Labor (Pains) Day: ‘My Epidural Was Only Half-Effective’

For many modern mommas, epidurals are a blessing. They make the entire birthing process more comfortable for everyone involved. Admit it, men enjoy the experience more when their wives aren’t screaming curse words at them. When done right, an epidural takes away the majority of the pain while still allowing moms to feel the pressure to push. I knew the pros of epidurals, but I was still a little terrified of them, because long before my own pregnancy, I witnessed the cons.

About six years ago, I stayed at the hospital with my best friend, Louise, through her labor and delivery. Louise was induced and the process was moving slowly. She had been at the hospital for almost a full day when the anesthesiologist came in to do the epidural. Louise’s mom was telling us about all of her experiences with natural childbirth. She fully admitted that she was jealous that epidurals were so easy and accepted. “I’m not quite sure why, but everyone acted like you were a horrible, weak person for even considering something like an epidural,” her mom told us.

The anesthesiologist offered some insight that we had never considered before. “Epidurals were discouraged for a long time because most hospitals didn’t have an anesthesiologist on staff to perform them. Instead of trying to bring someone in, they persuaded women not to use them. Now that it’s more common to have one on-call at all times, the practice is more easily accessible and the hospitals support it.”

Now, I’m not saying that this guy was correct. After all, we were talking about his profession and I’m sure he wants to make it look good. But I also think it’s completely possible hospitals were never worried about “the natural experience,” they just cared about their bottom line.

After that anesthesiologist left Louise’s room, we all found one more reason why a woman wouldn’t choose to have an epidural. Louise’s meds only worked on half of her body. The right side of her body was numb. The left side of her body was still in pain. Every contraction, every pinch… she could feel half of it. The result was an odd and uncomfortable delivery, to put it mildly. Also, epidurals can slow down your pregnancy process. Normally, you don’t mind because you aren’t in pain. Louise was in pain and her labor had slowed, so the pain was going to last longer.

If you ask my friend now, she’ll be tactful and tell you that her labor experience was “overwhelming.” As an observer, I’ll tell you that it was a little terrifying and it made me very hesistant to have an epidural. I mean, if it’s only going to help on one side, what’s the point?

After my dear friend’s experience, we started to find out that epidural mishaps are more common that I would’ve thought. Apparently, this half-effective epidural happens a lot. My sister-in-law had a “hot spot” in her abdomen where the drugs didn’t work. Another friend got her epidural and then had her baby before the drugs ever kicked in.

After all of those examples, I have to admit, I still had an epidural. But I also had a back-up plan and took LaMaze classes, just in case it didn’t work. With all the options available to pregnant women, I think the whole process is a little less scary than it used to be, but that doesn’t mean that it always goes right. And maybe Louise’s mother wasn’t discouraged from epidurals because the hospital didn’t have someone to perform them, maybe they were even less-effective back then, making it a bigger risk for the hospitals and their patients. Epidurals help a whole lot of women through childbirth, but that doesn’t mean that they are the saving grace of labor. Especially not when they are half-effective.

(Photo: Baby Brewing)

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