Nothing pits pregnant women against each other like the following question: "Are you planning on a natural childbirth, or are you getting an epidural?" I understand. I have two children, and I've been on both side of the fence, not to mention the middle. And as it turned out, my first instinct was the right one.
Confused? I'll start at the beginning. I was 24 when I got pregnant with my first baby, my daughter, and was as idealistic as my age at the time would imply. Plus, I was raised by total hippies -- long before Whole Foods was a glimmer in the universe's eye, my mother was dragging me to hole-in-the-wall health food stores for wheat germ and carob.
As if I weren't already primed for the crunchiest birth ever, I then bought and became obsessed with a book called Spiritual Midwifery. Admittedly I haven't read through it in years, but in my memory it was basically about this commune type of place where chilled-out women with really long hair painlessly popped out baby after baby. Sold! When it came time to sign up for a childbirth class, I chose The Bradley Method, which definitely did offer some super helpful tips (more on that later) but did not quite prepare me for the vortex of horror in my near future.
Instead of a traditional OB/GYN practice, I went with a team of midwives at a birthing center associated with a nearby hospital (I did like the fact that should anything go horribly awry, a fully-equipped institution of modern medicine was down the street). And so, my ex-husband and I packed a bag with all of the recommended props: Tennis balls (for massaging mom's back while in labor), peaceful music, scented candles. First labors usually took a long time, I was told. Not in my case! My ex and I were eating dinner at a macrobiotic restaurant in the West Village of NYC when my water broke. "Call me back when the contractions start," said my midwife. Nothing happened for about two hours ... and then ... BAM!
No "mild" starter contractions for me. It was 0 to 60; no action to full, active labor in a matter of minutes. By the time we made it to the birthing center, my contractions were one minute apart and I was howling like some kind of demon/wolf/grizzly bear (that was one freaked-out cab driver!). "I just can't get a break!" I panted to my midwife in between one set of contractions. "This is your break, honey," she pointed out in a manner that was supposed to be soothing, I guess, but I swear I almost strangled her on the spot. Then I vaguely remember her coaxing me into the jacuzzi. The warm water provided a slight measure of relief ... until another contraction would hit, and either the midwife or my ex would reach into the tub to rub my back and accidentally hit the button that turned on the bubbles. WHAT KIND OF SICK MEDIEVAL TORTURE DEVICE WAS THIS? (Ask my ex what he remembers most about that experience and he'll probably say "Jacque screaming 'Turn off the mother%&#$ing bubbles!!!!'")
Anyway, my daughter wasn't born in the water -- I'd gotten out of the tub at that point, and was lying in the Bradley-approved "side-lying" position. Two pushes and Tada! My daughter was born. Total labor time: 2 and-a-half hours. (Total amount of pre-packed props put to use: Zero.)
Fast-forward four years. Pregnant with my son, I chose a traditional OB/GYN practice for two reasons: First, the birthing center where my daughter was born had closed; second, though I wasn't sure I'd want drugs this time around, I sure as hell wanted the option! Either way, my son's labor was different from the start. The contractions came on gradually and were tolerable enough for the first couple of hours for me to think maybe I wouldn't actually want an epidural after all ... then, suddenly, oh no! OW!!! I started having flashbacks to Birth #1, and that's when I caved. "I do want the epidural! I do I do I do!"
At first, it was great. I lounged in the hospital bed, comfortably numb, reading US Weekly and People. "Look, you're having a contraction!" the nurse would occasionally announce, nodding towards the fetal monitor. Who knew? But then things seemed to ... slow down. My OB decided to break my water; at that point, she discovered that my son had passed meconium. "Could mean fetal distress, but it's probably nothing," she assured me. Still, I was starting to panic, which is I think what finally jumpstarted the labor -- except that when it was time to push, I couldn't feel anything! "Am I pushing?? How can I tell if I'm pushing?!"
In an ironic twist, the epidural wore off the second my son started crowning. So the big finale was ... well, let's put it this way: Like my daughter, my son was welcomed into the world to the sound of his mother screaming bloody murder. (He was fine, despite the meconium-passing.) Total labor time: 6 hours.
Now, I know both of my childbirth experiences were nothing to complain about, especially considering the hours upon hours of torment some women go through. So I'm not going to even suggest that my second labor was "bad." But looking back, I must say, I think I had it right the first time -- I'm pretty sure my son would've been born even faster if I didn't get the epidural. Given the choice a third time, though, would I be able to refuse the drugs? The spirit is willing, ladies, but the flesh is weak. I'm not making any promises!
Are you planning on getting an epidural or having a natural childbirth?
Image via Ross Catrow/Flickr