When I had my first baby, I went into labor and delivery very blindly. I did no research and followed suit with most women I know and respect who have given birth with a plan to get the epidural and trust the doctors.
Fortunately, I delivered a healthy baby girl in July 2017 at Palomar Hospital in Escondido with the assistance of an epidural. However, when it came near time to push, I was scared of feeling any pushing pain so pushed the button to release more numbing drugs through the epidural. It took me an hour and 45 minutes to push her out and we ultimately needed vacuum assistance to pull her through. Needless to say, being so numb didn’t help the process of pushing her out as I couldn’t feel anything down there. Also turned out she was face-up which might have been due to me lying on my back with the epidural in place.
Nonetheless, I was happy with the outcome of my first labor and planned to have my second baby in the same manner, with an epidural. I again delivered a healthy baby, this one a boy, in October 2019. Unfortunately, soon after my son was born and I had been sitting up for a while, I started having a severe headache. It felt like my brain was sagging in my head. If you’ve ever been really hungover and dehydrated, it felt like that kind of headache…not so much fun.
A Spinal Headache?
I mentioned it to the nurse who then asked me if it got better after I laid down. I thought that was a strange question and wasn’t able to answer her right away because I hadn’t considered it, but sure enough, I tested it out and told her it did seem to go away when I laid down. She explained that it could be a result of my epidural but said it would have been unlikely and rare to be the case. She further explained that it could be what’s called a “spinal headache” caused by the leakage of spinal fluid as a result of a puncture caused by the epidural placement. They called in an anesthesiologist (not the same one who did my epidural) who while standing in the doorway, looked at me and simply said “I can tell by looking at you, you don’t have a spinal headache.”…that was that.
Back to the Hospital
They released me from the hospital later that day with everything checked off the list. We were happy to be home and on the road to recovery when day turned to night and after I had been sitting up all day, when things got worse. I lost hearing in my right ear, started developing neck pain and the saggy brain headache got worse. I couldn’t sleep. I called over to the hospital after midnight, crying and asking what could be done. They wouldn’t allow me back into labor and delivery since I was already discharged but said I could either wait it out in hopes that the symptoms better soon (which could be weeks) or go to the emergency room to get what’s called a “blood patch”. For a blood patch, they draw blood from your arm, stick you with another large, epidural-type needle in your back, and put that blood into your spinal column in hopes that it “patches” the leak caused by the epidural. So with my 2-day-old baby and 2-year-old in tow, we went to the emergency room to get this procedure done.
It was a terrifying experience having to get another large needle stuck in my back. My husband wasn’t allowed to be in the room and I signed a lot of waivers that indicated there were risks of paralysis, death, etc. Crazy enough, those risks all felt worth it to fix the situation I was in. After the procedure, I had to lay flat for 2 hours so that the blood could properly clot. It all felt very Medieval. The next few days were hazy and I was instructed to lay in bed as much as I could. It was a difficult start for a new mom of 2. The days were filled with fear instead of joy and excitement over our new baby boy.
Find a Better Path Forward
When I was pregnant with my third I decided I was going to educate myself on labor, understand what went wrong, and find a better path forward. Before I got pregnant with my third, my sister also had her 3rd baby. It was an 8lb baby girl. She also had epidurals with her labors, however, for this last one, her epidural ended up not working despite being placed. She felt every labor pain and contraction while laboring on her back and was not mentally prepared. I could tell she was in a state of shock after she had her daughter. Although my experience and my sister’s experiences with the epidural are both considered “rare”, there are a thousand rare things that happen during birth and many of us are bound to experience at least one of them.
What I learned through the Bradley Method class and my education was that drugs and medicine do have a place in birth, but are best reserved for critical needs. All drugs come with risks and side effects and we don’t always know the full extent of those or the longer-term implications of them until years later, if ever. Letting labor take its natural course has, for me, eliminated any of these unwanted side effects and shortened my postpartum recovery. While asked immediately after having my third and enduring a very exhausting and intense natural labor if I’d do it again without the epidural, my answer was and remains “yes”. Not to say that natural birth is easy…it’s not. It was hard. But when it was done, I was done. Understanding the intense parts were designed to be relatively short, temporary, and were natural functions of my own body, helped get me through.
Baby name: Gina D.
Birth date: 8/29/23
Time: 11:15 am
Place: Palomar Hospital Escondido (Dr. Cobb)
Weight: 7lbs 7oz
Length: 19.75 inches
* born en caul!
Some details about the labor and birth:
Went into labor at 11:30 pm the night before. Unfortunately only got 2 hours of sleep that night, but was smart enough to get a nap in earlier that day since I didn’t sleep that well the night before either. Had no early signs of labor. Contractions just started and it was go time! When I woke up in the middle of the night at first I just tried to go back to sleep. I knew I shouldn’t wake my partner up right then because I needed him to be rested. I ended up waking him up at 2 a.m. since I was getting nervous about coordinating childcare for our other 2 kids in the middle of the night. During the time in between, before I woke him up I just laid in bed and tried to sleep. I didn’t stress too much about not sleeping and figured at least I was “resting” if nothing else. After I woke him up and we weren’t sure when to leave for the hospital, I decided I’d 1. Eat 2. Shower and then 3. Try to go back to sleep. The order of those things felt important since I knew I needed a good meal and the shower would help relax me before going back to bed.
- We didn’t know if we were having a boy or a girl. I was pretty sure it was a boy because I swore I saw a baby penis on the ultrasound at our 20-week scan. We also didn’t have a girl’s name picked out until our drive over to the hospital. I honestly wasn’t too concerned about narrowing in on our girl’s name since I was sure it was a boy. When she was born I was so shocked she was a girl, I had to do a double-check and lift her leg up.
Pro-tips for natural birth:
- EAT! Eat a big meal during early labor and pack snacks. This was so key for me to have enough energy to make it through. My labor was 12 hours end to end (pretty average length) and I’m not sure I could have made it through had I not eaten a big meal early on. I made a quesadilla with eggs, grilled chicken, avocado, and cheese. Felt like a perfect early labor meal. I also packed a baggy of snacks which mostly included Aloha mini protein bars that I got from
- Music on my air pods felt really crucial to keeping me in the right head space. I made a labor playlist but ended up just playing Mumford and Sons through the end of labor and delivery. It was nice to be able to tune out all the hospital beeps and sounds and go somewhere else in my mind.
- Change positions – I think moving around and switching positions really helped with the progress of labor. I actually ended up hating the birthing ball to my surprise and loved the Captain Morgan stance and the miles circuit open knee chest…those both felt productive.
- Counter pressure – my husband simply rubbed my lower back really hard. I wish we would have tried hip squeezes earlier on to see how it felt, but once things progressed I was too nervous to switch things up and try something different.
- Essential Oils – I put drops of lavender (or other preferred scent) on a hair scrunchie and would smell that on occasion. The nurse gave me a lavender patch to wear as well, but it was a little too intense and made me nauseous during Transition.
- Birth Hour podcast and YouTube videos of natural birth – I must have listened to over 100 podcast episodes of Birth Hour. Hearing other women’s stories of natural birth helped me really understand what to expect without having ever experienced it. It gave me the confidence that I could do it.
Some of my favorite YouTube videos:
- Yoga – I did a lot of yoga during the third trimester that really helped with flexibility and strength and I think has helped with an easier recovery. https://www.youtube.com/c/LizaJandayogajanda
- Mentality – when it comes down to it, it’s really all about mental strength and perspective. Being solid in your “why” for natural labor, especially if you’re like me, and doing natural labor in the hospital with quick access to all the drugs was key. Having an early conversation with my OB and husband about my birth plan so that my team was aligned with what I wanted also helped ensure we all were in sync and I wasn’t fighting any uphill battles while also going through labor pains.
I just loved all the learning about how to achieve a natural birth and hope some of these things help other moms to be on their journey. 🙂