A few months ago a stranger asked me about the intimate details of my labor with my first baby and then proceeded to ask if I was planning on having an unmedicated birth again, this time around. It’s one of many instances when a loving and well intentioned conversation with a complete stranger about my pregnancy has crossed the line.
As pregnant women, our bodies, diets, exercises, and medical decisions inevitably become topics of conversation whether we welcome it or not.
It has to stop.
After I delivered both of my babies, the medical teams sang my praises for laboring unmedicated. It’s made me wonder what my dentist would say if I declined pain medication for a filling. I don’t think he would be impressed. Quite the contrary, I imagine he would do his best to persuade me to use the pain medication.
Aside from childbirth, I can’t think of any other medical event that we as a society (and especially medical professionals) would openly support forgoing pain medications when the alternative is often a lengthy and painful process.
There are legitimate benefits to having an unmedicated birth, but those reasons don’t include judgement or praise from others. Having an unmedicated birth isn’t a badge of honor. I feel strongly that widespread discussion (and frankly, judgement) of pregnant women contributes to the glorification of unmedicated births and demonization of epidurals and other pain management options. And god forbid elective c-sections.
I felt obligated to prepare for unmedicated labor for both of my births.
For the first, I thought I would be seen as a bad mother, and weak, if I accepted pain relief during labor. For my second, an epidural didn’t even seem like an option anymore. The fact that I had gone unmedicated for my first meant I was capable of doing it again, in my mind. So how could I give my second child something “less than” what I’d given my first?
I think what we all want at the end of labor and delivery is a healthy baby. What it takes to get that baby in our arms is intimate and special – something we can choose to share but not something the world is entitled to know about or see. Maybe if we remove pain management from the narrative we can ask mothers to include when asking about childbirth, we can slowly start taking away the judgement and pressure that comes with it.
There’s something about the vulnerability we experience in childbirth, whether via c-section or vaginal and with or without medication, that changes us. Motherhood reminds us how strong and capable we are. We are reminded, with awe, at what our bodies are capable of. I want more conversations that are focused on this and the beauty that childbirth can bring.
If I’m lucky enough to have a third baby, I don’t know how I’ll manage my pain during labor, but an epidural will not be off the table. The word “unmedicated” will not be included in my birth plan.
There is no limit to what I would do or give for my babies. AND I am also finally acknowledging after 2.5 years of motherhood that I am a person too. My wellbeing matters. Pain does not make me a more capable, loving, or worthy mother.
Next time around, if there is a next time, these are the things I will recite to myself leading up to birth.
These are the words that will be printed on my birth plan.
photos by Christie Lewis
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