Saturday, November 04, 2006

More on voluntary pain

I am struck by the fact that there are few if any comments about the actual topic of the previous thread.

Rev. Cusick is writing specifically for health care providers to alert them to the fact that pain means different things to different individuals. Does the lack of comment indicate a general acceptance of that claim? If so, it has important implications for the natural childbirth movement.

First of all, it suggests that the willingness to endure pain, even extreme pain, stems from the fact that the individual has assigned a personal meaning to the pain. This is what I have argued in regard to natural childbirth.

Grantly Dick-Reid was simply making it up as he went along. There is no evidence that the pain of childbirth is a social construct created by modern obstetrics. There is no evidence that childbirth in nature was painless or even less painful. There is certainly no evidence that "primitive" women feel litle or no pain in labor.

Natural childbirth advocates feel exactly the same pain as every other woman. They simply choose to endure it because of the personal meaning that the pain has for them. It is that meaning which is socially constructed. The idea of pain as a trancendent experience or a competition is social construct created by the natural childbirth movement.

According to the adherents of the movement, the "ideal" woman experiences the pain of labor in this way, (or at least claims to experience the pain in this way). Women who patently didn't experience the pain in this way and cannnot even pretend that they did because they asked for and received an epidural are forced to claim that it was someone else's fault. Therefore, they typically claim that they didn't receive enough support or some similar claim that pushes the blame from themselves to others. This also explains the often made up claim that labor "wasn't really painful". Within the natural childbirth movement, it is very important to be seen as making light of the actual pain.

The second implication is even more important. Because the meaning of pain is personalized by individuals, one person cannot expect another to share her understanding of pain. The willingness of women world wide to ask for pain relief in labor is a reflection of the actual pain and the fact that most women have no socially constructed need to deny that pain. Asking for pain relief in the face of severe pain is what most people do.

I cannot and will not condone women being pushed to have pain medication that they did not intend to have because of their adherence to the principles of the natural childbirth movement. On the other hand, it is easy to see why many health care providers are dismissive of the rationales and birth plans of natural childbirth advocates. Most women having their first baby have absolutely no clue about the real pain of childbirth. They have often been misled by natural childbirth publications that claim that labor pain is made up or the result of "fear". Because other women have not been honest with them, they are utterly unprepared for what is going to happen. It is no surprise that they ask for pain medication, since they are in agony, and then attempt to save face by insisting that the problem was lack of support.

In addition, healthcare providers are hardly likely to be swayed by claims that natural childbirth is better, "healthier" or superior in any way, since they know those claims are made up. For healthcare providers, such claims mark natural childbirth advocates as gullible, not knowledgeable.

It seems to me that natural childbirth advocates would be much more likely to get respect and support if they were more honest about their motivation and (in the case of first time mothers) if they were actually knowledgeable about the real pain of childbirth. Presenting yourself as someone who is well aware that childbirth is agonizing, but determined to avoid pain medication as a personal challenge is much more likely to get respect than the deliberately insulting, false claims about natural childbirth being "healthier" or the equally insulting claims that modern obstetricians exist to ruin your birth "experience".


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