Nicola Monaghan's news, events and general thoughts about life and writing.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Epidurals and Carol Ann Duffy

Yes, these are not subjects that appear to be connected on first pass so please bear with me. After all, this is my second blog post in one day, and you gotta hand it to me for that.

Yesterday, I accidentally clicked something on my iGoogle home page and downloaded some gadgets to my desktop. It could have been a disaster but it turned out to be pretty cool. I now have a little clock, a slideshow of pictures randomly selected from my hard drive and a stream of news that I can personalise if I want to. I've not done that yet. I've left it random to see what comes up.

What came up today was a link to the Daily Mail (a paper that winds me up so much I would never usually read it) about a local (male) midwife and his opinions on epidurals. As I said when I posted this to Facebook and Twitter; only a man could come up with this one.

"maternity units should abandon routine pain relief" Hmm... As a blogging friend of mine so eloquantly put it, he 'should really have a go at shitting a bowling ball' and see if he feels the same way after that.

"Dr Walsh said the NHS was too quick to give in to requests for pain killing injections." Not the experience of anyone I've ever spoken to on this topic. In fact, certainly concerning epidurals, the opposite appears to be the case, the doctors and midwives working hard to be as discouraging as possible, right up to the point where they say 'Oh well, it's too late now. Might as well just get on with it now he/she will be here in a minute'. A friend of mine was even told 'you'll still have to push, you know' when she requested an epi, as if her unreasonable insistence on pain relief was all down to being a bit of a lazy cow who couldn't be bothered to try harder to get her baby out.

His final pearl of wisdom was that 'A large number of women want to avoid pain. More should be prepared to withstand it. Pain in labour is a purposeful, useful thing, which has a number of benefits, such as preparing a mother for the responsibility of nurturing a newborn baby.'

A large number of women want to avoid pain. No shit Sherlock. An aversion to pain is inbuilt in the human psyche. Jesus H C that's the entire point of pain, to be something we want to avoid! Human beings made a good decision, in general, to stand up and free our hands for other things and we've evolved well on that, the only problem is that it's meant childbirth for our species is painful and dangerous. Left completely to nature, a large number of women and children would die in the process of childbirth. I don't imagine for a second that this man believes intervention to ensure the safety of patients is a bad thing. Why does he feel that women should go through all the unnecessary pain? This kind of outdated thinking is what holds our society back from progress. It makes my flesh crawl to think that this man is involved with women at such a vulnerable time in their lives and I think it's no coincidence at all that most of the women I know have chosen to give birth at the other hospital in my city for their second baby onwards.

I also can't help wondering that, if we need this pain to prepare us, what is it that readies the male of our species for the responsibility of nurturing their children? Should we all give the men in our lives a nice big kick in the balls while they hold their new baby just to make sure they understand what nurturing their child is about? What a pile of steaming hogwash. Seriously. Does this sadist really believe the best start in life for a baby is to make sure their mother is totally stressed and in agony as he or she comes into the world to make sure they understand the implications of looking after their bundle of joy? On what scientific basis is he suggesting this to be the case?

Now, I'm not anti men. In fact, I rather like the creatures. However, on this one topic I really cannot be anything but Millie Tant and say that the first man to deliver a baby through his own vagina can also be the first to comment whether or not pain relief is necessary. Yes, there are risks associated with epidurals but, as my mum pointed out years ago, if men were the ones who gave birth there'd be pain relief developed by now that was much more effective and safe than what is currently available to women giving birth. They'd have damn well made sure of it.

It did remind me of a Carol Ann Duffy poem. It's from her collection The World's Wife, my favourite poetry book and one I was lucky enough to hear her read from on Friday. I was double favoured, as I booked the tickets on the spur of the moment and only found out on the night that it was her first official reading as Poet Laureate. I was thrilled. I've heard differing reviews of how well she reads and connects with an audience but on Friday she was fabulous.

Ms Duffy wrote a poem called 'from Mrs Tiresias'. For those who don't know the story of Mr Tiresias, he was a greek mortal who was transformed by the gods into a woman for seven years, as a punishment (!) for killing a pair of copulating snakes he'd been offended by. I think the idea is that he was disgusted by their copulation, rather than that one of them had called him a name, but really, none of that is so vital to my point. The thing you need to know is that he was a man and Hera, a goddess, turned him into woman. There were lots of laughs during Carol Ann's readings from The Worlds Wife, but this line, from 'from Mrs Tiresias' possibly was the most well received.

Then he started his period (dramatic pause and knowing look into the audience by Ms Duffy)
One week in bed.
Two doctors in.
Three painkillers four times a day.

And later
a letter
to the powers-that-be
demanding full paid menstrual leave twelve weeks per

Personally, I'm going to have a word with Hera myself. See if she can turn that trick for me just one more time. I have a target in mind. A certain member of the medical profession who works down the road from where I live. I'd like him, live on TV, legs in stirrups, shitting out said bowling ball to repeat the wise words from his latest report. Or admit that he was wrong. If he did the latter then, maybe then, I'd give him his epidural. Though I might make him beg first. That, after all, is what he is suggesting NHS doctors and midwives do to the women in their care.


Jane Henry said...

Hear hear! I have had four labours. First epidural, episotomy, forceps. Ouch. Second bit of gas and air, sent home, rushed back baby nearly born in car park. Ouch. Third. No pain relief for 22 hours, given pethadine at last minute.Ouch. Fourth, because I DEMANDED pain relief when I NEEDED IT, not when someone told me I could have it, was a fabulous positive experience, and I felt in control the whole time. It took me four goes to work out how to do it though. And having felt a total WIMP for having the epidural first time, I discovered with my last that being induced (as I was first time) is hideously painful if, like me, you are given three lots of syntocin. No wonder I was begging for an epidural (I asked for it at 7 and didn't get it till 10 - I was a gibbering wreck I can tell you.) I also got the epidural over 24 hours into the process. My baby didn't arrive till 10 hours later. I don't know how I would have managed with that level of pain had I not had an epidural.

Point about all this stuff is that a lucky few can manage the pain and have the experience I did last time (my sister was one such with her only labour). Most of us aint' that lucky. Pain relief is available to us. We should use it. End of story.

Niki M said...

Thanks for the comment Jane. I couldn't agree with you more. It really worries me that this man is working with women in my city at such a vulnerable time in their lives.

My sister was sent home twice from his hospital and ended up having her baby on the sofa. She told the midwives she was in agony but they attached her to some machine, to supposedly measure the contractions, and told her she wasn't. Needless to say, she was terrified. 'If this isn't it, how bad does it get?' The paramedics arrived as dad held baby, nearly out, in his arms. 'What am I supposed to do?' 'You've already done it mate. He's here.' Mother and baby all fine in the end but what if the cord had been wrapped around his neck, or he'd been a breached baby? It doesn't bear thinking about. It sickens me that she didn't get the support and help she needed when giving birth.

I've listened to so many stories that upset me on this topic from women I care about and it's become a real soap box one for me.