I wrote this while having an epidural

What's with all the pushing for a natural birth?
What's with all the pushing for a natural birth? Photo: Shutterstock

As I write, I am sitting in a hospital bed having contractions every two minutes. My second child will be here in a matter of hours and I can’t wait. Like my son’s birth almost exactly two years ago, I am looking forward to the pushing and to helping to deliver my baby myself. My labour and delivery with my son was the greatest experience of my life. Moments after the birth I was asking if we could do it all again because it was so thoroughly enjoyable. Why? Because epidurals are magical.

To many, what I have just written is blasphemous. The assumption is that all women aim for the drug-free natural birth and only want intervention or pain relief if absolutely necessary. This push (pardon the pun) towards "physiologically normal birth" is obvious in any discussion of birthing, when women who have inductions or caesareans feel they need to include the medical reason for the procedure when talking about their experience.

It’s clear in the articles that get posted in online parent forums. And it’s particularly clear when you consider that NSW Health’s policy directive is called Towards Normal Birth , which encourages providers to increase the number of physiologically normal births and decrease interventions, particularly caesareans.

The rate of c-sections in Australia (about one third) is often referred to, as is the rate of induction (29 per cent) and the fact that some hospitals, usually private, have higher rates of both procedures and of pain relief, like epidurals. This, it seems, is bad (though, I was comforted to learn of the high rate of inductions and epidurals at my hospital!).

Normal birth is framed as "woman-centred" and "empowering", and we are told that "there is an inherent, simple wisdom in nature’s plan for birth". 

And that sounds lovely for those women who do want to attempt a drug-free natural birth. But it's not for me.

In fact, a physiologically normal birth is my idea of hell. I do not have any desire to master the pain (or, as some particularly disingenuous people call it, "discomfort"). If that’s what you want to do, great. Go for it. I can’t for the life of me understand why, but I will always fight for your right to make that choice.

What I will not do is agree that you somehow had a superior experience to the woman who chose to have a caesarean or induction or epidural. The way some people talk about giving birth "drug free" reminds me of a kind of female version of machismo. It’s a chest thumping declaration of primal physical superiority. And if that makes you feel great about your choice, fantastic. More power to you. But, while child birthing and rearing is certainly an achievement, I don’t think a lack of medically-provided pain relief enhances the achievement any more than having your wisdom teeth out in the chair with just local anaesthetic instead of under general enhances that one.

Sorry, I call bullshit on that. Could you sit here and write this article while in labour? Nah, you can’t use a laptop in a bathtub.

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Jokes aside, I see far too many articles suggesting that the "over-medicalisation of birth" has somehow stripped women of their choices in labour and delivery and may even be anti-woman and anti-feminist. This baffles me. I want medicalised birth. I like medicalised birth. I want a doctor not a doula with me through my pregnancy, delivery and post-partum period.

Surely my choice to avoid excruciating pain is not "anti-feminist"? My husband avoids the pain of childbirth – and he still gets a baby. Why can't I?

A great friend of mine has had elective C-sections under general anaesthetic for both her births. This is what she wants. It’s not that she feels she can’t conquer the pain or give birth vaginally, it’s that she doesn’t want to. Fair enough. I don’t think I couldn’t have a drug-free labour and delivery, I just don’t want to. Why should that be the price of having a child?

“The drive to cut back on C-sections is dangerous,” internationally renowned professor in obstetrics and gynaecology Hans Peter Dietz said in 2015, because pressuring obstetricians to “abandon professional judgement in order to satisfy some bureaucratic target, increasingly has distinct negative consequences”.

What I would love to see is all women having real choice about what kind of birth they want, not just those of us fortunate enough to be able to afford both private health insurance and the very steep out of pocket cost of obstetric care. I would love all women in Australia to be able to choose to have continuous midwife care, a doula and/or their own obstetrician.  I would love all women to have the ability to decide whether they want to attempt a drug-free natural labour, a home birth, an elective caesarean, an induction, an epidural, gas and air, whatever.

Yes, women should know the evidence-based risks involved with each of these choices, but these shouldn’t come attached to a moral value. You don’t get a medal for a physiologically normal birth. You get a baby. I have one (soon to be two) of those, too. And it caused me no pain.

Polly Dunning gave birth to a baby girl and says there was "no trauma, no pain, no fear, just joy, and laughter, and love."

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