Whatever goonies keep track of my Internet searches are likely to have a colorful read this week. I looked up, for the purpose of writing this column, the term “masochism.” Masochism means, in its most commonly used definition, deriving pleasure from pain. But in many definitions, a sexual component is mentioned or implied — as in people enjoy receiving pain during a sexual encounter.
Thus the risqué search results.
For my own commentary on this column topic — the pain of childbirth, particularly — I don’t plan to further mention masochism in a sexual context. But just to be edgy, here’s your sex reference: There’s pain in childbirth, and you get childbirth after you’ve had sex.
YOU MIGHT THINK being a proponent of “normal, natural” — normal, natural living in general, but normal, natural childbirth specifically — is sweet and easy. It’s not.
When it comes to birthing, if you use the terms “normal, natural” with many people, they’re likely to label you a crunchy crackpot or worse — label you a masochist, maybe. Bizarre, I know, but it’s true. Remember, we live in a nation where 99 percent of women birth in a hospital room “just in case” something goes wrong and where during at least one in three births something does “goes wrong” enough that surgery is deemed necessary.
More telling about how U.S. women view birthing, I think, are statistics about the use of pain medication, specifically epidural anesthesia, in labor and delivery. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2008, 61 percent of U.S. women having a first-time vaginal birth received epidural or spinal anesthesia (http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr59/nvsr59_05.pdf).
(By default, those women birthed in a hospital, not at home or birth centers, where epidural anesthesia is not used. No, no pain meds — and definitely no epidurals — at home or birth center.)
Of course 61 percent is an average, so you have institutions where 80 percent is the norm and some where 40 percent is. I once attended a birth in a nearby hospital where I noticed, while on a hallway search for coffee, that there was an epidural tray parked outside of most every labor room — just crouching and waiting, it seemed, for the patient to cave.
In short, most U.S. women are terrified of birthing. They’re definitely terrified of the pain, which they’ve been conditioned to believe — by media, by other women and by medical care providers who enjoy copious salaries and hero statuses directly because of women’s fear of childbirth — is heinous, torturous and every other awful “ous” you can imagine.