As my first baby turns 7, I’ve been reflecting a lot on her birth experience and my expectations during that pregnancy about how the birth would be and what parenting would be like.
There are some misconceptions I held about GentleBirth that I know some of those who come into my workshops will also have about the programme. So I’d like to do some myth-busting!
I’m starting in this post with the most important (I think) first. Most women who come to my class would prefer to birth without the epidural, although I do have many clients who see it as a supplement to drugs rather than an instead of – which is perhaps the best way to view it.
It’s a viewpoint fairly steadfastly held by the majority culture in Ireland (and other countries) that a first time mother can’t give birth without the epidural – and certainly not if she wants to remember it as a positive experience! The effect this can have you if you’re thinking you’d like to do without it it is to have you thinking ‘I’ll show them’, especially when you’ve shared the fact you’re doing GentleBirth and had someone laugh in your face and tell you you’ll be screaming for the anaesthetist on the day.
The last thing you want in labour is to feel like you have something to prove. I remember during my first labour, when the thoughts of the epidural first crossed my mind, being disappointed in myself and thinking ‘they were right’. As it turned out, I didn’t need the epidural in the end as it was a blip in my coping mechanisms and I got back on track once I made it to hospital, got the gas and air and some reassuring midwifery support (most importantly).
I do wonder though, would I have felt a failure if I had taken the epidural, had I in fact needed it?
There is no shame or failure in using any part of your labour toolkit, and that includes the epidural. At GentleBirth, it is not our belief that one comfort measure is better than another. Some women love the TENS, some like using water, some love massage and counterpressure, some can’t bear to be touched. Some like reassuring talking in labour, others want you to shut up and let them listen to their tracks. It’s all completely personal and subjective.
So why is there so much meaning attached to having an epidural, which is modern medicine’s greatest contribution to the labour toolkit? An epidural can provide complete pain relief, give an exhausted mother the chance to rest and recover, lower blood pressure and replace anxiety with relaxation. Sure, it comes with potential risks, but not everyone experiences the downsides. Once you know these risks, you can weigh the situation up for yourself. GentleBirth women choosing the epidural are doing so because, in that moment, that’s what they need in order to have a positive birth experience and that’s what GentleBirth is all about.
I believe that part of the stigma around having an epidural for some of those of us using the programme is the message coming from the prevailing culture that birth without the epidural is only for superwomen. And who doesn’t want to be superwoman?
We all have our individual journey to meet our babies and we all use different tools along the way to make the journey the most pleasant it can be. We don’t need to justify to each other that it was a long labour, or baby was in an awkward position or whatever we feel contributed to us needing the epidural. The epidural is a valid and important part of the GentleBirth toolkit. Using it (or not) doesn’t define your birthing experience or your worth as a GentleBirth warrior woman. There’s huge strength in being able to roll with whatever birth throws at you and being able to depart from the path you wanted and expected for yourself. We are all superwomen.