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12 May 2004 00:00
There’s only one “good’’ way to give birth — and that is “naturally’‘, without pain relief, preferably at home and certainly not by Caesarean section.
At least that’s what I was left thinking after reading natural childbirth guru Sheila Kitzinger.
She, of course, gave birth to her first child in just two and a half hours, and says that she didn’t expect a painless birth but knew that she could cope.
And there straight away is the fundamental flaw in the whole “natural’’ childbirth argument. Because, the fact of the matter is that you don’t know what your labour will be like until you’re in it, and anyone who thinks they can plan it could well be in for a nasty shock.
I know this because I was that woman who thought she could do it “naturally’‘. When we talked about assisted deliveries and pain relief in my antenatal classes, I hardly even bothered to listen. That won’t be me, I thought. In the event, my first child turned out to be in the breech position and I reluctantly had to dump the home-birth idea and agree to a C-section.
But second time round, equipped with Tens machine, giant gym ball and Verdi, I was determined things would be different. Forty-eight hours of labour pains and two bottles of lavender oil later, things were looking very different.
I accepted pethidine, gas and air (what a con that is) and would have taken crack cocaine if someone had told me it would make me feel better. Finally, 40 hours in and 8cm dilated, I gave in and had an epidural.
Well, hallelujah and praise the Lord. It was wonderful. From excruciating, screaming agony to blissful serenity in 60 seconds.
Kitzinger says that our medicalised way of birth often leaves women emotionally mutilated. I know that I would have been far more mutilated from actually feeling those contractions than merely watching them rack up on the monitor. No one would dream of having root-canal work without anaesthetic, so why is drug-free labour the ideal? As far as I’m concerned, epidurals are fab and whoever invented them is God.
As well as believing that pain relief is for wimps, Kitzinger dislikes the medicalisation of childbirth, believing that hospitals are not the best places for most women in labour. Ideally, she would have us delivering our babies at home. And it is a lovely idea isn’t it: there you are in the comfort of familiar surroundings, classical music playing, essential oils sweetening the air, water lapping gently at the edges of the birthing pool, doula gently encouraging you at your side as your baby calmly and peacefully enters the world.
But quite apart from the many complications and problems that could arise, just think about all that blood sloshing round the living room, ruining the carpet and turning the Hockney print into something more like a Jackson Pollock. At least in hospital there is someone to clean up all that mess.
I had seen the plans for the new maternity wing at my local hospital and it looked lovely — all spacious delivery suites and not a medical gadget in sight. The perfect place to put into practice all those labour positions and breathing and relaxation techniques that Kitzinger, Janet Balaskas et al are so keen on, and that I had diligently practised in my natural childbirth classes.
However, in the event I was in so much agony that not only could I not move my body, I couldn’t even open my eyes either. All the pretty curtains and pictures of the Haywain would have been wasted on me. I could have been giving birth on the central reservation of a highway for all I cared.
Kitzinger’s eureka moment came when she suddenly felt, in the middle of labour, “This is a sport I can do,” as if childbirth was as easy as getting picked for the school netball team.
All those expectant mothers out there — please don’t be fooled. It’s harder and more painful than running the marathon backwards, dressed as a chicken with glass shards in your shoes. After my C-section birth, I was back on my feet and pushing the baby around the park within days. After my vaginal delivery, I was battered, bruised, exhausted and incontinent. It was weeks before I plucked up the courage to leave the house. When I did so, my first port of call was my local doctor’s surgery for a post-natal check.
“Well, now you’ve got the worst of both worlds,” she said cheerfully. “A scar on your tummy and a floppy fanny. I had both of my children by elective C-section,” she added, rather smugly. — Â
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