San Diego, CA

My Struggle to Be at Peace With the Epidural I Got "After" Giving Birth

Casandra Reid

I declined an epidural before giving birth. I accepted one “after” delivery.
A Newborn Being DeliveredPhoto byPhoto by Patricia Prudente on Unsplash

I’ve given birth to two precious babies, and each delivery was distinctly different. Nevertheless, some memories from my deliveries now serve as part of my natural family planning. Consequently, I have developed a raw and riveting fear of Labor and Delivery. And while I made conscious efforts to enjoy my delivery experiences, I remained borderline fearful, knowing that we weren’t cleared until my babies were safely delivered.

I arrived at the hospital thinking it would be hours before I gave birth. But babies are unpredictable little creatures. Sometimes they arrive fashionably late according to their mothers’ expectations. Other times, they are born in record time because why not?

My son did not wait for our room to be ready. Instead, he arrived while I was still in triage. Granted, he was the baby who stayed invisible for seven months, refusing to show his bump to the world. Still, when it was time for delivery, he was in a hurry to grace us with his appearance—the irony.

I was at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) Natural Birthing Center, the #1 ranked hospital in San Diego, hoping to experience a traditional birth with an attending midwife.
Photo byUCSD Birthing Center. Image courtesy of kitchell-uc-san-diego-jacobs-medical-center2.jpg

I anticipated my husband would be there, along with an attending midwife and a Doula. I also wanted an unmedicated birth and water labor. Most importantly, I wanted a safe and emergency-free delivery. This was just how I had fantasized my delivery would go, and, thankfully, the birthing center facilitated my checklist to becoming my reality. Well, that was until my unborn son decided to rewrite the script.

The Matter of Epidurals

While thankful for the development of pain medications, I wanted unmedicated births. Hence, I opted not to have an epidural during both deliveries. However, my firstborn seems to have had other plans because the speed and force he arrived at ruptured me so profoundly, leaving a 3-degree tear in the wake of his exit. Hence, the epidural I chose not to have before delivery became a must-have after delivery.

How could this be? This irony is one I struggled with processing and accepting even to date. My birth story has an unexpected ending, thanks to the co-author being my baby. Becoming a first-time mom, I read about epidurals slowing down the laboring process and knew of other moms who took an epidural and blamed the same for their hours-long labor.

And while the theories are many in regards to the effect of an epidural on labor, I sided with not wanting to take that risk of being delayed. Another reason was the lingering back pain that other mothers associate with getting an epidural. As such, I knew once I started active labor, I would want to be over and done in the next hot minute.

And there, my decision was made solid that I would not be taking an epidural. Consequently, I faced my labors and deliveries head-on, feeling and now remembering the intensity and every strike of pain as distinct as they were. Labor pains are a force to be reckoned with.

My Triage Experience

I was assessed in triage and given confirmation of what I already knew: that I was in labor. The triage care team that I was assigned to was all excellent. They asked if I wanted to be transferred to a regular labor and delivery room or wait for cleaning to be completed for one of the three Birthing Center rooms.

Excitedly, I opted for the Birthing Center room, where I would have access to a water tub laboring experience, among access to birth balls, bean bags, and birthing stools. Given that I would not take an epidural, any natural remedies for pain relief were welcome. I was excited about this room option after completing a tour of the UCSD Birthing Center weeks prior.

But I would later find out my unborn son was eavesdropping and had another plan. Yes, the little man decided he’d instead arrive when, where, and how he wanted. His plans trumped mine. Arriving one day before his scheduled delivery date, my firstborn was well-timed and perfectly baked. My youngest came two days before the year ended, making it seem like he was determined to be present for the New Year’s Eve ball.

In triage, I was being monitored. The midwife and her team checked at the appropriate intervals and found nothing amiss. I was progressing along nicely, increasing by centimeters as expected. I was with my husband, waiting, laboring, and anticipating the arrival of our little one. It would be hours before we got to meet him, we assumed. But how wrong we were. Something felt unusual, although, in retrospect, I had no experience with labor and delivery before and was not sure what was supposed to be “usual.” And so I asked for my care team.

I was sure my baby was arriving that very second.

The midwife assured me she had checked me only minutes ago, and I had time left before I would progress and deliver. Nevertheless, I insisted she checks again as I felt he was “right there,” and she did. I was right. He was, for sure, right there.

And so it began, the scrambling and switch for a triage birth. I did not have time to get from triage to that glorious anticipated birthing center or a regular delivery room. Contrary to what my care team expected, no further laboring for hours would exist. Alas, this kid decided that the best spot he would arrive was in triage, and that’s what he did. The midwife began coaching me on when to push. However, there would be a one, two, and no three…

With much speed and unstoppable force, my baby entered this world. Relief was the first emotion I recall experiencing once I realized my sweet boy was born. And I still remember the distinct moment and the feeling when he was born.

It took a little while to acknowledge that I could start relaxing as my baby boy seemed well; I felt okay, dad was excited, and here we were with the fear of delivery finally behind us. Soon after, I remember going to the bathroom with the nurse’s help and hearing her call my husband to assist her. I was not okay. I fainted.

However, I also didn’t realize at that moment the amount of blood I had lost due to the magnitude of the tear. It would take some time for my midwife to explain what had happened. She said the force and speed he was born with ruptured me. I also recalled her saying I needed to get an epidural, given the size and depth of the tear, because without said epidural, the pain would likely be too much while I received stitches.

By this point, I was a weeping willow and dissolved into tears. What had just happened? A tear that deep? Was this not the epidural I elected not to have before delivery and now needed? I also realized I was surrounded by much medical personnel I couldn’t identify and became overwhelmed. Why were there so many people by my bed? The midwife told them I was overwhelmed and asked the others to leave the room. She then explained who they were and why they were there. One such person was the anesthesiologist who I was going to need.

Taking a moment to take it all in

After I was calm enough to accept my current fate and agreed to receive the epidural, the care team took over. My midwife was also the sweetest soul then; she offered to stay with me until the procedure ended, even though her shift had already been completed. Angels do exist among us, and she was one.

Her presence and demeanor were so comforting, and to date, the image of her smile makes me smile. She was just the person I needed to deliver my baby. I remember dosing off and waking back up with the assurance that all went well. Also, the leading midwife from whom I received prenatal care came in shortly after. She congratulated me and affirmed that I had only birthed that child, but his features were entirely his father’s. I smiled and thanked her for that blunt reveal.

Granted, I was the one who had just labored that child out and acquired a 3rd-degree tear, but all credit to dad, of course. I knew she meant well; this was all in poking fun at me. She also profusely apologized for the wait in cleaning the Birthing Center room and offered to put me in an upgraded post-partum room to compensate for my missed experience.

An upgraded post-partum room? I had never heard of that; however, I was ecstatic and on a natural high from becoming a new mom that any room to recover would have sufficed. Here we were, a family of three. Immense joy flooded my veins as I held, smelled, and saw my baby. Call this a mother’s bias, but I was convinced he was the sweetest little thing I had ever seen at that moment.

Closing Thoughts

Indeed, my birth story only went partially how I scripted it or anticipated it would be. But most importantly, it went just the way it was meant to. A healthy baby, a “safe enough” delivery for me, with a supportive husband and father in tow, there is so much that I am grateful for.

My sister-in-law also became the unofficial doula and made a running joke about the epidural I was adamant about not taking before, but I needed it right after delivery. Some things are just simply unexplainable. As I am learning, life has many paths to get us to the same destination.

Ultimately, our openness and willingness to follow a different approach may unearth treasures of a rare kind. And these treasures may be the ones we would not otherwise find if we stay on the track we initially mapped out.

My sweet boy continues to write his legacy, and I feel most privileged to be his mom, journeying along.

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Human Resources Professional - MBA | 15 years experience | Relatable working mom of 2 Boys | Wife | Writer

Chula Vista, CA

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