Giving birth is no walk in the park. Understatement of the year alert. But once you’re on the other side of the tears, the pain, the on-the-spot decisions and you’re holding your shiny newborn in your arms you then have to run the gauntlet of judgement about how your baby made it’s way into the world.
Because whether you opted to go au-natural or you begged for every drug going your own personal birth story is going to be judged. And nowhere is that scrutiny more felt than over the thorny subject of epidurals.
Yep, a drug introduced to offer pain-relief to mums in the thrashes of labour has now become a source of competitiveness and it’s putting already stressed-out mums-to-be under increased pressure. A recent survey by Channel Mum has revealed that a third of mums admitted to refusing pain relief during labour for fear of being judged, while one fifth of mums felt that having a caesarean section meant they had ‘failed’ at giving birth.
Like it or not the culture surrounding giving birth and particular the topic of pain relief is increasingly fuelling women to feel shame, fear or guilt about their birth decisions.
Scroll through any pregnancy, birth and new mum message boards and you’ll likely come across some heated debates about the decision to have or not to have an epidural.
From the minute you announce your pregnancy its likely everyone from your MIL to a stranger in the street will ask you whether you’re intending to have a ‘natural’ birth? And you can expect them to have an opinion on your answer, whatever that might be.
Then there’s the pressure we put on ourselves. You’d be hard-pressed to find a mum an epidural who hadn’t either felt some sort of pain-relief guilt or were made to feel they’d let themselves or their baby’s down by someone else – intentionally or otherwise.
There’s the celebrity effect too. When Miranda Kerr gave birth to her son Flynn back in 2012 she admitted refusing an epidural in efforts to avoid ‘drugging up’ her baby, even though it went against medical recommendations. Recalling how in a few of the birth videos she watched, “the baby was a little bit drugged up” when put on its mother’s breast, she decided: “Well, I don’t want that.”
The implication seems to be that an epidural is bad for the baby or in some way lessons the birth experience. But what’s the truth?
The NHS website states: “Epidurals have been routinely used for many years and are widely accepted as an effective method of pain relief after surgery, and during labour and childbirth. However, as with many medical procedures, there are some associated risks that, although small, you should be aware of before deciding whether to have an epidural.”
Those ‘risks’ include making your legs feel heavy, a drop in blood pressure, the risk of prolonging the second stage of labour and not feeling your contractions which in some cases could lead to forceps or a ventouse being needed to help deliver the baby.
But just like any decision a mum-to-be has to make, it is her choice to make after seeking the advice of trained medical professions, and not the opinion of the woman serving your morning cappuccino!
The fact is it doesn’t make you any less of a mum if you choose to have pain relief to aide the safe arrival of your baby. And no one is going to give you a medal for doing it the ‘natural’ way or not ‘giving in’ to accept pain relief. Nor does having a drug-free birth make it any more of an experience.
There is no failure to be found in any woman who’s gone through the process of childbirth, no matter whether she chooses to have pain-relief or not. There is no such thing as ‘giving in’ or taking the ‘easy option’ when it comes to giving birth.
And lets not forget those carefully laid birth plans don’t always go to, well, plan. You might think you don’t want any form of pain-relief, but when those bad boy contractions kick in, you might well be begging for drugs of the very strongest variety. And that’s your totally fine prerogative. Last time we checked giving birth wasn’t actually a competition.
Once the baby’s here you can guarantee an onslaught of new mum judgement – breast V bottle, working V staying at home, routine V baby-led and on and on. So let’s cut out the epidural shaming shall we? Because leaving the labour ward already feeling like you’ve failed is not the greatest way to begin the motherhood journey.
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