What I Wish I Knew When My Epidural Didn’t Work

In my labor plan, I included the use of an epidural, but what I wish I knew when my epidural didn’t work was that epidurals do not always guarantee the desired relief. No one informed me about this possibility, leaving me unprepared for the experience.

I believed childbirth would be uncomplicated. (Are you laughing yet? Because postpartum me is undoubtedly amused.) But all indications led to a successful outcome. I conceived after approximately six weeks of trying. My pregnancy was quite typical. I was one of those individuals who adored being pregnant, frequently holding or touching my baby bulge while working or watching television.

So when I considered labor, I was not concerned. My plan was to await the onset of contractions, receive an epidural, push for a few minutes, and voilà, my kid would be out. No one, including my OB-GYN, anesthesiologist, or hospital caregivers, informed me that epidurals do not always work, and even when they do, they may not alleviate all labor pain.

My newborn boy weighed over 9 pounds. He was also in the posterior position, often known as sunny side up, which means that he was facing my abdomen instead of my spine during labor. Hence, despite obtaining an epidural, my labor was quite difficult. I could feel everything, from each contraction to the midwife assessing the position of the baby’s head between pushes, and yes, even the post-delivery stitches.

I remember frantically asking the anesthesiologist whether he was finished mid-epidural as I was leaning over on the edge of the hospital bed with a large needle in my back, attempting not to move while contractions tore through my body every few minutes. I was in so much anguish that I was unable to speak and could only produce deep, primal sounds, which eventually caused me to lose my voice. Since receiving the epidural, I could not stand or move, which exacerbated the discomfort and tremendous pressure. And while I had anticipated a painless delivery, I had not investigated alternative pain management techniques.

My experience was not wholly out of the ordinary, as it turns out. Sixty to seventy percent of pregnant women have epidurals for labor pain relief, yet despite their popularity, effectiveness rates vary.

Several factors can affect an epidural’s efficacy, including the epidural’s placement, the anatomy of the pregnant woman’s central nervous system, the labor proceeding more quickly than expected, or, in my case, the baby’s position. For example, if the baby is in the “sunny side up” position, the epidural may not be as successful since the specific pain associated may not be completely muted.

A review published in the Journal of Anaesthesiology Clinical Pharmacology in 2021 indicated that the education and training of the individual providing the epidural might also play a factor. In general, the more expertise and knowledge a physician has, the greater the likelihood that the epidural will be successful.

And if parents-to-be opting for an epidural is like me, they are likely not researching or preparing for alternative pain management strategies. Why? Because they do not believe it is necessary. In fact, epidurals are often considered the “gold standard” of labor pain treatment. So why would first-time parents have any cause to mistrust their effectiveness?

According to experts, it is sensible to be prepared for this worst-case situation.

Carrie Murphy, a licensed delivery doula in Albuquerque, New Mexico, advises her clients, “Even if you want an epidural, it’s a good idea to know pain management techniques because epidurals aren’t infallible.” Additional circumstances could arise when obtaining an epidural, like if your labor progresses too quickly or if you have to wait a very long period.

She also recommends nitrous oxide (laughing gas), hydrotherapy (immersion in a bath or shower), massage, position changes or movement, the use of a birth ball, hypnosis, visualization, the use of a TENS machine, which produces electrical impulses to relieve pain, and even intravenous pain medicine.

My son made his debut into the world after 12 hours of labor. He was large, in good health, and had a full head of red hair. He was able to turn during labor with the assistance of a peanut ball (which I debated tossing across the room more than once), and I gave birth vaginally.

One year later, I finally recovered physically and emotionally from the birth. My spouse and I are even considering having a second child. This time, I’m considering forgoing the epidural and instead hiring a doula to accompany us at the hospital during labor and delivery. I will also conduct extensive research on alternative pain treatment strategies, just in case.

In all honesty, I hesitated to write this article. My son is well, I have recovered, and my birth experience wasn’t that horrible relative to others. Do I have legitimate grounds for complaint? Murphy advises prospective parents to avoid just such a line of thinking.

“Birth trauma is quite frequent, but it’s not really socially acceptable to discuss it,” she explains. Numerous parents-to-be experience the burden of the assumption that “all is great as long as the baby is healthy.” She adds, however, that many people emerge from birth with a great deal of trauma. Hence, we must be able to speak honestly about our experiences.

Meaningful articles you might like: 5 Strategies For Inducing Labor At Home, What is More Painful Labor Contractions or Pushing, What to Expect Throughout the Three Labor Stages