‘I feel like a failure because I had pain relief during labour’. Really? I had so many drugs I thought I’d given birth to a tomato

As I lay staring at the ceiling, a strange, sweating man labouring above me, I reflected on the conveyor-belt mentality of our National Health Service.

I had only just met this chap and within seconds he was pouring Rohypnol down my throat, levering open my mouth and advising me to lie back and think of England while he wielded his fearsome tool inches from my face.

Had I not been paying for the procedure, it probably would have ranked as one of the most romantic moments of my life.

I had spent the past six months barely existing under a cloud of indescribably terrible toothache – the severity of which I can only liken to having had Nirvana perform Smells Like Teen Spirit inside my brain for 24 hours a day, seven days a week . Finally, it was  time to take action.

My decision had something to do with the fact that my Matthew-Perry-from-Friends-style addiction to painkillers had seen me almost sever a toe without registering any pain whatsoever despite the fact that I could still clearly feel every last twinge in my mouth.

I realised at this point that even if someone were to cut my head off and liquidise it, the tooth would still keep hurting.

Despite being in agony, I was mindful of a survey I’d read claiming that 12 per cent of women suffer “psychological trauma” and “feel like failures” because they use pain relief during childbirth. I have enough psychological trauma and failure in my life already; and if pain is good enough for women in labour, surely the same rules had to apply for tooth extraction.

I resolved to experience tooth extraction without recourse to any soul-sapping drugs. I arrived at the dentist’s with my herbalist, acupuncturist, spiritual guide and a suitcase packed with essential oils, Enya tapes and an ermine-lined casket for my tooth.

All were dispatched in seconds by the fearsome receptionist and forced to wait for me in the foyer with only musak and Heat magazine to keep them company. Undeterred, I asked the dentist what his thoughts were about drug-free tooth extraction procedures and told him that I didn’t want to leave his surgery feeling psychologically traumatised or like a failure.

To the ringing of his hollow laughter, I was immediately strapped to the leatherette chair, cranked backwards into a prone position and drugs were tipped into my protesting mouth and injected into my gums before I could even ask him his views on third world debt.


You think this hurts? Wait til you see the bill.

"You think this hurts? Wait til you see the bill."

I emerged a few minutes later feeling psychologically traumatised and like a failure. Then I realised that I was a failure without toothache, and I perked up no end.

Whenever I hear women bragging about how they went through labour without any drugs as if it is an Olympic discipline, I wonder if they spend their lives harking back to the good old days when old ladies with cats and warts were burnt at the stake as witches and we spent all our time embroidering pastoral scenes and getting the tea on.

My only regrets about my labour are that I didn’t have more drugs. With two deliveries in theatre (I refer to a surgeon’s workplace, not an emporium of entertainment) I had plenty of drugs; when I gave birth to my daughter, I was convinced I’d had a tomato. But I definitely could have done with more drugs after the birth – enough supplies to last past their 18th birthdays would suffice.

Anyone with a new baby who has enough time on their hands to carp on about feeling “cheated” because they accepted a paracetamol while their nether regions were on fire gets no sympathy from me. People with toothache, on the other hand, deserve medals for endurance. And lots of hard drugs.

*** This post is dedicated to my good friend Ram, who came into our lives briefly and enhanced them all with his unique blend of multi-animal milk dairy products. May his life in Mexico be long and prosperous and may he find the hairy-backed woman of his dreams. You will be missed, Ram, and it’s only because I have your brother Raj’s store in the UK that I’m not holding a Tannerleah-style protest of my own. ***


23 Responses to “‘I feel like a failure because I had pain relief during labour’. Really? I had so many drugs I thought I’d given birth to a tomato”

  1. April 2, 2009 at 6:45 pm

    I don’t think women like me are bragging when we talk about our unmedicated natural childbirths – I had four, and I made the decision never ever to have my unborn child or myself put under the risk of the medications (there are significant risks that docs conveniently don’t discuss – did you know parts of those drugs are used in germ warfare?). My labors, however, were not painful at all. I know dozens of women who made the choice to birth the way our bodies were meant to birth, have confidence in our body’s ability, and have control over the situation.

    The best thing about natural childbirth is the fact that I was home within 5 hours of labor, making lunch for the family that was visiting and feeling fantastic.

    Anyways, we don’t “Brag” because we think we did something out of the ordinary, or deserve a medal. We “Brag” because we did an amazing, natural thing, and our medal is the safety of our babies and ourselves.

    Although this is a personal choice, I hope to live to see the day that medication during this non-medical event becomes the exception, not the rule.

  2. April 2, 2009 at 6:46 pm

    Yeah, but the mouth is a totally different orifice from the fanny, you can’t really compare them. Having a baby is a squeezing stretching experience, which should be fun with the right mental attitude, whereas tooth extraction is torture with pliers.

  3. April 2, 2009 at 7:02 pm

    Making lunch five hours after labour? Bugger that. If having drugs mean you can’t entertain the family within a few hours of surgery, I say good show.
    I actually didn’t have any choice about having drugs because as I said, I had both babies in surgery and they frown on giving a caesarean without numbing you from the waist down. If I’d have let my body give birth the way it was meant to, I’d be dead and so would the kids. But at least they wouldn’t have undergone germ warfare (until they got back to my house)!
    But thank you for your comment. And yours, GB, as ever. From what I remember of labour, it was a whole heap of fun. Much like setting fire to yourself and insisting people douse the flames with petrol (I know your lot go off into the woods and squat. Gorillas are clearly far more evolved than humans).

  4. 4 Kali
    April 2, 2009 at 7:12 pm

    There’s an article that relates, peripherally, at least, to this topic from a recent New York Magazine: http://nymag.com/news/features/55500/?imw=Y
    The piece focuses on one particular midwife, but wrapped up in her philosophy (and the philosophy of a lot of women who’ve successfully delivered with her — and in an entire movement that’s made her a kind of star in the natural birthing word) is the notion that if you take “the drugs,” you’ve given in, you’ve settled, you were selfish, you weren’t as careful with your newborn baby as those who opted not to take the drugs were. The piece expounds on this idea in a way that makes it unnecessary for me to do so here, so check it out if you’re interested.

  5. April 2, 2009 at 8:35 pm

    Bang on the money, Kali.

    My favourite line was:

    “…natural-birth pioneer Michel Odent contends that a “complex cocktail of love hormones … create a state of dependency, addiction” between mother and child. Interrupting that natural flow with drugs or a Cesarean, he posits, invites dire consequences. “It’s simple,” he says. “If monkeys give birth by Cesarean section, the mother is not interested in her baby … So you wonder, what about … the future of humanity?”

    I’d like to have met Michel Odent when I was still off my face on drugs after having a C-section and would have invited him to put forward this deeply scientific theory. Then I’d have assured the nurse that he wouldn’t need painkillers for his smashed nose because it would be ‘interrupting the natural flow’.

    Nice to see you at WIB towers. Do come over again.

  6. April 2, 2009 at 8:45 pm

    Babies…birth…blah, blah, blah. Let’s get back to the main point.

    You are toothless? I love you all that much more.

  7. April 2, 2009 at 8:55 pm

    Tannerleah, Did you ever know that you’re my hero?
    You’re everything (EVERYTHING) I wish I could be.
    I could fly higher than an eagle,
    ’cause you are the wind beneath my wings.

    I’d like it make it clear that I may be toothless, but I’m practically virginal thanks to the germ warfare and C-sections.

  8. 8 Jesus Ramirez Jr.
    April 3, 2009 at 1:38 am

    hola mujer en negro,

    An excellent post – as always. Many thanks.

  9. April 3, 2009 at 1:51 am

    While I was reading your post, I felt traumatized. Both violated and cheated at the same tingling time.

  10. April 3, 2009 at 10:57 am

    Do we get the nearly-severed toe story next? I’ve got a great toe story to tell too…..

    I had one son with the help of pethidine and one son with nothing but I was only in labour for a couple of hours with the second. My babies were pretty small so I guess I was lucky. Can I have the drugs now to make up for what I missed out on back then?

    I just want free drugs and lots of them.

  11. April 3, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    Myra, I thought you just stole the meds for your patients and gave them Pez instead.

  12. April 3, 2009 at 1:57 pm

    A raise of hands please,from those of you who braved your colonoscopy without benefit of sedation? I may be cheating my anus out of the experience of a lifetime, but sedation, liquour, pills and therapy for post tramatic stress syndrome is definitely the way here.

  13. April 3, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    A raise of hands please,from those of you who braved your colonoscopy without benefit of sedation? I may be cheating my anus out of the experience of a lifetime, but sedation, liquour, pills and therapy for post tramatic stress syndrome is definitely the way here.
    Sorry, forgot to add great post! Can’t wait to see your next post!

  14. April 3, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    Sweats…my pop did that….ONCE!!

  15. April 3, 2009 at 7:10 pm

    “Bang on the money, Kali.”

    Thank you, kindly. Can I add that — despite having no kids of my own — I’d gotten an earful of this philosophy before I read the article. In fact, part of what it made it so interesting, actually, is that an old friend of mine became a midwife. While I think her intentions are earnest and good, I don’t always know that the way it’s carried out is so great (or not in need of supervision by someone who spent — let’s be honest — A LOT longer in school).

    What’s more, I’m always wary of anything that’s “trendy” in medicine. Don’t get me wrong — I’m all for trying holistic-touchy-feely-macrame-making-Whole-Foods-anti-antibiotics cures. But there’s a certain amount of skepticism that I think should be reserved when people start advising you do things, and you detect a clear note of “everybody’s doing it” in that advice. Natural childbirth isn’t for everyone, and medicine should stay as far away from bandwagons as possible.

  16. April 3, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    I’m not a woman…although I do play one on tv, but I am a staunch anti-pain advocate. If it hurts, get rid of it. I know pain is supposed to be good because it notifies our brain that something is amiss, but can’t it just be like the microwave oven and give us one good DING! and then stop?

  17. April 3, 2009 at 11:47 pm

    I prefer teeth to kids.

  18. 18 Spudulika
    April 4, 2009 at 12:29 am

    WIB I see what you’re doing – you have invented a character called ‘Sandra’ so that, for comedic effect, there would be an opposing viewpoint, written in so serious and sincere a tone that readers would pore over it twice, incredulous, before realising that ‘Sandra’ could not possibly be for real. Because no real person is THAT up her own arse.
    (Mother of four grown up kids who all survived birth despite the gas and air)

  19. April 4, 2009 at 9:04 am

    Spud, it was the line ‘My labours weren’t painful at all’ that gave me away, wasn’t it? Or was it the bit about making lunch within five minutes?

    My next post ‘Giving birth is like shelling peas and if you don’t agree you’re not a real woman’ will appear in the coming weeks. If I haven’t topped myself with shame for having not gone through C-sections without germ warfare.

    Lovely to see you all.

  20. 20 pinnythewu
    April 5, 2009 at 8:27 am

    I didn’t have drugs, but I freaking wanted them!!! It all happened to quickly – I got to the hospital too late and didn’t have time for drugs. I feel traumatised that I didn’t have them. I quiver in fear remembering that pain…. As for being at home making lunch 5 hours later and feeling great after a natural childbirth, FUCK NO! I stayed in hospital for 3 days afterward. I tried to have a shower on day two and had to call for help because I couldn’t get off the shower chair by myself. I had no strength what so ever and could barely lift my baby. If my family expected me to make them lunch even a week later, they’d find themselves crucified while I pull their toe nails out.

  21. April 6, 2009 at 11:41 am

    Great post.

    The reason this ‘non-medical’ event has become medicalised is because it’s pretty bloomin’ dangerous and loads of people used to from it. Now, fewer people die from it. Because of medical intervention. I’d say all involved parties surviving the experience is a pretty big win.

  22. April 12, 2009 at 5:23 am

    True story. Canadian health care system is super awesome in its universality but super cramped because of it’s overuse, like any other common property resource. On baby one my wife was “suggestively sold” by the nurses on not getting the epideral, my gut telling me because of cost and busy-ness of the specialist.

    Part way through, poor sweet thing is super suffering, wants the epideral, the guy wheels in does all this prep, I’m watching and thinking “is this guy pantomiming this procedure”, but I have no reference point and it’s a crazy time for me too, again just a gut feeling.

    Long story short, it turns out they f#$%-ing faked the epideral!

    Baby two and three we had epiderals, no moral qualms here about blunting the massive pain of childbirth. Also not interested in dissenting views here, should anyone have any. Save them for someone who cares.

  23. 23 Spudulika
    April 16, 2009 at 9:29 pm

    Sandra IS for real I’ve seen her website. Really don’t know whether to laugh or cry…

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