The New York Times recently published an article arguing women should have no qualms about routinely ordering epidurals during childbirth. Several of The Federalist’s female contributors discuss.
Do What Works for You and Ignore Naysayers
Jessi Klein would have had the perfect “Get the Epidural” article if she didn’t have to tie it to how women just can’t seem to do anything right. I agree, in a global sense. But I would narrow her take here to “moms just can’t do anything right.” Although our motherhood is an extension of our entire experience of womanhood, even the most swinging self-confident “I am woman hear me roar” diva is going to be thrown for a loop when she experiences what parenting is like in the modern era.
It’s easy now, as a veteran parent, to be comfortable in my choices. But I’m not going to scoff at the first-time millennial moms who are in decision paralysis and drowning in information and advice.
It’s not as if the previous generation just let mothers do what they wanted and minded their own business. Oh no. We all have tales about the old ladies who butt in with unsolicited advice. But our generation thrives on data. Especially with the first child, I couldn’t imagine parenting without information from a variety of sources. I wasn’t going to just trust an aunt or grandmother.
Or at least that’s how it went in theory. I distinctly remember, with my firstborn, being given advice that went against my initial instincts. Because I trusted that person, I followed that person’s judgement. That decision had major consequences on my child’s health and my breastfeeding relationship with her. To add insult to injury, every discussion and action since has made it seem like that conversation never happened (and that I am the one who truly believed newborns should be scheduled. It still makes me shake in rage).
Is it any wonder we have the militant moms who want to save the rest of us from ignorance? That includes the well-meaning family member who told me my daughter really should have been going three hours between feedings at six weeks old and doctors who “push” epidurals when women have been giving birth medication-free from time immemorial.
We live in the cult of perfect motherhood. We do our research and read our parenting books, and we all of a sudden, we’re in the know, with facts and knowledge that the simpletons around us don’t have.
That means we amass a certain amount of arrogance. We hear women repeating the old wives’ tales we’ve so thoroughly debunked—rearfacing a long-legged child is not, in fact, going to lead to discomfort and broken legs, dontcha know?—and we just scoff. Woe to the mother like me, who has read the books and delved into the online forums, and still chooses to get the epidural. Or sleep train her baby. Or forward-face at two years old. Or formula feed. Or circumcise.
I did all of that. Not out of some sort of philosophy, but out of what was right for our family at the moment. Words cannot express the judgmental looks I got at “new moms meetup” when I whipped out a bottle of formula for my daughter. Hey ladies: My body. My family. My choice. Amajor reason we’re on formula now is because of the last time I cared what someone thought about how I was feeding my daughter.
That’s what Klein tries to say at the end. Do what is right for you. For God’s sake, if you want an epidural, get the epidural. I just wish she also repeated over and over again: “You’re a mother. You are never going to make everyone happy.”
First-time mom, I applaud you. Here’s some personal armor and a big ol’ mug of I don’t give a $#!% . Because you’re going to need it.
If Mommy and Baby Are Healthy, You’re Golden
Melissa Langsam Braunstein
Jessi Klein’s op-ed “Get the Epidural,” reminded me of “Odd Mom Out,” Bravo’s loving send-up of life on New York’s Upper East Side, a.k.a., #ChampagneProblems Central. In particular, the op-ed reminded me of an episode where Jill, the main character, visits Brooklyn and can’t believe how different it is.
For a time, Jill’s smitten with Brooklyn, where we’re led to believe that every mother births naturally and breastfeeds forever—think elementary school—because it’s New York’s hippie land. Meanwhile, the Upper East Side is portrayed as a living, breathing Vogue cover. There, the women always schedule their C-sections before nannies raise their newborns, so mothers can return to busy social calendars.
Klein’s piece had moments of humor and poignancy, but it also felt unnecessarily defensive at times. Perhaps that’s the author’s responding to her Brooklyn neighbors? She may feel judged by those around her for the choices she’s made. Of course, to parent in modern America is to be judged; ideally, you just ignore the unhelpful commenters. In most of America, Klein’s choice seems to be overwhelmingly popular.
I took the more Brooklyn-esque route. I have had two natural births—the first in Boston and the second here in DC—driven largely by my discomfort with the thought of (voluntary) partial paralysis. The nurses who checked on me after my first birth all started the post-epidural protocols on auto-pilot, then stopped. I finally asked how atypical it was that I’d labored without pain medication. The nurse replied that only 10 percent of women who came through her large teaching hospital did that, and I suspect the number is similarly low here in DC.
Most places I go, I’m the odd one out, and that’s okay. I felt empowered trusting my body to do what it was built to do and was fortunate not to have particularly complicated deliveries. In the end though, my experience was my experience. The real goal is to leave Labor and Delivery with a healthy mama and baby. So ladies, who cares what other people think? This is your first major parenting decision. Go with your gut.
Don’t Fear Your Body’s Strength
I was shocked when my mother-in-law told me about birthing her two oldest children in the early 1970s, just before “natural childbirth” became the trend. She was put under general anesthesia and was completely unconscious when they pulled the baby out with forceps. (There’s a small scar on my husband’s ear to prove it!) This was the standard practice for that time and place, and of course, my father-in-law wasn’t allowed to be present for either birth.
Now, there are things about the twentieth century for which I’m nostalgic, but this isn’t one of them. I prefer the balance we’ve found today. Medical interventions are life-saving when you need them, but to preemptively short-circuit the birthing process in such an extreme way strikes me as disempowering, anti-nature, and anti-woman.
I’ve done both medicated and unmedicated births. I had babies one, two, and four “naturally,” and baby three with an epidural due to a stalled and difficult labor. Let me just say: that epidural was pretty miraculous. I got a “light” dose, did not feel numb, and felt everything but the pain. I slept through transition and woke up ready to birth and care for my new baby, rather than being exhausted by my terrible labor. There were no problems with the delivery. But I’d previously done it unmedicated, so that probably helped me know what to do.
That said, when it was time to have my fourth, I wanted to go back to the unmedicated route. To me, it feels more like something I’m doing rather than something that’s being done to me, and I prefer that. In a strange way, I find it an empowering experience. (I imagine it’s a little like people who voluntarily choose to run marathons or go skydiving, which I can’t fathom.) Really, this is a personal choice, and I don’t understand why some women insist on telling each other what to do.
When a first-time mom asks for advice about childbirth, I always recommend making a plan, but being flexible and ready for surprises. I didn’t intend to have that epidural, but I ended up needing to change my plan. On the other hand, I’ve heard of women who plan on the epidural, and it doesn’t “take.” Keep in mind that the main goal is to have a mom and baby who make it through safely. Everything else really is secondary.
Labor Teaches You Parenting Is Unpredictable
Childbirth is unpredictable. Go ahead and plan for the epidural, but you might just want to be prepared to not have one, too. The author of this piece is struggling against something so specific to her small circle, it becomes quite silly. Epidurals are now the norm for birth, and if anything natural childbirth movements are in response to how oppressive giving birth used to be for women.
Doctors often heavily medicated women until they were unconscious ,and removed babies with forceps. No dads were allowed in the room. Women weren’t even given the option to express their medical preferences for birth and were treated pretty poorly.
The resurgence of midwives, doulas, home births, and taking back natural birth as an option isn’t to oppress women, it aims to empower them. Of course, if you want the epidural, have one. No one cares as much as you think. The goal of birth it to end up with a healthy baby and mommy, so do what you need to get there.
That said, there are logical, non-crunchy reasons for wanting an unmedicated birth if it’s possible. For me, in some ways it was to prove I could, but in others, I wanted to be as available as I could to assist with the process and if possible avoid a C-section. Epidurals and other interventions increase the likelihood of further interventions such as a C-section. I also had a mother lording over me her two natural births, so I went ahead and had three lovely babies with no pain medication. Take that, mom!
Granted, the first was late, so after a week or so the doctor did a sonogram and thought the amniotic fluid looked low, so she told me I was going to have a baby that day. Off to the hospital to be induced with a bit of Pitocin and some manual breaking of the amniotic sac. My labor slowly moved forward, and eight hours or so later I was holding my baby girl. In one moment I was ready to break. I looked at my husband between contractions and asked, “Who am I trying to impress?” We both laughed. There was no one there. It was just us and this new person moving her way into our world.
Likely none of parenting will be perfect, so labor is your first lesson as a parent of just how out of control you really are. Your body is warning you. This child is proceeding outside of your body whether you like it or not. This child is going to do many things whether you like it or not. Often you will fail, but hopefully you’ll have just enough mental stamina and a sense of humor to make it through.
You will not always be impressive. But overall, giving birth makes you feel like a certified superhero—at least, it did for me. The waves of joy and confidence that surge when you realize what your body is capable of is likely what Beyoncé feels like on a Tuesday. So pretty great.
The next two labors went much faster for me, but the contractions seemed worse, or maybe the novelty of labor had worn a bit thin. By the last baby, I was ready to break in the parking lot in the hospital, and talked to my husband the whole way in about how this time I wanted the f—ing drugs. Really, I just wanted to see what they are like. My contractions felt about like this:
The reception nurse saw me trailing my husband in. Out of nowhere came a wheelchair and I tossed my insurance card and ID towards her as she waved me past her towards the upstairs. I’m lucky that baby didn’t arrive in the elevator up to maternity. There was no time for the drugs. So as much as you might plan for the epidural, life may not just work out that way. Labor is just your first lesson in letting go. But don’t worry: it’s worth it.