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Numbed Bliss or Agonizing Pain?

My fourth essay for class, a compare and contrast essay. I made an 88 on it. 🙂

 

Numbed Bliss or Agonizing Pain?

Anyone who enjoys watching television for entertainment has likely viewed a dramatic birth scene, like the one in the movie, Nine Months. Julianne Moore’s character, Rebecca, is about to have dinner when her water suddenly breaks in the restaurant, “Honey! My water broke!” Panic then ensues; there is the rush to the hospital, in which her husband Samuel, played by Hugh Grant, is driving extremely recklessly. Rebecca is already having strong contractions, in severe pain, and stressed out. She is rushed on a gurney through the hospital, screaming in agony, and in agitation at anyone who talks to her. Samuel yells at the doctor, “Can’t you give her something for the pain??!!”

Rebecca never does get her much wanted epidural (Columbus). Granted, the scene is a mixture of drama and hilarity, but this is a reflection of our birth culture, and is fundamentally a contributing factor to our opinions and perceptions surrounding birth. However, there are more points to consider in regards to pain management for labor and birth; it is not just a simplistic choice between numbed bliss and agonizing pain.

We live in a society where it is very beneficial as consumers to investigate the options available to us. When it comes to deciding what you want during your birth, it is important to know the positives and the negatives of the choices that you have. Then, with all the information available, you can make the best choices suited for you. This is also what is known as informed consent.

Natural birth, for my purpose, is defined as birth without pain medication being used during the course of labor. There are numerous ways for women laboring without medication to gain relief from their contractions. These techniques can include massages, movement, positional changes, and being submerged in water. Simple things like dim lighting, music, focused breathing, and even prayer can be comforting (Kitzinger 189-225). Possibly the most effective comfort measure a woman can have during a natural labor is being surrounded by supportive people. A doula, which is a labor support person that is trained to help laboring women on a physical and emotional level, is a terrific addition to a woman’s support team; regardless if they are having a medicated birth or an unmedicated one.

Other than the obvious benefits of being able to avoid the risks of medication by choosing to have a natural birth, there are actually several others that don’t usually get much consideration. Pain during birth, is pain with a purpose. It tells you what you need to do to birth your baby. The sensations of labor are a guide, which promotes you to move in ways that will help your labor progress and move your baby into a more optimal position for birth (Goer 138). Women that give birth naturally are statistically more likely to have an easier recovery after birth, and are less likely to need many commonly used, risky interventions such as forceps, vacuum extraction, and cesarean section (“Promoting Pregnancy Wellness”).

The downside to natural labor is that you will feel it. All of it! For some women this negative will outweigh all others, but not every woman considers this to be a bad thing. It is important to change the context of how we think about labor pain. The experience of childbirth is hard to compare to anything else that we do in life, but it does not necessarily equate to suffering (Goer 139). It is a pain that only lasts for the duration of your labor, and culminates with the birth of your child. It comes and goes, giving you the opportunity to rest during this time. Labor does not normally begin excruciatingly painful; it progresses and builds, becoming stronger as the birth becomes more imminent, while our body supplies us with a hormonal cocktail designed specifically for helping us go through labor.

This is an image of mom laboring in water with support of her doula and son.

From Kitzinger, Shelia. The Complete Book of Pregnancy & Childbirth.

4th ed. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003. 299. Print.

Epidurals are the most commonly used form of pain medication amongst laboring women; about 76% of all births take place with the use of an epidural (Declercq, Sakala, Corry, and Applebaum). This is because they offer the promise of taking the pain of childbirth completely away. Epidurals are injected into the outer membrane of the spinal cord, where a small plastic tube is left in place, which continuously drips medication (Kitzinger 310). Epidurals have a numbing effect on women throughout their torso and pelvis, so that they do not feel their contractions, but in some cases it may cause no feeling in a woman’s entire lower half of her body.

Image from Goer, Henci. The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth.

1st ed. New York: The Berkley Publishing Group, 1999. 130. Print.

 

The majority of the time epidurals will give mothers what they most want, which is the ability to feel none of the pain, and stay alert and coherent during the birth of their child. However, in about 15% of women, epidurals will not remove all pain, at which point it can be harder for some women to cope with the pain of labor due to their inability to move (Declercq, Sakala, Corry, and Applebaum). Epidurals can be especially helpful in long, hard labors, and seem to promote dilation in labors where women are fearful, stressed out, exhausted, or may not be able to relax; these can all contribute to stalling the progression of labor.

Ironically, one of the more common risks of epidural use is the slowing of labor, which generally happens when an epidural is given too early in labor, before good contraction patterns have been established. This results in the use of a drug called Pitocin to help speed up labor (Goer 132 -34). Pitocin is a synthetic drug meant to produce effects similar to the hormone Oxytocin, which is the hormone our bodies naturally produce during labor that cause contractions. However, it does not mimic our body’s natural contractions. Pitocin contractions tend to be much stronger, longer, and closer together. This can interfere with the oxygen supply that baby receives through mom’s placenta and can cause distress in the baby (Goer 133).

 

This is an image of a mom laboring with an epidural.

From Kitzinger, Shelia. The Complete Book of Pregnancy & Childbirth.

4th ed. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003. 341. Print.

 

Monetarily, the cost of a medicated birth will cost more than a natural birth. The estimated cost of an epidural can range from $1000 and up, which includes hospital, and anesthesiologist fees (Mathews). Then, there are the potential costs of associated complications from epidurals that can make that amount still higher (Atherton, Feeg, and El-Adham). Planning for a natural birth raises the odds of saving on costs, but birth is not something that always goes as planned, so these incurred costs cannot always be avoided.

Birth is a momentous time in the lives of a family and nothing will affect you so profoundly as the birth of your children. While, how you give birth doesn’t define you as a mother, it can sometimes affect how you feel about motherhood and yourself. Traumatic birth is something that is very prevalent in our society, is experienced by women on both sides of the spectrum, and can put a mother lead at higher risk for postpartum mood disorders. Women that have experienced both a medicated and unmedicated birth will vary in their feelings about each.

Some women feel that their epidurals made them feel like bystanders in their birth, cut off from the experience, and lacking in control. As if their birth was something done to them, not something that they actively did themselves. Women who have birthed naturally may feel like their birth was empowering, something that they accomplished; that their birth brought them closer to their partner, and that as a mother it left them confident that they could do anything (Iorillo). Others feel more of a sense of control from their epidurals; having no painful memories associated with the experience of birthing their child, made the experience a more positive one.

The potential risks associated with epidurals that I have mentioned really only scratch the surface of what is actually a much longer list. However, for some women who do not know what to expect during labor, are unprepared for coping with labor, or that really don’t want to experience a natural labor, an epidural may be the best option for them. Women that worry about the risks related to medicated birth, and want to have a less medicalized experience would be better suited to a natural birth.

It is essential to remember that birth is as unique as the person experiencing it, and that despite what plans you may have for your birth, these may always change in the moment. It is best to be prepared for all possible paths that might be followed; an exceptional way to do this is by taking an independent childbirth class. There is nothing more inspiring than a woman’s ability to give life and love. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong way to give birth, just the best way for you.

Works Cited

Atherton, Martin J., Veronica Decarolis Feeg, and Azza Fouad El-Adham. “Race, Ethnicity, and Insurance as Determinants of Epidural Use: Discussion.” Medscape Today. Jannetti Publications, Inc, 2004. Web. 4 Feb 2012.

Columbus, Chris, dir. Nine Months. Perf. Huge Grant, and Julianne Moore . 20th Century Fox, 1995. Film.

Declercq, Eugene R., Carol Sakala, Maureen P. Corry, and Sandra Applebaum. “Listening to Mothers II.” Report of the Second National U.S. Survey of Women’s Childbearing Experiences. Childbirth Connection, 10 2006. Web. 3 Feb 2012.

. “Epidural Anesthesia.” Promoting Pregnancy Wellness. American Pregnancy Association, n.d. Web. 3 Feb 2012.

Goer, Henci. The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth. 1st ed. New York: The Berkley Publishing Group, 1999. 132 -39. Print.

Iorillo, Maria, prod. It’s My Body, My Baby, My Birth. Stormproof Filmz, 2007. DVD.

Kitzinger, Shelia. The Complete Book of Pregnancy & Childbirth. 4th ed. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003. 189-310. Print.

Mathews, Anna. “Tallying the Cost to Bring Baby Home.” The Wallstreet Journal. N.p., 2009. Web. 4 Feb 2012.

 

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