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Epidural Please: Respecting All Choices in Childbirth

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Written by Martha Kempner for  RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the  original post.

One day last week, my five year-old and I stumbled on an episode of TLC’s A Baby Story, a half-hour documentary-style show in which viewers meet a couple on the verge of having a baby and see the delivery.  I wanted to turn the channel because I was afraid it would make her scared of childbirth as a lot of the women are visibly in pain; many cry, others scream, and, as we witnessed yesterday, some throw up (something my daughter already fears).  In fact, before I had children my husband banned the show from our house, knowing that it could have the same fear-inducing effects on me.

But Charlie insisted that she wanted to see it and I didn’t feel like watching another episode of Team Umizoomi, so we watched as a woman named Melissa had a C-section. Charlie was fascinated by the operation and asked a lot of questions about why she didn’t have to push, why the baby was bloody when it came out, and what the umbilical cord did. It seemed educational, so this morning when she asked to watch it again, I agreed.

Today’s episode focused on a woman who found out she was pregnant right before heading to Vietnam to adopt twin girls.  By the end of the episode, she and her husband would be the parents of three children under the age of one.  (Far scarier than childbirth or anything that could happen in a delivery room, if you ask me.)  She explained her “birth plan” in interviews prior to delivery, saying that she wanted to have natural childbirth (meaning no epidural) because she wanted to experience childbirth completely, including the pain.  And she certainly did; we watched as she was in labor for at least twelve hours.  Over and over she explained to the camera that it really hurt but she was determined to have a true birth experience and not to get an epidural.

Though I have total respect for this woman’s choices – including her choice to broadcast such a personal event, something I would never want to share with the world – I worried that the message to some viewers might be that those who choose to get epidurals are not experiencing childbirth fully or having a true birth experience. It’s a message that, though often subtle, I think women hear a lot, and pretty much always from other women.

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