Bring on the Drugs!
I had three kinds of labour: a c-section, an epidural and natural. And all three had the same outcome: a healthy baby. People ask me about the joys of natural childbirth versus an epidural, expecting that I somewhow feel more proud of my "natural" labour. But you know what? Every birth is natural and I don’t mince words – go for the drugs.
I had a high-risk pregnancy with my first child that resulted in a c-section at 37 weeks. After that heavily medicalized pregnancy it was important to me that I had a more “normal” experience the second time round. Which meant that I opted for a vaginal birth with a family doctor and a doula by our side. The most important thing for me was to feel in control and be able to make rational decisions, because I had learned that you never know when something is going to go wrong.
And drugs gave me a sense of control – it took enough of the pain away so that I could be reasonable, I could crack jokes and be mentally present. And it was more important to me to be mentally present than physically. Epidurals ease the transition phase of labour. And transition is a pretty crazy place – where you are only focused on yourself, not your baby, you start making funny noises and all rational thoughts exit your brain. I don’t like that. I like to be in control of myself. In fact, I am not a big drinker or recreational drug user for the same reason. I like to know what is happening around me. I could still feel when my contractions were happening, I could walk and I could push. In fact I only pushed for 10 minutes until Sam came out.
Now, I don’t want to be seen as an epidural-apologist. I understand there are small risks. And women make choices for different reasons. But the people I know with the scariest birth stories, the ones who feel the most ravaged from their birth experiences are the ones who did not have pain relief out of some misguided idea that it was important to go natural. My best friend was induced and labored for 24 hours in incredible pain; her midwife constantly talking her out of an epidural. She finally had one, and guess what? She relaxed enough to dilate and get that giant 9-pound baby out. The epidural sped up her labor.
My cousin says that she felt victimized by the pain. And that is what stayed with her after the baby came out. She felt some need to avoid an epidural because that is what good mothers do. That is complete B.S..
When I gave birth to Jenna or to explain it better when Jenna birthed herself, I did not have time for any kind of pain management. I felt so shocked by the speed and brutality of the experience that I could barely hold her for the first five minutes. The amount of pain and the chaos of the birth was actually an obstacle to our first moments of bonding. Did I get over it? Yes. Did I feel like my experience with her was more genuine than my experience with Sam when I had pain relief? Absolutely not. They were all incredible – the births of my children are as close to miracles I am ever going to get to. I do not judge one experience as being more real, or natural than another.
A male midwife in the U.K. started a firestorm of protest when he said that pain is an important part of childbirth and women should not be avoiding it. Nice for him, as he could only ever be a catcher and never a pitcher. But nonetheless, his point that pain can be managed in other ways is a fair one, but incredible midwives, birthing pools and a supportive village are not an option for every woman. His judgment that women who do not have epidurals are better mothers is offensive.
A lot of my friends went drug-free by choice and they say they were also seeking a sense of control by not having interventions. That was their choice and they feel good about it, and only some of them are sanctimonious about being "more natural".
Now, I am a breast-feeding, baby-wearing, granola mother too. I just think the epidural argument is a complete red herring. It is just another thing to make mothers feel that they have to live up to some ideal. Every labour is different, you are only doing yourself a disservice by making a hard and fast decision before you are in the heat of the moment. And the decision you make has absolutely no affect on what kind of mother you are. Motherhood is a long haul, and the beginning is bumpy no matter what you do. There are no medals in the labour room and there are none later on either.