16 December 2012

Why is it that when I say "unmedicated" in my head it always sounds like "unmitigated"?

Funny article here, and it got me thinking about the time my doctor hustled into a prenatal checkup late. "I'm sorry to keep you waiting," she said. "I was at a delivery. First time mom, no drugs. She did it." "Oh, good for her," I said without thinking. But what did I mean by that? I did NOT mean that this newly delivered mother had achieved something better than she would have if there had been drugs involved. I do not believe that load of purest bull at all. What I meant was that I was glad that she knew. She knew she could do it. That was what she wanted: to know.

Childbirth is something one is either physically able to do or not, and a mother finds out into which category she falls when her child (each child, individually) is born. The unmedicated childbirth question is not who can and who can't (although we now usually have the luxury of providing some alternative to death or horrible maiming to those who fall into the "can't" category). The question some women want answered is, "If I'm someone who can, can I do it without asking for help?" It is not a question of physical strength but of will. It is a game of chicken, and as such it has a large component of silliness, and sometimes foolhardiness. It is as silly as being a strongman or climbing Mount Everest or running a marathon. Everyone knows those tasks are undertaken not in the service of humanity, but as a challenge to the one who undertakes them. Most of us are content never to make the effort. Those who are physically unable to do so would be unreasonable to think less of themselves for their physical incapacity.

The strongman or the Everest aspirant or the marathon trainer is certainly to be respected for his strength of will and the painful discipline to which it drives him. But at the same time, any of these trainers who cannot also laugh at himself a little and see that his goal has no inherent value is a bit uncentered. The lifter or climber or runner who becomes a bore on the topic is no stranger to any of us, and for those of us who must keep running in birth circles, the childbirth bore is every bit as familiar.

Perhaps the hippies will forgive me for pointing out that homebirth is a bit cheaty on this front. ;) At home, one can't ask for an epidural, or at least, one can't get it. One increases her chances of "succeeding" by eliminating the possibility that she could get any real help. A runner can always quit a marathon, and that is what makes it so hard. This is the only reason unmedicated childbirth has become a big deal (although making a virtue out of the hobby is a cherished and profitable endeavor). When there was no possibility of getting real help, it was no unique accomplishment to deliver a child without it. Now that there is, some women have proven that "the urge to perform feats of strength for no good reason is deeply embedded" not only "in the male psyche." 

So when a pregnant lady seeks to answer the question, "If I'm someone who can, can I do it without asking for help?" she faces another question also: "If I can do it without asking for help, can I maintain my perspective, recognize the accomplishment for exactly what it is and isn't, and not become as insufferable as my friend who's training for a marathon?"


PS--some of my best friends are training for marathons.


Mary P said...

I love it! I've always felt like a wimp for wanting my epidurals each time, since I have friends who "tough it" (not that feeling like a wimp ever made me desire to bypass the pain management and prove I could do it myself :-)

Melrose said...

Once in middle school I cheated on a math exam.


Wing It Mom said...

I did it once, that was enough for me! :-)

Cathy said...

Ah, one of my favorite subjects. Beginning with my firstborn in 1976, I had nine babies Au natural, because I had never heard of an epidural--and I admit it--the hippie in me thought natural was the right thing to do. By the time of my tenth and eleventh, in 1995 and 1997, I guess epidurals had been invented, and all my younger-than-me-and-just-starting-to-have-babies friends were raving about epidurals. Sounded great to me. I enjoyed those two labors with the epidurals and never looked back. Silly to endure such awful pain if you don't have to, methinks. After the first epidural, my husband said he didn't like seeing that needle in my back, and I said Ha! is that so? Don't look next time. Because there will be an epidural next time.

etem said...

Also there is the super-easy route of c-sections! It's like hiring a rickshaw For a marathon. No, more like a high-speed train. So simple and clean and painless.
Lucky us! Sob. Sorry.

Rebekah said...

C-sections are the kidney donation of featery. I'd rather run a marathon. :P

Rebekah said...

Oh, and there's a weird New Yorker article for that too.


Gauntlets said...

Truly, epidurals seemed so important an issue once.

read it said...

The epidural was the first thing I asked for when I walked in the door of the delivery room before I even had hardly any pain, cuz I didn't want any either.

The nurse told me that first they would have to be sure I was really in labor. Then she checked and baby #1 was on his way out. Two pushes and he was born.

Some first time moms don't need any drugs because they don't really have hardly any pain. Only a few hours of mild contractions and baby. There is no bravery or toughness involved. It is just easy for some people.

Life isn't fair.

And you don't get to choose to be lucky, duh.

pekoponian said...

What read it said. I have five marathons under my belt, but simply through the mercy of God. It makes for awkward moments when other women wish to compare notes regarding epidurals and are shocked to find that I have never had one.