Friday, April 24, 2009

Looking Back on Labor

Today I had lunch with a friend of mine who is about six weeks away from becoming a first-time father. Since the day he told me his wife was expecting, I've been interested to see how he'd react to the whole process. He's sort of a no-nonsense guy, and one that's never seemed particularly aware of or sympathetic to womanly issues. He comes off as a little chauvenistic at times, though I tend to think it may be more of a front than reality. Most likely he's a great husband and his man-centered mentality is just for show to get a rise out of challenging chicks like me. Or maybe not...who knows. Anyway, he's been pretty blase about most of the pregnancy until now. Interested but not fascinated, curious but not overly excitable. I think he's probably similar to most men, except that he doesn't bother putting on a show like many men probably do to keep people happy. He readily admits that he'd rather leave the decorating and technical stuff to his wife, and just focus on the baby. Like I said, he's pretty no-nonsense.

Over the past few weeks they've been taking childbirth classes. He's been pretty unimpressed with the whole experience. In some ways, I agree. The breathing and massage stuff made me nuts, because by the time you're in labor, your body is going to take over and you're probably not going to remember or care to perfect any of the breathing techniques you learned. He feels the same way. He's got it in his head (much like Craig did) that he wants to be as uninvolved with the actual birth as possible. While Craig was more than happy to be there for moral support, he didn't want to see the birth itself or even cut the cord...though in the end he did. My friend would rather not even be in the room (or so he says), but I keep warning him that despite Craig's best intentions, he still got the full experience.

But the main conversation that prompted this post was about pain meds. I was very open about my intentions to go the epidural route. I had no illusions that I could take the pain without one...I know I don't have a great pain tolerance. I know that any sort of pain medication runs the risk of passing to the baby, but the risks are minimal and the resulting relief seems to be worth that small risk. Of course, if something actually happens I suppose it isn't. He said that they asked and pressed the instructor about the risks of pain meds, and she finally had to admit that there is a small risk. Still, I think almost anything involving labor involves a small risk. C-sections are pretty routine these days, though it is still major surgery. But considering how many they do successfully, the risks seem minimal. Heck, just going into a hospital puts you at risk for picking up an infection. You obviously want to do whatever you can to keep your baby safe, but personally, I also wanted to get through labor without passing out from the pain. Regardless, the admittance of risks has led my friend's wife to consider delivery without drugs, and he couldn't be happier...presumably because he wants to keep his baby as safe as possible.

The whole conversation made me think about about whether I made my decision too hastily. Should I have considered the risks more? Maybe Jacob wouldn't have had fluid in his lungs if I would have gone the natural route. I have no real medical basis for that thought, but it is something to think about. I'm not sure it matters, because I know I was in a world of hurt by the time I got my epidural, and I'm not sure how I would have managed without it. Even the pure relief I felt when I got it gave me enough energy to get through the rest of my labor. However, maybe the labor would have gone quicker if I could actually feel what I was pushing. When you're numb, it's sort of a guessing game based on what you know of your muscles from previous experience. Still, knowing how bad the pressure was, I'm not sure how I would have survived the pain of tearing flesh on top of it (sorry, that's graphic, I know...but it's an important factor to consider). I was literally on my last push when they finally got Jacob out. I was completely spent after three hours and a lot of discomfort, and I'm just not sure I could do it with a full dose of pain on top of that.

Fortunately I can't remember the exact pain (not something I want to recreate), but I know how absolutely miserable I was so I can only imagine...feeling like I was going to explode, wanting to jump out of my own skin, and on the verge of a complete and utter breakdown. It was pretty horrible. But worth it in the end? Absolutely. Will I do it again? Yes. I definitely wonder what will happen next time around in the event I can't get drugs. Would I panic? Would I find out it's not as bad as I thought it would be? Would I indeed pass out or lose my mind amidst the pain? Who knows? Every time I think about how easy a C-section seems, I think about those women that I hear about who have trouble lifting or holding their babies, or walking up steps, even weeks later. It is real surgery necessitating a real recovery. Short term intense pain vs. long term, less intense pain....hmmm. Tough call.

Recently a friend of mine from college mentioned in her Facebook status that she was sad that 85% of the women at Highland (the same hospital I delivered at) get epidurals. I think she's studying to be a nurse and must be doing work there. Anyway, she got quite a few comments from both sides of the fence. One girl mentioned the pain of back labor (which I had as well), and one guy mentioned their wife's 30+ hour labor...both wondering how they would have gotten through it without one. I did my usual line, "Why suffer if you don't have to?" If God gave someone the ability to lessen pain through medication with minimal risk, I am all for making good use of it.

Anyway, it was an interesting discussion but I still don't think I'd ever willingly do it without one unless my next labor is quite different than my first. Thankfully, that's not something I will have to worry about for a while...

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