Having a one-hour-old is a swirl of hormones and love and pain. After a traumatic delivery of my first child in 2011, I also felt certainty: I knew that I would never, ever do that again. I even pitied my newborn daughter because she would never have siblings.
So how did I work up the nerve to do it again two years later?
First, an acknowledgement: Way worse things have happened to families during childbirth than what I experienced. I came out of it battered but with a healthy baby girl, for which I am supremely grateful. Still, that doesn’t erase the trauma.
So, how did labor acutally go down for me? Here’s what happened: I stubbornly resisted the epidural, even after 16 hours of pre-labor and 16 more hours of active labor. By the time I relented and got the drugs, they didn’t have time to take effect. I was screaming and hysterical, like something out of a bad sitcom rendering of childbirth. In the aftermath, I suffered from scary flashbacks of the sort that I had at 22 after a man attacked me at gunpoint. I made my husband sleep in the tiny hospital bed with me that first night because I was so shaken.
Fifteen months passed. I loved being a mom. My husband started saying things like, “Remember the feeling of having a newborn sleep on your chest?” We knew we wanted a bigger family. It took us a year to get a viable pregnancy the first time, so I did that thing where I went off the pill and lied to myself that it was just “in preparation” of conceiving again.
Of course, I was pregnant 28 days later.
I dealt with my fear of childbirth by being completely psycho about my birth plan. At my very first prenatal appointment, I grilled my OB-GYN about my options. He nixed full anesthesia and my request for a “twilight sleep.“ “Like Betty Draper in that episode of ‘Mad Men!’” I begged. I passed on a c-section because recovering from a major abdominal surgery while caring for a newborn and a toddler seemed like something I’d rather avoid.
He convinced me that an epidural was my best option. To ease my anxiety, he even sent me to the hospital for a consultation with an anesthesiologist, who assured me that I was an “excellent candidate” for an epidural.
At 39 weeks, I went into labor. I asked for the epidural before I had even changed into my hospital gown. It worked! I felt no pain. I kept thanking the anesthesiologist and my OB-GYN—anyone within earshot who had a medical degree, really. My recovery was far easier. I got to spend those first weeks in a haze of sleeplessness and feeding and love…this time without the flashbacks.