I can't tell you I had a particularly rigid birth plan. I knew who I wanted in the labor and delivery room with me; I knew that I wanted (and needed) to birth in a hospital; I knew I wanted my son to enter the world safe and healthy. Beyond that, I wasn't too concerned about my "birth experience." I did decide to try my hand at a drug-free birth, but that plan changed out of necessity and — as a result — I was made privy to the total mindf*ck double standards society has about epidurals. I mean, sh*t got real, you guys.
Of course, I'm not stranger to double standards. As a woman I've been told "real women have curves" while also being told I'm too fat. I've been told to always appear attractive but never act like I'm trying to appear attractive. I've been told to act "more like a man" but don't appear "masculine." I mean, you can't win. However, I didn't realize that the double standards were going to extend so heavily into motherhood, and even during labor and delivery. It was, for lack of a better word, intense. More intense than the 10 hours of labor I spent laboring without any kind of medications whatsoever. More intense than the act of giving birth to a baby who was alive, and a baby who wasn't; a complication that made my birth the painful experience that it was, and made an epidural so vital (for me). Yes, more intense than birth itself was hearing all the juxtaposing comments about epidurals and the choices I made when I was in the throes of labor.
It's arguably the worst part about motherhood itself. It's not the late nights and the lack of sleep and the poop (oh, so much poop). It's the hypocritical messages you're constantly bombarded with. It's the never-ending feeling of always failing, because you're always going to be doing something that someone else disagrees with. I mean, it's exhausting. So, I guess the best thing to do is just be aware of the following double standards, do what's best for you and your baby and your family and your unique situation, and f*ck the rest.
We're Supposed To Take Advantage Of Modern Medicine...
When I had a serious knee injury and required surgery, no one told me to "suck it up" or to do what people did thousands of years ago (which was probably tie some splints to my leg and go die somewhere). I took advantage of modern medicine, had surgery and took pain pills and, you know, made myself as comfortable as possible.
From people who choose not to take advantage of important vaccinations to people who refuse treatments that are proven to work, you're essentially shunned (for the most part) if you don't take advantage of the advancements society has made in science and the medical care we're provided in this country.
...But If A Woman In Labor Does, She's "Cheating"
Unless, of course, you'er a woman in labor. Then, well, you need to harness the energy of every woman who gave birth in a cave somewhere. In order to have the "full experience" I need to bite down on a stick and "tough it out," regardless. All the medical advancements our society has made become something of a "cop out" and not, you know, valid options.
During Pregnancy, You Do What Makes You Feel Comfortable...
Throughout my pregnancy I was told to do whatever made me feel as comfortable as possible. I wasn't supposed to put myself at risk (or my growing summer squash of a fetus) and I wasn't supposed to do something that would cause me pain. When I was nearing my due date and growing more and more uncomfortable by the second, I was told to find ways to alleviate the pain and discomfort. There was no reason to stay miserable, right?
...But If An Epidural Is What Makes You Feel Comfortable In Labor, You're "Weak"
I have been told by, sadly, so many women that I was "weak" for deciding — after 10 hours of excrutiating drug-free, active labor — to have an epidural. Suddenly, I felt like I was being told to suffer in the name of motherhood and if I didn't, I was already a "bad mom." I was confused, to say the least.
For so long and throughout my pregnancy I was told that I had to take care of myself in order to take care of my baby. Literally. If I didn't mange my health and make sure I was mentally and physically and emotionally OK, my baby would suffer. Now, all of a sudden, I was being told that suffering was the name of the motherhood game, and I needed to suffer for my baby. What? What in the hell happened between the time my water broke and the time of my first very painful contraction?
It's Normal To Avoid Pain...
Sure, there are masochists out there and, hey, you do you. However, I think for the most part it's human nature to avoid pain. We're kind of encouraged to do so, and we actively look for ways to keep ourselves from hurting on a pretty frequent, daily basis.
...But You Should Suffer In The Name Of Childbirth
Still, I was told to "embrace" my contractions and if I didn't go through labor and delivery without any medication to ease the pain, my birth wasn't "natural." I was literally being told that the only way to have a "natural" birth was to actively seek out and accept and welcome pain. You know, the very opposite of what you would do in your normal, every day human life.
Women Are Told To Ask For Help When They're Pregnant...
I had a high-risk pregnancy, so I'm not sure if every pregnant woman is given the same advice I was. However, I was told to constantly ask for and seek out help when I was pregnant. I wasn't suppose to exhaust myself or put myself in a position that would be physically straining. If I needed something lifted, someone else could do it. If I needed something that required a long walk, someone else could get it. I needed to relax and take it easy and people who loved and cared for me and supported me, could (and should) help out.
...But They Shouldn't Ask For Help If That Help Comes In The Form Of An Epidural
However, if I thought that having an epidural would help me birth my son, that was just a ridiculous thing to ask for.
I wanted a drug-free labor and went the first 10 hours of my labor without any kind of medication. I tried birthing in a tub; I tried walking the hospital halls; I tried using a birthing ball; I tried everything .The only thing that made my contractions manageable was standing and swaying and moaning. After 10 hours of being on my feet (and over 24 hours of no sleep) I was so exhausted I just couldn't take it anymore. I knew that if I was going to have the energy to push my son out of my body, I needed rest, and rest wasn't going to happen unless I had an epidural that would allow me to sleep. So, I asked for some help. Still, women have told me that I didn't do what was best for myself or my baby or my body.
Talk about frustrating.
Women Are Capable Of Making Their Own Decisions About Their Own Bodies...
I guess, unfortunately, it depends who you ask.
However, the majority of my friends and support network believe that every woman should have the right to make her own decisions about her own body. I'm constantly seeing women fight for reproductive freedom and the legal right to choose and undeniable access to full bodily autonomy.
...But If They Make The Decision To Get An Epidural, Someone Probably Coerced Them
Those very same women (some of them, of course) have told me that I didn't know what was best for me and/or I made the wrong decision when I choose an epidural.
One on hand, they believe that every woman should be able to make her own choices about her own body. on the other hand, they think that women who choose an epidural don't know any better or are ill-informed. It doesn't make any sense and it's incredibly hurtful to have someone talk to me as if I don't know what is best for me and my body and my baby.