Sunday, 25 September 2011

No pain = lots of gain, or why I chose an epidural

I didn't really feel any contractions. My waters broke without any and, due to the infection risk, 24 hours later our baby was induced. As I was confined to the bed anyway, which is considered one of the main disadvantages of an epidural, my indecision over whether or not to have one disappeared and I decided to take the drugs. Don't worry - we had our fair share of pain and issues that night and subsequent nights, not least because my placenta refused to budge, but contractions were not one of them. 

I don't buy into the idea of pain as a positive force. I wouldn't have my wisdom tooth extracted without pain relief or my heart bypassed or any other operation without anaesthetic, so why would I for childbirth? But the pain of childbirth, unlike the pain of toothache, is so deeply embedded in our culture (Damn you, Eve) as something that women should go through, somehow I feel as if I cheated a little. 

Isn't that ridiculous? I took a positive decision to make the most of modern medicine, to save my energy for when the baby arrived, to dull the pain that many women describe as making them feel they might die, and I don't think well done me, what a great decision, but I think I cheated. How deep misogyny runs huh, even amongst women, even against ourselves. 


  1. It's it ok to admit I enjoyed giving birth? Not that I'd want to do it every weekend, but in an I-climbed-a-mountain-and-woah-what-a-rush way.

    It's easily been one of the most exciting empowering things I've done (which may not be saying much). Of course, I was lucky to have dull standard births, and of course medical help should be available for anyone who wants it. But should it be encouraged? Interesting question.

    Now if they could come up with something that would skip the 9 months of vomiting of pregnancy, that I could go for.

  2. I had an epidural with my first and then ended up with an emergency C-section so it was actually handy to have it in all ready. Number 2 went so quickly that I couldn't have anything and I ended up so out of it on the gas and air that I can't remember most of it. If we ever had a third, on balance I think I'd prefer to have the option of an epidural so that I can stay a bit more in control of what's going on.

  3. It's all tangled up with the concept of what's 'natural' and 'unnatural', which so often becomes a metaphorical stick to rap women over the head with. Or, if you want to get Foucauldian, it's all to do with discursive regimes of power. Your post reminded me of this video rant by a Mommy-blogger:

  4. The entire birth myth is so aggravating, not least because it sets up so many false opposites and straw men that it is hard to work out who, if anyone, is allowed to feel they have 'achieved'. I met someone once who felt, as she had laboured easily, she was unable to talk about it, which is a shame. Yet I have also been incredibly hurt in conversations where people have spoken about how 'brave' they were in labour without pain relief as if, precisely, their labour could or should be compared to anyone else's and they should come out on top in that comparison. It is a viper's nest created by I don't know what.

    I have done both, with and without pain relief. I think my epidural was helpful, as I was insane and in a dreadful state. I think I would have lost my mind (even more) if I hadn't had it. My issue more is with the way women are treated during and before labour which I think can contribute just as much to horrific outcomes as information isn't always clearly given and if you are unkind to a labouring woman I think that is just as likely as other factors (drugs, position of mother, position as baby) to contribute to panic and trauma which in turn can also cause horrific complications.

  5. Good post, and basically it's called choice!

    Something that I won't really have when I give birth in 6 weeks time in Spain. It will be epidural or nothing!

    Like you I will be fixed to a bed anyway as it's routine to hook you up to baby heart monitors and blood pressure monitors for the entire time, and no gas or air is available so I may as well take the pain relief.

    I don't understand why it has to be a competition, I suffered plenty of pain afterwards with my first birth, thanks to the episiotomy and subsequent stitches so I hadly got off scott free!

  6. I had an epidural from about 2 cm right through to the end of the EMCS a day later.

    I felt no guilt about having an epidural, basically because I wouldn't have a tooth out without pain relief.

    I am extremely good at tolerating pain (broke my back a couple of years ago and coped) but my issue was that it is best to be relaxed. I was relaxed and even slept through part of my labour. It was a nice experience.

    I then had a cesarean and they just had to top up the epidural for that.

    In all it was a great experience. People have commented on how birth without an epidural is, and how a cesarean is a cop out. I ignore them. I am happy with my birth.

    Then I went and spent a few days in hell. Otherwise known as the maternity ward.

  7. I think this post is very interesting. I also had an epidural and remember saying no to it for a long time during labour because i didn't want to be 'that woman'. I felt like I was failing by having it. Even with the epi the birth was massively traumatic and because of that and the post traumatic stress my partner suffers from it, this time round we are trying hypnobirthing and that brings me to my main point, the misogyny of it all. The hypnobirthing book I'm reading is fascinating and explains how birth used to be something natural that was celebrated and is now something medical that is feared. I can't tell you it all here but it has a lot to do with men suppressing women and denying them support which in itself led to trauma and it continues from there. I am still not sure if I will birth drug free but it has certainly been enlightening reading the history.