Citation: quasilaur. "In the Loop of Life and Death: An Experience with Nitrous Oxide (ID 103929)". Erowid.org. Sep 11, 2016. erowid.org/exp/103929
Nitrous Oxide During Childbirth
My history with nitrous goes back to my early/mid 20ís, especially when I was a barista at two corporate coffee chains. During that time, I not only stole a whipped cream dispenser, I also stole about a case of nitrous cartridges, and at one point was the solo opening supervisor, doing nitrous in-between my till counts and yogurt parfait construction. Then there was that time I was late and disheveled to a job interview because I spent my morning doing every last cartridge I had in my house.
I love nitrous. Itís been a long, long time since I engaged with any substance, let alone this one.
I had read recent articles about how nitrous oxide was being used in America for pain during childbirth, and during my most recent pregnancy, found out that the hospital I was to deliver at also offered nitrous for labor. Score. I wanted natural childbirth, and definitely preferred to not have an epidural, but I would make an exception for pain relief if nitrous was the option. I talked to my doctor, and she was on-board, but as always, these things are dependent on the whims of the anesthesiologist on shift, and just because itís available, it doesnít mean it will be administered when requested. In fact, I found out that there will sometimes be a 2 hour limit to usage implemented by the anesthesiologist, which when the time came, the anesthesiologist that was working with me let me know was a largely arbitrary number.
My labor was not ideal. My water broke early in the morning, and by mid-afternoon, they had decided to induce me using a slowly ramped up Pitocin drip. This meant that my contractions, when they did become regular and strong, became intense and a bit hard to manage through my deep breathing/meditation. The set-up that they offered is a mixture of nitrous oxide and oxygen, provided with an on-demand mask. I donít remember the ratio of nitrous to oxygen, but I feel like it was something like 60% nitrous to 40% oxygen. I really wondered if the experience would be different from my whipped cream dispenser charged with ISI cartridges, but I can tell you, it really didnít feel different at all in my initial hit.
One of the early regrets was that I didnít bring a speaker and music with me for the time I was using the nitrous, as that would have given me a nice hook to hang on to while I both worked through the pain of the contractions as well as the mental effects from the nitrous. I would have picked Bjorkís Homogenic for this. During my first hour or so, my pain was muted, but hard to time with the contractions. I had to feel the inkling of the contraction, put the mask on my face, breathe deeply while trying to keep the mask on, and ride the crest of the contraction. The aim was to make sure I was peaking on the nitrous when my contraction was at the peak, and not to let go of the mask until after I reached the peak. (This was the recommendation of the anesthesiologist.) This often meant that I was feeling the contraction, but it was more manageable to deal with.
During this time I started falling into a familiar pattern, especially as the distance between taking off the mask and putting it back on started shrinking. Along with the sound distortions that are notable with nitrous (and my tinnitus giving me musical chord changes as the room was fairly silent), I got into my groove of being certain that I was on the cusp of knowing the secrets life and death
I got into my groove of being certain that I was on the cusp of knowing the secrets life and death
, and knowing that being that close would definitely, DEFINITELY kill me, and not caring about the consequences. I just wanted to know how close I could get without dying.
After all, isnít that the meaning? Isnít that what itís all about? Getting as close to death as possible, without dying? Isnít that life? Isnít that the divine?
At one point I, as the nurse put it, ďfell asleepĒ with the mask on. It fell off, of course, but this was not a moment I was unfamiliar with. I had used nitrous to the point of unconsciousness a few times, never knowing exactly what I was doing in the long term (and never quite caring). I asked if I should stop, after all, my brain was in this loop of life and death at this point. The nurse told me I could continue, and so I did.
As I continued, breathing deeply, trying to stay ahead of intense contractions, I increased my sense that this was the perfect moment to realize the truth about existence. In fact, maybe in those moments of being high, I was experiencing the purity of the childbirth experience, life, death, pain, creation, destruction. Through the intensity of the high, and the intensity of the pain, and knowing fully the precariousness of it all, I was wondering if I wasnít seeing a bit in the future as to whether or not I would survive the experience. With the next inhale, I would explore these thoughts again, becoming convinced that I had it, I had finally found the meaning of it all, and that THIS was what life was about, and that I had to survive to tell people about it. But would I survive? What if that was the cruel joke, that you finally find THE MEANING of it all, but you do so while searching frantically to the end to find it, only to end up dead with the secrets gone with you.
It feels impossible to convey the innerworld that I experienced during those moments. I can only said that it comes close to communing with inner-divinity.
I come back in a loop. Thatís the meaning of existence. Thatís the meaning of life. Thatís why we do it. Thatís what itís all about. Life. Death. The pull between the two. And there I was, laboring to bring my daughter into the world.
Eventually, the contractions became so explosive that they ripped through me while the mask was on, and I screamed through the mask, through the high. Over and over again, I would put the mask down as the pain crested, and put it back on as it ebbed again, screaming through the mask. Eventually, my doula told me that there was a difference between coping and suffering Ė and I decided to get an epidural. Luckily, I got to use the nitrous briefly after the epidural, which was helpful while waiting for it to really work. It wasnít long after the epidural that I gave birth to my daughter, to which I proclaimed my love for, loudly and emphatically.
Iím not sure how I feel about doing nitrous again after this experience, but it was definitely the trippiest childbirth I could have imagined. I'm not sure about the actual effectiveness during childbirth as that I do feel like that without an external hook, like music, it was really easy to get wrapped up in the high and lose the ability to do my own meditative grounding to work through the pain that way. I think that using it in addition to an epidural might be better for a long labor, especially in the case of induction with Pitocin. I appreciate it being non-invasive and patient-controlled.
It's also important to note that my doula let me know that her client in the same unit, the following day, was told totally different restrictions than I was by a different anesthesiologist.
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