You know how sometimes, when you are pregnant, you have these very weird dreams that wake you up every two hours? Well, last night was one of these nights, not helped by the fact that my three years old woke me up as well. In any case, I dreamt that I was a member of the harry potter crew, probably the girl, but I’m not sure…After a few dark adventures, we ended up in a house that seemed a little strange. It was built like a doll house and had all these little rooms and compartments, with mazes, swings and wooden boxes. After a while, I realised what it reminded me of: it was like being in the cage of a mouse, gerbil or hamster. We wandered around for a while and, in the end, met the lady of the house: an actual mouse. Except that it was taller than all of us and dressed like a woman. The mouse seemed nice and friendly but, you know, she was a bit scary being a mouse and all that; Nonetheless we still had a polite conversation. Then one of us, I think it was the ginger boy, somehow smelled the danger and told us we had to escape or neutralise her. Swiftly he put handcuffs on the mouse. But she started pleading and crying and, to be honest, she didn’t look that scary anymore, so we decided to let her go before leaving the house. Unfortunately, the ginger boy had been right to be afraid: the mouse caught each one of us and put us in separate rooms; those were actually chambers of torture. I won’t tell you the details but we were pretty badly hurt. I don’t know how the dream ends because, fortunately, I was woken up by my eldest daughter who was getting ready for school.
During the hours that followed that dream, the only thing on my mind was the trauma and torture of childbirth. Our subconscious does have very surprising ways of rising memories to our consciousness. The mouse was an analogy to the medical staff (she was even dressed in white), the rooms were all the different rooms on a maternity floor, some of them with the weirdest instruments supposed to help you give birth such as swings and the likes, and the torture was, well, the actual suffering of childbirth. There was also the difficulty knowing whether the giant mouse was good or bad, exactly like the midwifes and consultants “looking after” you during labour.
They seem competent, they talk politely and calmly and they even smile a lot. But they will send you back home three times and wait for your waters to break in a corridor before giving you a room. Then when the pain comes, they suddenly become oblivious to anything you ask them: you could be begging for an epidural, even long after your cervix is at the right stage and the labour is not going fast, and they would still look at you placidly and with a rigid smile, telling you that, unfortunately, they are no available anaesthetists at the moment but that they will keep ringing one (yes ringing one!!!). You keep yelling or even vomiting out of pain, with a cleaner tidying the mess behind you, and still, no painkiller. You are swearing and begging, your partner is asking more politely : still nothing. But oh yes, they do offer you parecetamol…Paracetamol!!! When they first mentioned it, I thought that was a joke. As if that could do anything to alleviate the harshest pain of childbirth. A bit like those odd positions they tell you to be in and that absolutely do not change anything.
One of those super nurses will come to you, flushed and happy to have finally found a solution other than telling you to breather and relax (relax??? How can you relax when what you feel is the equivalent of a hundred knives penetrating your entire body every few minutes?): they have the gas and air! You’ve heard about it. A woman you know said it was wonderful. These women who claim to have felt nothing or have even enjoyed childbirth do exist but, really, I wonder if they haven’t been brainwashed too or maybe paid to spread such lies. Your clouded brain tries to remember what it does, your partner immediately approves, eager for you to not keep looking as if you were dying on a battlefield. They take you to yet another room in a wheel chair, while you are still yelling and crying, and provide you with the famous gas and air, telling you to breathe in deeply. But to your dismay, this does nothing, literally nothing, to reduce the pain: the only thing it achieves is to make you scream less loudly and to deform your face, a bit as if you were too drunk to strain your features, so much so that your partner actually thinks, now, you might actually be dying. But the calm midwife reassures him: everything is fine, she is saying.
Fine… Seriously? The pain is excruciating and when you think you cannot take it anymore, after about twenty hours of labour, your saviour arrives with the only efficient painkiller for childbirth suffering: namely, the epidural. After a few minutes, the product is working and you simply cannot believe it: there is nomore pain at all! You feel normal again, like yourself, like a human being. You sit and relax on the hospital bed, your face finally a bit less scary, and your partner looks at you with intense relief in his eyes. Yes, you are ok, you are not dead. That wonderful , amazing drug has got rid of the pain. Certainly, the rest of the delivery might still be tricky but you are not suffering anymore.
One of the ironies is that, in the British NHS, most midwives looking after women in labour are women, while most anaesthetists are men: the former tend to scare women about epidurals and try to convince them to do it the “natural way”, whereas the latter believe in medical progress and would clearly prefer if most women could avoid such a useless amount of suffering.
Is it that these midwifes have never given birth themselves? Or do they follow a special course on how suffering is actually good for you, just because you are a woman? Or is just that this brainwashing is done in order to save the costs of too many very skilled anaesthetists?
For someone who has undergone two different births – one in Brussels with the epidural very fast and the pain and “natural” way only at the very end and then well, the physical and psychological torture in the NHS I have just recently talked about – all the stories we are told on how the epidural might be bad for you and the baby because it might be slowing down childbirth seem like total rubbish: you can have a slow labour with or without an epidural. You can have a baby that does not come down because of its size, the shape of your pelvis or both. And you can risk a caesarean because the baby’s heart is in distress with and without an epidural. You can also have forceps and other complications with or without that drug. In my opinion, the tendency to go back to more “natural deliveries” is mainly due to a lack of staff and resources and is extremely damaging to mother’s mental and physical health.
I was lucky enough to get out of the hospital more or less fine and with a healthy baby in my arms. But not that lucky that, in the NHS, you spend the night on a ward, like an animal, with tens of other mothers and babies, only separated by curtains; not lucky either that, in the NHS, you get literally kicked out of your hospital bed after twenty four hours (I will not call it a room because it is not; again, only a curtain separates you and your fellow new mothers). Certainly, I was healthy and my baby was as well. However, what about the trauma endured by such a painful and humiliating labour? During which my suffering was discarded, I was not given a room, lied to, denied a basic epidural clearly written on my “birth plan”, moved from rooms to rooms or, in other words, not taken into account as a proper human being?
A lot of women bury the trauma of these deliveries deep inside their brain. Some of them will refuse to have too many kids because of that trauma and many remain passive, they neither complain nor sue the medical staff. The truth is: most women who have endured a trauma due to childbirth feel totally helpless about it. Very few people in our supposedly advanced societies seem to consider it abnormal that women still have to suffer that much to give birth to other human beings. In an age where we have medical treatments for nearly every possible condition and where pain is almost always considered a bad thing, why is it still accepted and even encouraged for women giving birth? It is time to recognise that this situation is not acceptable anymore and for the topic to be tackled by pro-women and progressive organizations.