Of “tramp-stamps” and epidurals

I don’t think I’ve heard of a tattoo being called a tramp-stamp  so I guess I’m a little out of the modern lingo. Which is not surprising. Specifically, it’s a decorative tattoo on the lower back. Which happens to be right about the point where an epidural would be administered.

Actually, some people say that a “true” tramp-stamp is very, very low on the back (nearly on the woman’s rear-end), while the tattoo I’m talking about really should be called a “peek-a-boo.” You learn something new every day! Anyway, I thought the term was kinda funny, and definitely left a memorable impression. It’s the sort of catchy term I could see some people embracing, to rob it of any potential or intended sting, as they gleefully thumb their nose at certain stodgy societal groups. If it is actually a pejorative term, rather than a co-opted term, and is offensive, I apologize in advance. But I think it’s funny.

Not that I’m a big fan of tattoos. I’m old-fashioned enough that I don’t particularly like them. In fact, my favorite quip about tattoos is, “Tattoos are permanent proof of temporary insanity.” It used to be that only a certain segment of society got tattoos — certainly never women! *gasp*horror* “Tattoos are for sailors and bikers, but never women!!” Tough guys who had to prove something to themselves or to the world, perhaps. But despite the stereotype of who got tattooed in the past, I don’t think that applies today. And tattoos are even fashionable, with many celebrities sporting them — big, little, visible, or hidden. But every time I think about people who get tattoos, I picture the person as an old man or woman in a nursing home, with a faded tattoo and wrinkled, shriveled skin. Because they’re going to have to live with the tattoo for the rest of their life. Like one of my friends in college who had a big black panther tattooed on her shoulder-blade. I picture the tattoo scaring the bejeebers out of some poor orderly in a nursing home fifty years from now. 🙂 I guess perhaps one of the reasons I think that, is that of the people I know who get tattoos, so many think they are young and invincible, they live for today, and think they’ll want the tattoo for the rest of their lives. But these people don’t even like to wear the same clothes two years in a row, because they like change! I also think about the woman in a Reader’s Digest funny short story, who had gotten a tattoo of a small fish or a dolphin or something on her young and firm abdomen. Then she got pregnant. And her belly, quite naturally, grew. And so did her tattoo. At one point, the nurse, midwife, or doctor asked, “That’s a nice tattoo. What is it — Shamu?” Oops! Now, I wonder what it looks like with stretch marks striping the tattoo.

So, what do tattoos and epidurals have to do with each other? Not a lot really. It seems to be a tempest in a teacup, from what I can gather, especially if the tattoo ink is dry. But some bright researchers decided to look into any possible complications from getting an epidural through tattooed skin, because they had had three women with lower-back tattoos request an epidural of them. They were all uneventful epidurals with no complications, but it got them to thinking that might be a hypothetical risk to piercing through tattoo ink and into the spinal column. Ok, that does sound like it might possibly be bad. After all, you don’t exactly want your tattoo to really get on your nerves, do you?! So, they looked through published reports that might pertain to tattoos and epidurals,  and you know what they found? Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Zero. But that didn’t stop them from publishing “what if” theories, which have led to many women being denied epidurals simply because they have a tattoo.

Now, I’m no fan of epidurals, either; but if a woman wants an epidural, then there ought to be a good reason to deny her one. And this doesn’t appear to be it! [However, getting a tattoo is not exactly a pain-free experience, so if you can manage the pain of being pierced multiple times with a needle to get the tattoo in the first place, maybe you can conjure up some of that whatever it was that got you through the tattoo procedure, to help you get through labor? Of course, I say that as someone who would probably have to be drunk or drugged in order to get tattooed, so perhaps there is no correlation between the two. I’m not scared of needles, but the thought of getting a tattoo gives me the heebie-jeebies!]

If you don’t have a tattoo yet, that may be a consideration in whether you get one or not; and if you get one, what size and kind you might get, and where exactly over your spine you want it placed. If you already have a tattoo on your back, this should be one of the earlier questions you ask your care provider (and it wouldn’t hurt to call the hospital you’re planning on using or having as a back-up, just so you know in advance), to make sure that there isn’t going to be a problem with getting an epidural, if that’s what you want. Even if you’re planning on going without an epidural, sometimes things happen to change plans, and knowing the situation in advance will give you one less curve-ball you have to deal with in the throes of labor.

Still, I wonder why research cannot be carried out on this — in rats, as an example. Or perhaps rabbits or monkeys. Maybe pigs, because they have no fur to speak of? It wouldn’t necessarily have to be a painful procedure — the animals could be anesthetized for the actual tattooing procedure. Right now, it’s just left hanging, with some anesthetists getting scared about giving women with lumbar tattoos an epidural. There are a few different intervertebral spaces that an epidural could be administered through, and it is likely that there would be an ink-free spot at one of these points, should the anesthesiologist wish to avoid the tattoo — either for fear of the ink, or for not wanting to scar the tattoo. Of course, if the tattoo is large and densely colored (say, a full-color design like a fairy, as opposed to something thin or sparsely colored, like filigreed initials), there may be no open space. At that point, as part of “informed consent” the anesthesiologist may want to inform the woman that there is no research on getting an epidural through tattoo ink, so there is a theoretical risk of some adverse reaction, and ask her if she wants to continue. Then document the consent and proceed. Sounds simple enough to me!

Post inspired by The Unnecesarean’s take on this.


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3 Responses

  1. This reminds me of the debate about certain tattoos/tattoo inks and MRIs. The doctor’s fear is that tattoos done in prison or done with certain ‘metalic’ inks common in the early 80s will have enough metal in them to vibrate during an MRI, causing burns, pain, and potential scaring. My dad (who was tattooed during the early 80s with a very colorful piece) had to sign multiple consent forms for his MRI because they weren’t sure if one of the colors may react this way. (MRI was fine) Its my understanding that non medical research has disproven this (from tattoo historians/scholars doing research studies in Asian to MythBusters) but there have been no medical research on it. I know the last time I had an MRI one of the questions was ‘any tattoos?’ You’d think this would be very simple for someone to put to rest, get pig, get ink, get mri…get results….so….why all the questions and contradictions? Are the doctors afraid that, if they disprove it and someone with a homemade tattoo that actually DOES contain metal gets injured during an MRI they will get sued for not testing every conceivable type of ink that the human body can withstand without dying?

  2. comment unrelated to post:
    Wanted to let you know I posted a link to this blog off of my newest post on my blog.

  3. I have a lot of ink…my back is 80% covered, upper arms done, tattoos in various other places. My tattoos are art to me…they tell a story about where I have come from. People are often surprised to discover I have such coverage. I always tell them ” tattoos aren’t just for sailors and sluts anymore”. I love my art and will get more. I am well aware that they may not look gorgeous when I am old – there’s no reason to think they would (I’m 35 and well aware that I am gonna get older). But they are my story…and that never changes.

    My husband doesn’t care for tattoos. He thinks they are un-necessary. He says ” when I die, I’m going to heaven with a pure body.”

    I always say “Who says you’re goin’ to heaven???”

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