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An epidural can be very powerful during a particularly challenging labor

“I’m going to have a completely all natural drug free birth. I don’t need an epidural” Famous last words from a woman that was only 5 weeks pregnant.

All through my 20’s anytime I heard someone say they had a drug free birth I wanted to scoff and say, “Well that’s just stupid. There are drugs out there for the very purpose!.” I had basically determined that the only reason women would choose to have a drug free birth is that they wanted the bragging rights. Well, I didn’t want bragging rights! Go ahead and sign me up for all the drugs! Fast forward to my first pregnancy. The minute my husband and I had decided to start trying to get pregnant I started my never-ending research. You might be able to relate. Around the time I found out I was pregnant Netflix put up the documentary “The Business of Being Born.” I watched in fascination the scene where the nurses stand in the hallway looking at the board of all the patients and talk about which women were already on Pitocin and which women would be starting on it soon.

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What is Pitocin?

Pitocin is a synthetic version of the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin is the hormone that is released in your body which triggers contractions. Pitocin is often used to induce labor or to augment labor if labor isn’t going quickly enough. Now Pitocin is often medically necessary such as in the cases of a medically necessary induction or to jump-start a stalled labor BUT what worried me is how often women seem to be put on Pitocin in a hospital setting. All those women really need extra help? Isn’t labor a natural process? Why are so many women requiring medical interventions? Here was the hitch for me: Pitocin is commonly cited as making contractions more intense and more painful. More intensity AND more pain? Um no, thank you.

Switching from an OBGYN to a Midwife

I now had an absolute fear of medical intervention, specifically Pitocin, and that fear led me to decide to have my baby under the care of midwives at our local birth center. It took a little convincing but I got my husband on board as well and we started our journey confidently moving towards a medication-free delivery. We were continually so pleased with the care we received from the midwives. My appointments with the OB/GYN that were only 10 minutes long morphed into hour-long leisurely appointments with the midwives where we discussed nutrition, exercise, and many other pregnancy and birth related topics. I went to each appointment with so many questions and would leave happy with everything I learned during that appointment. I met other women that had chosen to go the route of the midwives. We would chat about the things that people would say to us about our decision to not have our babies in a hospital. Everyone had a horror story to share. Everyone seemed to think it was important to tell us that if they hadn’t had their baby in the hospital A B C or D would have happened. Everyone’s stories were filled with horror and contained strong warnings about having a non-hospital delivery.

I don’t know what it is about the human condition that makes us so compelled to share the gloom and doom of our life experiences.
However, I felt confident about the decision I made until I went in for my 16-week ultrasound appointment with the perinatologist: “I’m concerned about the size of the baby’s head. It’s measuring smaller than it should be. You need to come in for another scan in 8 weeks. If things haven’t improved by then we are looking at an early induction. See you in 8 weeks.” She then proceeded to walk out the door. Wait, what? I walked out of the office in a haze, with shaking hands I texted my midwives completely dumbfounded by what had just happened. One of them immediately responded and encouraged me not to worry, she would request the labs ASAP and we would sit down and discuss it. She also warned me, “Stay off the internet until we know more.” I went home and managed to stay off the internet for hmm about 15 minutes. Then the googling started, phrases like “small for gestational age”, “microcephaly,” “delayed motor,” “mental retardation,” and more were jumping off the page left and right. I was now officially petrified. How many drinks did I have before I knew I was pregnant? I think 2. Could that have caused this? Did I not wait long enough after going off my anxiety medicine before getting pregnant? Was I not eating enough? Was I doing something wrong? I spoke with the midwives the next day. They basically told me again not to worry. They had had a long discussion with the perinatologist who informed them that nothing was too much to worry about they just wanted to keep monitoring me until the baby’s head had shown adequate growth and/or till the end of my pregnancy. I felt slightly reassured. I continued through the next 5 months of my pregnancy with more scans and non-stress tests than I honestly care to count or remember. Each time I would go the doctor would tell me “Everything looks good.”
I passed my 36th week of pregnancy, then my 37th, 38th, 39th with no more discussion from perinatologist about requiring an early induction. My worries were constantly still at the back of my mind but I had an overwhelming feeling that everything was going to be okay. Did I still wake up in the middle of the night and panic? Of course, I did. Did I still enter every appointment at the perinatologist’s office filled with fear? Yep. But I made it to my due date with a sense of calm serenity.

Getting Sent to the Hospital for an Induction

My husband and I sailed into the birth center for my 40-week appointment with the midwives expecting them to tell me to make sure to take some long walks, eat some dates, have sex and do all the other little things that can naturally induce labor. Instead, two of the midwives came into the room, sat down, and told me that they had just gotten off the phone with the perinatologist. She (the Perinatologist) wanted me to go straight to the hospital for an immediate induction. “Why?” I remember asking in stunned disbelief. “They have been telling me that everything was fine!” Apparently, there had been a complete lack of communication from the Perinatologist to my midwives. The Perinatologist had wanted to induce me 2 days before my due date. This was news to me. She had also diagnosed my baby with SGA (Small for Gestational Age). I knew from my research exactly what SGA was and all the complications it could entail. How could the Perinatologist have never told me, in my (what felt like hundreds) of appointments that she had diagnosed my baby with SGA? How was that diagnosis never written on any of the reports sent to the midwives from the Perinatologist’s office? And most importantly how could this be happening?

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I was sent home to pack and to get to the hospital within in the next 2 hours. I moved through the motions and before I knew it I was in the labor and delivery room having Cervadil inserted in order to ripen my cervix and induce labor. I was told it would feel similar to a tampon (It doesn’t) and that my labor would start by the morning. It was 7 pm and I started having contractions by 9 pm. I spent most of the night awake, having contractions, and worrying about the health of the baby. At 7 am the nurses removed the Cervadil and started me on Pitocin, which of course was the main thing I had wanted to avoid during my labor. Labor started fast and strong at that point but it was getting me nowhere quickly. After 20 hours I was still less than 5 centimeters. The further into labor I progressed the more depressed, scared, and anxious I got about the health of my baby. I was not excited anymore to meet her. Between contractions, all I felt was panic and dread. I was sure that many horrible, terrible things were going to happen. I told my husband at one point that all I wanted was for everything to go away and that I wanted to go to sleep and never wake up again. I had fallen into a dark place. I have always struggled with anxiety and fear but the complications of this pregnancy and the pain of labor took me to a place I had never been before. It is also a place I never want to go again. Once I started having those extremely negative thoughts and had been in labor for 24 hours I begged for an epidural.

Experiencing the Power of an Epidural

As the epidural did its magic I felt my panic disappear. I was still worried about my baby’s health but a more rational mindset was able to prevail. I knew that no matter what happened my husband and I would be able to handle it. After I received the epidural my labor was able to speed along. I delivered a healthy, 7 lb, 2 oz baby girl after 36 hours of labor. Everything that we had worried about proved to be untrue. The Doctor’s concerns never materialized. The NICU team that had assembled for her birth was promptly dismissed. She was just a normally developed, healthy baby. We were and are lucky and so blessed. I fully believe that getting an epidural is what finally allowed my labor to progress. I was able to let go of some of the fear and enjoy the process that is birth. I was able to connect with my husband, rest, and prepare myself for what was to come. My labor was the complete opposite of the labor I had planned. Do I regret getting an epidural? Hell no. Will I have a hospital birth and an epidural with the next one? Maybe I will, maybe I won’t.  I’m open to all the possibilities.

Did you enjoy reading my birth story? When I was pregnant I gobbled up birth stories like nobody’s business. Here are some of my favorite birth-story books that you can pick up on Amazon! Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth— This is my all-time favorite childbirth books! Ina May Gaskin is one of the most revered midwives in the US. This book is a compilation of natural childbirth stories that are all 100% positive, uplifting and joyful! This book puts a whole other spin on childbirth and will inspire you to look forward to your labor experience with excitement rather than fear! Natural Birth Stories by Shannon Brown— This is another collection of positive natural childbirth stories from real women. These stories will also inspire and encourage you as you head towards your labor experience! Labor Day–This is a great collection of birth stories that are a mix of drug-free births, epidural births, quick labors, long labors, complicated births, simple births and everything in between. It’s a great read as it will bring normalcy to many of the thoughts and emotions you have about your previous childbirth experiences or your experiences yet to come! Better yet these stories are written by professional authors so you KNOW the writing will be good!

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