There’s something about childbirth pain that frightens women, as if they aren’t man enough to take it. That cracks me up.
Though, I’ve given birth three times, twice naturally and once with a pain shot, a stubbed toe will make me cry. And the part about not being “man enough” is a good joke, since pretty much all women, think God made females have the babies because males couldn’t take it.
As a midwife, I’ve witness thousands of natural births and I have to say there’s something to be said for making it through labor un-medicated. It’s not just that most pain meds mess up your labor, but making it through the circle of fire is rewarding in itself, a transcendent experience. It does hurt, but with good support and a normal labor, most women can make it.
When I had my babies in the 1970s and 80s it was a big deal to take charge of our childbirth experience. The alternative was revolting. To be trussed on a metal delivery table, legs elevated in stirrups, arms spayed and tied down like Jesus, given gas whether you wanted it or not, the baby pulled out with forceps over a large episiotomy.
No bonding afterward; the baby was smacked on the butt and taken away. No father’s present, either, non-negotiable. You can see why we rebelled. Lamaze childbirth breathing wasn’t a joke then. It was the only weapon with had. “Look, Doc, we said with every breath. I can do it. I’m a woman not a child. I’m not going to scream my way through labor or kick you in the face.”
Things are little better in hospitals now, but not much. Women who opt for medicaliized childbirth are just tied down to different things…the birth bed and monitor belts or an internal fetal scalp probe, the IV needle and pole so she won’t get dehydrated, the ever handy Pitocin if her labor slows down, the epidural catheter in her back for continuous anesthesia and, subsequently, the urinary catheter because she can’t feel to pee.
Sounds almost as bad as the 70s, right? But not quite. At least the mother’s awake, the baby’s father can be involved if he wants to, family members can be present and if the woman’s lucky she’ll hold her baby before the nurses put antibiotic ointment in his or her eyes.
So, pain is a big consideration…and it’s scary if you’ve never done it before, kind of like jumping off a cliff into Lake Superior! You know it will be cold, but how cold? And will you be able to swim or will you freeze up?
I tell my patient, the most important choice she has to make, if she decides she wants a natural birth, is who will be her care provider and where she’ll have it. She needs to be in a setting and with people that make her feel relaxed, cared for and confident.
Some women feel most secure in a high-tech OB Medical Center where they have all the bells and whistles, not to mention specialists and access to a C/section in minutes. That’s where they’ll do their best. Others feel safer at home and then there are the places in between, small hospitals and birthing centers.
Some people have utter confidence in physicians. Others are scared to death of anyone in a white coat. For the later women, a midwife would be a good choice or maybe a doc along with a doula…if they can find a doctor who cares as much about normal physiologic birth as he does about getting home for supper. I shouldn’t be so sarcastic. My husband is an OB and he’s the best! A midwife doc. But you know what I mean. There’s a reason so many C/Sections happen around 5 PM.
Not everyone can get through labor without medication. There are multiple factors that are unpredictable and out of our control. The position the baby lands in, the size of the baby, the shape and the size of mother’s pelvis, how and when her labor starts, the state of the bag of water, how much sleep she’s had when the contractions start….The list goes on.
It’s like a game of cards, you do the best you can with the hand you are dealt. The important thing is a healthy baby and to feel you did your best. Then everyone is a winner.
Patricia Harman is mother to 3 grown men and wife to Thomas Harman, OB/Gyn. Patricia Harman has spent over thirty years caring for women as a midwife, first as a lay-midwife, delivering babies in cabins and on communal farms in West Virginia, and later as a nurse-midwife in teaching hospitals and in a community hospital birthing center.
Patricia Harman still lives and works with her husband, Ob/Gyn Thomas Harman, in Morgantown, West Virginia at their clinic, Partners in Women's Health Care. Though she no longer attends births, she provides care for women in early pregnancy and through-out the life span. She brings to this work the same dedication and compassion she brought to obstetrics.