What a twisted view of avoiding pain
In preparation for the upcoming birth of my son (and in healing from my previous experience), I’ve been doing a lot of research into natural birth. Currently I’m reading Ina May Gaskin’s book “Guide to Childbirth”, and my next read will be on the Bradley Method. While reading these books, and doing research online, I’ve realized that we have quite a twisted view of the pain of childbirth and what we’re willing to sacrifice and risk to avoid the pains of labor.
Everyone knows about the “curse of Eve” in which “through pain women will bring our children into the world”. For millennia, women have been truly laboring through birth, struggling through contractions and having to find ways to naturally deal with the pressure and pain. And some women died in this process. But we have survived, and there are many positives that came from these struggles. The pain releases hormones that help the mother to bond with her baby, and helps her milk to start so that she can feed her child. And the joy of seeing her child, and the pride in the work her body did in forming, growing, protecting and birthing her baby!
Has anyone noticed how women (at least used to) always say “yes, childbirth hurts, but you’ll forget all about the pain once you hold your baby?” It used to be true! (Well, in most cases at least). With a healthy understanding of what labor will bring and preparation for labor, the pain can be totally manageable, even tolerable. But we in Western culture, specifically in the US have totally lost perspective. We’re so afraid of the pain that we make it worse. By using painkillers, we not only slow our labor but we add risks. By using interventions to speed labor, we add more risks and future pain! What really jumped out at me while reading Ina May’s book is that during natural labor, yes there is pain, but it is all productive and working toward something, and ends once you have delivered your baby! And the hormonal release of endorphins causes you to forget the pain and to bond with your baby.
But we’ve really cheapened all this. Pregnancy and childbirth is reduced to a medical condition to be treated instead of a natural and beautiful process to be aided. We are so afraid of the pain DURING labor that we trade it all for pain AFTER. We’re numb during labor, so we can’t feel what to do to help our body birth our baby. That also means we can’t be mobile and have gravity’s assistance. We’re lucky if we can feel the urge to push, let alone do anything productive. Not only do epidurals have the risk of temporary or permanent paralysis, but they also have the risk of future back pain in the mother. Then add the increase in other interventions: pitocin which makes the contractions stronger, yet not as productive. If you are lucky enough to have a vaginal delivery, your risk of episiotomy and tearing increases…hello stitches and future pain. Or, because your baby is feeling the stress of these unnatural contractions or because you’re not mobile and gravity isn’t helping, your chance of c-section goes way up. And even with all these consequences, the US has the worst maternal and infant mortality rates in the developed world!
And this is the part that really bothers me as someone who’s had 2 c-sections (and knows several women with horrible side effects). C-sections are touted as this great medical advancement that lets you safely have your baby and there’s no pain during it. Tell that to a friend whose epidural didn’t take and she felt EVERYTHING. Since it was an emergency and they’d already started, they couldn’t stop to help her. Tell that to another friend who is now suffering from fibromyalgia which is linked to her c-section. Tell that to me and every other woman who is prescribed painkillers to help with the pain of healing from major abdominal surgery. And it’s harder to get around, you can’t eat right away, you can’t get out of bed on your own for hours if not days to care for your new baby. There’s high risk of infection, especially in repeat c-sections. And I could go on with all the increases in maternal death with repeat c-section, decreases in fertility, risk in future pregnancies, etc.
We’ve taken on all this to avoid pain? That at best lasts for a few hours, or worst case may last a few days? Medical science is wonderful and saves lives, but why are women in the US at higher risk for death and side effects than the rest of the women of the world?
What if we did what women have done for millennia and still do all over the world? We prepare. We relax. We find ways to deal with the discomfort instead of masking it and adding more risk. We find a care provider that will come along side us to monitor, observe and aid our labor instead of managing and controlling it. We find experienced women and close friends to help us relax and encourage us. We pray, we talk, we laugh, and we marvel in this beautiful process that our bodies were wonderfully created for. Ina May Gaskin has a quote I loved in her book in response to the medical profession’s reasoning of “small pelvis, big baby, failure to progress” as the reason why women need assistance in labor: “Your body is not a lemon. You are not a machine. The creator is not a careless mechanic.” This goes right along with Psalm 139:14 which says: “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” Instead of rejoicing in the way God made us and marveling in the way we are used to further God’s creation, we fear the pain of the curse and therefore make it true! Instead of laboring through the “greatly multiplied pain in childbirth”, which means there was always going to be some pressure or discomfort, we move all the pain to afterward. And it lasts longer. And has lasting consequences.
I’ve talked in previous posts about my sadness in the decisions I allowed myself to be talked into with my previous deliveries and the difficulties I had afterward. I never even realized until reading further about the trade-offs what I added to myself. And while I’ll never know how things could have been different, I can remember clearly the pain and discomfort of healing from surgery. And even with the scheduled and supposedly easy second c-section, I was still on strong painkillers for 3 days and mild OTC ones for over a week (and that was half of the time from my first). I thought, “wow, this was not bad at all!” I had pain for WEEKS! I know friends who have had pain for YEARS!
But what if my pain was completely over after I held my baby for the first time? What if I wasn’t carrying extra risk for future complications? And what if something seriously wrong would have happened? These are not things that women are presented with, all they think about is avoiding the pain of childbirth, avoiding Eve’s curse.
Women have been lied to, I’ve been lied to. And the sad thing, is it’s not maliciously or intentionally. But there’s no financial gain in avoiding medication (except to us and our families), so alternative techniques may never be encouraged by the medical community. And there will never be true research in the difference in labor and delivery between modern medicine and natural birth because there’s no money to do it, so it’s all reduced to anecdote. Doctors will not be trained in this, they have to search and find it on their own. Until women research and stand together, more doctors wake up, and other methods are encouraged and embraced, it will continue. We will continue to be pressured and degraded for wanting something “different and not normal”, and we, our friends, and family will continue to suffer consequences from the lack of information and the push of unnecessary interventions.