Most of the time when a woman gets an epidural, everyone around her repeatedly tells her what a good decision she made and why it was such a good decision. And when I say repeatedly, I mean repeatedly.
I don’t see it at every epidural birth, but I see it a lot.
And it doesn’t sit right.
So I’ve been trying to figure out why this is bothering me so much. What’s wrong with everyone telling her she made a good decision to have an epidural? I do believe that if a woman wants an epidural and is happy with an epidural then it was a good decision for her.
But I kept finding myself thinking, why isn’t anyone ASKING her if it was a good decision? Why isn’t anyone asking her how the decision feels to her and how the epidural feels to her?
Well I finally started to see why it feels so wrong to tell a woman it was a good decision.
First of all, just because she is no longer feeling contractions, or is feeling them only minimally, does not mean she feels nothing in her whole self. She is still having an emotional experience and she is still having a physical experience, albeit a different one. Maybe she is thrilled to feel the relaxation in her shoulders. Maybe she is freaked out by the numbness of her legs. Maybe she’s unsure of her decision. Maybe she’s never felt more confident in her own ability to make a good decision for herself and her baby.
To assume that once the mom is in bed, with an epidural, not experiencing contractions means we get to decide how she should feel during and about the experience and why she should feel that way, seems an unfortunate conclusion.
I think it gives women too little credit for the breadth and significance of her internal experience as she births her child.
Second of all, I believe when a woman who chose an epidural is told that she made a good and necessary decision, I believe she gets the message that she wasn’t strong enough to do it naturally, or not focused enough, or there’s something flawed about her body.
I’m sure many people will read the last paragraph and will be ready to tell me how wrong I am. And maybe I am. But I came to this conclusion by watching and listening to my clients. Noticing how my various clients with epidurals were spoken to and what they asked and said to me postpartum.
Here’s what I’ve seen. When a woman is told she needed it because her labor was too long or difficult – she often asks me afterward if there were things she could have done to make it faster and easier or if there’s something wrong with her pelvis that caused it.
When a woman is told that she was just too tired – she often asks me if other women get that tired and how they got through it.
And more than anything, the women who are told how good of a decision it was, often later ask me, “Do you think I really needed the epidural?”
I think they feel frightened. I think they feel insecure. I think they feel flawed or weak and wonder about their resilience and strength.
To be clear, I am not comparing this to women who give birth naturally. I am comparing this to women who get epidurals and no one comments on her choice or her experience.
The women who choose an epidural and the communication sounds more like, “How are you feeling now?” or “Is there anything you need now?” “Let us know if you want the epidural to be made stronger or even lightened up.”
These women tend to talk with me postpartum about why they made the decision they made, what felt good and right about it, why they would make the same decision next time or why they might consider a different decision.
These women do not question their strength or resilience. They do not seem to wonder if there’s something deficient about themselves as women and mothers. They may wonder about the epidural but they don’t wonder about themselves in the same way.
I think it’s time we start seeing birthing women as strong, resilient, wise mothers who are capable of making their own decisions.
I think it’s time we honor them enough to know that they may feel they made a good and right decision, or they may feel regretful and curious about what it would have been like if…. and to trust that she if she feels regretful and curious about a natural birth, she is strong and resilient enough as a woman and mother to recover from her regret and to hold her own curiosity.