I answered a question on Quora, “What is it like to have an epidural” and thought I’d share it here:
I am glad that it was available to me, but if I have another child I will try not to have an epidural. It was necessary in my situation so I don’t regret choosing it, but I do believe that it contributed to the fact that my labor ended in an emergency C-section.After doing a lot of reading about the natural process of labor, I decided I wanted to try for an unmedicated birth (something I never thought I would do!). Unfortunately, fate had me stuck with a dr. and nurse who did not respect my body or my wishes (I know now I should have asked for a different nurse, regret #1). Despite repeatedly and clearly stating that we would like to keep the Pitocin as low as possible, the nurse cranked it up when we weren’t looking. None of us realized it until my contractions were out of control, one on top of the other and I was only dilated to 2 cm. I was too out of it and didn’t understand what had happened until later, so I didn’t demand that she turn it down (regret #2). Instead, I begged for an epidural, thinking that was my only choice.
The only thing that I found scary about it was that I was unable to hold still while the anesthesiologist was inserting the needle. He had to ask the nurse to turn down the Pitocin and I had to squeeze my husband as tight as I could to stop shaking. I don’t want to freak anyone out so I should mention that I do not think that is normal. As far as I could tell, it was due to the irresponsibility of the nurse who didn’t take note of the way the drugs were affecting my body.
I have heard that the needle looks scary, but I didn’t look at it and I’m pretty sure my husband didn’t see it (I’ve heard stories of fathers nearly passing out). I’m also not afraid of needles, though, so I just didn’t think about what he was doing. I just knew it was important for me to hold still. Also, my labor was so strong at that point that I’m pretty sure it would have overshadowed any other sensations. I felt nothing as he inserted it and if he numbed the area beforehand, I don’t think I felt that either.
The epidural was effective very quickly. It was pretty amazing. The only problem was that I could still feel every contraction in my left butt cheek. It wasn’t extreme pain, but it was hard to ignore it because I wasn’t able to move around or get in a good position to deal with it. Lying on a bed in pain is so much worse than being able to move around, sit on an exercise ball, etc. I kept pushing the button to turn up the epidural, but it wasn’t helping so I asked about adjusting it (regret #3).
Let’s go back a little. When I first got the epidural, my son’s heart rate dropped. Suddenly, the room was full of people telling me to get on my knees (really hard to do when you’ve had an epidural!), squirting something in my mouth that gave me a temporary headache, inserting a monitor into my son’s head, and who knows what else. They got his heart rate back up and things calmed down.
BUT, when the anesthesiologist adjusted the epidural to ease the pain in my left butt cheek, my son’s heart rate dropped again. They tried to raise it again and it worked, but then it dropped again and my dr. felt uncomfortable letting me continue to labor and suggested a C-section. At that point, I was scared and probably would have agreed to anything.
During the C-section the anesthesiologist told me that usually they are not able to fix the epidural when something like the pain in my butt happens. Overall, he was great and a super nice guy (which was a refreshing change from the nurse and dr.), but I really wish I had known that because I would have just dealt with the pain in the butt. I also wish someone had told me that an epidural could lower the fetal heart rate. I felt like it was sold as something with rare side-effects that they just have to tell you about for liability. I don’t know how often it affects the baby in that way, but since talking to others about my experience I have gotten the sense that it is not uncommon.
Here’s some info I just found regarding an epidural lowering fetal heart rate.
I’m not sure if this was related, but the next day I vomited a few times. The nurses kept offering me drugs to stop the nausea, but I was sick of being pumped full of drugs and refused until I missed my son’s first visit with a pediatrician because I was hovering over a puke bucket and I realized that the nausea was not going away soon. Once they gave me even more drugs, I was fine. I suspect this may have had to do with the morphine they gave me before the C-section because they weren’t sure the epidural was working well enough, but I’m not sure.
Like I said, I’m glad that the epidural was available to me because I’m not sure I could have made it from 2 to 10 cm with the labor I was experiencing, but I also feel confident that I could have done with out it if the medical personnel attending my labor had respected my wishes and paid attention to what was happening with my body. Despite having a disappointing birth experience, I did feel empowered once I realized that the labor I was experiencing was the same most women go through during transition and usually only lasts a couple of hours. I experienced it for about an hour before the epidural so I do feel that I could have gotten through it without drugs if it had been a normal labor and I was further dilated.