Editor’s note: We believe that all birth stories and all birth experiences matter. This post is part of our ongoing series of birth stories featuring a diverse range of women and their birth experiences. Sarah’s baby boy was born via vacuum extraction after almost a full day of labour. Sarah also shares her thoughts on experiencing mom guilt over choosing an epidural.
If you would like to share your own birth story, visit this post to learn how. ~Olivia
This is the story of my third and final labor. The one labor where I went the unmedicated route…well…practically, and my first shot at the “crunchy” birth experience I’ve always dreamed about. Included in my story, I touch on the subject of epidural guilt, and let’s just say it gets a little opinionated up in here. Take it or leave it. 😉
Before I dive into the birth of my son, let me recap my first two births to give you a bit of a prelude. With my first daughter, I had a 73-hour labor from first contraction to baby in my arms. I was very nervous and opted for the epidural at 4 centimeters. I had immense epidural guilt with this baby. My second daughter’s birth went much quicker at 18 hours. I lasted until 7 centimeters before I begged for the epidural. My epidural guilt almost halved with this labor as I figured that most people would want to escape that kind of pain if given the option!
In addition to my previous experiences, I’d like to give you an idea of my pain tolerance. I would say I have a moderate to high pain threshold. I don’t allow pain to get in the way of life. I never have. I have had bad spills on horses and dirt bikes, and I just keeeep on trucking. When I ripped all the meaty flesh off my finger while docking my boat, I could have called my husband to come help load the stupid thing, but I just toughed it out. I’ve been stuck on my snowmobile in slush at -40*C. Frozen. Wet. I didn’t make a peep and got myself out of there. I’m not one to take sick leave. I work through hell and have only taken sick time if I’m in the hospital. I’ve worked during two miscarriages and took only several day “mat leaves” with my last two kids. I just wanted to give you a picture of how pain doesn’t really bother me. I think this is why the epidural guilt was so excessive. If she could do it, why the heck couldn’t I?!
Knowing that my third child would probably be my last, I didn’t want to have any regrets. I WANTED an unmedicated beautiful birth experience. I did a few things to ensure this. A) I hired a doula. B) I mentally prepared for 9 months – educating myself, practicing meditation, hypnobirthing, etc. And C) I planned to give birth in my remote community where the closest epidural would be more than 250 km away from me (the slam dunk solution).
I went into labor after a day of blueberry picking, followed by a beautiful dark shower-bath with calming music. It was 5:30 pm, and everything started out perfectly. My husband made supper, and I rocked on my Birth Cub while my daughters put tattoos on my arms. My contractions were 5 minutes apart, and I thought, “This third baby is going to come soooo fast and relaxed…” HA! The girls were dropped off at Gran’s, and I labored into the night as my husband slept. At about 6:00 am I couldn’t let him sleep anymore and told him I was headed into the tub.
This is where things ramped up. I didn’t want to get out of the tub!!!! But us lucky women of Saskatchewan don’t have home birth as an option so off we went to the hospital. I called my doula on the way. Once I got there, I was in a lot of pain. The nurse rushed me to the room thinking I might be ready to push. Let me say again…HA! It was now 7:30 am and I was 6 centimeters dilated. I was delighted. Things were progressing, and I thought I was going to get to the end soon!!
At 8:00 am, I was dilated 7-8 centimeters. WEEHOOO!!!! But then 9:00 came, then 10:00, 11:00, and then 12:00. I was stuck in transition until 2 freaking o’clock pm! 6 hours of transition!!!! I was doooone. My contractions were 1-2 minutes long, and I only had 10-20 seconds of a break in between. They were rocking me. And as you can imagine, I was exhausted. Within this time, I had gotten a couple shots of fentanyl in my leg. This unfortunately didn’t touch the pain at all but it relaxed my tense shaking body between contractions.
I was so happy when at 2:00 pm the doctor said I was fully dilated and could push if I wanted. So I tried. And tried. I was so confused. I kept saying, “I can’t feel him!” “Shouldn’t I feel the urge to push??” “With my daughter I could FEEL her coming down and I had an epidural!” 3 hours of solid pushing later, the doctor said to the nurse, “Baby is OP. They are ready for her in P.A. (the nearest city)”. After this I begged for the vacuum. BEGGED. I couldn’t wait for a damn plane and all the time it would take to get to the city hospital to have a c-section.
The vacuum was the most intense thing I will feel for the rest of my life I’m sure. No drugs, no freezing. Just beyond intense pressure. I tried to tell myself not to scream so I could push hard and minimize baby’s injuries, but I couldn’t help it. To my delight (and the delight of everyone within a few mile radius) my boy was born at 5:04 pm after 23 and a half hours of labor.
(Before I continue, I need to insert a little advice on the ONE thing that brought me even a little bit of comfort – a heat pack on my vagina. Try it!! Between the physical tension from pain and the mental tension from people staring at my privates for HOURS, it brought soooo much relief. My only regret is that I didn’t whip it out sooner.)
Now… my opinionated view on epidurals and epidural guilt….
If you want to get an epidural. Get the dang epidural!! Don’t let the pressure of society or the comparison between yourself and other moms give you guilt! Every single “other mom” I have heard from in the last 7 years has had stories that somewhat mirror this one: “I had a 9-hour labor. My contractions started slowly and built gradually. I had good breaks in between to get ready for the next contraction. When I couldn’t really hold a conversation during my contractions any more, I knew it was time to go to the hospital. A couple hours later I felt pressure and the urge to push!”
I can tell you right now that I couldn’t hold a conversation (on OR off contraction for a good 9 solid hours). Everyone is created differently!! Some moms’ bodies are just meant to birth babies. I HATE how the question of natural birth or epidural is on everyone’s snoopy little minds when a women is post postpartum. Bugger off!! We need to stop doing this to one another.
Anyway… My story would have been completely different if my little dude was facing the right way. I would have been a success story. Telling everyone that natural birth is the way to go? Yes these “other moms” probably had the same amount of pain I experienced – but for just a couple hours and likely with a minute break in between contractions. Now I’m not saying everyone who opts out of an epidural has an “easy birth”. It’s not easy!! It’s freaking hard! But some are definitely more difficult than others. And if you feel like you can’t go any longer. Please, PLEASE don’t feel that guilt.
Of all my births, my second daughter was my best experience. I waited as long as I could before the epidural. Therefore I didn’t need a cascade of drugs to keep myself progressing (like my first), and I got to feel her descent as well as minor contractions so the experience was there without any of the trauma.
On the defense of natural birth however, I must admit that my healing was amazing in comparison to my daughters! Even with a vacuum and three hours of blue-faced pushing, I only had minor tears that healed sooo fast. By 5 days postpartum I was wearing panty liners. PANTY LINERS!! Not sure if they had anything to do with the natural hormones I got or not, but with my girls I bled the whole 6 weeks. I also thank the heat pack on my vag for the minimal tearing.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinions and views in life. Labor and birth is no different. I just wanted to share my story with you of three very different births and you can take from them what you will. Would I have another unmedicated birth? Yes. If I could relive the birth of my son, would I have gone to the city for an epidural? Yes. It’s all unique depending on the situation. Have an open mind and see how far your experience takes you. Be proud of your birth regardless!!