Why do so many women feel guilty for getting epidurals?

This post is unrelated to writing, but I couldn’t resist when this headline came through…”Why do so many women feel guilty for getting epidurals?” It gave no real answer regarding epidural-induced guilt, only mentioned there was a push in the UK to have women use midwives, which they credit with reducing the epidural rate from 69% to 59% over a 10-year period. Which revives the interesting argument of “natural” childbirth and the impression forced on many women that they are somehow less if they request an epidural for their delivery.

Labor is natural, so the argument goes, and the pain of labor is ordained by God (Genesis 3:16 “in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children” – so we can blame Eve). However, kidney stones, so MY argument goes, are just as natural, if not specifically mentioned in the Bible. And who would argue that someone who suffers a kidney stone should go without pain relief? What about an abscessed tooth? Or an amputated digit? Just because thousands have lost digits over the millenia, no one would argue you should grin and bear it like Adam.

I have a theory, grounded in absolutely no facts, about the modern perception of pain. In the thousands of years women had babies without analgesia, they suffered pain frequently…headaches, broken limbs, saber-tooth tiger bites…so their innate mechanisms were honed to internalize (or externalize) their pain in such a way they remained functional. Now we take Tylenol/Motrin/Advil for the slightest ache. Perhaps, my theory goes, our brains have lost the ability to ignore pain, our natural endorphin mechanism no longer kicks in.

Despite being an obstetric anesthesiologist, I marveled at the intensity of my own labor pain with baby #1. (“Marveled” may not be the right word, but let’s go with it.) Believe it or not my labor nurse, apparently unaware of my career, told me an epidural would cause a cesarean delivery. I was shocked, appalled, outraged. Well aware of the risks, and cesarean delivery is not one of them by the way, I went around Nurse Ratched and called my friendly neighborhood anesthesiologist directly.  When I received said epidural (at 8 frickin’ centimeters dilation), I realized what an incredibly wonderful thing I do for a living. Baby #2 came too fast, so I did get the full-tilt blessing of natural childbirth. And for #3? Epidural when she decided not to come out after less than an hour of labor like her impatient big brother.

And the moral from my experience both as a laboring mother, and as an obstetric anesthesiologist with twenty years’ experience? It’s YOUR delivery. Do whatever you want. Epidural, no epidural, breathing, no breathing…okay, not that last one – BREATHE!  It is my considered opinion that some women must have fewer nerve endings in their cervix/uterus. Occasionally someone will come in saying they’ve had minor back pain for hours, and are 9cm dilated. Others come in screaming “F— the birth plan, I want my epidural!” at 2cm. It is not all toughness, willpower and intestinal fortitude. And it is no one’s business what any woman chooses for her labor. Grin and bear it, say every swear word under the sun while shrieking the virtues of vasectomy to your spouse, or relax and enjoy (assuming you have an awesome, attentive anesthesia provider). Either way, you’ll have an amazing gift afterward.

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Why do so many women feel guilty for getting epidurals?

  1. sarahlevinesimon

    I can really relate to this post. When I went into labor with my oldest son, now 42 years old, I had been coached in the mecca of natural childbirth with none other than Elizabeth Bing. We came to the hospital with our bottle of champagne, lolly pops etc. No one every mentioned what could go wrong and everything did. I labored for more than 18 hours with no progress. When the fetal monitor lost his heartbeat, I was rushed into the operating room for an emergency c-section. My son has issues that might relate to oxygen deprivation–no one knows. So ladies, take that epidural if it is right for you. Learn the flip side of the greatest experience.

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