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"Mother Lode of Pain"

This article in the Boston Globe yesterday attempts to explore why in the world a woman would want to give birth without medication.

The author, Dr. Darshak Sanghavi, a pediatrician, says:

But is the shunning of obstetrical anesthesia about something more than natural versus modern? The vocal minority who purposely skip epidurals have created entirely new secular justifications for pain - especially during labor and childbirth - which are no less dogmatic than the earlier holy justifications. Why, even now, are people so unwilling to let go of pain?

He goes on to belittle women who choose natural birth, unable to understand the difference between the natural pain of childbirth versus the suffering of a woman trapped in the bed with an acynclitic baby. Even an interview with Ina May Gaskin and a physician with chronic pain who had natural childbirth wasn't enough to enlighten this man to the why's of women choosing not to have medical paralysis.

Dr. Sanghavi speaks about his own wife's experience with her epidural in a hospital that doesn't offer epidurals at night:

Thankfully, my wife didn't suffer. A few weeks before, I'd seen a kindergartner in the emergency room for severe belly pain. The surgeons wanted to operate for possible appendicitis; luckily I found bite marks on the boy and diagnosed a black widow spider bite as the pain's real cause. No operation occurred. It turned out the boy's father was a nurse anesthetist, who gave me his telephone number and gratefully offered to come in anytime for my wife's delivery, and I took him up on his offer.

This whole article tells of the safety of epidurals, says they do not cause fevers, lower blood pressure "slightly," if at all, do not cause residual back pain, and really are nothing like the epidurals of 20 years ago - calling the catheter "hair-thin" - he sure must have some thick hair.

It was frustrating reading this piece. He seems to have tried to see the natural point of view, but misses the point completely. I'm considering sending him the picture of my mama in bliss while her baby is being born.

Perhaps some letters to the editor of the Boston Globe?

How can a man... a doctor man... possibly understand the joy of unmedicated birth? How else would he think since his wife chose to have medicated paralysis? If he disagreed, that would deem her wrong, wouldn't it?

Frustrating, these thinly veiled advertisements for medications in birth. Very, very frustrating.

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Reader Comments (12)

it's so amazing to me that a doctor could not really know about delicate hormonal balances that occur with natural childbirth and how medication (and observation, judgment, etc) interferes with that balance in a dangerous way.

Seems to me like Sarah Buckley should send him her article "Ecstatic Birth".

I love it when the medical male model attempts to show, once again, how women's bodies are weak machines.

July 24, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSage Femme

it's so amazing to me that a doctor could not really know about delicate hormonal balances that occur with natural childbirth and how medication (and observation, judgment, etc) interferes with that balance in a dangerous way.

Seems to me like Sarah Buckley should send him her article "Ecstatic Birth".

I love it when the medical male model attempts to show, once again, how women's bodies are weak machines.

July 24, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSage Femme

This man has serious uterus/vagina envy. There is no way he will every understand the experience of childbirth, so his choice is to belittle it, and to belittle the women who choose to have an non-interverntiontist birth.

July 24, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

(this comment may appear twice since the window gave me problems)

Speaking from the limited experience of being 39 weeks along with my first (who's currently kicking the crap out of me because Braxton-Hicks seem to piss it off), pregnancy itself is a wild ride through a transformation, like puberty on fast forward, so many weird reactions and intense sensations. I expect labor will be another exponential acceleration. The point is context.

When my mom woke up from her first knee replacement she was in more pain than before her surgery but she was smiling, because the pain still hurt but it felt like healing instead of destruction, and because she knew she'd be able to walk when she got to the other side of that pain.

Pain is not a black and white reaction, pain is processed and experienced in the brain and mediated by context. It tells us things about our body, it changes our chemistry, and in some cases our thoughts can dialogue with the sensation and change it, subtly or profoundly. To borrow one of the author's examples, religious fasting doesn't just earn you cool points with the zealots, it changes brain chemistry and allows the practitioner to experience a different brain state than normal: not all religion is theatre and not all pain is matyrdom...and not all intense sensations must necessarily be experienced as pain.

"Thinking beings, in some sense, have evolved beyond pain."

In addition to the medical error above that quote (equating spinal reflexes with the sensation of pain experienced by an individual), you can taste the wide intellectual chasm between mind and body here, which is the fundamental assumption that skews the whole article.

July 24, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterd. feldman

Unless one is about to be cut open, I think it's wisest to stay as far away from an epidural as possible...and given what happens in hospitals that would mean stay home. But you know that.

But you may not know this:

A 16 year Wisconsin mother went to the hospital to be induced...they hooked up an epidural bag to her IV...crash, dead mom, they were able to rescue (from their own stupidity) the baby.


It makes me so sad for families and so angry at those who push the epidural and induction agenda of the "birth" factories.


July 24, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Like a recent client said just moments after giving birth and taking a moment to put things into perspective: "Yes, it hurt, but I don’t remember it as pain. Pain is things going wrong and this was all good".

July 24, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterladyelms

I think as sage femme said, this doctor does not understand the ecstacy that is possible with natural birth, that is short-circuited with medications and anesthetics. Heck, I'm so dang addicted that I'm pregnant with my seventh baby and I can't get enough of birth stuff.

Birth pain is not like a toothache or a headache that signals that something is wrong. It is a working pain, like weight lifting, mountain climbing or marathon running. Ever see a marathoner at the end of the race? They are in agony and ecstacy. Just like birth!

July 24, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterOne Hot Mama

like many in our modern culture he is driven be fear and fear of being out of control. we cannot control nature and pain is not bad. in my classes the most common fear that comes up with the men is fear of death and not being in control or being able to fix or help. our patriarchal society has projected these fears on the whole, not that they are invalid but they should not be the leading force. i also think it is hard for partners to see women as powerful in a way that birth can present them, it can be overwhelming.
we all have things that we choose to justify to others in hopes that they will agree in turn giving our stance truth. this is just a really unfortunate case on a large scale.

July 24, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterreticulatedmama

Although I can remember the intensity of the births of all of my children (4, all born without medications) what I can most remember is the ecstatic high of pushing their little bodies from mine, and scooping them to my breast, and feeling like I could leap a mountain in a single bound. When I am most distressed, I repeat my birth stories over and over in my head, and it always calms me and helps me feel strong and capable.
Why would I want to have missed that?
You know, though, that docs who believe this crap have never experienced this - or witnessed it. A friend who had terrible epidural complications related that her OB was just horrified that she felt like she'd never have an epidural. The OB said "If it was so hard with it, think about how awful it woudl be without it" which seems pretty thick-headed since it was only so hard BECAUSE of the epidural. The day my friend had her miserable medical delivery, I attended a 17 yr old mom, who labored all day in and out of our tub, moaning and vocalizing, and then pushed her baby out squatting on the floor, holding her sister's hands for support, then pulled her own baby up into her arms (all 9 lbs of him) The nurse and I in attendance were is awe of her power. Since I follow her baby still, I've had the chance to see that the power of his birth has spilled over into this young woman's mothering. She is more confident and sensitive than I ever thought her capable of before her birth. If you have never had the chance to experience this, you don't understand it's value.

July 24, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterfpmama

fpmama wrote of the 17 year old mother's birthing: "The nurse and I in attendance were is awe of her power."

Rather than really thinking women are weak, I'm beginning to suspect "drug her during labor" docs are really just afraid of witnessing that kind of power.

July 25, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterNOLABarb

what angers me about this argument is that it's phrased in terms of only two options: agonizing, unrelenting pain, and the bliss of completely safe anesthesia. there are so many shades of grey in there that are not even acknowledged. is it cruel to leave a woman strapped to a bed, unable to move, to sit up, to vocalize, to take a shower, eat or drink, listen to music, wear her own clothes, and then on top of the complete loss of her autonomy also refuse to touch her, support her, love her, provide for her? yes, that is cruel. and if that's the only other option that women have in the hospital, then by all means, let's promote epidural.

July 26, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterChandelle'

I really appreciate what everyone had to say. One blogreader wrote the Boston Globe and her letter will be published in response to the article. Good for her!!!

I read a follow-up Net Interview and he really, really, REALLY believes he is right about epidurals not causing any problems and just cannot see what all the fuss is about.

What alternate Universe is this person living in? Grrrr.

July 27, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

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