I recently gave birth without the use of any pain medications for the second time. While recovering and getting to know my new son, Wolf, I’ve been reading over the journal entries I penned right after Felix’s birth nearly four years ago. Here is that birth story, with an admission of the real reason I went drug-free.
I am a delicate flower, otherwise known as a massive wimp with no tolerance for pain. The common cold inevitably knocks me out for days, I need nine or so hours of sleep a night to be a truly functional human being, and I am so unathletic that I blanch when people suggest a friendly game of kadmina at the beach.
Iʼve always been in awe of people who do things like run marathons, so much so that I often have to discretely end my friendship with them (much like I do with people who turn down cocktails at brunch–I just realize we have nothing in common).
So, on the one hand, my decision to have an epidural-free childbirth was insane. On the other hand, I was raised in Vermont. Most of my friends were born at home. None of the boys were circumcised. My brother and I actually HAD the mumps in early childhood, not being immunized against it, or anything else. So, there was some part of me—the same part that stops shaving my legs in the winter—that really loved the idea of a natural birth. I was too terrified to do the whole thing at home, so I went the hospital route, but with a doula—a woman named Amy who we paid nearly $5,000 to fight off the anesthesiologist (someone I came to picture as a nefarious needle wielder).
As my birth plan dictated, we did the first part of the labor at home, where I squatted in various rooms of my apartment and made noises that can only be described as lowing (the exact noises, incidentally, that I SWORE Iʼd never make). Now, two weeks later, Iʼve already managed to forget what, exactly, contractions feel like. (My pregnant girlfriend keeps asking me, “Are they like especially bad period cramps?” No. “Diarrhea pains?” No. “A horrible side stitch while exercising?” Certainly not.) All I can say is that I remember thinking it must have been what William Wallace felt like in the disembowelment scene of Braveheart.
After about seven hours of this (during which I spent pretty much the entire time asking Amy, “How many more contractions do you think Iʼll have?”), I decided I simply couldnʼt take it any more and that I needed the drugs. So we walked to the hospital (itʼs only about 6 blocks away, and anyone who has been in labor can attest that sitting in a cab would be unendurable).
Upon arrival, I was told that I was fully dilated, and Amy convinced me that I didnʼt need the epidural. But I remained tempted. Even as the baby was crowning, I asked, “What would the epidural do for me now?” Shortly after this, when he was supposedly still crowning but had failed to emerge, I switched tactics and demanded a C-section, which I was also denied.
In any event, I officially gave birth without drugs, and my baby was 9 pounds, 4 ounces. Most people probably feel like they did their kids a huge favor by bringing them into the world epidural-free. And yes, I am proud that Felix, the absolute love of my life, had as clean and natural a beginning as I could have given him. But in my heart of hearts, do I REALLY believe the epidural would have caused him lasting harm? No. What I do love is the look on peopleʼs faces when I tell them that I—the same girl who walks in stilettos for a maximum of three blocks before complaining of blisters and hailing a cab—pushed a 9-plus-pounder and felt every second of it.