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Women Get High From Epidurals?

Really? This is what, in part, an article by Judy Slome Cohain, originally published in the Autumn 2010 Midwifery Today, says. From what I understand, Cohain is a Certified Nurse Midwife, making her comments/beliefs even more confounding.

“They get a little buzz and feel a bit tingly high from the relief of pain and the fentanyl and smile from the high. It seems a shame that they are unaware that they could get that high by learning how to find the place inside themselves that releases it naturally, or by surrounding themselves with other high people. Also, if the woman feels the fentanyl high, then the baby must be getting it also….”

Her interpretation of what women are feeling is bizarre. It isn’t that they are high, they are relieved! Is the baby relieved? Probably from the stress hormones’ minimization.

The really long article waxes poetic about unmedicated birth, saying,

“The biggest lesson I’ve learned from 25 years of assisting births is that there are no two people on earth alike. Each woman is a completely unique entity with different tastes, needs and desires. By enabling a woman to birth at home—or in any place she chooses—where she can find the position, place, smells, atmosphere and surroundings she needs to birth, she can birth practically without pain. I am not only referring to people who meditate and do hours of yoga every day. I’m talking about Mrs. Couch Potato, too. I could describe hundreds of women who did not feel much pain during birth.”

I haven’t been a midwife for 25 years, but I can surely tell you that there were plenty of women who felt a great deal of pain in their home births. Some so much, they transferred to the hospital for pain relief; not many, but a few. Pain is one major reason first time moms transfer to the hospital.

Cohain also says,

“The task of labor is to breathe and relax for 30 seconds of contraction. This can easily be accomplished by the most unimaginative person by walking slowly and counting 10 slow breathes. An imaginative person can connect to the place in her body where she can release her natural endorphins and get a natural high. She can surround herself with a few people who love her and get a contact group love surge. She can connect to her power or whatever power she wants to let flow through her—it’s much like the energy you get watching a great concert, or a shooting star, or a child take his first step. As this energy flows through her she can imagine herself powerful and giving life force to others, praying for the health of sick people she may know. She can kneel down in soft, green grass and suck in nature’s bounties. It can be tiring, but the longest it will last at significant strength is 12 hours.”

30-second long contractions are in early labor and that is typically the least uncomfortable time, but for some, it is still painful if the baby isn’t in a great position. And the longest hard labor lasts is twelve hours? She must have some speedy women giving birth around her.

I’ve been to births that sound like what Cohain describes above, but they were the unusual, not the typical. I’ve also been to hospital births that were just as ethereal as these home births she describes. Has she not?

“Watching a woman get an epidural reminds me of watching a teenager have a bad drug trip. Birth is not a terribly painful process in the comfort of home, although going to the hospital doubles it.”

It makes me very uncomfortable to read such statements. Sure, staying in the bed without movement can be more painful, but more and more hospitals are “allowing” women to move around in labor, even as they are tethered to monitors and an IV. Saying that birth isn’t a “terribly painful process” at home discounts all those women for whom birth is terribly painful.

Cohain even attacks the verbiage used around epidurals, although, as far as I know, she gets even that wrong. She says,

“Although the euphemism, ‘She took an epidural’ is universally used, no woman can take an epidural. She has to be given it.”

In my 30 years of experience with epidurals, the woman got an epidural, she didn’t take one. Have you all heard of taking one?

There is great detail about a woman in a hospital bed and getting an epidural, including the erroneous information that says,

“The anesthesiologist takes a large gauge needle on a 5 or 10 cc syringe and starts digging into the laboring woman’s back. The hole has to be large enough to fit the drug-bringing canula which goes in 4 inches, or 10 cm, in and up her spine. Blood flows down her back in a half-centimeter stream from the hole. It hurts to be stuck.”

First, the woman gets a shot of lidocaine so she doesn’t feel the needle going into her spine. The doctor also doesn’t “dig” into the woman’s back; he knows precisely where he’s going. While it does sting like a bee sting for the lidocaine poke, the insertion of the needle and then canula are typically felt as a lot of pressure, not pain.

At one point, she says that Bupivacaine is an opioid, which it is not.

And her belief that women get high from epidurals is laughable if she weren’t so serious. Accusing women of wanting to get high in birth is downright rude; women are wanting to have pain-free births and have that option in a free world.

It’s sad to me that Cohain doesn’t seem to have seen some beautiful hospital births, that the only lovely births she’s seen have been home births. I’ve seen some hospital births that were more wonderful than some home births.

I’m tempted to write a birth story where a woman starts out at home then transfers to the hospital for an epidural, words billowing melodiously. It could happen.

References (3)

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    Response: longchamp tasche
    - Navelgazing Midwife Blog - Women Get High From Epidurals?
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    Response: bit.ly
    - Navelgazing Midwife Blog - Women Get High From Epidurals?
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    Response: new year 2016

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