On epidurals and pain in labour

Trigger warning- if you are pregnant with your first child please don’t read this. I was unlucky- what happened to me hopefully won’t happen to you.  If you want facts and figures on epidurals suggest you look here. Reading my story and panicking about your own labour won’t help- try and stay calm and breathe- and have that epidural if you want/need one. 😀  (if you must- skip to the end to find out the three essential things I’m planning for my next epidural to avoid a repeat experience!)

Me on epidurals:

“Oh epidurals how I love thee (and the Daniel Craigalike who finally got the second one working for me- in fact I saw him in the corridor a few days later and told him I still loved him. He looked scared!).  My horrific labour was 12hours long. 6 of those hours were quite nice- sitting in bed- chatting, reading magazines.  I could feel the contractions but they were mere tightenings none of the out of your mind screaming searing agony that they had been.  Seriously in the pre-epidural stage of my labour if you had told me that chopping my body off below the waist with circular saw would have stopped the pain I would have bitten your arm off to have that done!”

I have been thinking alot about epidurals recently.  There is a lot of guilt associated with them as they can lead to an increased intervention rate (after all I ended up with forceps episiostomy- but see bold bit at bottom) and I do think there are some women who are so anti- epidurals that they end up passing a very judgemental attitude onto women who do want them or have them.  I was somewhat riled recently by a thread on Analytical armadillo’s FB page where a woman wanted evidence basically to dissuade her sister from having an epidural, and oh my the self righteous guff that came out of the “breathe the baby out” ladies really wound me up.  (To be fair many of the ladies gave very sensible answers but ooooh some of them- grrrrrr! Oh and to the woman who referred to labour pains as birthing discomfort or something similar- fuck the fuck off to fuckery and back again.  Don’t get me wrong- fantastic you had positive birth experiences- but sometimes with the best will in the world births can and do go wrong- and no amount of planning and reading can prevent that, and this kind of attitude just serves to make women who have had crap experiences feel even crapper).

Before I had Munchkin I was always open to the idea of epidural as a last resort- after all I didn’t know what the pain was going to be like- if I needed one I would have one if one was available and stated as such in my birth plan.  The EXBF (see post) was incredibly judgemental about this.  “ooh you are not are you, they are so bad etc etc”.  Well I am an educated woman- I read up on the risks and I was still happy that if I needed one I would have one (and thank bloody god I did!).  (As an aside ExBF with her poncy natural first birth attitude also had an epidural- I only know this because I saw the shoulder tube strapped to her in first baby pic before we never spoke again- and I know it is extremely childish but it did make me laugh. Not so smug now are we madam!)

Since the birth my mother and mother in law have both said things that stuck with me. Firstly my mother in law trying to comfort me after the birth said something about me having a low pain threshold and I totally know she meant well and there was absolutely no malice in her statement (I love my mother in law she is ace!) but that statement really stuck with me.  I don’t think I do have a low pain threshold.  I always win at taking chinese burns for a start! But seriously no-one except you is experiencing the amount of pain you are in and that pain can be caused by any number of factors (in my case it was because my waters had broken first and baby was in a stupid position and I panicked because we were on our own!) and I actually think it doesn’t have much to do with pain thresholds at all.

My expectations of labour was that it was going to hurt – I had had a miscarriage at 10 weeks where I was on the floor crying with contraction type pains, so I wasn’t naive to what was going to happen.  But I had an idea it would start with period pains, then bad period pains, then really really bad period pains, then fucking agonising period pains then the “ring of fire” and then the baby is here.  Also I had done lots of reading on endorphins kicking in as labour builds to help with natural pain relief so the pain would be manageable.  Unfortunately my pain didn’t work like that.  Initially it was breathable through (despite contracting every two-three minutes) until we arrived at hospital and there was no-one there to meet us, all the doors were locked and no-one was about.  I panicked. From then on my contractions spiralled out of control- I went from 0-100mph in terms of pain- there was no build up I was in full blown out of control scream your head off as the waves of agony hit again and again relentlessly.  I am not sure the pain properly subsided between contractions.  Of course I bloody needed an epidural- I was not going to cope with much longer than this. Its a shame the first one didn’t work- it took the edge off the pain- after all I think I was groaning through contractions and not screaming 😉 but when I asked when it was going to work fully and the midwife told me it hadnt worked then the pain came back fully- dam my mind!  I arrived at the hospital by 5ish and had my second epidural by 9ish so finally 4 hours in I was pain free. I genuinely don’t remember the needles going into my spine- didn’t hurt at all- probably because it was a pin prick in comparison to the pain I was experiencing.

And then it was heaven, bliss, awesome- I was back to being me. Okay I was strapped to hospital bed but we had the reassuring thud of munchkins heartbeat on the monitor and I drank lots of water and to be honest it was a dull 6hours while waiting for me to dilate enough to get to pushing stage.  Was the best bit of my labour!

When I got pregnant again my mum said “I’d avoid an epidural this time if I were you”.  This felt like a punch in the stomach like my daughters illness after birth could have been prevented by not having an epidural.  At the time I was adamant I wanted an elective section anyway but partly it was because I knew I would need an epidural again if I tried for a vaginal birth and obviously I am terrified of a repeat of last time, so no epidural=no VB for me.  Now I have shifted in my thinking and am considering a vaginal birth again (and currently 50:50 in my decision which is the massivest step ever for me- (and seriously if I do VB I will actually deserve a medal- from the president of the universe, and an OBE and basically universal recognition of how incredibly brave and awesome I am).

Anyhow the flipside is there are some things that have helped me when discussing epidurals and labour pain with people. The wonderful lady I got chatting too in mothercare who was the first person who agreed with me that once your waters blow=mindblowing agony, and to the mumsnetters on the thread I started about it who also had similar experiences you made me feel so much better.  Basically once waters go there is no cushion and the babies head is grinding right on your cervix- yes some women won’t have this agony (or may not even start contracting) when their waters go, but it really helped me knowing that I wasn’t alone or a wuss for being in that much pain and not being able to cope.

Also reading the following “My consultant said women who need epidurals are more likely to be having longer more difficult labours anyway so it isn’t necessarily the epidural that increases the intervention but the labour itself.” Hallelujah! I have decided to take this statement as gospel.  Because previously I had been feeling- me needing an epidural because I was too weak to cope with the pain = intervention=forceps episostomy= my fault I couldn’t get the baby out. Had I been stronger this wouldn’t have happened.  And now I know that I was wrong (and to the consultant who told me I wouldn’t have been able to get her out by myself- thankyou- again I still need to work on my feelings of guilt and failure around Munchkins birth but these things really help me.

If I do end up trying for a VB again my birth plan is unequivocal on the epidural- I WILL be having one. But this time hopefully my labour won’t start in the same way and I will be able to cope with the pain until I am 7cm dilated (the rate of intervention drops the later in labour you have your epidural according to our midwife who did our epidural talk).  My biggest fear is no getting one as I would not be able to cope with the pain and I am worried it would be compounded by flashbacks to munchkins birth making me panic again and it go wrong again. But it looks like usually you can get one if you need one.  Has been very interesting discussing my choices with people.  I can tell my Doula although supportive of me and my choices is slightly anti-epidurals whereas I bloody love them even with my experiences! My community midwife is very supportive of anything that empowers me to VB again and not ELCS.  I think my husband is probably similar to the Community MW.

However my new birth plan has crucial additions to the epidural bit (and I still have to go to an epidural talk at the hospital to find out they will let me do this otherwise deals off and I am having an ELCS).

-Firstly I will be drinking lucozade throughout.  I will be supplying my body with at least some form of energy to push a baby out, I understand the not eating thing incase you need transferring for an emCS but was told lucozade would have been ok which was extremely annoying given that I had had 4 bottles in my hospital bag! (last time by the time it came to pushing stage I had not had anything other than water in 24hours).

-I will chose when the top ups go in- not the midwife- I did question the MW during munchkins birth but she told me “you don’t want that pain to come back” and I accepted. This time I will control when I have the top ups even if it means they wear off a bit in between.  I had 6 top ups last time- couldnt feel a thing- so they had to let it all wear out to do the pushing- back to please chop my legs off agony.

-I will NOT be on my back to push.  I will be in any other position other than on my back with my legs in stirrups.

And maybe we will have a positive birth experience. Or maybe I will have an elective section – at this stage who knows!

P.S Ladies- never judge other ladies for their pain relief choices (or breastfeeding or just anything really).  You are not them, you are not experiencing what they are experiencing- just support them in their decisions (and support them with making informed decisions if nec but in a non judgypants way.)



(future OBE for VB after PTSD maybe).


About LadyCurd

Likes ladybirds & lemon curd. On reflection combining the two names was a mistake.
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2 Responses to On epidurals and pain in labour

  1. impeus says:

    Whenever I think of my abandoned birth plan, lying crumpled on the floor, I cry a little bit.

  2. Itsmotherswork says:

    Wishing you a healing birth, however it takes place. x

    I haven’t experienced an epidural, so no wisdom there, but I am struck by two things:

    1) the impact of waters breaking. In every one of my labours my waters broke very late. In fact my last baby was born with the amniotic sac still intact. It hadn’t occurred to me before what a difference (for the better) that might have made to my pain. But it completely makes sense to me that if you don’t have the effect of that ‘cushion’ things will hurt a lot more.

    2) the impact of fear and confusion on pain, and on the progress of labour generally. Being scared makes things hurt more. Being confused makes things hurt more. Not every midwife double-checks to see the impact their words have had on a labouring mum. I wish they did. Cervical dilation can go into reverse (yes it can!) and plenty of women making good progress in labour at home experience such fear and confusion on arrival at hospital that it tips their labour into one where more and more pain relief is necessary. I think the answer is midwives in sufficient numbers to be able to give mums good support on arrival in hospital. (My own personal solution certainly wouldn’t be for everyone…)

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