Pain management and childbirth deserve discussion as issues of women’s rights to healthcare. The author of this BBC article, Dr. Denis Walsh, associate professor in midwifery at Nottingham University, argues that the agony of labor makes women better mothers. He does cite medical benefits to childbirth pain such as the release of endorphins and the lessened need for hormone treatment, but Walsh actually says here that pain is a “rite of passage”. It is no doctor’s place, especially a doctor who enjoys male privilege, to speak of a “woman’s lot” and assume that we should grin and bear it. What other “rites of passage” has the world assumed that women should embrace as part of our life suffering? Female genital mutilation, for one. His use of this language is problematic.
Dr. Walsh’s female colleague, Dr. Maggie Blott, had to clarify his comments. She says he does not advocate pain, but only “encourages alternative ways to deal with pain such as yoga, hypnosis, massage and birthing pools.”
Access to home birth, natural birth, midwives, etc. is still decided by privilege. High costs associated with the lack of health insurance coverage restrict the average mother-to-be’s alternative pain management tools, and some governments have even bowed to healthcare industry pressure to all but ban midwifery. Yet Dr. Walsh intimates that women who choose epidurals lack a certain moral fiber that can only be won through pain and suffering, which he accepts as the common experience of women in childbirth. Americans do have problematic dependencies on pain relief drugs, and there is a myth that a hospital birth is always the best option. But those who follow the healthcare industry’s track of a hospital birth and have an epidural, either by choice or by lack of access to alternative pregnancy care, need not be vilified.
Pain without an epidural is not a rite of passage for mothers, but rather a failure of our world healthcare systems to provide alternative care. Get the message straight.