by, Shauna Zurawski
I am the mother of four children, each one unique. The same can be said of their births. Because of the variety of births I have experienced, I’ve learned that for me, nitrous oxide is by far the best form of pain relief during childbirth .
My first delivery was long and painful. I labored at home for 5 hours before my water broke. I stayed at home for another 5 hours hoping for labor to smoothly progress, but upon arrival at the hospital, I was only dilated barely 1 cm. The long night in the hospital was exhausting and not beneficial to the progression of labor. Around 6 the next morning, I was drained and unable to manage pain. After discussing options with my midwife, I decided to get an epidural so my body could relax and allow me to sleep in preparation for later stages of labor and ultimately delivery. The epidural helped with the pain but I felt I didn’t have control of pushing, breathing, feeling and navigating giving birth. After 3 hours of pushing, my beautiful face-up baby girl was born. Recovery was difficult and painful. I felt sore, because I had not been able to successfully gauge how hard or soft I was pushing, and, at times, I was overdoing it. I also found out that I don’t like bladder catheters.
Ten months later, I found out I was pregnant with baby No. 2. I was anxious and focused on having an unmedicated birth. I was envisioning a much easier birth and the opportunity to see how labor and giving birth can be different without so many pokes and interventions. Luckily, my dreams came true with baby No. 2! After laboring all day at home, I decided to go to the hospital around midnight. After laboring for a few more hours with the help of my husband, midwife and sister-in-law, my water broke at 3 a.m. At 3:30 a.m. I felt like I needed to get into position. Before my husband and midwife were fully prepared, my busy baby girl pushed herself into this world without any effort on my part. My recovery was so much easier and our little girl was alert and quick to nurse.
At my 20-week ultrasound for baby No. 3, I found out I was having a boy. I had heard my mother talk about how her big boys and their collarbones were difficult to deliver. From then on, I started to imagine a huge baby boy making delivery difficult. I am naturally an over-optimistic person, so I tried to suppress negative thoughts. All this played a part in my delivery. Once again, I labored all day but this time I did not stay home. I was at my midwife’s office for monitoring since I was 4 days late. (All of my babies have been late, so no surprise here.) Since I was not at home, I was not as comfortable as I could have been. I was tired and really needed a good nap. At one point, I did fall asleep in a recliner and was awakened by a sudden gush of water. My water had broken naturally with the other two deliveries, but never this much! It gushed and gushed and gushed!
Since my last baby came 30 minutes after my water broke, my husband, midwife and I rushed to the hospital thinking the baby would come flying out any minute. Upon arrival at the hospital, I was dilated to 5 cm. I continued to labor on my own for a few hours. At that point I had not progressed, and, in fact, my contractions had started to slow down. We discussed Pitocin, which scared me because I knew that would make contractions stronger and more painful . I asked if we could try anything else. My midwife said nitrous oxide was available at the hospital, and I should give it a try. I agreed to try it, but I was not really excited about it. The anesthesiologist came to explain how nitrous is administered. It was easy to understand, and I was willing to try the mask on and take a few deep breathes. I took my first deep breath and instantly relaxed so much that I fell into a very deep sleep for a few moments.
My body was exhausted but I had not allowed it to rest up to that point. I rested, and immediately, labor picked back up. I began talking about all of my fears and deep-rooted worries about how big my little man was going to be. This talk was new to my husband and midwife who had no idea that I was nervous or even afraid about my baby’s size. I had not expressed any of this until after using nitrous and feeling completely free to be myself . I stopped fighting labor, and instead embraced the contractions and allowed them to push labor along. Within 20 minutes, I had dilated from 5 cm to 10 cm and was ready to push. With each push I could feel the pain and his little body descending, but because of the nitrous oxide, I was able to separate myself from the pain. After 5 minutes of pushing, we met our first boy and biggest baby. He was 8 pounds 6 ounces. My fear of having a bigger baby was legitimate.
Seven months ago, I gave birth to another baby girl. Her birth was fast and furious! I tried to labor at home like I always do, but these contractions went from easy early labor to hard late stages of labor very quickly. I was very nervous and afraid that I would have the baby in the car. We arrived at the hospital, and I was in so much pain. This pain was unbearable. I wanted relief, and I wanted it fast. I was already dilated to 8 cm and fully effaced. I expressed my desire to have help managing the pain and the nurse was quick to let me know that nitrous would be the easiest to administer and quickest to provide relief. She was so right! I started the nitrous and instantly received the help I needed to distance myself from the unbearable pain that normally accompanies quick labors. Just like my first child, baby No. 4 was “sunny-side up”, but I was determined to push my hardest and get her out. She was born 50 minutes after arriving at the hospital. She was by far my fastest and most painful delivery.
From my experiences with nitrous oxide, I would strongly recommend it to help provide relief and pain management. I am not the best at keeping my mind focused and distracted from the pain. Nitrous oxide gave me exactly what I needed to distance myself from the hard pains of labor while still allowing me to navigate through contractions and pushing without feeling like I was driving blindly.
Not all hospitals in the United States are offering nitrous as a form of pain management in labor, but hopefully, more will begin to see its advantages.