I have had two unmedicated child births (except for antibiotics in one, no other meds) and I think I was lucky in that they were short (6 hrs labor, 2 hours pushing the first time and just under 3 hours TOTAL the second time) and I can't say that I ever felt like I was going to die as other women I know have said of their experience. In any case I saw a link to this article and found it interesting: http://mobile.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_examine... -- it is someone's summary of her research findings so I was curious what all of you thought or if you had other data.
I think that "agony" or "feeling like you're going to die" in childbirth is often directly related to your expectations or fears. If you believe that birth is going to be the worst thing you've ever experienced, it will be. (I can say from experience that my kidney stones were entirely more painful than my natural births.)
Birth is NOT about suffering and any woman is truly suffering, by all means, should feel justified in choosing pain relief. However...I never experienced suffering or agony and I think that was because I wasn't afraid. I was able to just relax, let go, and let my body do the important work I knew it needed to do.
I think that stating that many women can still lift their legs, wiggle their toes and even walk with an epidural is kind of misleading. No one knows how an epidural is going to affect them. I had an epidural for my 1998 and 2000 births and I can tell you right now, there was absolutely no ability to wiggle my toes or wiggle *anything* below my breastbone. You don't know how you will respond to the medication or what side effects you will experience. (Pain relief in only one area...no pain relief at all...uncontrollable shaking, vomiting, low blood pressure, fetal distress, etc.) Why even go there if you can avoid it?
If this author's article is in fact based on research, then I would be interested in reading some of the studies and their origins (there's no bibliography and only a few of the studies are named).
1. The author begins the article by emphasizing how small the vagina is and how big baby is...how are women to get that baby out, she asks? The problem here is that the female vulva (not "vagina") is perfectly capable of opening up to the size of grapefruit, allowing baby to pass through. The author sets the stage of her article by suggesting that the female anatomy is not capable of performing the task of birth.
2. The author makes it sound as if those who have natural birth are only able to do so because their babies are small and birth occurs in an optimal way, and that if they were to have more difficult births then they would opt for the epidural. The reality is that some women who have natural birth also endure long, *painful* labors; give birth to large babies; have their babies descend in posterior positions, etc., and yet they do not opt for the epidural.
3. The author indicates that women with "small pelvises" may be the ones to request the epidural---a conclusion that raises a ton of red flags since I learned at the San Francisco hospital where I birthed my first son that 80-90% of first time moms take the epidural. Does this indicate that so many women have small pelvises? In the reading I did prior to birthing my first child, I learned that having a small pelvis is a very rare condition. I thought it was fairly common knowledge these days that most women have adequate pelvises when it comes to birthing babies.
4. The author is very critical of those who see a connection between epidurals and c-sections. What we do know is that the epidural shuts down nerve functions of the body, and since birth is a physiological process involving those same nerves, it seems logical that loss of sensation and mobility could lead to an increased difficulty in pushing baby out and ultimately to a c-section. The studies she mentions do not amply get into the issue of loss of sensation/mobility to sway me on my feelings that epidurals are connected to C-section.
5. The breastfeeding study is also flawed in that the women recruited for the study had previously breastfed successfully. If the study is sound, then why not first recruit women who had never breastfed before (and then had the epidural and gone on to breastfeed without issue)?
These are just my thoughts. Anecdotally speaking, my first labor was very long with extremely strong sensations, and my baby descended in the posterior position at 9 lb 12 oz. I am not a big woman and yet I birthed him naturally and with no medical interventions. Please see my blog on Visualizing Birth at: http://visualizingbirth.org/
The author of that article did an extremely sloppy job of trolling through the research. I've read a stack yeh high on this subject, and she leaves out many important and relevant studies. I get so annoyed reading these pieces when the authors pick a few select new studies and ignore the mounds of research that came before. This article was written specifically to defend her own viewpoint - the author was biased from the start, wanting to support her own choices, despite claiming that she wanted to find out the 'real deal' with all these.
She also completely sidestepped the issue of the ways in which women can become bed-bound with an epidural, making it seem as if they all had great mobility, when we know that becoming bed-bound etc can cause a host of problems during delivery.
(And she's dreaming if she thinks epidural use only increases delivery time by fifteen minutes!). Moreover, how useful is a study that only uses a couple to a few hundred subjects? Some of the data that relies on test groups that small should be seriously questioned. It's often only when you get into thousands of people being tested in a certain way that you get to the truth of whether there's an established trend with a certain type of care.
Mounds of research and she only skims a few studies? Unfortunate. If someone's going to write on this topic, at least give a thorough review of the research!!! Moreover, I think this issue is important enough that only people thoroughly immersed in this field and knowledgeable of all the research should discuss it - why risk misleading thousands of women?!?
Since typically we are conditioned to view pain as a negative sensation (something must be wrong!) then it is understandable that many women are fearful of the pain associated with labor and birth. I strongly believe in the value of encouraging women to become educated relative to the labor and birth process, of encouraging women to trust in the wisdom of their bodies, and of encouraging women to consider shifting from a place of fear to one acceptance relative to the pain of labor and birth.
I too take issue with those who pick and choose only those studies which support their point of view as well as referring to studies whose results have not been replicated by other researchers.
To suggest that women with small babies and large pelvises are the most likely candidates for unmedicated, minimal intervention childbirth is laughable. I am about 5 feet tall and a little over 100 pounds and delivered all three of my babies without medication including my son who weighed 9 lb