On Pain as a Rite of Passage

One of Robert Frost's memorable sayings: "The way out is through."

I've been thinking about this a good deal lately, observing as my wife decides about her "birthing plan." It's our general impression that hospitals (and presumably, physicians) have gone a little too far with regard to pushing anesthetic. I've heard more than one person say, "Hey--we can make the pain go away; so why should you feel any?" But there are a number of recent books like this one, Birthing from Within, that suggest or imply that dulling or removing the pain somehow diminishes a near-universal human experience that has long been a kind of rite-of-passage for women. In this view, getting an epidural would be like refusing to show up for the college freshmen hazing ritual that your baseball team invites you to.

But lest anyone think I'm not thinking carefully about this--or worry that I'm sounding judgmental--let me say very explicitly: I'm not qualified to make the case laid out in the book cited above. And I get really nervous about getting a cavity filled at the dentist; so I can definitely understand a woman's choice to avoid the pain. And, I think my freshman baseball hazing night was one of the dumbest nights of my life.

But, so, here are two paths: one with a sign that reads, "The way out is through," and another that says, "The way out is anesthetic."

Interestingly, I have a cousin who is an anesthesiologist. She's currently 8 months pregnant with twins. When I asked her if she was getting "the meds," she said, "Given my career choice, I think it would be in bad form for me not to get an epidural."

How should a person make this decision? Especially with a first child? Giving birth seems one of those fundamentally incommunicable experiences--you've either done it or you haven't.

Is it crazy to choose pain when unfeeling is a possibility? Or is the vague promise of "spiritual growth" a reasonable motivation to choose pain?


Insignificant Wrangler said...

Meg made the decision to go for a natural birth. I'm not sure I know why Meg wanted a natural birth, but her main reason concerned Rowan's safety. I, too, avoid pain at every turn. This was completely her call. She has never once regretted not getting an epidural.

We hired a doula who met us at the hospital. The hospital did push meds, particularly because its part of the process they prefer (it makes their life easier). Part of the doula's job is to run interference and make sure the nurses don't push the mother into something she doesn't want.

Casey said...

That's a pretty clear reason, and one I hadn't mentioned: if (hypothetically, because I don't know) not getting the meds makes the baby safer, then obviously that would be a good reason to avoid the meds.

ShanaRose said...

Hi Casey,
I found your blog today by following my interest link, mysticism, to yours. I've enjoyed the first two posts, especially since I tend to glaze over when philosophy is being discussed. That's unfortunate since I do want to know the history there. Thanks for boiling down your opinion of sophists in the last post, and for posing this important question/discussion here.

Casey said...

Hey Shana--

So glad to have you aboard. I find that the sophists are successful with me in one way: they always manage to drag me out of my pure state of mysticism back into the world, with all its muck and reality.

But you've reminded me what this blog is all about! A post on mysticism, forthcoming!