Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Epidural vs. Natural (Kennedy's Birth Story)

I somewhat unintentionally gave birth naturally the other day.

Please stop reading if you're squeamish or not wanting to get too personal. Because it's about to get personal. 

I had been debating whether or not to get an epidural. Brian and I listed the pros and cons the night before the induction.

1. No pain (I thought this counted for 15 pros)
2. Less severe episiotomy (more time to stretch because the urge to push is controllable)

1. Dangerous when you have SPD because you can't feel when you're hips are being pushed beyond their limits, can lead to permanent damage
2. Risks, including spinal leak (which happened with Silas' birth, horrible experience)
3. You miss out on the powerful natural experience of childbirth

After listing these, Brian lovingly said "Angie, you'll cave and get the epidural."

I agreed. With Silas I'd labored to a "6" and was shivering with intense pain, grabbing the anesthesiologist in desperation. I knew a little bit of what awaited me and I wasn't lying to myself about it. (With Madison I got an epidural early because my OB knew that after the birth she was doing reconstruction to repair damage from the previous 9 pound, 6 ouncer's exit)

So that's where we left it. I would wait and make the decision in the midst of the pain. The pain has a way of making the epidural seem much less scary. We both knew I'd probably get the epidural. But a small part of me heard my mother's voice reciting my birth story, "I never had any pain with you. You were out in 3 pushes!" And then there was the "Once you start pushing it's such a relief. If you can just make it to that point, you've got it." Deep down I wanted the experience for myself.
But then again I didn't.

Here I am, filled with naivety. 

That morning, when the nurses asked about my plan I kept saying I was going to wait and see but most likely I'd be getting an epidural. They started the pitocin drip and over the course of a few hours they checked me and I was at a 4. Encouraging. Pain level: 3. She upped the pitocin.

A few more hours went by and I started having to lightly breath through contractions. Pain level: 5.  They checked me again and we were all discouraged that I was still at a 4. I looked at Brian and told him I didn't think I wanted to do this. The doctor told the nurse to increase the pitocin again.

My pain went fairly quickly to about a 7. I put in headphones and all I wanted to listen to was Bruce Sprinstein's Secret Garden. I stopped caring who was talking to me or in the room when a contraction came. Brian would fan my face, my toes would curl and as the pain swelled and swelled, the craziest stream of thoughts would flood my mind as I tried to breath. They ranged from German cuss words I learned from my old soccer team to good ole English ones followed by Jesus help me! I'm not a big swearer either so I was shocked by what was going on in my brain.

My thoughts vacillated between "Holy Mother, there's no way" to "This is something you've always wanted and this is the last chance to do it." I prayed in and out of contractions, "What should I do? You know better than anyone." I felt like I should go 5 more contractions. I counted them down, gripping the bed, frantically fanning myself at this point (Brian wasn't quite aggressive enough).

After the fifth contraction the nurse came in and I asked if she would check me again. It had only been 20 minutes since the doctor had checked me and said I was at a 4. She obliged and we were all shocked when she said I was at a 7. She told me I would probably be at a 10 in the next 30 minutes.

A 10 you say? My mama told me when I got to a 10 and started pushing it would stop hurting and everything would be ok.

Maybe I can do this. I think I can do this for 30 more minutes.

I told Brian I couldn't be quiet anymore. He told me to go for it, whatever I needed to do. Song switched to "Love Is Not A Fight" by Warren Barfield. The bed shook and a soft yell grew with every contraction. Pain grew 8, 9. It felt like I went into a violent trance, another world.

The nurse told me I could still have an epidural, even if I was at a 10. But they were getting the baby's station ready. That was promising. Plus my mom told me that once I started pushing everything would be ok.

20 more minutes had gone by. A contraction came and I felt something new. For a millisecond I wanted to bear down and push. Oh dear Jesus, have I made it to the promised land? I told Brian to page the nurse and spread the good news! He enthusiastically told her "She has a strong urge to push!" The nurse rushed in and I clarified that I had a tiny urge to push, a strong urge to die.

She went ahead and checked me and that's when the real craziness started. Honey you're at a 10, plus 2 (who knows what that means but it sounded like extra credit to me). A few more brain rattling contractions while an entourage of staff rushed around the room. Hmm, I'm confused because the contractions still seem to be getting worse. Mama?

Then my wonderful doctor came in. She confirmed it was time.

Whoa whoa whoa. Wait a minute everyone. Push? I'm riding this bucking bull of mind numbing pain and yeah I may want to push here and there in the midst of the chaos but, wait you're putting my feet in the stirrups? Everyone assured me I was at the end, I was so close.

My doctor knew my mom (my mom used the be the nurse at her office) so I felt comfortable sharing my confusion at this point. I told her with all sincerity that my mom said this was supposed to be the good part. Something wasn't right. This was terrible. I'd made a horrible decision. I looked at all 5 nurses/student doctors gathered around and told them if they have kids please promise me they'll get an epidural. It's sohohoho much better. This was just terrible.

Little did I know I still had to get past the ring of fire. (I hadn't prepared for all this. I was planning on caving, remember?) I pushed through two contractions repeating again that my mom told me this was supposed to be the good part! Can anyone hear me out there? This hurts worse than anything. The doctor told me she would be out in two more pushes. Everyone had a good laugh as I talked to myself out loud, "This really was a terrible decision. Why would anyone do this?"

That's when it happened. I had another contraction and according to Brian, I pushed her out just enough to where the top of her head and forehead were out. Then the contraction stopped. The nurses told me to relax. I was still quiet as a mouse pushing until my face was purple. What was going through my head was "Like hell I will!!!!!!" Whatever point I was at, I knew it was no place to stop. When I finally took in a breath I let out a scream and yelled at the doctor to stop whatever it was she was doing!! She lifted her hands and said it's not me, this is the ring of fire, she's almost out. She'll be out in the next contraction. I could hardly breath for the pain. I screamed and couldn't believe how long it was taking for the next contraction. I prayed out loud for God to please make it come. When it did I pushed with every ounce of my body, let out a final primal scream for the unspeakable pain,
and she was out.

Everyone celebrated. We cried and held her. There she was, this beautiful child.
I took a deep breath. I was filled with thankfulness that it was over and everyone was ok. I knew this wasn't something to take for granted.

What I didn't count on, however, was the following 30 minutes that were spent massaging my belly so hard it made tears stream down my face (I had a very stubborn placenta). And then the stitching.

I laid in that bed in disbelief that I had wished this on myself. I still can't. The thought of going through it again sends shivers down my spine. 

This is where I think my perspective differs from others', like my Mom's, who only ever experienced natural childbirth. They have no point of reference to judge how bad it really is. It's all they know. They don't know what it's like to spend labor resting in the quiet, laughing and joking with family, trying/pretending to push because you can't feel a dang thing. And to hold the baby in pure bliss, oblivious to any processes going on after the birth.

A small part of me is glad I didn't have to go through getting the epidural (although it's really not that bad). I'm glad I wasn't sick after the birth like I was in the past from the medicine. And I'm glad there was no chance of anything going wrong with the epidural.

With that said, what I know beyond a shadow of a doubt is that I would NEVER do that to myself again. I lacked the presence of mind to care at all about my SPD or how my hips felt when it came time to push. But more than that, it was simply terribly painful. I look back and feel sorry that I had to go through that. Mainly the pushing phase and delivering the placenta. Man alive. Looking back, an epidural is like a warm blanket of protection that can give the gift of enjoying birth.

As a disclaimer, it's a little scary describing my labor experience because it's often such an emotionally charged issue. I realize I'm just one drop in a sea of women who have given birth and there are many different perspectives on this subject. 
No matter the method of arrival, the blessing that comes at the end is worth it, a million times over. 

And speaking of that blessing, let's move on to what's really on all our minds.
This is what I get to look at all day.

She's affectionately known as "Stink Bait" around these parts. (The "in" thing to do with umbilical cords these days is to not clean it and let it rot and fall off much faster. The only problem is that it reeks like rotting flesh, which it happens to be. You could smell it through layers of clothes and swaddled in a blanket.) But stinky or not, we really really really like her. What a precious gift!


  1. Congratulations! She's such a cutie pie!! I've given birth 3 times w/o pain killers, but one of those times I had pitocin (the other two times no pitocin, no nuthin') and I'm here to tell you that pitocin increases the pain of contractions by... oh about 10 billion times. At least. Probably more. Certainly everybody's body experiences things differently, but I was SCREAMING FOR DRUGS after only an hour of the smallest amount of pitocin they could give me. But I had two other bebes without drugs, no problemo. So let's blame the pitocin! ;)

    But I'm glad she's here and healthy, and that your hips are healthy too!

  2. Oh and i totally agree that delivering the placenta is the worst part. You already have your baby, so all you get for your pain and effort is a big blob of nasty. Boo!

  3. Congrats on pretty baby girl!
    thanks for sharing the story - i like reading women's experiences because everyone is so different. i've had 2 with pitocin, some analgesics to get me thru some of the pain (for about 2 hours), and then no epidural. My experience with C was like your mom's - no pain during the pushing and it was a relief to push. Pushing L hurt 'cause he was turned down and they had to twist him around. that hurt like none-other - sounds like your ring of fire experience. yikes!
    glad you're doing ok and it's past you : )
    keep healing and lovin' on baby!

  4. In your mom's defense I agree with her! In both my natural labors the pushing was the least intense and most relaxed part. In your defense I would never in a hundred million years have a baby laying on my back nor a pitocin induced labor naturally. Pitocin is designed (obviously) to make your body contract and it does so in a very intense way. What you did was harder than natural childbirth so you should give yourself extra high fives and chocolate cupcakes for that girl, tough stuff!

  5. One of the perks of being childless is that I don't have to deal with birth stories, but I read yours (the night after my sister gave birth to my nephew) and was laughing out loud and reading it to her. Sorry to laugh at your pain, but I love you and your honesty. My sister planned on going all natural but "gave in" and had an epidural with 2 hours to go. I kept trying to tell her there was no shame in it, and your story gave me ammo! Haha. I'm just thankful you're all save and happy. Love ya!

  6. Angie, You are so funny! I am up late trying to get caught up on some mail and Larissa forwarded this to me cause she knows Im out of touch with the facebook world. I had to cover my mouth several times to keep from waking the kids... You crack me up and you have an amazing way of telling an experience with such detail I could just visualize the whole scene. You could make money writing about this stuff! I had all four of mine natural and just like Suze the pain stopped when the pushing started but I know you are a great mom.. I can hear it in your words, those kids are really blessing to have you :)

  7. Precious story!! Next time try no pitocin & let your body do it on its own....I know a great midwife right there in Rockwall!! haha Every birth is different....glad you got to experience it this way with your sweet Kennedy. I love reading your blog. Are you all still driving to Lake Highlands for church?