intensely trivial

Book review: Easy Labor

Since when has labor been easy? That was my first thought upon picking up the book Easy Labor: Every Woman’s Guide to Choosing Less Pain and More Joy During Childbirth, by William Camann and Kathryn J. Alexander (Ballantine, 2006). However, in an attempt to learn about birth from all different perspectives, I kept grinding through this book.
I can barely choke down the title, because I don’t agree with it. Does less pain really equal more joy in childbirth? Can labor ever be easy, even the “princess” version, where you don’t feel a thing? Is “easy” defined only by the lack of pain? Isn’t there any value at all in labor pain? OK, ideally, there wouldn’t be any pain, and you wouldn’t have to put yourself or your baby at risk to get a pain-free experience. But since this isn’t an ideal world, maybe we can acknowledge some value in labor pain — such as the fact that it often leads a mobile woman to find the position of most comfort and greatest progress. How about the feeling of empowerment some women get from participating actively in their babies’ births? (I just had to say that, doula that I am.)
Easy Labor‘s reliance on and explanation of medical research is commendable. Some of the studies cited surprised and reassured me, such as this factoid: “The emergency cesarean delivery for a distressed baby is not more common among women who have had an epidural.” And this: “Recent research has shown that women who receive an epidural early in labor do not have an increased risk of cesarean or instrumental delivery.” (Now that one has me skeptical, because it doesn’t fit with anecdotal evidence I have observed or heard. Other birth workers, chime in here.)
Camann and Alexander more thoroughly explain the procedure of placing an epidural than anesthesiologists ever would in the labor-and-delivery room. They also name the pain medications likely to be used in an epidural, a pudendal block, general anesthesia, an IV, etc., a point greatly in the book’s favor. The chapter on complementary and alternative approaches (Lamaze, Bradley, acupuncture, doulas and midwives, hypnosis — a very mixed bag) really tried to be unbiased, although I must say having all these approaches relegated to the misc. category implied a bias from the start. There were actually some positive testimonials for all of the approaches.
The book includes two whole chapters of birth stories, some told by birth workers (OBs, labor nurses, anesthesiologists, a midwife) about other women’s births, and some told by birth workers about their own births. Of course, those were riveting, and I think it’s always helpful to see another woman’s decision process about her birth, no matter what your own goals are. (I still haven’t stopped wanting to hurl the book across the room for having a chapter called “Birth Stories From the Other Side of the Stirrups!”)
It was hard for me personally to read a whole book that assumed all pain was bad. While it did discuss the pros and cons of various types of pain relief, I felt the risks of medical intervention were dealt with somewhat flippantly: Any side effect you might experience from an epidural can be dealt with by giving you yet another drug! No worries! It bothered me that the epidural was presented as nearly always effective; that has not been the case at the births I have attended. (I would estimate epidurals placed in my clients have gone exactly as intended only about 60 percent of the time.) Finally, the psychological aspect of birth is downplayed in this book. Of course, I’m sure it’s hard to get reliable research on this mystical, spiritual stuff, but it is a very real part of what happens with many mothers. To ignore it is to dishonor women’s experience.
If you’re needing more information about medical approaches to relieving labor pain, this book might be very helpful and reassuring to you. It does cover details I haven’t read in any other book aimed at birthing mothers. I won’t, however, be recommending it to my clients.


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  1. * Morgan says:

    Hm. I really don’t agree with their idea that epidurals don’t cause intervention, but maybe that’s just me.

    So they advocate pain meds as the “ideal” way to have a joyful book?

    I commend your efforts. I wouldn’t be able to stomach it. 🙂

    Posted 8 years, 9 months ago

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