Tell her the truth

Eliane Glaser

  • Lamaze: An International History by Paula Michaels
    Oxford, 240 pp, £19.99, February 2014, ISBN 978 0 19 973864 9

My NCT classes gave the impression that childbirth in Britain is dominated by doctors who foist painkillers on women against their better instincts, leading to a ‘cascade of intervention’ that may be damaging for ‘baby’. But when I went into labour and arrived at hospital, late on a Sunday night and in serious pain, a midwife told me to go home and come back when labour was properly ‘established’. There were no doctors to be seen. When I came back and it became clear something was wrong, there were suddenly doctors everywhere. Doctors are in charge of the medical management of labour but they’re not around to push pain relief on women with more straightforward deliveries than mine. Instead, midwives are keen that women should give birth ‘naturally’, without pain relief. Their message is reinforced by the media: ‘11 hours’ labour and all natural!’ ran the Daily Mail headline following the arrival of Prince George. The same plan was in place for the birth of Princess Charlotte, the Mail reported, ‘no drugs unless absolutely necessary’. But why should women experience pain when the medical risks of painkillers and epidurals are negligible (caesareans, like all operations, have some risks)?

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