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The guilt factory

Hooray. Once again women get given a whole nother thing to feel guilty about in the realm of motherhood. Epidurals! This article in on News.com reveals that a male midwife has suggested that the pain of childhood is a “rite of passage” and that it should therefore be put up with – epidurals out! Yoga (yeah, right) in.

Now, I am no poster child for the epidural. My first labour was extraordinarily painful – all in the back – and as a result, somewhere in the middle of the afternoon, I called for the epidural. It didn’t work. I had to lie perfectly still in between increasingly painful contractions while the anaesthetist stuck a giant needle into my back three times. Only a woman who has been through labour can understand how challenging that whole scenario is. And the pain – it didn’t go away. In the end I got a local anaesthetic which took the pain away for, oh, a whole ten minutes. Over the course of an hour the pain got stronger and stronger til it was back where it started, and then we got onto the really fun part with pudendal local anaesthetic to allow for vacuum delivery…and OK, I’ll spare you further details. But the worst part of the epidural was that, even though it didn’t work, I suffered the side effects: the needle pierced my spinal column, which lead to the drainage of spinal fluid and for three days I suffered the massive pain of an epidural headache – the skull sitting straight on top of the veterbrae which meant I couldn’t sit up or stand up without excruciating pain – I learnt how to breast feed lying down – until I had a “blood patch” procedure three days later which fixed it all up. Strangely, with my second birth, I decided to avoid the epidural….and with the third I just didn’t have time.

So, I am not a straight out just-have-the-epidural person. I also do understand that epidurals can often lead to further medical interventions, like forceps delivery and episiostomies which can increase birth dangers a little or result in additional recovery periods for mothers. However, and this is a big however, what I do believe in is the right of women to make the choice that is most appropriate for them, without feeling guilt because they are not doing the “natural” thing. Women should have access to the best range of information about their options then choose what they want, and they should not be judged for it – particularly for the decisions made in the middle of a difficult and painful labour.

The judgement bit is the bit that really irks me. As mothers and mothers-to-be women are judged on everything – what they eat, what they drink, how they dress the baby, how old they are, whether they breastfeed, what they name the baby, whether they work or whether they stay at home, how they discipline the child, whether they use a dummy…..the list is endless. No wonder some women figure they are better off out of that jungle. So fantastic to be judged for your choice of pain relief as well.

I also find this idea that pain is natural and our society has changed to make it unacceptable stupid. Do we apply this to other forms of pain relief? Not wearing shoes is natural too…. Flying isn’t very natural for humans, neither is communicating over the internet. So, I’m sorry if I’m a little slow but, why is it imperative that women go through labour using nothing but what nature provided, while we don’t apply that rule elsewhere?

OK, I have just had a debate with my partner about my emphasis on the word male up the top there. He makes the point that saying that one cannot comment on chidlbirth because one is male perpetuates gender binaries which say one biological sex is allowed to comment on certain things while others cannot and is therefore anti-feminist. I argue in return that his gender matters because he is in the patriarchal tradition of men dictating to women what they can and can’t do with their bodies. Sometimes it is annoying living with a feminist sociologist who reads more feminist theory and blogs than I do because he has more time.

And besides psssssht to that – Dr Walsh is never going to have to go through childbirth so he really isn’t qualified to comment!

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3 responses to “The guilt factory

  1. I was pretty pissed off by that article too. My wife had epidurals for both children and to suggest that she doesn’t love them as much as a result or that her children don’t love her as much as a result is an insult. I’ve heard some mothers say that there is a rush of adrenaline or something after you give birth naturally that compares to nothing else. Well that sounds wonderful but show me evidence that it has anything to do with how much you love your baby or whether there is less post-natal depression. I didn’t see any evidence mentioned in that article.

    • godardsletterboxes ⋅

      Must say that I have not experienced the mystical rush at all – not even with the third, completely intervention free birth. Sounds like one of those things people tell you to help you get through it!

  2. Rachel ⋅

    I’m not likely to ever have children, but I feel I can comment 🙂

    I’d have thought that more relevant than this male midwife’s gender is just the judgment being made, essential about motherhood, within such a patriarchical framework, with all the loaded ‘motherhood’ constructs coming into play. Women midwives can make statements which are just as problematic.

    For example, it’s fine to employ pain relief for cancer (which is a natural experience, if not one that’s very good for you) but not for childbirth? It’s not okay to have a C-section, but we don’t want women dying from childbirth. And so on…. The whole issue of medicalising childbirth, and the way we construct motherhood, is pretty fraught….

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