As I’m sitting here writing, an old friend of mine (like since middle school) is in labor with her first baby. I’m excited! She’s the first of my old friends to have a baby. (Obviously I have lots of “new” friends that have two or three!) I can’t wait to hear when the baby arrives, whether it’s a boy or a girl, what the name is, and all the usual stuff you learn about a new baby.
Her plan for birth has been to go to a birthing center and have a water birth with midwives. In fact, she switched to the practice of midwives at some point during her pregnancy just so she’d have this option. She’s lucky to live in an area where a hospital/birth center water birth is an option! She’s made it pretty clear what her preferences are, in regards to labor and delivery (assuming all is normal, of course).
And yet, half the comments on Facebook (where she’s been occasionally updating with her progress) have been along the lines of: “Don’t be afraid to ask for the epidural, there are no medals passed out in the delivery room.”
I’m sick of it.
Look, labor’s hard. No one’s denying that, least of all a woman who’s done it twice and knows it’s just around the corner for the third time! There are women out there who have no desire to experience it without drugs. There are circumstances in which things turn out unexpectedly and drugs help the situation or are even required (like a c-section). That’s all well and good.
But there are women out there, like me, and my friend, who do not want to use drugs! It’s hard enough to go into labor with the no-drug plan with your first baby, not knowing at all what it will be like, without everyone you meet acting like you’re some kind of martyr or you’re only doing it to be a hero or so you can say you’re better than others. It’s harder to stick to your plan when everyone’s saying, “Come on, labor’s hard, just take the drugs.”
I know everyone means well. Every woman who’s been through it feels the need to share her story and her perspective on the matter, and in some way try to “prepare” the first-timer for what’s coming. But you can’t. Her experience will be her own, whatever it is, good or bad, drugs or not. It is totally undermining to know what a woman’s plan is and then tell her the opposite!
Do women who choose, for their own reasons, to have an epidural, want to hear “Are you serious? But it’s so much better for the baby and you if you don’t!” Heck no. It’s practically forbidden to ever say this to a woman. Somehow it’s perfectly acceptable to say the opposite, though: a woman’s planning not to have the epidural and you say, “Are you serious? Do you know how much it hurts? Just take the drugs!”
The best way that you can respond to any woman, whatever her plans, is to support what she wants. If you had an epidural, whether it was planned or ended up that way, and run into a woman who wants to go drug-free, you can say, “I chose not to/wasn’t able to, but I know you can do it!” You can even offer friendly advice (that supports her plan) if you want: “It might have turned out differently if I’d taken a birthing class/been able to get out of bed/had a shorter labor/etc.” Something to give her hope that even though some women do choose differently, that she can still do it.
I just keep imagining my friend — who is in labor now (unless she’s had the baby but not updated yet) checking her text messages if she can, and seeing people saying, “Just take the drugs.” It’s her first experience with labor. It’s hard. And if people are sitting there and telling her she can’t do it…she might believe them! It takes a dedicated woman, her partner, and her entire support team to get through labor without the drugs. And it really is rude and undermining to tell her that she can’t do it.
So the next time someone tells you that she wants to go drug-free, smile, and say, “I have confidence in you. I know you can do it!” Boost her up. And if she ends up getting the drugs…tell her, “It’s okay. It’s rough. Sometimes you need them.” This okay to say only after the fact. You’re supporting her, regardless of what she chooses and what ends up happening. And no, it is never okay to say, “Just get the drugs, why bother?” beforehand and “I told you so” after!!
What do you think? Should we support women however they wish to labor?
Think of it as a maternity Miss Manners: Things you should NEVER say to a pregnant woman!