In the past couple of years, following the births of my two daughters, I became passionate about natural birth. The credit for this, like for many other things, goes to my dear husband who first prompted me to research the little known risks and side effects of popular pain relief methods (epidural) and birth interventions (the giving of pitocin to induce or augment labor and artificial breaking of waters to name only two).
This past weekend, I was irritated to no end by a one-sided and biased article written by a well-known Israeli anesthesiologist. The article was titled “Pain is Pointless” (translation mine), and promotes the use of epidural during birth. I won’t say names but it makes no difference – the following attitude is common to pretty much all doctors and even nurses on the L&D staff.
“We see birth as a natural and positive process…”
… So far so good…
“… and therefore it is needed to limit its unpleasant parts and allow the laboring women and those surrounding her to enjoy the beautiful side of birth.”
(Translation: the L&D staff are not supposed to deal with vocal, demanding, unsedated laboring women. The beautiful side of a birth with an epidural is peace and quiet in the corridors. Surely you don’t want to deprive the doctors and nurses of that?)
And yes, birthing is so natural and positive that you couldn’t be possibly thinking about doing it without pain relief!
“… Is the pain dangerous?... The answer to this isn’t simple. The harsh pain is accompanied by physiological changes in the woman’s body, and sometimes these changes can negatively affect the fetus.”
Physiological is the key word here. Why would a normal muscular and hormonal reaction of labor negatively affect the baby, when it is perfectly designed to get the baby out? The estimated doctor fails to explain.
Pain caused by labor contractions, which the doctor so aptly compares in the beginning of his article to pain caused by inflammation, injury or surgery, which can and should be treated to alleviate suffering, differs from other kinds of pain by the fact that it has a purpose. Unlike what the headline implies, it is not pointless. Remaining in full consciousness of her body helps the woman know what is going on, which stage the labor is in, and instinctively assume positions that help the natural process of birth.
“… we should also take in account the psychological damage the pain might cause the laboring woman. The effect of acute, prolonged pain on the laboring woman’s mood is added to the unstable psychological state of many women in labor.”
Unstable and dangerous, and must be taken under full medical control – that is how many doctors see the laboring woman, and that, in my opinion, is a great pity. The psychological state of the laboring woman is not unstable. It is sensitive. It is altered. It is on a different level of conscience. All of this is part of the natural hormonal process aimed at helping the woman birth, both physiologically and psychologically.
“Today there are various forms of epidural anesthesia, including one that allows the laboring woman to get off the bed and walk around.”
(We don’t offer this in our hospital but why bother with details?..)
“Epidural anesthesia does not cause harm to the mother or baby, but improves the condition of both.”
How exactly epidural helps the baby isn’t explained, and neither are the very real possible side-effects of it. Now, I know some women choose to have an epidural during birth. It is entirely up to the mother – but what about offering informed choice? Are you afraid you’ll be out of job if women hear about the real risks of what you are promoting? Sure, nobody usually dies because of an epidural, but the risks are there – prolonged labor, increased risk of c-section, prolonged back pains, more difficult recovery and damage to the pelvic floor muscles from badly controlled pushing to name only a few.
The esteemed doctor also states that epidural allows to smoothly make the transition from “natural birth” (I love how doctors use that term for every birth that isn’t a C-section, even if there are a million interventions and a needle stuck up the immobilized woman’s spine!) to C-section – without bothering to note that epidurals raise the risk of C-sections, as has been confirmed by various studies.
The article implies that either you have an epidural during labor, or you suffer uncontrollably – without mentioning that there are safe and natural methods to get through contractions while making pain bearable, including very simple things such as hot water (which you ran out of last time I was having a baby in your hospital, but never mind) and the change of positions.
I have been blamed several times for “hating” doctors following my posts on natural birth. Nothing could be further from the truth. Doctors do holy work and save lives every day – including anesthesiologists whose skills are needed during a surgery. But I think medical schools fail to educate doctors to view birth in the right way – not as a medical emergency, but as a truly normal, natural process which happens on its own, without the need for an anesthesiologist.