Natural childbirth is the designer handbag of birth


I just read a great piece on Ravishly, Natural Childbirth Is Great But Let’s Stop Pretending It’s A Matter Of Choice.

I agree with a lot that the author has to say:

Labor is excruciating.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Natural childbirth is an affectation just like a designer handbag.[/pullquote]

…There was no warning, no gentle increase of pressure, just sudden stabbing pain, followed by incredible pain, followed by a pain that obliterated all of my other senses until I was just a small, pulsing ball of pure, radiating pain. And then the contraction ended, and I could think and see and speak again. And then, without warning, the pain would return. My mom stood over me, rubbing my back, encouraging me to “relax, breathe, relax,” but I couldn’t. My body was a muscle fully contracted. I couldn’t anticipate the pain so I couldn’t ease into it. It consumed me.

Epidurals are miraculous.

Take the worst pain you’ve ever felt. Double, triple, quadruple it. Reset your entire pain scale so that instead of 1-10 it now goes 1-1,000. And then stop it completely. Replace it with a gentle tickling sensation. The epidural took the pain away and, as my body continued to labor, I took a nap.

Choice is a luxury.

Natural childbirth is all about choosing to suffer in agony. If that’s what you want, you should go for it. But don’t pretend it’s some sort of achievement to refuse effective pain relief. It’s a privilege that most women who have ever existed never had and would have given a great deal to have.

But I take issue with the author’s fundamental premise expressed in the title. There’s nothing great about natural childbirth. It’s not healthier, safer or better in any way than childbirth with pain relief

It’s not an achievement, either, unless you think that root canal without pain relief or refusing pain relief after breaking your leg is an achievement.

It’s no more of an achievement than having good vision without glasses, breathing without asthma or eating without being gluten intolerant.

It’s what nature intended? Nature intended that an astronomical number of babies and women will die in childbirth. That doesn’t making dying in childbirth an achievement, does it?

Natural childbirth is a choice just like a designer handbag is a choice. There’s nothing intrinsically better about a handbag that has a designer label than one that doesn’t. A designer handbag doesn’t carry more items or carry them better. I like designer handbags and occasionally buy one, but I recognize that they are an affectation. The entire point of a designer handbag is that others recognize that you have a designer handbag.

They are also a big money maker for designers. They are often no more expensive to fabricate than non-designer handbags. They command a premium in the marketplace because of snobbery, not because of value.

Natural childbirth is also an affectation. There’s nothing intrinsically better about unmedicated childbirth than childbirth with an epidural. It isn’t more likely to result in a vaginal birth, and it doesn’t decrease the C-section rate. Natural childbirth is an affectation primarily among Western, white, relatively well off women. The entire point of natural childbirth as a philosophy is bragging to yourself and others that you “did it.”

Pro-tip: if it’s not an achievement when a 15 year old Afghan child has an unmedicated vaginal birth because she had no choice, it’s hardly an achievement when a well off 35 year old white woman does it because she has the luxury of every possible choice.

Natural childbirth is a big money maker for the natural childbirth industry — midwives, doulas, childbirth educators — and they market natural childbirth as aggressively as designers market their handbags and in the same way. The focus of marketing efforts in both cases is to convince women that purchasing the products (books, courses and services in the case of the natural childbirth industry) marks them as superior to other women.

If you want to spend hundreds of dollars on a designer handbag, I won’t stop you. But don’t tell me that it marks you as better than other women. If you want to buy the goods, services and philosophy of the natural childbirth industry, go for it. But don’t pretend that it marks you as better than other women.

Natural childbirth, like a designer handbag, is a choice — not a good choice, not bad choice, and certainly not a great choice — nothing more.