Birth: Pain or Pleasure?

*Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are not a substitute for the advice of a medical professional.

Okay, I know it isn’t just me who has been terrified by the thought of giving birth. When I was a kid, I remember hearing labor horror stories that mostly detailed lots of screaming and lots of blood. When my mom was pregnant with me, she never went into labor. I was several weeks late, and the doctors had her on Pitocin, a medication that induces labor, for forty-eight hours before deciding to do an emergency C-section. I had been a horror story of my own…I had absolutely no desire to experience that myself. 

As I got older, I was able to distance myself from the thought of childbirth. I knew I wouldn’t be having kids anytime soon, if at all, and I knew I had options. Hospitals have the magic of epidurals, which take away the mother’s pain and I’m all for some painkillers. After all, I don’t know a single person who is excited to push out eight pounds of baby while a bunch of doctors make eye contact with their vagina. 

However, as some of you may know, I have recently gotten engaged! While my fiancé and I still have a good, long while before we even consider having a baby, this milestone has made childbirth a much more realistic option in my future. 

That’s a little scary. 

With that in mind, I began doing some research. How much does having a baby actually hurt? What can I do to make the pain less...painful? 

After digging deep into Ecosia’s search results for “how can I give birth without dying?” (Yes, that actually is in my search history), I found some really interesting things I couldn’t resist sharing with you guys! 

First, the United States’s infant mortality rate is 71% higher than the comparable countries’ average. Let’s sit on that for a moment. WHOA…. Our country must be doing something wrong for there to be such a huge discrepancy. 

Second, almost everywhere else in the world, most babies are delivered with the support of midwives. Midwives are “trained health professionals who help healthy women during labor, delivery, and after the birth of their babies.”  

I can point out some key details of this definition. First, midwives are “trained health professionals.” They know what they’re doing. They are trained to understand pregnancy and labor like no other. 

Midwives also “help healthy women.” There are two key parts to this bit. Midwives are there for the individual giving birth. They are there to support and guide the mother through their birth. The only caveat is that the mother must be healthy. Midwives do not want to risk the mother and baby’s safety by helping someone who may need extreme medical intervention. The only people prepared to do that are surgeons, which midwives typically are not. 

A lot of information all at once, I’m sure. I’ll give you a moment to think about this.

Okay, better? Good. I promise not to bog you down with too much more information like that.

So my point of sharing this information with you is so that you are prepared to hear what I have to say next. It may rattle you, but I feel pretty confident that future you will thank ya. 

Are you ready? Here I go! 

GIVING BIRTH DOES NOT HAVE TO BE PAINFUL! 

You heard me! I mean it. I really, really do. 

In hospitals, individuals are put on their backs to give birth. However, research suggests that this is not usually the best way to experience labor. The pelvis cannot expand in the American birthing position, which means the person giving birth has to push even harder. The American position also does not allow gravity to help the mother, and it makes it harder to use the stomach muscles for pushing. So why the hell would we put people in this position?

As discoveries about modern medicine were being made in the twentieth century, doctors began to look for new ways to use their technology. Birth, an intense, potentially dangerous bodily function, seemed like the obvious answer. Could doctors take away all the pain and effort birth requires? 

This question was essentially the end of natural births. In 1900, 95% of births in the United States were in the home. By 1955, less than 1% of births took place in the home. 

Researchers have created medicines that made contractions work faster, and stronger, like Pitocin. However, more intense contractions meant more intense pain, so they used to pain medication (epidurals) that also reduce the effects of the Pitocin. As the contractions slow as a result of the epidural, nurses give mothers more Pitocin. The researchers with the documentary The Business of Being Born takes these facts a step further and observe that, although the person giving birth usually cannot feel the intensity of the Pitocin-induced contractions because of the medication, babies often enter into periods of stress. Many mothers who enter into the hospital wanting a natural birth are pushed to take these medications to make the birth experience more convenient for the medical staff. 

While, yes, this method can be successful, I cannot think it is always the best way. The medical system essentially creates a problem just to solve it. And the results are not that good. Again, look at that statistic regarding infant mortality rates in the United States. I, for one, am not impressed. Other countries are doing it better, and I want to know what we can do to protect our mothers and infants. 

Giving birth is something animals have been doing forever. We expanded our species just fine without modern medicine. According to the research conducted for the documentary The Business of Being Born, most doctors haven’t even seen a natural birth. Birth is intense, but our bodies are made to experience labor. Modern medicine is taking away women’s belief that their bodies are strong enough to accomplish this feat. 

Your body, the body of your partner, the body of your friends and family can be strong enough to give birth without help. 

People are supposed to move before they give birth. We are made to keep our muscles warm so we are ready to push and to encourage our babies to move into the best position. We are made to be strong enough to push, and we are made to have complete control over our bodies while we produce life. No doctor should take that away from us without a true medical need. 

Mothers produce endorphins extremely similar to the results of an orgasm when they give birth in this natural way. When they hold their child for the first time, when their body relaxes after accomplishing its goal, women essentially experience a mental/emotional orgasm. 

These endorphins allow mothers to bond with their babies and recognize the power in themselves. 

Medications typically used in hospitals reduce this endorphin response, which means most mothers do not experience an orgasmic birth. 

It sounds a bit unfair to me. I want to exercise my bodily autonomy. I want to experience an orgasmic birth! 

Unless it means my baby or I am less safe.

While it is important to question modern medicine and if it truly is the best way, it is just as important to respect modern medicine as a powerful force. It has the power to save lives, just like it did mine, and anyone at risk should certainly consider the benefits medication and traditional American practices could allow. 

What I want you to take away from this is not that I hate hospitals, doctors, and medications. On the contrary, I love hospitals, doctors, and medications, provided that they are helping. The most important thing is to always question what is seen as truth. Is the traditional American system really the best way for people to give birth? 

Or is it possible that a more natural birth could allow mothers and children to experience a much more individualized, positive experience? 

All I want is for you to educate yourself on birth practices so you can support the pregnant people in your life. 

All my love, 

Sarah Claire

*All information above is sourced and conducted independently. If you have more questions about childbirth, please reach out to your primary care physician*