According to a report published in BMJ Open, teaching women complementary medicine techniques in birthing classes can significantly reduce epidural use and caesarean sections.
The trial, conducted at Western Sydney University, found that teaching pregnant women acupressure, visualisation and relaxation, breathing, massage, yoga techniques and partner support decreased the epidural rate by 65 per cent and the caesarean rate by 44 per cent.
It’s just like all those programs and the mountain of peer-reviewed research to replace pain medication with visualisation exercises and foot massage during a root canal… wait, what?
Or all that literature encouraging men to breathe through their vasectomies instead of taking the “easy way out” with anaesthetic. Oh yeah, that doesn’t happen either.
In fact, we’re so concerned about preventing men’s pain that they’re even offered a general anaesthetic for a vasectomy if the two-second sting from the snip is too much to bear.
Hell, I even get anaesthetic when I get moles removed. It’s so much a matter of course, my doctor doesn’t even discuss it with me. In fact, I imagine she would consider the reduction of pain during a medical procedure to be a core part of her job.
But with childbirth we encourage women to endure hours, sometimes even days, of excruciating pain even though it could be prevented with medical intervention.
Lead author of the study Dr Kate Levett of WSU’s National Institute of Complementary Medicine says that it’s all about giving women options.
“Our method was effective because we approached birth education in a different way. We gave women options,” Dr Levett told The Sydney Morning Herald.
But when they’re celebrating the reduction in epidurals and C-sections, then we have to question what sort of “options” women are really presented with. Essentially, there is the Correct Option of a no-intervention vaginal birth, and then there’s the back-up plan for the women who can’t hack it.
Anything other than a “natural” birth is so NOT AN ACCEPTABLE OPTION that the NSW government even created hospital targets for vaginal births, thereby making it blatantly clear that childbirth is far more about bureaucratic Key Performance Indicators than patient choice.
The midwife who led my birthing class told me about research showing that sheep that have epidurals don’t bond with their lambs – as if the experience of livestock was somehow related to me. Seven years later, I can confirm that despite my epidural I did bond with my daughter. And she turned out not to be a lamb, either.
Culturally, we’re obsessed with women suffering as much as possible during childbirth. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve been asked if I had an epidural. Nobody has ever asked me about pain relief for any other medical procedure.
You might say that childbirth is different because it’s not a medical procedure. There’s that whole movement against the medicalisation of birth. Sure, fine. But when you’re in excruciating pain, requiring the assistance of medically-trained professionals and facing the very real possibility that you might die or suffer life-long injuries, you really couldn’t care less about semantics.
Passing a kidney stone technically isn’t a medical procedure either – but it causes excruciating pain, happens mostly to men, and people don’t think twice about offering up the best pain meds available. It’s unlikely anyone is going to fund research into managing kidney stone pain with yoga or partner support.
The no-epidural vaginal birth dogma is so powerful it makes women feel like they are not “real women” if they don’t – or can’t – do it. They’ve just made a person, but that still isn’t enough evidence of womanhood.
It took me months, perhaps even years, to recover from the sense of failure of not being able to have a “natural” birth like I thought I was supposed to. It was an emotional burden that I could have done without, while I was also struggling with the adjustment of becoming a new mother.
Years later, when I am far more concerned with my children than the way I birthed them, I have made peace with my birthing “failures”.
It now strikes me as absurd that I actually wanted to endure totally unnecessary pain, let alone felt disappointed and ashamed that I didn’t. But that goes to show just how much pressure women face to give birth “the right way.”
If women want to have a “natural” birth, then all the power to them. But we should all be free to make that choice without the burden of ideology and moralising.