IT HAPPENED TO ME: The Epidural I Didn’t Want Only Worked on Half My Body

It took me almost a year to come to terms with not getting the birth that I wanted. I couldn’t understand why I felt so traumatized.
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Publish date:
April 9, 2015
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pregnancy, birth, epidural, labor

I never wanted an epidural. I had my heart set on a natural childbirth. My pregnancy was unplanned, but this was one thing I could choose: the way I would give birth.

I carefully researched my choices; what would be safest for the wonderful baby growing inside me, ways to naturally tolerate the pain of childbirth. I read the books, watched the documentaries. I wrote up a three page birth plan, but didn’t sweat it when I left it at home. I wasn’t going to cling to my idea of a perfect birth, I was going to try to just do what I needed to do, and fight with all my strength to do it naturally.

My labor came on late and slow, starting with a few days of Braxton Hicks that came and went. At 5 a.m., I was awoken by my water breaking, which was a big surprise to me. I suspected the night before that I might give birth soon, but not that suddenly.

The contractions started about a half hour later, and were painful. My mother reminded me to do my yoga breathing, and that helped immensely. I focused on my breath and breathed through each contraction. I stayed home as long as I could, that was part of my plan, but my contractions were about 5 minutes apart and so when my doctor’s office opened at 8:30 am we decided I should head to the hospital.

I arrived and settled into my room, and when they checked me I was about 5 cm dilated. Halfway there! My OB said that I would be having my baby that afternoon. I was thrilled, I could handle that. Hours passed, I walked and walked through the halls of the hospital. My sister took the train down from Connecticut to New Jersey and arrived at the hospital. She walked the halls with me.

They didn’t force me to be hooked up to a monitor. The hospital I chose had a whirlpool tub for laboring moms, and I told my nurse that I wanted to try it. Twelve hours had passed, and still I had not progressed. I was in a lot of pain, I was exhausted. The nurse put in lavender aromatherapy and the bath was hot, it made me so sleepy but I could not rest. The contractions hurt terribly and I couldn’t get comfortable.

Everyone was beginning to worry about whether I would be too exhausted to push if I didn’t have some kind of pain relief. I felt stuck and in pain and exhausted and I wanted that epidural. I requested that they check me one more time after getting out of the bath, hoping maybe that I would have progressed a little and that I could fight through. I was still 5 cm, same as when I arrived at the hospital.

I was on board with the epidural when I was alone with my nurse and my mom, but I was scared to tell Bodie, Miriam’s father. He knew how badly I wanted a natural birth, he knew how much safer it was. I was afraid that he would think I was too weak and look down on me. I told him that I was thinking about talking to the anesthesiologist about an epidural and he was so supportive, told me to do what I wanted, what was best for me. His support made all the difference and gave me confidence to do what I felt I had to do.

When the anesthesiologist arrived, I told him I had just called him to discuss the risks and benefits of the epidural, I still wasn’t sure if I wanted one. I felt like I was failing at childbirth. I felt like I was failing to trust God. Most of all, I hoped and prayed that the pain would finally stop.

I asked the anesthesiologist to talk to me about it, talk me through that part of it. He responded gruffly, scoffing at me and asking “Well what do you want to know?” Contractions rolled through me and I couldn’t think of any important questions. I probably asked if it was safe, if it would hurt me or my baby.

I signed the papers, and my doctor demanded I bend over on the bed and keep perfectly still or I could be paralyzed. He frightened me, then he injected the epidural that only worked on half my body.

Getting him back to my room to redo the epidural took convincing. There was an emergency in another part of the hospital. He complained about how it might not work at all, it might just be my body, everyone in the room kept gently ask him to try again. He finally did, and my second very painful epidural worked on my full body. He didn’t put the anesthesia very strong and I could still feel the pain from the contractions, though it was less.

After the epidural fiasco, a quickly rising fever developed and I needed antibiotics and pitocin. My OB was patient with me, tried to give me control over each intervention, but an infection and 24 hours of labor meant my baby needed to come out now or I would need a C-section. I finally gave birth, vaginally, to a beautiful daughter. We named her Miriam.

It took me almost a year to come to terms with not getting the birth that I wanted. I couldn’t understand why I felt so traumatized. My experience, though normal to others, felt like a deep wound in my heart that I couldn’t think about without my eyes swelling with tears. Not every woman gets the birth she hopes and plans for. It was incredibly hard, painful, and not what I wanted.

Slowly I began to speak about what happened to me. I knew I needed to talk about it, I didn’t want to let it sit in me and hurt me. I talked to other moms about their birth experiences and found that some felt just as traumatized as I did. We talked together, cried together, and shared the things we wish we had done differently. As we talked, we started to heal, and as we healed, we watched our beautiful, happy, healthy babies playing together.

I may not have had the birth I planned for, or even the birth I hoped for, but I am thankful for my daughter’s life, and for my life, and I am thankful to the wonderful and supportive community of moms that have experienced similar traumas who open their hearts and share their hurts, so that we may all heal together and make peace with our experiences.

You can read my full and complete birth story here.