Birth choices and their price

Image result for woman in labor

I’m now entering my last month of pregnancy, and while I’ve done this three times already, about the only things I can be pretty sure of are – labor is going to hurt, and I’ll have a baby in the end. Otherwise, it’s still plunging deep into the vast ocean of the unknown, every single time. You have no way to predict how it’s going to go.

I’m terrified of giving birth. It’s physically rigorous, it’s traumatic, and it reduces me to a semi-conscious, barely articulate being that has very little in common with my usual rational self. Also, no matter how many times I do it, I will never be able to comprehend how on earth a baby can be squeezed out of there. When I think that I’ve done it and was up and about a mere couple of hours later, it’s  a miracle.

I won’t lie, I’ve been considering an epidural – or even an elective C-section – to help with pain and the extreme anxiety I experience each time, and to avoid finding myself in that unpredictable out-of-control place. But my fear of needles and surgical procedures is even greater than of giving birth, and it doesn’t seem this fear is so very irrational.

What makes me even more suspicious is that the medical staff always, without fail, portrays epidurals as something 99.9999% safe and effective, with only a minuscule portion of side effects. The anecdotal evidence of countless birth stories (because, remember, I live in a society where everyone has a lot of babies all the time) paints a different picture. It’s true that serious complications from epidurals are rare, but I have heard a fair share of stories of inadequate pain relief (with limited capability to move and deal with the pain in different ways), headaches and backaches that have lasted any time from a few days to a few weeks, prolonged and ill-controlled pushing, and prolonged recovery. A friend actually told me how she opted for an epidural, and there wasn’t time to get one – they had just inserted the needle, but didn’t even give her the drip yet when the baby was born – and the placement of the needle itself had hurt the nerves of the spinal cord, leading to back pains that have lasted for 10 years (!).

Fact: the placement of the epidural is a delicate procedure performed by humans. Humans are not infallible. Things can go wrong, and it’s silly to ignore this.

Did these women go to their health care provider and complain of the ill effects? Many did, certainly. The overwhelming majority of them received the same response: “You can’t really prove this was because of the epidural.”

You know what this sounds like? Like sweeping evidence under the rug.

The truth, I believe, is that the medical establishment does not really want to look at how widespread the side effects are, because it would necessitate gearing the whole system anew. Epidurals are extremely staff-friendly. Once a laboring mother gets one, and is hooked to monitors, etc, she can basically be left alone for hours in a quiet, undemanding state, because she is relatively pain-free and comfortable. A system that provides alternative means of pain relief on a more widespread basis would have to be more active, caring, and focused on the mother. It would mean more attention from midwives, more listening to the patient’s wishes, and more accommodations in the way of turning each L&D ward into a mini-natural birth center.

Fact: while a controlled hospital environment, intermittent fetal monitoring, the presence of doctors nearby, and the availability of NICU potentially increase the safety of childbirth for mother and baby, epidurals do not. Not even doctors claim that epidurals make a birth safer, or provide better outcomes. It’s 100% about pain management and comfort.

Plus, while in Israel women don’t pay for epidurals or C-sections, it doesn’t mean that this stuff comes free. Someone funds it, and that someone is the government (which, of course, is in its turn funded by our taxes). I’ve birthed, so far, with nobody present but a midwife to catch the baby, and no fancier equipment than a birthing ball and a shower with a jet of hot water. Midwives, showers and birthing balls are a lot less expensive than anaesthesiologists, surgeons and I.V. drips, and every hospital receives a fat check for each medicated and/or surgical birth. Less women who opt for epidurals means less money for hospitals and less employment for anaesthesiologists.

Don’t get me wrong, I think epidurals should be available to every woman who requests them, without question. Labor is a hugely individual thing, and what is manageable for some is impossible agony for others. If a woman is actually going through hell, or has gone through hell in a past birth, she might well decide that the risk of longer recovery or a few weeks of migraines are worth it. Some women would probably never have more than one child if it weren’t for the possibility of medical pain relief. I think it’s despicable and unethical that in some countries, natural birth is viewed not as the mother’s choice, but as a way to save money for the government.

I’d say that if the birthing mother wants something – an epidural, a massage, whale music, candles, a doula, her mom, a yoga instructor – everyone around her should do everything to support her choice and give her what she needs, or even thinks she needs, because the psychological factor plays a huge role. It has to be the woman’s choice. But it must be an informed choice.

Advertisements

21 thoughts on “Birth choices and their price

  1. Knew a labor /delivery nurse who informed my sister and I of all the scary down side to epidurals,,,have heard countless stories of friends and relatives who had nightmare experiences with them…..and it wasn’t all minor either….went thru a Horrible birth with my youngest , with the Dr even begging me to have an epidural and no matter how bad it was there was no way I was having one. As an aside , my neighbor years ago happened to get drunk ( I know ,I know) and went into labor and delivered and said it was nearly painless AND quick. She barely made it from the bar to the hospital in time ! ha ha ha . Every birth is different and some actually aren’t too painful . My second daughter I only had about 10 labor pains , hours apart !

    Liked by 1 person

    • Every birth is hugely individual. My first was best, ironically, because it was longest and allowed me time to relax between contractions, rather than fast and furious like the next ones.

      Like

  2. I was born to a mother who had an epidural, know tonnes of women who’ve had them, no problem. Risk is involved in childbirth, period. We fetishise the “birthing experience” so much now that women in developed countries can put themselves at genuine risk in the name of authenticity or phantom fears of rare occurrences. Let each woman do what she wants, don’t valorise pain (you’re no more of a mother for pushing a child out your privates, “drug-free,” than you are giving birth via C-section or drugged to the gills), and the best of luck to you with this child.

    Also, if you’re terrified of childbirth–as I don’t blame you for being; it’s scary–it’s a pity you don’t belong to a religion that allows you to say enough’s enough.

    Like

    • 1. There’s some inherent risk in childbirth, that’s true. However, getting a needle inserted into one’s spine is a separate risk of its own. Epidurals are used not just in labor, and I’ve read about some of the risks of malpractice on websites dedicated to spine problems.

      2. I’m not sure if I have made this quite clear, but I WANTED to have this baby, and each one of my babies. Before my son, (#3) I have suffered from secondary infertility and shed rivers of tears asking for a baby. This didn’t change one iota of how scared I felt before and during his birth – OR the fact that he was worth every minute of pain!!!

      Like

  3. Speaking from first hand experience, I had an epidural with my first, even though I had planned on a natural labor. (After 17 hours of horrible labor, I gave in. It was still another 17 hours before the baby was born) Well, the anesthesiologist messed it up and I had the terrible spinal headache for over a week. My baby was born with lots of medical issues and was sent to the nicu . Because of my spinal headache, I could barely see him. It was a terrible time as my sons diagnosis was a shock. The issues I had with a bad epidural just made a difficult situation that much worse.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Samantha, I’m so sorry for your experience. It’s heart-wrenching to be unable to take care of one’s baby because of a difficult recovery. I would have probably had chosen an epidural as well in your place, but the fact that epidurals are sometimes necessary doesn’t make them risk free. It’s not fear-mongering to talk of the possible risks.

      Like

  4. I just read this- do you know anything about it?
    Anyone here use a tens machine to help during labour? Did you find it helped you? Any tips please with using it
    Back to top Hug Post Like Post

    Blessing1

    Copper Member
    Copper Member

    Joined: Jul 19 2011
    Posts: 1909

    View user’s profile Send private message Reply with quote Report post

    New post Today at 12:13 am
    What is a tens machine? What’s it’s purpose?
    Back to top Hug Post Like Post

    tsc3

    Senior Member
    Senior Member

    Joined: Dec 22 2016
    Posts: 170

    View user’s profile Send private message Reply with quote Report post

    New post Today at 12:22 am
    Yes. It saved me from getting an epidural by my first birth. Had it on for hours except while in the shower.
    It is a small machine box thing that has 2 wires that are sticky coming out of it. U stick the ends of the wires to ur lower back and use the machine to control the strength of the pulses it sends. I made it stronger during a contraction.
    It’s supposed to confuse ur brain in to thinking ur not in pain or something like that. Whatever it does it was a total lifesaver for me.
    Back to top Hug Post Like Post

    amother

    Teal
    Reply with quote Report post

    New post Today at 1:08 am
    tsc3 wrote:
    Yes. It saved me from getting an epidural by my first birth. Had it on for hours except while in the shower.
    It is a small machine box thing that has 2 wires that are sticky coming out of it. U stick the ends of the wires to ur lower back and use the machine to control the strength of the pulses it sends. I made it stronger during a contraction.
    It’s supposed to confuse ur brain in to thinking ur not in pain or something like that. Whatever it does it was a total lifesaver for me.

    This is so interesting. Can you please link the one you have?
    Back to top Hug Post Like Post

    yo

    Senior Member
    Senior Member

    Joined: May 25 2014
    Posts: 118

    View user’s profile Send private message Reply with quote Report post

    New post Today at 1:18 am
    I tried it and hated it. It felt as having another source of pain in my back besides the contractions.
    I guess you have to try it to see if it works for you, for some is really helpful

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Good luck with your next delivery, and prayers of strength and fast labor! I was lucky with all three of mine that my labor lasted a maximum of 6 hours so pain management for me was not an issue. I am incredibly greatful I was in a hospital with my last baby as I nearly bled out after she was born due to some issues with my uterus.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I understand you are afraid of needles and you might not want to get an epidural, but the article you linked is full of incorrect statements (not to say blatant lies): there’s absolutely no evidence of epidurals interfering with labour. I would not believe that medical information from a site called “mama natural” is more reliable than a doctor’s. That article is simply spreading misinformation. There’s a reason why clinical trials are more reliable than anecdotes: they’re done following a rigorous method, with control groups and other way to prevent false outcomes. Anecdotes are just… anecdotes, and there’s no way to check them. If you don’t feel comfortable at the idea of an epidural, by all means don’t have one! It’s your body and that should be a reason enough. But please don’t trust a “mama natural” on the internet over the scientific consensus.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I understand there’s a bias. Which goes both ways, actually – “official” medical websites claim epidurals are 100% safe, while crunchy mamas may claim they are 100% horrible and unnecessary. The truth is probably somewhere in between. A clinical trial is not the Holy Book given at Mt Sinai. There are many practices in the medical consensus that can and do have serious side effects, such as hormonal birth control, for instance (against official warnings, it is freely given to regular smokers and women with family history of blood clots).

      My common sense says that inserting a needle in my spine MAY result in nerve damage. So far I have not found a single study to dispute this – on the contrary, it is agreed upon, though the actual chance of it happening is downplayed. Labor pain, however brutal, will NOT result in nerve damage. Is the risk worth it? That’s a wholly individual decision.

      Like

      • FIrst if all, a medical flawed practice is different from an analysis error: as to hormonal birth control, the trials tell you that there is a risk of circulation problem for smokers or people with a family history of that disease, but the doctor might decide to ignore it.
        Does it mean that the testing method is wrong? Of course not: the scientific trial method might not be infallible but since it’s rigorous and done over many years of practice on a large number of patients, there’s a VERY high probability that the data are correct.

        Then, of course you’re right: there’s an amount of risk associated with every practice.
        The risks for a spinal damage resulting from an epidural is about 1 in 100.000, less than the statistical error of being struck by a lightning (1 in 81.000), and much much less than being involved in a plane crash or drowning in a swimming pool.
        So yes, the choice is entirely personal, but it has to be presented in the right context and without unnecessary fear mongering.

        Like

      • Maybe the chances of permanent damage are 1 in 100,000. Relatively minor side effects, such as week-long migraines or back aches that eventually pass, are definitely more common than that, though I don’t have the exact numbers. I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss testimonies of women who weren’t taken seriously because, after all, what they experienced was only temporary.

        Like

  7. I got an epidural after 24 hours of unproductive labor. My son was sunny side up, so I guess that’s why I wasn’t dilating past 4cm. The theory was that with the epidural, I could rest and continue with labor.

    The problem that no one mentioned at all is that I have very low blood pressure. The epidural caused my heart and my son’s heart to crash bc of my low blood pressure. That is the explanation the hospital doctor gave us. Now, they were able to fix this, but it happened again. The second time, my midwife said, “If this happens again, we are going to do a C-section.” Thankfully, it did not.

    Labor took another 24 hours after that, so 48 hours total, yay. Somewhere in there, the epidural started to weaken pretty significantly. They kept asking me if it was still working and I kept saying it was fine bc I couldn’t risk crashing his heart again. It was so bizarre to me that they would think the pain relief was worth the so recently demonstrated risk in my case. I think this was also good bc pushing was already very difficult to do lying down. I was just numb enough to not be able to get into helpful positions.

    Anyhow, I would never have another epidural, bc I couldn’t take the chance that my low blood pressure would cause another heart crash. I doubt more babies are in my future. But it’s still crazy to me that no one mentioned this was a risk or thought it was a potential problem even though they had my chart and I had been hooked up to a million monitors so it’s not like I was keeping the low blood pressure a secret.

    Like

    • It really is crazy that nobody thought to offer you alternative methods of pain relief. Epidurals are NOT known for helping a labor progress. So sorry for your experience.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s