zondag 18 november 2012

Rant: More on pain and natural birth

Disclaimer: I have not been sleeping entirely well lately. One of the side effects is that I get annoyed by stuff. About which I then vent and rant. (V.v. satisfying that is, too.) Unfortunately, S. and I have been together for over nine years, so he knows all about my hobbyhorses. That is why you're being subjected to this one. My apologies.

There are two camps when it comes to labour pain. There is the camp that believes pain just comes with the territory and the camp that believes that women are be able to give birth without pain. Because, after all, childbirth is a completely natural process that women were built to perform and which shouldn't be unnecessarily medicalised. (Look at cats, is the oft heared refrain. Or women in a coma giving birth.)

The first camp divides into two subsets again: the tough subset (millions of women all over the world have gone through this before) and the yay medication team. The second camp generally advocates some sort of breathing technique, of "going into the pain", of accepting and letting your body do its natural thang. 

(There is also an interesting splinter group that believes in the existence of orgasmic birth. I am a fervent and hopeful believer, having had a normal birth the last time. But there's always next time!) 

Now, about this "natural thang" that your body does. 

It's not actually all that healthy or natural to start with. Evolution played a dirty trick on women. 

You all know human brains got bigger and humans decided to walk upright somewhere in the last few millennia. This means that the pelvis has been restructured and strengthened by repositioning and tying together bones, thereby making the birthing canal smaller and windier - that is, harder for a baby to get through. At the same time, the larger head means that the baby needs more space to come out.

Result: pain and helpless infants. Nowadays, babies come out at the largest possible size the mother will still survive giving birth to. But that isn't actually the moment they're fully grown yet, they need another couple of years to fully form. 

If nature would wait until the human baby's ready for the outside world like other mammalian babies who can walk within minutes of dropping out (warning! explicit content!), the mother would die in childbirth. This is not good for the survival of the species. Labour pain on the other hand isn't pleasant, occasionally it's even dangerous but on the whole, given more experienced females to help the birthing one through it all, it poses much less danger to humanity as a whole. So women have to suffer for the greater good.

Pain, however, is also subjective. Different people have different thresholds, fear plays into it, as does acceptance and expectation. So yes, a woman in labor pain can actually influence the level of pain she experiences. And maybe she can hypnotize herself out of her physical body experience. 

But let's just be clear about two things: 1. the pain is real and 2. human child birth is not a natural process comparable to that of other mammalian animals. A woman's body is actually NOT optimally designed to go give birth. It's just the best nature could do, given the constraints.

Having said all of the above, I am not against natural child birth. Or home births. Or midwives (I loved my midwives - and thankfully in the Netherlands the situation is getting beyond the one described in this Time article, as witnessed by the fact it was the midwife first offering me pain relief in the hospital). Or doulas. Or hypnosis. It's just not something I necessarily want for myself and I believe the scientific evidence supports my preference for having medical help on hand and trusting them to see me safely through. 

However, if you do believe the natural way is the one to go, more power to you! Go do your thing! Then rant about how wrong I am!

The world would be a boring place if all we did was agree all the time. 

NaBloPoMo November 2012

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