Saturday, 7 May 2011

Is ignorance bliss?

I got a call the other day.  It was an enquiry about my antenatal sessions.  It's always exciting when someone tells me that they are pregnant and that they want some information about the journey ahead.

We talked about the practical stuff, where we would meet, what I would cover and then WHAM! Out of nowhere she told me "I don't need to know about the birth bit.  I'm having an epidural".

And like that I was speechless.  Doesn't happen often I can tell you.  But I confess to feeling confused.  Why would the fact that a woman would want an epidural mean that she wouldn't need to know about birth?  I mean am I missing something here?  Does having an epidural mean that you hand your body over and "you gets what you gets"?  

I didn't try to persuade her of anything, I simply asked her to email me her details and requirements and that we would speak again if she wanted to go ahead.  Forgive the natural instinct in me to plan a hundred different ways to explain to her why she might need to know about giving birth and why an epidural shouldn't be her default setting.  My tongue was firmly bitten and I knew I would give her the information that she asked for and be prepared to talk about birth in her entirety.  Sadly, to date, she has not emailed or called again.  I'm reasonably sure that my palpable shock hadn't reached through the phone wires.

What have we done that women are so afraid of birth that they don't want to talk about it?  Is the prospect of a drug free birth that terrible?  

I was talking to one of the mums at school.  She has two children and is thinking of having her third next year (or at least trying for the third for next year).  Naturally (well you birth junkies will know what I mean) I asked her how her first two births were.  The first was a twelve hour labour that seemed to stall in the middle.  She arrived at hospital and was 5cm dilated.  She was still at 5cm several hours later.  She was exhausted and had an epidural.  She relaxed, her body opened up fast.  They told her to push but she couldn't feel her body and didn't know what to do or how to do it.  When she was told by the doctor (after fifty mins of pushing) that she had ten minutes to get the baby out or she was having a caesarean, she pushed and her daughter flew out.  For her second birth she stayed home longer but when she got to hospital and they told her it would be hours, she opted for an epidural again.  The baby's heart rate plummeted and he went into distress.  Again she pushed her baby out.  This labour had also lasted twelve hours.  Another of the school mums was walking with us and said, "I hope you got all the drugs!"  

There are a fair few default settings that puzzle me.  To give birth you need an epidural.  To birth twins you will not go to term and you will need a caesarean and NICU.  To birth a breech baby you will need a caesarean.  You cannot have a home birth after a caesarean.  I do not say that having these things are wrong.  I am just puzzled that they are the default setting.

The information is out there.  There are antenatal classes, blogs, facebook pages.  I tell my ladies not to google.  I think that too much information is a bad thing, but is ignorance bliss? 


  1. I don't know if ignorance is bliss, but I do know that biting one's tongue is expected. It is so blasted difficult to say ANYTHING about pregnancy/birth/breastfeeding that is not utterly middle of the road or supportive of the mainstream.

    To say anything other than, "oh, the drugs are great!" is to impugn the mother and belittle her choices. Since WHEN did advocating for the health of mamas and babies become taboo? It's endlessly, endlessly frustrating. Epidurals and cesareans are safer than they have been in our collective hospital birth history, but it doesn't get any safer than a labor that starts spontaneously, progresses spontaneously and ends in pushing spontaneously. Why is it so incendiary to say so?

  2. yes. it blows my mind when women don't want to have any knowledge or even idea of what is going to happen to them or their baby. i find it a disheartening and sad comment on our society that bringing up anything other than "i hope you got the drugs!" is viewed as "hippy" or "out there". even if someone does choose the epidural or c-section, i wish they would do it with information behind them. I have a friend who had a section, but she had so much information and her choice was completely informed. in her situation, it was truly best. i support that 100%. what i don't support - or rather, have a much harder time supporting - is the ones that don't want to know anything and just want to be pain-free. sorry, but birth just doesn't work that way!!!

  3. there seems a default that birth is awful. I was waiting at the FMU months ago, and there was a woman there whose waters had broken. she was a twin. I was pregnant with twins, we got chatting.

    her contractions hadn't really kicked in. I was excited for her, and said so. every other woman there was telling her to "get the drugs". she said she was hoping for a drug free birth and there were sharp intakes of breath from these other 4 or 5 women who told her she was crazy, just get the damn drugs. I said I loved giving birth, was really looking forward to doing it again and then they all looked at me like I was crazy!

    if everyone is telling you that birth is awful and dangerous, then I can completely understand that you might want to cede control of your body to drugs and doctors that "know best".

    when I was first pregnant only one friend shared a positive birth story; everyone else told me horror stories. luckily I am more scared of losing my autonomy and my second labour was even better than my first, but it seems difficult for me to say that without women who haven't had that experience thinking I'm criticising them (I'm not). but how can women know what a positive experience birth can be if most women they know are not having or not telling them about "good" births?

  4. I'm totally with you there Chris. I got yelled at and told I was deluded when I said that it didn't have to be difficult to breastfeed twins. I was called a loon and a smug b*tch. What can I do? Tell women that it will definitely be awful and that there is no hope? That will never happen. I think it is a wonderful thing and a wondrous time and that we can't predict a journey we've never taken before.

  5. Just wanted to let you know this post inspired us to add to our blog and we've linked to this page. Thanks for the interesting topic and info!

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  7. Thanks for this inspiring post! We used this as a jumping off point for one of our own. Here's the link: