During my first pregnancy, I knew absolutely nothing about what to expect during childbirth. I was so confident on the fixed nature of my cluelessness, which I was convinced would only be altered by actually experiencing birth, that I, a certified type-A control freak, didn't even come up with a birth plan. I was fairly certain my best bet was to simply let things happen naturally and deal with the results as they came. The only thing I did know for certain? I would be requesting an epidural, which I'd heard was the only way to go.
I felt like the skin covering my entire lower body was crawling with tiny bugs. It was the worst itch I'd ever experienced, with no relief possible because I was numb.
One of my close and trusted friends, who was pregnant with her second child while I was expecting my first, told me: "I like to drink wine, I've been known to enjoy marijuana, so why wouldn't I take the drugs?!" I had to agree with her reasoning, so as soon as I was admitted to the hospital after my water broke in the middle of the night, I let my nurses and doctors know that I'd be interested in whatever pain meds they were offering, with an epidural at the top of my wish list.
A few hours and some painful contractions later, an anesthesiologist came into my room, told my husband to exit (a request I'll never understand because he was allowed to view my C-section 16 hours later . . . but that's a different story), and administered an epidural. The medicine blocks the nerve impulses from the lower spine, resulting in decreased sensation in the lower half of the body. In layman's terms, for most women, it makes labor and delivery a hell of a lot more bearable.
I was not one of those women. The feeling of overwhelming relief I was expecting never came. My contractions were just as painful as ever, causing my nurses to eventually bring the anesthesiologist back in. He reinserted the catheter, assuming that a misplacement was the problem. My second epidural worked a little better, although I could still feel a ton of pressure and some pain with every contraction, but it had another, much less desirable side effect.
I felt like the skin covering my entire lower body was crawling with tiny bugs. It was the worst itch I'd ever experienced, with no relief possible because I was numb. (I've since learned that the technical term for this affliction is formication, also called a tactile hallucination because you're feeling a sensation that has no physical cause.) I made my husband and my mom take turns scratching my legs, and although I couldn't really feel it, the act somehow provided some mental relief.
I was also, for some reason, dying of thirst. I made a list of seven, yes, seven drinks — a large water, a sparkling water, a Gatorade, a Sprite, a lemonade, an iced tea, and a smoothie — I requested my dad fetch to have at the ready after I delivered. I never got those drinks.
More than 16 hours after my water broke, my doctor told me that all that time, effort, and discomfort weren't getting me any closer to delivery. My dilation had stalled at six centimeters, and I would need a C-section. I delivered my baby less than an hour later in a surgical suite, full of so many drugs and so exhausted that I could barely focus on my daughter's sweet face. More than anything, I was just glad the experience was over.
Do I think epidurals are a lifesaver for many women? For sure. But are they guaranteed to turn your delivery into a pleasant, pain-free experience? Absolutely not.