Posted: Jun 06, 2013 10:00 AM
You don't think that it can happen to you — I certainly didn't — but my last birth didn't go as well as it could have due to an improperly placed epidural.

Research shows that epidural anesthesia is the most popular choice for laboring moms. It provides amazing pain relief and has little to no effect on the baby. Side effects are generally manageable, but if things go wrong, they can go wrong in a hurry, and it can be an unpleasant experience.

Anesthesiologist —a knight in shining armorisolated needle

I've had an epidural three times. I looked to the anesthesiologist as my knight in shining armor. I never took any childbirth classes and had heard such rave reviews of epidurals that I knew before I even had a baby that I wanted one. The first two I had were fine. I requested one as soon as I could and they went well. I didn't run into any of the issues that had been discussed prior to their administration — I had no trouble pushing the baby out because I could still feel the contractions. There was simply no pain involved.

Going south

I knew that I would be getting another epidural for my fourth pregnancy (my third vaginal delivery). Again, I asked as soon as I could, and after I was hooked up to an IV and a few blood tests ran, my knight in shining armor came in. As he started setting up, he began to recite everything that can go wrong. For example, if he puts it in the wrong spot, my heart rate will increase. I could suffer a blood pressure drop. And so on, and so forth.

My back was prepped and the injection was given to numb the area. So far, so good. He inserted the catheter, injected the medicine, and I immediately knew something wasn't right. Within a few seconds, my entire lower body went numb. And not “epidural numb,” where you can still move around, but numb numb. It was like I was connected to a brick, only the brick was the rest of my body.

My heart rate shot up and my blood pressure plummeted.

As he predicted, my heart rate shot up and my blood pressure plummeted. As your blood pressure is continuously monitored during birth in a hospital when you have pain relief medication, I was constantly squeezed, even in the midst of the problems I was having. I was able to look back at a later date to see the records, and at one point it was 50/33.

I felt terrible. Physically, completely awful. “Are you sure you can't move?” the nurses would ask. It felt like someone else's dead legs were attached to my body. They opened my IV completely and instructed me to lie flat on my back. I imagined I was having trouble breathing and for a bit, I was convinced that I'd have to have her removed from my dead body — that's how bad I felt.

Happy ending

Fortunately — very fortunately — we had a happy ending. I was able to push just fine, and Willow was born healthy and suffered no ill effects. It turns out the epidural was placed a little bit too far in and I wound up with spinal anesthesia, such as what you get for surgery (like a C-section). I did wind up with some ear ringing and a massive spinal headache, which is medicalese for sheer hell. I had to go back to the hospital a few days after discharge for a blood patch, and I was fine after that.

All in all, it made her birth and her first few days pretty crummy.

All in all, it made her birth and her first few days pretty crummy. I don't have any lasting effects, which I understand are possible but pretty rare, so it really wasn't a huge deal, but at the time, it was really scary and I wish I hadn't gone through that.

I have no plans for a fifth child, but if I did, I would not go the epidural route. My confidence was shaken. Yes, they explain the risks beforehand, but you really don't think something will go wrong when you agree to the procedure. I would explore other pain coping techniques, such as Hypnobabies, water, deep breathing — anything. Childbirth is a natural experience and I no longer feel the need to possibly complicate it if you don't have to.Isolated pregnant woman

Using an epidural is definitely up to the mother who is in labor, but really take the warnings to heart and prepare for the possibility that it won't go perfectly. However, complications are indeed rare. And don't forget: You're a good mom no matter what.

More on your birth plan

A long road to natural childbirth
4 Benefits of natural childbirth
Hypnosis for childbirth: Hype or helpful?