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March 10, 2008

Epidurals Are For Tolerating the Hospital, Labor Is The Easy Part

EpiduralI just gave birth to my second child. This time I had an epidural. Usually, it's the other way around- the first kid is the long, hard labor.  For my firstborn I was able to labor comfortably at home, in my ground floor apartment of a Brooklyn brownstone with the help of my husband, cat, and best friend (full disclosure, she is an RN specializing in women's health). For 12 hours I used my hypnobirth techniques, got massaged and could position myself in compromising yet pain managing ways. I could pee on my own and be as loud as I wanted. I could eat! We could go to the Birthing  Center at St Luke's Roosevelt - a 40 minute drive-any time after 6 Centimeters, but why go early? I was so comfortable. I didn't need drugs.

Some people cringe at the thought of a pregnant woman drinking so much as a glass of wine or smoking a cigarette while pregnant yet don't bat an eye-lash at the thought of pumping your body and your tiny baby with paralyzing drugs. And to whose benefit? Supposedly the mother's but really it is for the doctors and the nurses. Less of a hassle. Quicker. More babies faster equals more money. Also, one intervention leads to another and that could lead to the big money of a C-section. I had read MisConceptions by Naomi Wolfe and Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born By Tina Cassidy. You should too. I was well on the natural/home birth movement band wagon even before The Business of Being Born but opted out of a home birth for logistical reasons. Additionally, why on earth would someone WANT to be injected with anything in their spine. The words "spine" and "injection" should never ever be anywhere near each other in the same sentence.

All that being said, I don't judge anyone who has had or wants an epidural now that I have had one for my second child. I understand why people get them. We live in a culture of fear (of pain, consequences, failure) and instant gratification and an era of a disproportionate sense of entitlement. Mostly, however, I blame the environment one labors in. This time I was told to meet my doctor at triage, not the birth center directly. Triage is purgatory, only no amount of Hail Mary's will get you out of there quicker. Heaven would be the Birth Center at St Luke's Roosevelt. Hell would be Post Partum "Care" (more on that later) at the same hospital. I was hooked up to a fetal heart rate monitor and a machine that monitors contractions. Couldn't they just take my word for it? Wasn't it obvious by the expression on my face and the bestial groans coming from the depths of my belly that I was having a contraction? The lights were blinding and the air quite stale for what was a sterile environment. I was scolded for needing to pee so often and for not "keeping still." My contractions were much stronger than they had ever been with the first labor and much closer together (crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, they were already two minutes apart).  I couldn't breathe let alone communicate my needs except to my husband who knows what I need by reading  the way I even blink- and I didn't need ice chips for a snack, that's for sure. Of course I wanted to be comfortably numb in this setting, plus, the drugs were readily available, as it was made clear to me by the nurses.

Nobody forced me to get the painkiller, it was indeed my own decision, I was conscious of that and my husband made sure. Unlike my last birth, wherein I was in a natural state of altered consciousness, here I was very well aware of what was going on around me and in me- and what was to come. I had a toddler at home. I couldn't afford to run the marathon of labor this time, I needed a short cut, my boy needed me at home as would the new little one who was well on her way out.  Plus I admit was curious what all the fuss was about.

I am sorry I found out- only because getting an epidural means you are in the "hospital part" not the "birth center part" of St Luke's Roosevelt. While my OB, Dr Oliveras, part of Dr Anna Rhee's practice, was a loving champion of anything I needed or wanted for the birth as was the delivery nurse, it was all down hill from there. The anesthesiologist sounded like an automaton and huffed and puffed when I had a contraction because it was making her job harder. She told my husband I had signed the consent not only illegibly but in the wrong place. I was hoping she had a dark sense of humor, but no, she meant it and made me sign another copy while I was having yet another intense and close contraction. 

Later, we were transfered to recover in post partum, where every cliche of Nurse Ratched (when they did come around)  and industrial revolution bedlams was true. I felt like an inmate not a patient. I went home less than 24 hours later, after my husband had gotten kicked out for being a "visitor," being scalded by a heating pillow, deprived of Tylenol in a timely manner, and then deprived of my baby when I wanted her.   

The Big Apple, the epicenter of civilization...so they say, then why did I feel like I was giving birth in a third world country? No offense to third world countries, of course. They have the right idea, giving birth at home in their huts. I think I will do that next time, in my own little hut, like a lot of moms I know around here do. But as Catherine Newman said in her oh so painfully true memoir about being pregnant with a second child, Waiting For Birdy, and I paraphrase, focusing on labor and delivery is like focusing on one grain of sand on the beach of life. Now, having and infant and a two year old- that makes labor and delivery look like a party...

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