Childbirth: It hurt 10,000 times worse than anyone ever told me it would.
The reason I know childbirth can be one of the most painful experiences under the sun is that even though I had an epidural, much to my horror, it worked only partially. I’m guessing it half-worked. There was definitely much of my lower body that didn’t feel pain, but lots of other parts that did.
Yes, I realize thousands of women give birth daily without drugs and experience the full pain of being in labor, but that’s their choice; that’s what they signed up for. I, on the other hand, signed up for the epidural. And it was not everything I dreamed it would be.
When I arrived at the hospital to deliver my first baby nearly 8 years ago, I’d been vomiting for a few hours and felt horrible, which I figured was typical for labor. I mean, no one ever said contractions felt good, right?
Turned out it wasn’t typical, and I had severe preeclampsia. They wanted to induce me to get the baby out ASAP. I was admitted, put on a magnesium drip to prevent seizures, and given Pitocin to induce labor.
At the same time, a nurse asked me if I wanted an epidural. You bet I did. Like, that wasn’t even a question. Give me the epidural, the sooner the better, because I’ve been told that Pitocin brings on the contractions even faster and furiouser (more furiously? let’s just say I’d heard it was serious) than you can imagine.
Apparently, they could only give me a low dose of pain meds to go with it —something to do with preeclampsia possibly affecting your platelet level and if/when that happened, I wouldn’t be able to have an epidural at all. No, thank you! So, I took what I could get, got the epidural, and waited for that blissed-out, pain-free feeling my friends had all told me about… except it never came.
The next 3 hours were a haze of trying to get me dilated and my water broken, all while the contractions came on hard. What fresh hell was this? Was it possible that my epidural wasn’t really working? No one told me there was a chance the epidural wouldn’t work. Was that even a thing?
Yes, there were parts of my pelvic region that were numb, and I was grateful for that. But it wasn’t really that awesome since I was expecting ALL the parts to be numb, not just SOME of them. And for some reason, the place I was feeling the contractions the most painfully was in my vagina.
I do not recommend this. This feeling went on for hours and hours. I was yoga breathing throughout, but nothing worked to alleviate the pain, no matter how many times the anesthesiologist came to add more meds to the epidural. My husband tried his best to help me through each contraction.
The whole day is a blur in my mind because it went on for so long. I had a million tubes and wires running in and out of my body and getting a magnesium drip makes you feel like you’ve been hit by a truck — but let me tell you, I remember the pain.
You know how they say moms forget the pain of childbirth quickly, which is the only thing that enables them to have a second baby? Eight years later, I have not forgotten the pain. It was worse than anything I imagined, worse than any of my friends ever told me, mostly due, I imagine, to the epidural that never really was.
In the end, I got lucky, as I was able to fully dilate and avoid an emergency C-section. But that meant I had to push, and pushing when your epidural isn’t working is not awesome. It felt like one side of my body was numb, while the other experienced the full agony of childbirth.
I distinctly recall thinking to myself, as I laid moaning on the table, I will never have baby number two, not ever. I can’t go through this pain again. I can’t, and I won’t. (Spoiler alert: I did.)
The pushing went on for about an hour before the doctors told me the baby wasn’t coming as quickly as they’d hoped, so they were going to pull out the big guns — the vacuum. I had learned about the vacuum in my childbirth class and wasn’t thrilled to have to use it, but I figured they wouldn’t do it if it weren’t necessary.
Let me tell you what’s fun: two doctors trying to push something (a vacuum) into your vagina while you’re desperately trying to push something (a baby) out.
The pain was intense. I couldn’t see much of what was going on down there, but as soon as they started trying to pull the baby out, the vacuum popped off of her head. That sure didn’t seem right. The doctor got it back on, and I saw him pulling again with all his might and I thought for certain the baby’s head was going to come right off along with the vacuum.
In the end, I don’t know if it was the vacuum that did it, or if the baby came out on her own, but I remember hearing the doctors get really excited as I pushed. I felt something rip (my perineum, perhaps?) and the next thing I knew, the baby was out.
Nearly 2 hours of pushing with a non-functioning epidural was not fun, but she was out and she was here and I felt a flood of relief that the pain was finally going to be over. At that point, I couldn’t even fathom that I had a daughter, that I was a mom. All that mattered was that the pain was over.
If you want to get an epidural, by all means do. Just be prepared for the slight possibility that it might not work. It most likely won’t happen, but it’s good to have that knowledge just in case.
I had no idea there was a chance of an epidural not working, so for me it was an incredibly rude awakening. Even worse, I didn’t have many labor pain management methods in my arsenal since I didn’t think I’d need them.
So, no matter what kind of birth you’re planning, a childbirth class is essential. You’ll learn different laboring positions and breathing techniques that will be helpful (even if your epidural is less than stellar). Other tips like walking the halls, taking a shower, and getting massaged are all good too.
And hey, even though I wasn’t able to get out of bed while in labor due to the preeclampsia, I still got through it. The pain is intense and unlike anything you’ll have previously experienced, but keep your eyes on the prize, breathe, and remind yourself that labor has to end eventually. And you get a baby in the end! A big win.
The good news for me was, despite my distinct memory of the pain of childbirth, I did go on to have another baby, and yes — another epidural. I still felt contractions in my stomach the second time, which felt like an army of 500 little trolls marching across my belly, but the rest of my lower body was completely numb.
Best of all, when the baby came out I didn’t feel a damn thing. Cheers to an epidural that worked!
Caroline Hand is a freelance TV producer, pop culture devotee, writer of pithy commentary for Us Weekly’s Fashion Police, and mother of two who likes to write about parenting in her spare time. Her writing has appeared on Scary Mommy, Romper, Ravishly, and several other sites. Follow her on Twitter here.