I have just been reading an interesting article about childbirth on the BBC. I sounds like things are a wee bit different down south but I believe everywhere has got it wrong. And childbirth is definitely something I know about! I have been considering the best way to approach it since I heard an American describe giving birth without epidural as 'doing it the old fashioned way'. In France too epidural is the norm - with it being taken for granted unless you ask to opt out. I feel having been through it every possible way (except caesarean) I am qualified to comment.
I have to agree with the first statement. Of course women go into childbirth the first time underestimating the pain they are about to suffer - that is because you can only describe that intensity of pain to someone who has already been through it, by which time it is too late to describe it to them - maybe someone who has fallen into a mincing machine and crawled out in time to be run over by a truck could just about get what you mean if you try to describe it, but failing that everyone is going to go into it first time round wearing rose-tinted specs and then panic.
Here in Glasgow what seems to happen is that they teach you relaxation methods and tell you about the pain relief available. That is to say they tell you you can get an epidural which will anaesthetize you, morphine which will take the 'edge' off the pain or a tens machine which they let you try. They make it sound sweet and idyllic - like it will be sore but as long as Mr Right is there holding your hand you'll be fine. I think in the back of their minds they assume that once the pain hits the mum-to-be will simply ask for one of the pain relief methods, probably epidural and they will hand it out with a knowing smile.
Anyway here's what I would do, if I was in charge. I would mention the relaxation methods because they definitely help when panic hits, if you have moral support. I would then send each mum-to-be home with a DVD of a real birth - and I don't mean 2 minutes in a taxi as you see on the likes of Eastenders - I mean an average 12 hour screaming, crying, yelling birth. I think as a woman looking into that stranger's eyes you would get a much more realistic view of what she is about to go through. I know some satellite channels show birth these days, but they only show you the last 10 minutes, (and from the side!) - so you have no idea of the hours of exhaustion that precede that point. That would be step one. The advantage to this method too would be that if you did go for pain relief, you certainly wouldn't feel like you had failed in any way, and neither would your partner if he watched it with you.
Step two would be to mention the pros and cons of each method of pain relief. I think telling you about them 4 weeks before birth rather than during birth would give you more time to think them through. I would say you can have an epidural but you could end up with pain in your lower back for a month every time you sit down, every time you sit against something. It will make you feel uncomfortable every time you breast feed for the first month but it does take away the contractions for the 8 hours it is in. I would mention you can't feel to push so you push exhaustedly until the forceps or ventouse are called for but again this interception won't be felt because you are anaesthetized. Of course, it will be felt for months afterwards if you need stitching because of the forceps. I would mention you can have urine problems after an epidural and need catheterised for 2 or 3 days. And that you can end up shaking all night after the effects wear off. I'd say that sex might make your eyes water for months because you have been sewn up so tightly but it does take away the pain for those 8 hours.
Then I would say morphine can make you feel nauseous, and claustrophobic and faint. I would mention it doesn't actually do anything other than skim the surface of the pain of childbirth but yes it too is available.
As for Tens machines - yeah they work for the first couple of hours when you think the pain is bad but by the time you reach the bit that is actually painful you can't feel the Tens machine, so yeah use it but don't believe it'll make things go swimmingly.
No we wouldn't have our teeth pulled with no anaesthetic because that hurts but if having them pulled without anaesthetic would mean you hurt a lot during the procedure but avoid 6 months of pain - would we maybe consider it? And as for dying - sure people die in childbirth but from the complications, not the pain!
As I went through about 20 hours of labour with Léon and about 4 with Anna I got through the pain by knowing that when it stopped, it would be over - the unbearable pain of childbirth just stops when they hit the bed - you know then you've made it. I would advocate natural child birth not because I like pain but because afterwards your world turns upside down, you don't sleep, you suffer exhaustion like you can't imagine so the last thing you need is more pain.