaesthesia not working. Because yeah, I’ve heard that about the epidural, too.