I experienced a failed epidural with my first son and I felt every single ounce of pain. This is my story of the unmedicated natural birth, I didn't choose.
I'll try an unmedicated birth
When I found out I was pregnant, I knew two things for certain: I was waiting until birth to find out the gender and I wanted to try an unmedicated birth. I want to emphasis the try because I was realistic about the whole thing. I’m not a diehard, all natural type of woman. I just just wanted to avoid any unnecessary risks. If I felt like I needed medication to ease the pain then I’d ask for it. I specifically asked my husband to be my voice if I needed him to. I’d heard horror stories about women being bullied into getting an epidural while they were vulnerable. I told my husband to stand up for me if he felt like I was being pushed into anything I didn’t really want. I was as prepared as I could be. My plan was to deal with as much pain as I could and then to ask for medication.
My scheduled induction
I had a scheduled induction due to my Gestational Diabetes, so I had plenty of time to chat with my doctor about my options. I told her my plan to try an unmedicated birth but that medication wasn’t completely out of the question. Let’s be realistic here, I’ve never had labor pains. My doctor asked me why and I said that I don’t want to put my baby at risk. She explained how the labor medication could make the baby drowsy but an epidural would affect me and not the baby. I asked her if there’s a “last moment” to get the epidural and she said that’s a rumor. You can ask for it whenever you want. After she educated me, I felt more comfortable asking for an epidural if I needed to. My real fear with an epidural was not being able to feel my legs. That sounds terrifying! Also, I’ve heard that an epidural can put you into labor much longer. Ain’t nobody got time for that haha. So, I kept the knowledge in my head and went in for my scheduled induction. I had no idea what to expect but was ready to get this baby out!
I was given Pitocin through an IV to induce labor. Every 20 minutes or so, a nurse would come in and raise the dosage. They have to take it slow because everyone’s body reacts differently to different dosages. I honestly felt like the Pitocin wasn’t doing anything. We were at the hospital for 8 hours and nothing was progressing.
Let's talk about the epidural
During that time, the anesthesiologist came in to explain how the epidural works. She told me the risks, side affects, and explained how it would make me feel. I signed paperwork giving permission to give me it, should I ask for it later. At that point, my contractions weren’t painful at all so I thought I might not even need an epidural.
Around 8:30am, the midwife woke me up (like 10 minutes after I’d finally dozed off) and checked my cervix o had dilated just a little bit more than I was went I entered. She said she was going to break my water and I gleefully agreed to it! I was hoping this would mean I’d meet my baby soon! Immediately after my wanted broken I went from 4cm to 7cm dilated. Within 20 minutes, the most intense pain I’ve ever felt in my life hit me! The full contractions had begun! I told my husband if I have another contraction like that then I’ll need the epidural stat! Of course, the pain kept coming so we called for the nurse.
I NEED AN EPIDURAL – STAT!
The funny part of this story is my husband’s reaction. I was in a lot of pain but I’m a quiet laborer. I wasn’t yelling but he could hear in my breathing and see on my face that it was intense. As soon as I said I needed pain relief, he started scrambling to find the button to call the nurse. I could barely move because of the stupid IV that was flung across the bed to reach my left arm. The button was underneath me and my husband was frantic! I look back and laugh at how much more panicked he was than I. So, we finally got the anesthesiologists into the room. It probably took her about 5-10 minutes to arrive. It felt like forever but the nurse kept reminding me to focus on my breathing.
Since I have scoliosis, the anesthesiologist said that it wouldn’t be as easy for her to place the epidural in the right spot. Basically, I had to tell her where it felt centered. Which was absolutely terrifying! My contractions were coming fast and were so intense that I tensed my whole body up every time. I was so afraid that I’d jump as she was inserting it and end up paralyzed. There were times when she asked me questions in the middle of a contraction and I completely ignored her. I remember thinking, “umm I’m a little busy here.” Finally, she inserted the epidural in what felt like the right position and I felt the jolt in my leg as she promised. The extreme shivers started almost immediately, which she also warned.
Why do I still feel pain?
The epidural slowly numbed my legs. It took longer than I’d expected. My legs became heavy but not so heavy that I felt trapped, as I’d originally feared. While my legs were numb, my abdomen was not. I could still feel every contraction just as badly (if not worse) than before the epidural. After ensuring me for a half hour that it take a little bit for the epidural to kick in, the nurse brought the anesthesiologist back into the room. She upped the dosage a bit but still – nothing. Then, she pinched my thigh which I couldn’t feel. Next, she pinch my stomach – also couldn’t feel it. She said that’s it’s clearly working and all I’m feeling is pressure.
Oh, that word. How I hate that word with every damn ounce of my being. Nurses and the anesthesiologist told me at least 5 times that I’m only feeling pressure. I’m pretty sure that I KNOW WHAT I FEEL! It was the same pain as before, so that’s my clear sliding scale of pain, for comparison. I was frustrated but I could see that the anesthesiologist felt bad. She offered a more powerful epidural but there were higher risks involved so I kinda just rolled my eyes at the idea. The idea of something going terribly wrong or even the thought of having to sit up and sit still for another epidural, was dooming so I declined.
Is a failed epidural a thing?
As I pushed through the contractions, I felt a little bit defeated. I thought I had a higher tolerance for pain than this. Am I really a wuss? Then, I remembered all the childbirth videos that I’d watched. I remember seeing the fully unmedicated births versus the epidural births. The epidural births were much different. The women looked calm, relaxed, and even happy. They only tensed up as they pushed. Why was I not feeling that way? Could it be possibly that I’m experiencing a failed epidural? Is that even a thing? Later on, I read this story about another mom's failed epidural. It's definitely a thing.
Soon after the failed epidural thought, it was time to push. I pushed with every contraction, despite the nagging counting of the sweet midwife delivering my baby. I’d read previously that you’ll experience less tearing and trauma if you follow your body’s natural signs to push. Since I was feeling every ounce of physical pain that one woman could possibly handle, I did what we are made to do – I birthed my child.
Welcome to the world, baby boy!
Okay, I’m making it sound much more cool, calm, and collected than it actually was. The truth is that it didn’t feel natural at all. How do women do this more than once? And why in hell would they choose an unmedicated birth? It feels like your body is fighting you from the inside. If feels like something is t going right. It feels like you’ve taken some crazy drug that has made you violently ill but it’s an illness that you’ve never felt before and one that can’t be comprehended by anyone who hasn’t experienced it first hand. I don’t care how dramatic I sound – it’s the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life! In fact, I’m still kinda pissed off at every woman who sugarcoated it or told me that I’d feel empowered. I know we are all different, but it didn’t feel good at all.
Would I get an epidural again?
After giving birth to my first baby, I felt pure bliss. 75% of that bliss came from the joy of not being in pain anymore. I have no shame in saying that. Not one shred of guilt. Anyone that tells you otherwise is probably lying. Was it worth it? ABSOLUTELY! Would I choose the pain again? Hell to the NO! Would I get an epidural again? YEP! This time it will be much sooner. I will get an epidural before the pain really begins and I’ll just hope that I don’t experience the disappointment of a failed epidural. Unfortunately, there are a number of things that can cause an epidural to fail.
As far as this story goes, it’s the complete truth. It wasn’t until months after I had my son that I realized I’m not the only one that has made this expensive (those hospital bills ain’t no joke) mistake. I can’t help but to wonder how many women have prepared for a pain free birth only to experience this? What is the actual fail rate? Mamas, I feel for all of you and if you had a successful epidural – good for you! I hope I get to experience that joy next time! If you birthed completely unmedicated, you’re a damn warrior, rockstar, badass… robot. You’ve got to be a robot or some weird species that has no threshold for pain.
Be sure to check out my 25 UNFILTERED thoughts during labor – I’m sure you’ll get a good laugh.
Check out these Childbirth Preparation books on Amazon!
This post may contain affiliate links and/or promotional products, all opinions expressed are that of But First, Joy only. Read my full disclosure.