Epidural + empowerment are two words that don't always get put together in the same sentence, even among women who gladly choose epidurals for pain relief. For me--huge caveat that I'm speaking about my own thought processes here, not generalizing myself onto all women--an epidural is the opposite of empowerment. Not just emotionally or psychologically, but in the literal sense, too, because an epidural causes full or partial paralysis from the waist down. The thought of losing sensation, of literally being unable to walk or move, isn't something I would look forward to in labor. To me, labor = movement. I cannot imagine having a contraction without moving in response to it.
I imagine that many people have reacted the same way to my choices (giving birth at home, having an unassisted birth, foregoing pharmacological pain relief) as I did when I was talking with my acquaintance. A sense of curiosity, a bit of the exotic other that feels genuinely foreign, the push-pull of one's own values and preferences at odds with another's.
I wonder why it is so surprising that women have such different reactions to certain choices or life experiences. We certainly don't expect everyone to feel the same about, say, their time in high school. Some people spend their whole lives reliving their high school glory days. They loved high school so much that they can't wait to go back and coach football or teach English at their old school. Some people would happily erase those years from their memory and are just glad that they made it through alive and relatively unscathed. (Or maybe they were like me: mostly oblivious to what was going on around me and happy in my own little world. It helps that I had a good set of friends, too.)
So what is it about birth experiences that's so divisive? Why are we so quick to take offense, or to react defensively, when people make different choices from ours? Perhaps we allow these significant life experiences to partially define ourselves--so that the choice to have, or to not have, an epidural isn't just about the epidural any more...it's about how we define ourselves as mothers and as women.
This meandering train of thought brings me to another set of questions. I want to hear about your epidural experiences. Tell me everything and anything (and you don't necessarily have to answer these specific questions in order--think of them more as prompts):
- did you plan on having an epidural during labor? why or why not?
- at what point in labor did you have one?
- how did you feel about it at the time? later on?
- did you feel at all pressured into choosing an epidural (from nursing staff, midwives, physicians, or even your own partner or friends)?
- did you have adequate labor support? In other words, were you able or encouraged to use other forms of pain relief (shower, jacuzzi, birth ball, massage, hypnosis, movement, TENS, gas and air, etc) before the epidural?
- did you experience any short- or long-term side effects from the epidural?
- do you feel that the epidural positively or negatively affected the course of your labor (or had no effect at all)?
- what did your epidural feel like? did you have complete loss of sensation? pressure but no pain? etc...
- would you have an epidural again? would it depend on the particular circumstances of your next labor? (for example, maybe you'd have an epidural if you had another posterior presentation, but not for a normal anterior presentation)
- what about emotional/psychological effect of the epidural? did you feel empowered? disappointed? strong? weak?