Epistemology, not to be confused with episiotomy, is our way of knowing something; most often it it through the knowledge someone with authority passes to us (doctors or nurses), or it can be from our own experience with something, or from what we have read/researched or heard for ourselves. So take a moment to think back on everything you know about the epidural. Perhaps someone, a friend or family member, had one and said something along the lines of “Thank goodness for the epidural.” Or perhaps you’ve seen women on TV screaming, “GIVE ME THE EPIDURAL.” Or maybe you’ve had one for yourself.
Epidurals are all the hype these days and are pretty much routine in hospitals, with roughly over half of all women having an epidural in the hospital. In fact, many women I speak with initially wish to include an epidural in their birth plan, intending on using it for pain relief. However, few actually know what an epidural is, how it is administered, and what the side effects are for you and the baby—and yes, there are side effects. In the hospitals, it is not uncommon for a mom to ask if there are any side effects to the epidural and for her to be told by a doctor or nurse that there are no side effects, which simply is not true. Any substance administered to the body has an effect of some sort, whether it’s positive or negative.
Oftentimes women who plan for an un-medicated birth and end up asking for an epidural feel a lot of guilt or shame. I have heard of women being pressured into getting an epidural before they actually wanted one, because of the hospital being short-staffed or full of birthing mommas. “Get your epidural now, or never.” On the other side of the spectrum, women might have planned on an un-medicated birth and then really felt the need for an epidural, and sometimes the family or support won’t get the epidural for the mom, because they thought she wanted a natural delivery. I think it is just as bad to not get an epidural when you really need it, as it is to have an epidural thrust upon you without any information. And I think really, when armed with all of the information, this should not be a negative experience. The key is making an informed and educated choice for you and your baby. I have seen epidurals help mommas progress from 5 cm to 10 cm in a few hours, and I have also seen them stall labors.
So here are my ideas on it. If you want an un-medicated birth, maybe find a code word like giraffe or zebra to say when you are dead serious that you want that epidural. That way you can say give me the epidural, which can have some cathartic release, without having it thrust upon you until you really need it. At the same time, if you don’t want it yet, hold out. You might not need the epidural after all. Again, I am a neutral source in the birth world. I have no idea what I will want or prefer when I get to that point, however I do believe knowledge is power. But I would encourage you to take a moment and really think about what you know about the epidural, how you know it, and where the information is coming from–a doctor, a friend, a sister, a mother? Do some research for yourself and feel informed and empowered to make your own choice. Check out my next blog post to find out a clear cut, evidence-based outline of the benefits and drawbacks of the epidural.