There is a persistent myth that, when anaesthesia first became available in the nineteenth century, clerics said it should not be used to lessen the pain of childbirth because God had ordained women's suffering as a punishment for the sin of Eve. Well, perhaps the odd misogynist divine actually did say that, but it is more of a surprise to find quite a sizable number of people today still agree.
Last week, some research was published that showed first-time mothers are willing to accept greater risks for a 'natural' birth than the health professionals who care for them. My conclusion from this was that first-time mothers had no idea what they had let themselves in for, largely because there is a conspiracy of silence about just how difficult giving birth can be. All the literature talks about 'discomfort' or sometimes 'great discomfort'. But that is pure euphemism. For 'great discomfort' read 'red hot poker up your nether regions agony'. For the second child, mothers, who now know of what they speak, are much more likely to opt for an epidural or C-section. That's sensible, especially if they have previously experienced what one friend of my wife called "an all-night screamer."
The trouble is that the editor of the scientific journal in which the research appeared said women were right to take risks for a natural birth. I could hardly believe it. I know there are earth mother types who insist on home birthing and feel all virtuous about it. But for a health professional to take this weird view worried me. No surprise to find she got support from the Guardian's opinion pages.
There is a school of thought that men are not allowed an opinion on giving birth. But when some women are so determined to make their sisters go through severe pain for no particular reason beyond loosely formed ideas of virtue, I think we all need to speak out.
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