Labor Pains: My Epidural Didn’t Work — Twice

epidural didn't workA few short months ago I gave birth to my third child; a healthy and perfect baby girl. Problem was that my epidural failed me horribly, for the second time.

All three of my little ones have been born by vaginal delivery, and all three with an epidural. The first time around, back labor, but my epidural left me blissfully pain-free and even napping a bit before it came time to push. The second, let’s just say not so great. It was back labor once again, only this time around my epidural seemed strangely ineffective as far as my lower extremities were concerned. Instead my chest and arms went numb. I felt every awful thing happening down below, and ended up with lingering nerve damage in my arms, trips to see specialists and these crazy shock tests called nerve conduction studies.

So, with baby number three on her way, I made sure to have a chat with my doctors ahead of time. I let them know what happened three years before and impress upon them my need for that to really, really never happen again. I was given assurances that what I described was most definitely an anomaly, and I should make a point to tell the nurses at the hospital when I went into labor.

I made sure to tell everyone, from the nurses in admitting to the anesthesiologist as he set up my epidural.  He promised me a good experience this time around. It was anything but.

As he inserted the needle into the center of my back, I felt it inside my stomach, and the baby kicked me hard. I flinched, which anybody who’s had an epidural knows is what you’re not supposed to do.  The nurse scolded me and the doctor said it was fine, just try not to do it again. At that moment I was freaking out, thinking that he somehow poked the baby with that needle.

There was a burning building between my shoulders and neck; I had to fight the urge to straighten up and stretch out the cramps. The pain kept increasing until tears were literally streaming from my eyes, drawing the attention of the nurse. I wailed at her about my back and the searing pain I was feeling, and she alerted the doctor, who grunted something about air-bubbles as he continued stabbing away at my spine and assured me the medicine would be kicking in soon.

I tried my best to relax, watching my husband settle in for a nap on the loveseat, to no avail, my back and shoulders on fire and my contractions increasing in pain and intensity. It really wouldn’t be one of my pregnancies without back labor, again!

While inserting my catheter, the nurse told me that the pain I claimed I was experiencing was probably just pressure, as the epidural was in place. She did offer to see if they would up my dosage. At this point things started moving pretty quickly. I dilated several inches in the span of mere minutes and was soon bearing down and pushing uncontrollably. And the pain, holy jeebus the pain! The term “ring of fire” is so incredibly apt. The nurse came in, shocked at my rapid progression and my doctor ended up delivering the baby right then and there, with barely enough time to put up the stirrups and glove up.

Thankfully I was pushing for less than five minutes, but let me tell you that during those five minutes I felt certain that this was it, and I was dying. While I didn’t die, and ended up with a gorgeous baby girl that I got to take home, I do have nerve issues once again, and a referral to see a chiropractor.

I shouldn’t have tried the epidural this time, but I was assured that it wouldn’t go as badly as it had before and honestly didn’t think I was capable of laboring naturally again. I felt that there was a chance it would work and a chance that it wouldn’t, but I wasn’t willing to be in unbearable pain if there was a possibility of avoiding it. I know now that next time, if there is a next time, I won’t be getting an epidural. For me, they’re more trouble than they’re worth.

This is a reader submission for Labor Pains Week.

(photo: dabjola/ Shutterstock)

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  • JaceksMom

    My epidural faild me too. My sides were numb but down there was definately not. It was like I was feeling the contractions there instead of my addomen. I told the nurse and she had me just about upside down. The pain was so awful. My mom said I handled it well, even better than my sister. I really wanted to scream at everyone but kept my cool. The epidural guy came in and upped the dosage but it didn’t help. Only when I had to have an emergency c-section did I get any relief. I was scared I was going to feel and asked the doctors if they were going to make sure I couldn’t feel it before they cut me open. I didn’t feel a thing except the tugging. Then absolute joy when I heard Jacek cry.

  • LinZoo

    There’s nothing worse than someone who wanted an epidural having to undergo a surprise natural birth, and with back labor too, I’m so sorry!

    If you want to try and have an intentional natural birth, I recommend the Bradley Method classes to teach several ways to manage the labor and reduce pain (it’s not just staring at a dot and breathing anymore, although breathing is important). In a nutshell they’ll teach you to maintain calm breathing (don’t hold your breath) and if you need to vocalize, don’t use high-pitched tones, because somehow they cause a panic feedback (in other words, when you start to whimper, change it to a low moan instead). I had back labor and found that having someone press on my lower back during contractions relieved the pain, or sitting in a shower with hot water aimed at my lower back. Also, never lie flat on your back — that intensifies the pain because your uterus has to fight against gravity. Luckily if you forego an epidural next time, you will be free to get out of the bed or get in different positions in the bed.

  • Cime

    My epidural failed as well and I had back labor too. I told the nurse my hands were tingling and she said it was my imagination… I’m having my second baby in December and I am really nervous and debating whether to get an epidural again. I thought that it wouldn’t fail a second time but I see from your story that it can!

    • kate

      i had a bad epdirual exprience with the first, and was able to go without with the second two. The second one i went for a shot of demoral, which really is a nice solution for those last painful moments towards the end, but for me painkillers make me sick to my stomach, so with the third i went completely natural. it really isnt as awful as people make it sound, totally doable if you prepare before hand. frankly, im suprised the author tried another epidural after her previous experiences!

  • Kacie

    The small chance of anything like this is why I will aim for a natural experience. I am so sorry for you!

  • Athena

    That sounds like a horrible experience, but I have heard of epidurals not working before. Still, I do think I’d want one, all these horrible pain stories and this scary ‘ring of fire’ people keep describing here aren’t exactly pushing me towards the au naturel labour. I wouldn’t want it to be this horribly painful experience. I know labour is unpleasant in any way, but I’d prefer not suffering too much.

    • Sofi

      You know, it’s so much better when you choose to birth naturally and you are prepared and have the proper support. Stories of moms who have “surprise” natural births sound pretty darn scary, and I’m sure were really bad, but that’s mostly because they had no means to deal with their pain on their own and the situation was totally out of their control and they were freaking out (not a big help with the pain!). I’m a total wimp, but I had my first baby naturally. It’s hard, but it’s totally do-able if you have the right tools!

  • Tay

    This happened to me both times too. It worked maybe for an hour and then I could feel those contractions. The ring of fire is horrid. I too was told, “Oh it’s just pressure.” I was crying and in so much pain. It does make pushing so much easier though…a few pushes and the baby is out. Back labor is horrible too!! I think if I ever have another, I will just opt out of the epidural. They just don’t work on me and I handled natural labor twice before, why not again.