Praising the pusher

Dr. John Bonica

Dr. John Bonica


During your childbearing years, no four syllables have more power to start arguments than that one, simple word.

They are designed to take away pain, but epidurals also bring on rationalizing, pontificating, preaching, complacency, guilt, self-righteousness, ambivalence, and flat out fear. That syringe is full of much more than simple anesthetic. For many women, it’s a shot of undiluted shame, a guilt-ridden admission that they couldn’t take the pain.

I say so what. Pain is NOT everybody’s friend, and that’s where this wonderful invention comes in. I say we simply celebrate the wonderful man who invented the epidural.

How fitting it is that as Valentine’s Day approaches, we can salute the birthday of the dearly departed Dr. John Bonica, the man who pioneered this wonderful invention for his wife, Emma, who nearly died giving birth to their first daughter.

Forget the diamond- and ruby-studded push presents that are all the rage in certain circles. Can you imagine a more romantic gift than a husband who hands you a large needle full of medicine that will take all the pain away?

Oh baby. I swoon just thinking about it.

Now don’t get me wrong. I know all about the advantages of natural childbirth. After reading a million books on the subject of birth and the importance of having a “birth plan” -not realizing then that my time would have been MUCH better spent reading about parenting-I was planning on going drug free. I really was.

For one thing, needles always give me the heebie jeebies. I have to close my eyes just to get my blood tested, otherwise I worry I might faint from the wooziness.

Plus, I had been through a few surgeries and medical complications at that point, and had always been told I had a high threshold for pain.

I figured natural childbirth would be a snap.

Okay, maybe I’d need to squeeze that tennis ball extra hard and grunt a few times, but how hard could it be?

I was begging for drugs before I even had the hospital gown on.

My fear of needles was absolutely nothing compared to the blazing pain in my back when the contractions started. I would have gladly shot a thousand needles into my body-with my eyes wide open-to make the pain stop.

When the anesthesiologist finally came to give me my epidural, he was handsomer than George Clooney and Brad Pitt combined. And let me tell you, no offense to my husband, but that epidural was better than the sex that got me pregnant in the first place. And because I finally stopped squeezing his hand from the pain, he agreed.

Nothing makes you value human life more than giving birth to a 15-pound baby with a 21-inch-wide head-unless of course it’s trying to do it without an epidural.

Thank you Dr. Bonica.

It’s been a lot of years since Leslie’s epidural, but she still remembers it fondly. Share your labor pains with email . Originally published in the¬†Santa Barbara Daily Sound¬†on February 6, 2009.For more columns visit

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