Pain relief in labour, a personal journey
Unfortunately, there are no easy answers when it comes to pain relief and childbirth. One thing is certain however: what you decide to do is entirely your choice and depends on your circumstances.
Here, the very differing experiences of pain relief and childbirth highlight just how much things can vary.
Read on to find out more.
My journey from a pethidine birth to drug-free labour
Labour with my first child was a very scary experience. My partner and I were very young, only 22, and this left us feeling a little bit like naughty children in the hands of the NHS – midwives, doctors and all – and this ultimately was very disempowering.
Sure, we’d read a lot of books on pregnancy and childbirth but when faced with professionals and experts who are much older than us we simply deferred every time, even if what they wanted wasn’t what we wanted.
So it was with pain relief in labour. We’d obviously heard that childbirth was painful, and highly medicalised, so that is what we expected. The question of pain relief was simply one of deciding which was best for us rather than asking the question of whether perhaps we might not need it at all.
With hindsight, I believe that this surrendering to the medical establishment ultimately played a role in making my firstborn very reticent to come out – at 41 weeks my blood pressure was steadily building and doctors made the decision to medically induce my labour.
Induced labours tend to be both more painful and more medicalised and this was precisely my experience: hooked up to all manner of tubes, flat on my back in a medical gown, strip lighting on, gas and air at my side and a pethidine drip getting me so high that I had a kind of out-of-body experience; I actually saw myself lying there helpless. All the while my partner sweated through his best shirt (why had he worn it) looking hapless and worried.
This is not to discredit the pain relief I received, I don’t feel I would have been able to get through childbirth without it. The baby did come and it was fine in the end, but I believe strongly that my lack of power together with the discombobulation caused by the pain relief really did leave me struggling to cope, both during labour and for the first couple of weeks after the birth.
I can’t begin to emphasise just how different things were for the births of my two other children. I’d developed so much personally and professionally that this time there was no question of me helplessly deferring to the hospital birth process. In fact, I was determined not to. What I wanted was some measure of control.
Although I did not actually have a doula present for either of my subsequent births, I did consult one throughout both pregnancies and this significantly informed my birth plan. I knew that births tend to happen more quickly and more painlessly in low stress, darkened rooms with medical support only minimally felt; so that was the option I decided to pursue.
This put me at odds with many of my friends from the doula group. They were set on having home births but I felt that by ensuring that the lights were turned down low and that the midwives kept their distance, my partner and I would be able to foster a really beneficial cave-like atmosphere, even if it was in the hospital.
Believe it or not, this meant that I was able to shun pain relief altogether for both births. Of course, this was only possible because the pregnancies were complication-free but it was also made possible by having a supportive partner who knew my wishes, knew his own mind, and we both felt confident enough to communicate these wants to the midwives, even as I mooed and pooed on the delivery suite floor.
It was also possible because I accepted that I might need pain relief so felt no pressure to go pain relief free. I knew my choices and the ball was in my court and I would recommend the same for any mum-to-be.