No, this is not another satirical post.  I’m serious.

The other night, against my better judgment, I watched the Discovery “Health” episode on freebirthing (unassisted childbirth/UC).  Every time they showed a woman freebirthing, they listed three things this woman was going without: hospital technology, professional assistance, and pain relief.  I found the last almost comical, not only because it doesn’t seem to rate the same priority as the other two (so far I haven’t heard of even the most ill-informed practitioner saying “You can’t go without pain relief or you and your baby will die”), but also because it was patently irrelevant to the woman being filmed.  It’s hard to take a narrator seriously when she sounds shocked and slightly disgusted that a woman has been in labor for TWO HOURS without pain relief–and the woman is lying in a tub of warm water, calm, happy, and reaching between her legs and cooing “Oooh, the baby’s coming, I feel a tuft of hair!”

What really bugged me, though, was the huge assumption that pharmaceuticals are the only source of pain relief.  This in a nutshell is why I ignore most mainstream media on any topic.  If I can even get past the assumptions that are based on some agenda I probably don’t share, there’s usually little information of value left over.

These women were not forgoing pain relief.  All of them were in a tub of warm water at one point or another.  All of them writhed, vocalized, and chose the position that was most comfortable.  All of them had another person there to support them unequivocally and tell them they could do it.  What these women, and every woman who decides on an unmedicated birth, are forgoing is the physical and emotional complications that are often caused by pharmaceutical methods of pain relief–the only pain relief methods, I might add, that typically detract from rather than promote the process of normal birth.

So, back to my title.  No woman should be expected to give birth without pain relief.  However, just because it doesn’t come in a needle or a pill doesn’t mean it’s not pain relief–as long as we recognize that pain relief should not mean total removal of sensation.  While comfort allows a woman to progress effectively through labor and birth, total lack of sensation often does not; hence the more forthright term “comfort measures.”  And there is an unending list, limited only by your preferences and imagination, of supportive and labor-promoting comfort measures: walking, rocking, hydrotherapy (laboring in water), hypno-birthing, continuous support, aromatherapy, massage, and upright positions for birth are just a few.  What are your favorites?