Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Childbirth, Epidurals, and Feminism

A colleague I know through work told me today that she's pregnant.  This has set me off into a tizzy of thinking about birth again.  She's going to try to be natural without an epidural, so I sent her the information on hypnobabies, which is what I used, and we chatted about why on earth we would ever want to not have the pain medication that would make suffering unnecessary.

I spent a lot of time reading about childbirth before my own experience.  I knew I was going to be in a hospital (being high risk from advanced maternal age, previous losses, etc) but I also knew that I could have a natural experience even in a hospital, and I was led to a doctor in a hospital that supported doulas, being natural, and avoiding interventions.  My doctor didn't think Ina May was crazy.  He encouraged me to have a doula, and even went over to her and thanked her when it was all over.

I've been thinking about epidurals, and why so many people have them.  It seems like it's just a given, that you'll have an epidural when you have birth now.  A friend of mine said that an epidural was modern medicine's gift to women.  She saw it as a feminist issue in that women finally didn't need to feel pain to give birth.

Yeah, but...

I never wanted an epidural.  I never gave it much thought either way, but in the same way that I don't give much thought to breathing, I didn't give much thought to having a natural birth experience.  For me it was about being in the moment.  Being present for the most miraculous thing that I would ever experience.  Experiencing the pain and working through it.

I heard a midwife talk once about epidurals, and she said that there are so few times we ever get in our lives to experience pushing ourselves to the very edge of what we think is possible, and working through it.  Whenever we do that (ie in life-threatening situations, or even something like running a marathon) we become so much stronger by pushing through our boundaries.  Having an epidural takes those boundaries away; it makes us not need to push ourselves as much, and consequently we lose the confidence that comes from going somewhere deep and primal in ourselves, finding strength we didn't know we had, and literally pushing through it.

When I was in second stage labor and pushing for six hours, I had to call on reserves of energy and strength that I didn't know I had in me.  If you had asked me the day before whether I could handle the pain of having a baby stuck behind my pubic bone for that amount of time, feeling horrible pain every two minutes that lasted for 90 seconds, I would have said No Effing Way.  There's no way.  I fainted getting my eyebrows waxed, for pete's sake.  When I got my nose pierced it was like major surgery.  Sign me up for an emergency C-Section at that point.  No way.  I'm all about med-free childbirth, but there are limits...

And yet, I did that.  I had some Nubain that lasted about half an hour.  And at the very end I had a saddle block for the forceps.  I had meds for about 2 hours in my 25 hour labor.  And I was in some pretty awful pain.  The kind of pain where, when I had my 30 second rest in between contractions and they tried to give me water to drink, I wondered how on earth they thought I had the energy to take a sip of water through a straw.

Just thinking about it now makes me queasy.

But I did it.  I made it through that.

And I needed to make it through that, and show myself that I could.  Things are hard right now.  Having an infant is hard freaking work.  I'm tired.  Screw that, I'm exhausted.  I spend most of my waking hours wishing I was asleep.  But I know I can get through it.  Because I already got through something so much harder.  It's almost like you need that initiation to give you strength to make it through the rest.

There are smaller examples - like my yoga class, which is 75 minutes.  After 25 minutes, I want to quit.  I'm sweating and breathing heavy and my feet hurt and my legs hurt, and the whole thing seems like an awful idea.  But fuck, I made it through 25 hours of childbirth without an epidural!  I can make it through a tree pose.

There are lots of other feminist arguments.  Like having an epidural robs you of that moment when you get to feel a new life coming out of you.  That natural childbirth is unpredictable and messy and scary, and requires constant care, and that when we finally get to experience the power of our bodies, it's frightening; anesthetizing that makes it all easy and clean, but it also keeps us from feeling that power.

I suppose I'm turning into a crunchy granola person, but I'm not a fan of someone anesthetizing my power away, even if it means that it hurts me more in the short term.

So I'm happy that my friend is checking out her options for a natural childbirth.  I've recommended my doula to her.  I hope she can do it.  I registered for a 10k the other day, and one of the questions was asking what my proudest accomplishment was.  I didn't even have to think about it.  It used to be moving by myself to another country.  That took some guts and overcoming fear.  Now I confidently wrote, "giving birth to my daughter without an epidural" and I think it will take a lot to top that.

1 comment:

Liz said...

I wish I could "like" this post. :D