I was 25 years old, 10 weeks pregnant, and a hundred shades of difficult to be around. Christened into pregnancy expertise by two months of my face in the toilet, my idea of a polite conversation was verbally jolting a new mom by asking if she'd had a natural birth. After all, I was educated. And by educated I mean I watched one Ricki Lake documentary.
In short, I sucked.
In a birth class a few months later, a bouncy instructor handed every couple a set of cards with emotionally jarring phrases on them, like "medication free," "delayed cord clamping," and "healthy mom, healthy baby." She told us to arrange the neon cards in order of importance to us until we were left with our number one hope for our births. When I got to the end, "medication free" and "healthy mom, healthy baby" were head to head.
Who did this yoga-pants-wearing mom of two think she was, hacking my birth plan? Was she implying I cared more about not having an epidural than having a healthy baby? I slipped "healthy mom, healthy baby" to the front where I knew it belonged. But to me, the two ideals went hand in hand -- I really believed I couldn't have a healthy baby AND pain medication. Hashtag face in palm.
Fast forward a few months. I'm in the bathtub of a natural birth center, covered in the Chipotle I had for lunch, begging my midwife to transfer me to the hospital for an epidural. The heavens giggled, and my midwife obliged. And guess what? I survived. My baby survived. And actually, I think it might have made me a better mom.
1. My epidural taught me self-care.
I think women who avoid medication have an awesome edge: they want to honor their bodies. I love that. But for me, honoring my body meant getting pain medicine. I'm faced with self-care choices every day as a mom to a toddler, and asking for help before I even had him set me up to ask for help when his actual health depended on it -- in breastfeeding, sleep routines, and so on.
2. It taught me to show grace to myself.
Thankfully, I was anything but coherent in that birth center bathtub, so the misery of my situation eclipsed any guilt I may have felt for making a choice I didn't plan on. It's kind of like when I'm sick and I co-parent with Daniel Tiger so I can sleep. Sometimes, protecting our health and sanity is the best route, even if that means making a choice we wouldn't normally make.
3. It taught me I don't have anything to prove.
Eighteen months into the parenting game, and I just now realized the real reason I wanted to experience the pain of childbirth without relief. I wanted to prove something to my baby, before he even came. I catch myself doing that every day, hustling to show my son I'm a good mom by telling him how precious he is to me. My kid doesn't need my performance. He needs the real me, present with him, for better or for worse. He'll learn the most seeing me fall and rise up with grace and boldness -- not by watching me try to avoid falling altogether.
4. It taught me to think before I speak.
I envision myself living a very lonely life as a mother had I continued hijacking conversations with my immature birth opinions. Getting an epidural humbled me and taught me that no two stories are alike, setting the tone for me to form mutually empathetic friendships with other moms. And I honestly do not think I could survive the maze of motherhood without moms who have my back.
5. It taught me not to believe everything I read.
It seems like every corner of the Internet has something different to shout at us about how to mother. As a first-time mama, I latched on (pun intended) to the first pieces of breastfeeding information I stumbled upon, but I ended up using a completely different approach when I got to know my son. Same goes for birth plans. Yes, interventions can certainly pave the way for difficulties, but it all depends on how you define "difficulty." For me, the benefits of the epidural just outweighed the risks. It taught me to think about what I value and throw away whatever information doesn't fit my approach.
6. It taught me modern medicine rules.
A friend who had a baby a few months after me said the funniest thing, and I want to cross-stitch it on a pillow: "Victorian women would be so pissed if they knew we had medication available and didn't use it." BOOM. Of course there are exceptions, and I absolutely laud any woman who makes it through delivery without it, but for me, that epidural was one very blessed perk of living in the 21st century. Not my fault I was born in an era with pain-numbing technology!
7. It taught me to do me.
After the anesthesiologist laced my veins with that magical elixir, I started to feel like I was at Happy Hour. I cracked some of my best jokes to date with the labor nurses, chomped on some local, artisan ice cubes, and enjoyed my last few hours before official motherhood. Basically, I felt like myself. At home I take ibuprofen for a headache all the time so I can be fully present with my family. Why was this any different? My epidural taught me to do what I need to do to be the best version of me -- a lesson I carry in my back pocket every day as I mother.
P.S. To the moms I hated on with judgmental eyes: you rule. You're awesome for doing what's best for you, and I'm sorry I asked about your birth story. It's yours. And that's beautiful.