The False Heroes of Childbirth: Women Who Don’t Get Epidurals?

I'm all about the epidural, and I'm all against women who brag about drug-free childbirth

It’s relatively easy for me to write about drugs vs. no drugs during childbirth because I have no choice but to undergo a scheduled c-section at the end of the summer. And no one will perform a c-section without drugs. I’m actually thrilled in general to be left out of the discussion of natural childbirth vs. an epidural because I find such conversations to be — for lack of a better word — self-indulgent (except, you know, when I talk about it).

It seems to me that more often than not when talking about childbirth, women who forgo drugs are hailed as heroes, while women who opt for them are whispered about as being weaker, or as not understanding or appreciating or reveling in the experience enough. And frankly, I’m over it.

I always knew I would opt for an epidural when my first daughter was born. For one thing, I don’t handle pain well (and I’m OK with that). Second, I knew from the start that the day I gave birth had the potential to be the most special one of my life. I had no desire to have any pain associated with bringing my little girl into the world. I wanted sunshine, smiles and a little bundle of love in my arms. I never craved a merit badge for enduring [fill in the blank] hours of labor with nothing more than some good breathing techniques, ice chips and lots of massages and emotional support from my husband.

But what I found along the way were judgments for my decision. Whether it was people telling me the recovery was easier when no drugs were involved or the experience of no drugs left them with a more crystal clear or glorious or beautiful or spiritual experience (although I’m not sure how they knew that if they had never taken drugs during childbirth), it all seemed to be terribly condemnatory.

After all, the goal of childbirth — to me, at least — was not literally birthing the child, but getting the baby out as efficiently and safely as possible. My pregnancy I enjoyed as much as I could; childbirth seemed like it was something that had to be necessarily endured.  The point was for it to be over with as quickly as possible. Besides, I didn’t see a reason to wear myself out from avoidable pain if it likely meant I couldn’t be perky and alert to greet my baby afterward.

As I wrote last week, the instructor in my birthing class barely mentioned there were other options beyond natural childbirth (she also failed to mention what happens, exactly, when they administer an epidural, and for that I am actually grateful; I would have had nightmares in advance if I really knew what it entailed). I had plenty of friends who proudly (and some who sheepishly or regretfully) told their drug-free stories. None of their tales appealed to me and I never felt like a bad mom or less of a woman for knowing I would opt for a pain-free experience (even though it still wasn’t entirely pain-free).

But I sure got sick of hearing those stories of women who patted themselves and each other on the back for going au naturale. To each her own, and I don’t think one woman is braver than another. Besides, unless you can say you’ve never taken a Tylenol or smoked a joint in your life, I’m not sure why this is the moment you choose to Just Say No.

You wouldn’t applaud someone for having brain surgery without some kind of numbing agent. I’m not sure why a woman does it while pushing the equivalent of a medium-sized watermelon out of a coin-sized slot. While I respect every woman’s decision, to go drug-free during childbirth actually sounds a little crazy to me (just as, yes, I’m sure others think women who opt for meds are also crazy for choosing what some say results in a longer recovery, or various research suggests is harmful to the baby). It almost reminds me of those women who put so much energy and focus on their wedding and don’t give much thought to the actual marriage. Birth should be the easy part compared to what comes after; why make it harder or more complicated than it has to be?

Besides, it wasn’t so long ago that there was no such thing as drugs during childbirth, and most women in history are not applauded for experiencing childbirth drug-free. After all, isn’t it all just about the baby? When did it become about the moms?

Do you think there’s an us vs. them mentality when it comes to natural childbirth and epidurals?

Follow Meredith Carroll on Twitter @MCCarroll.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Related links on Babble:

Real Birthing Stories: A roundup of Babble’s best birth stories

• 12 Things to Know About an Epidural

10 Facts About Your Pelvic Floor: What you should know before giving birth

Article Posted 6 years Ago

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