In Defense Of The Epidural

By  | 

On Saturday night I celebrated a dear friend’s 40th birthday. L. is 26 weeks pregnant with her first and, towards the end of the night – following many bottles of Champagne and wine (excluding L.) and endless laughter – the conversation turned towards birthing methods.

L. is planning a home birth assisted by two midwives and a doula. She goes to weekly birthing classes, has a supportive husband who’s right on board with her wishes, and has even arranged for a birthing pool (which are actually considered illegal, if you can believe it. Apparently, the FDA wants them registered as medical equipment and has even seized an incoming shipment in Portland, Oregon – but that’s a whole other story).

For the first time in my adult life, I was outnumbered by a group of women who were so 100% into natural, drug-free, doula-assisted, home births – it was mind-boggling! I guess I’ve inadvertently surrounded myself over the years with people who hold the same view I do when it comes to childbirth (two key words: hospital and, more important, EPIDURAL). I’m used to having the sole home-birth woman in a crowd defend her point, not the other way around. But there I was, sounding like a complete drug addict with the mere mention of the e-word (and h-word, too, for that matter).

The conversation stayed pretty civilized, though, which I think can be attributed to the fact that I truly don’t care what anyone thinks about my decision to have had an epidural (and, truth be told, they didn’t seem to be judging me too much). By the same token, I completely support women like L. who are opting for an entirely different experience than what I had. Which I think is the whole point: we’re at a stage where women finally have choices – be it career, family or how and where they decide to bring a new life into this world.

Of course, I think of my friend A., who had a big scare right after her first child was born (they called a ‘code blue’ and, well, let’s just say she’s lucky to have been in a hospital, since time was of the essence; her baby was thankfully okay in the end). I also think of my friend M., who comes from a large, close-knit family, and whose sister delivered her baby – after two days of labor – right there in M.’s cozy guest bedroom (she could smell the scent of homemade pasta being cooked downstairs and, once the baby was born, everyone ate a celebratory meal and toasted this new mom with a giant bottle of Champagne).

At the end of the day, it comes down to the safety of both mother and child. If you ultimately deliver your baby exactly as planned, consider yourself lucky.

(Photo: Digital Vision)








  1. B

    June 6, 2011 at 8:18 pm

    It’s very, very important to note that epidurals do not always work. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was all about the hospital and the epidural, and there was NO WAY I would have been interested in “natural childbirth,” although I am otherwise a total hippie.

    And then my epidural didn’t work. I was being pumped full of Pitocin, which makes contractions infinitely more painful, and my epidural was not working. The Pitocin didn’t speed up my labor; my epidural didn’t relieve my pain; the entire hospital staff was rude and dismissive; and I ended up having a C-section for no discernible reason. In addition to the epidural not working, the spinal block for the C-section also did not work. Did you know that doctors will perform surgery when you’re not anesthetized? Even when it’s not an emergency? They do.

    What happened to me is not even a freak occurrence. Any or all of the terrible things that happened to me happen to all too many women.

    IF I ever choose to have another child (and that’s a big IF), I’ll probably do a home birth, because hospitals are growing increasingly wary of VBACs, and I’d like to avoid another surgery.

    Home births and midwives will not protect women from a bad experience, but neither will hospitals. I learned that the hard way. I completely agree with you that women having a choice is the most important thing, but I wish my choice had been more informed.

    Sorry for the long comment; I just always think it’s important to note that epidurals don’t always work. I wish I’d known that when I was pregnant.

    • Shawna Cohen

      June 7, 2011 at 12:06 pm

      Sorry to hear about your bad experiences, B. I can somewhat relate: during delivery number two (for me), the epidural only half worked. I had such a positive experience the first time around – took so well to the epidural – that I just assumed it would work second time around as well. not so. and i was not at all mentally prepared for that!

    • amanda

      July 22, 2012 at 4:01 am

      my epidural did not work either. after being in labor for 7 hours i had a fever that spiked and i started vomitting. my son’s heart rate went up and pushing was not helping anything along. fever wouldn’t go down, son’s hear rate still up. i had a c-section. i got to see jacek for a minute before they hauled him off to nicu. he was also born with a fever. i didn’t get to see him for about 2 hrs later. he’s a happy healthy 18 month old.

  2. Natasha Dantzig

    June 6, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    As sorry as I am for B’s clearly traumatizing experience, the majority of epidurals do work (90- 95%). I live in SF, the land of the super earth mama home birther, and like Shawna’s experience, I am generally in the minority when discussing birthing methods with a group of women (probably a bad idea). When I got knocked up I looked very severely at my husband’s sweet hippie face and said “I’m not having this baby in a bathtub and I’m taking all the drugs. Which I did, and still had a pretty difficult birth and wound up with a C. I think this is a really “to each his own” discussion and just hope people won’t judge me because I don’t want to feel unnecessary pain.

  3. melissa

    June 6, 2011 at 10:58 pm

    i wanted the hippie crunchy home birth with no drugs. i felt like i always had to defend myself to more ‘mainstream’ moms and my family, who sometimes made me feel a) crazy! (why would you NOT want the epidural!) b) irresponsible (but what if something goes wrong?!?) or c) not informed (well, you never know what could happen).
    even though i ended up with a c-section, i’m hoping my midwife can help me have a natural vbac this time. i’d have loved to be at that party…

  4. tottyteacher

    June 6, 2011 at 11:50 pm

    At the end of the day I could really careless about whether someone has their babies in a hospital with an epidural or at home with doula, TO ME, the important part of having a baby was actually having the baby, didn’t really bother me one way or another how my little girl came out as long as she came out healthy! This whole debate is just another way women pit themselves against one another..why can’t we all just get along.

    • Shawna Cohen

      June 7, 2011 at 12:07 pm

      Amen, sister! I agree: most important part in the end is a healthy baby (and healthy mom).

  5. Allison

    June 7, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    It is possible to a comprimise between both. No one at a hospital is legally allowed to FORCE you to chose an epidural OR a C-Section. I recomend going over (preferably put it in writting) with your doctor, and the labor and delivery nurses what your plan is. Be straight-forward and assertive (while trying not to be a “B…”).
    I have lasting nerve damage (mildly painful most of the time) from my epidural with my first child. With my second I chose to go natural, but to do it in a hospital for safety reasons. I hired a mid-wife. I went to birthing classes. I learned positions and massage techniques to help ease the discomfort. And then went to the hospital with my husband and midwife and delivered my son as planned. None of the staff argued with me, but of course it was a smooth and simple delivery. I also did not let the staff know that my “supportive friend” was actually a midwife. She did everything right up until the doc came in to do the actual delivery.
    My biggest fear of being at home is that my baby or me would need immediate medical care and it would take an abulance too long to reach us. So I compromised by having a natural delivery at a hospital.
    i do however believe that giving birth is the most precious moment of any woman’s life and it should be treated as a personal desicion. I would never judge or try to persuade someone to do things my way!

  6. Savanna

    June 7, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    I think its kind of a selfish thing with all the homebirths, The women are wanting to have this mind blowing birthing experience for themselves… The babies will never know! its all about the women… and their experience. I’d rather know my child is safe and has the best medical staff available because really all that matters is that the Baby makes it into the world… SAFELY!

  7. melissa

    June 7, 2011 at 10:22 pm

    savannah, your comment is exactly the kind of judgmental and ill-informed statement that divides us as women. you missed the point of shawna’s post – this is about choice!
    moreover, it is not about a woman making the right choice or the wrong choice, but the right choice for her. just because you think hospital births are the right and only way to go, does not make it so for everyone. believe it or not, but a home birth is the better and right choice for some women. despite what you think.
    your comment is offensive, and akin to shawna being told at her hippie mom party that ‘having her epidural was selfish, since you know, like any medication it’s not 100% safe, and after all the baby won’t know, so it’s really just about her wanting to have this pain-free experience… ‘

  8. Pingback: Pregnant Women Know Little About Childbirth, New Study Finds | Mommyish

  9. sara winter

    June 21, 2011 at 12:34 am

    Loved my epidural. Loved the article too. It IS about the freedom to make the choice and not be judged for it.

  10. Gia

    June 29, 2011 at 7:16 am

    Savanna: You are so ignorant. You really need to educate yourself on something before you speak.

  11. Pingback: Mother Gives Birth To 14-Pound Baby – With No Epidural!

  12. Pingback: Bring On The Epidural: Labor Lasts Longer For Today's Moms

  13. Rueben Leavengood

    November 10, 2020 at 8:57 am

    I simply want to mention I’m new to blogging and actually savored you’re page. Probably I’m going to bookmark your blog . You absolutely have impressive writings. With thanks for sharing your blog site.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *