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  • Writer's pictureSuzanne Lim


THE human birth experience has been happening since the dawn of, well-humans. For most of human history, birth was communal, supported and happened without the assistance of modern technology and modern pain medications. For the most part, parents and babies survived- although compared to today, the maternal and infant mortality rates were horrifying. When we conjure up images of birth in pre-industrial times, we imagine smoky rooms, blood-stained straw and women sitting around the birthing person who is inevitably sweaty, scared and exhausted. In those days, the life of parent and child always hung in the balance. Along with the absence of modern technology and hygiene, the over aching theme of Old Timey Birth is this- Lack of Choice. One was almost at the complete mercy of nature. Whatever cards the birth goddess dealt you, those were the cards you played. There was no active management of labour in the way we do it currently. By and large, the process was allowed to unfold as it did with interviention only when necessary with ancient widoms and primitive tools. I feel fairly confident that had birthing people in those days had access to and knowledge of how, for example- hand washing could save lives, they surely would have used that knowledge to the betterment of health and safety. We know this to be true because that it exactly what happened. As we gained knowledge and invented technologies, maternal and infant mortality improved. I also feel confident in saying that if birthing people in those eras had knowledge of and access to modern methods of pain relief- they would certainly have used those also. As history bore on and the science of anesthesia became a “thing”, the routine use of pain meds in general medical procedures and birth in particular became widespread. Birthing people and those who care about them, support them and work with them have always been looking for ways to ease the pain of childbirth. Whether that be massage, physical support, the use of herbs and tinctures, each culture had its own set of remedies that offered varying degrees of success. The first wave of feminism (think- suffragettes) saw the demand for effective pain relief in labour which led to the advent of some dangerous and questionable drugs. (Go look up Twilight Sleep and see what I am talking about) The second wave of feminism (think 60s and 70s) saw the pendulum swing in the other direction with a call for a return to nature and far less interference from modern obstetrics. This was mainly a reaction to the seizing of power over the birthing space by male dominated medicine. Women wanted a return to the female-controlled, non-interventionist birth space of yesteryear. (Go look up the origin story of The Farm and you will get a good idea of the goal of many families in that era). In the 1990’s though, a more balanced perspective made it on to the scene that had CHOICE as it’s nucleus. Birthing people are NOT homogenous and that recognition led to the assumption of Choice in your individual birthing scenario. Some WILL surely want the Squat in the field of lavender kind of birth- hands off, no pain medication and as little intervention as possible- while some parents speak to their obstetrician right at the beginning of pregnancy and get a date and time to deliver their baby in a nice, sterile operating room. Most of us are somewhere in between. CHOICE is a beautiful word and we all need to be grateful that it sits firmly in the middle of our prenatal care and birth plans today. Now, your choice to have an epidural as your main source of pain relief in labour is a normal, ordinary request and a routine part of hospital labour care. On the flip side, and as an indication as to how CHOICE works, birthing folks are also free to have unmedicated births as it works for them.

Still, there remains vestiges of shame linked to choices you make during pregnancy and birth, especially regarding pain relief and it is frankly, quite ridiculous. Champions on both sides of the CHOICE will use fear mongering as a way to convince you that their perspective is the best. Don't have the epidural, the ingredients are poison and you will end up paralzyed and your baby damaged! Or- get the epidural right away! You will never be able to handle the pain. Why suffer like a pesant?

Well, the truth of the matter is that the best choice is the one that you make yourself, fully informed, with wide open eyes and with no fear in the picrture. You know yourself, your life and body best. You know how you have managed pain in the past and what methods work to soothe and relax you when you are stressed or in pain. Make decisions based on the information you have access to AND your personal knowledge of your self and beliefs about birth. Information and evidence regarding the use of epidural anesthesia is plentiful and robust. Self education is not difficult in this day and age and available at your fingertips. Please remember this- you are your own champion and you have the capability and the right to decide whether to include epidural as a pain management method or not free from pressure or coercion. Your birth. Your way.


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