Okay, first thing: the obstetric anesthesiologist quoted in the article discusses the "lucrative natural childbirth industry" and claims that "Natural childbirth has become a multimillion-dollar industry." First, we have to put this into perspective. He gave no sources for those figures, but I suspect he is referring to childbirth educators who work for organizations such as Bradley or Lamaze. Thing is, childbirth educators make no more or no less money if women take drugs during labor; their work occurs prenatally. If a woman declines pain medications during labor, no one profits. But if she accepts an epidural, a lot of people do: in particular, the hospital, the pharmaceutical company, and the anesthesiologist. I sense some anxiety from the author of Enjoy Your Labor over the viability of his profession if women choose natural childbirth. He has a very vested interest in encouraging as many women as possible to accept epidurals, because that, after all, is what pays his mortgage.
Second, he claims that "much of the information that women receive is incomplete or inaccurate." This phrase implies that natural childbirth advocates--whoever they might be--are the ones doing the withholding. I would argue that the opposite is more often the case; those with a vested interest (monetary or otherwise) in promoting or administering epidurals have an obligation to share all of the possible risks and side-effects of epidural anesthesia. (By the way, Dr. Sarah J. Buckley has written an excellent article reviewing the risks in Epidurals: Real Risks For Mother and Baby.) How often do women receive full informed consent about this procedure, meaning a thorough discussion of all risks, benefits, and alternatives? I do not know, and I would appreciate input on this.
Third, there's all this talk about the "natural childbirth industry" as if it is one unified conglomerate. Who exactly makes up this "industry?" Childbirth educators? Certainly childbirth educators discuss the risks and benefits of pain medications, as well as non-pharmaceutical alternatives, but that is only a small part of their job. Doulas? Not really, since doulas attend births in all settings and encourage the mother to make her own decisions. I really don't know who else might be part of this "lucrative industry" that he claims is profiting heavily from women's non-use of epidurals.
Last, the article itself was poorly written and poorly organized. The sections do not flow well together, and the transitions from one point of view to another were totally lacking. The article relied almost entirely on quotes or paraphrases from other authors, with little explanation or discussion of the ideas. The university rhetoric teacher in me gives it a thumbs-down.
Now, on to some of my old blog posts:
In a different approach to pain relief, I linked to Britain's National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, which recommended that "all expectant mothers should be offered a water birth for the safest form of pain relief." NICE found that birthing pools were the most effective non-pharmacological form of pain relief and second-most effective overall (with epidural anesthesia being the most effective but having more risks than water immersion).
In my Comments on To The Contrary, I briefly mentioned some of my own experiences of pain during labor. I wrote a long post about pain two weeks after Zari's birth called Some thoughts about a four-letter word.
In my review of Jennifer Block's Pushed, I ended with two quotes about the role that hospital policies play in creating pain. On the same topic, it's worth reading this recent blog post on NYC Moms about how epidurals are for tolerating the hospital; labor is the easy part.
Food for thought had some discussion about pain medications and whether or not they were pushed/encouraged by hospital staff. Several comments from blog readers on this topic.
In Labor and marathons, I examined the similarities between the two events and how attitude and beliefs greatly influence the way we experience and interpret them.
Speaking of marathons, I want to end with a plug for Elemental Mom's post Only One Word. She argued that we just don't have language adequate to describe the sensations of labor, so we use the word "pain" as a distant runner-up. I love how Laureen described labor pain as purchasing an endorphin rush! A quote from her post:
What we’re lacking is the linguistic differentiation, in two syllables or less, to say "pain that is the sign of pathology and illness and needs to be obliterated by any means possible" and "pain that is your body’s way of kicking in an endorphin payoff down the road."
Got that? I’m not enduring labor pain. I’m purchasing my endorphin rush, one sensation at a time.