Friday, April 13, 2012

A pain-free society?

Before I moved to the US, I never realized that there were so many small cultural differences between my home country and the US. I mean how much can two first world countries really differ from each other? Back home we have the same McDonalds, MTV and lots of other American TV shows. However, one of the most striking examples of cultural differences in my mind is the different outlook on pain, and especially on pain during child birth.

I’m from that country in Europe where about 30% of women have home births and where until very recently anesthesiologists were only in the hospital during office hours, so women were only able to get an epidural if their baby decided to be born between 9 and 5 (I couldn’t find a link in English, but it says that in 2004 only 26% of hospitals had an anesthesiologist on call for 24 hours). I personally know many people that had their babies at home, and no, those were not just granola hippies that decided to eat their placentas and refrain from vaccinating. They are my sister in law, my colleagues, my friends and my mom (I was born in the hospital, but my little brother was born at home too). I know that if you take a child birth class back home, you mostly learn how to deal with the pain; you learn different positions you can use and how to breathe and basically how to get through it. So to me, having a baby without pain medication seemed like a normal thing to do. I figured I would get an epidural if I REALLY couldn’t take it anymore, but until then I didn’t want people sticking needles near my spinal cord. 

In the US, having a baby without pain medication is called a ‘natural birth’. And when I went to a natural child birth class, I was mostly struck by how afraid everybody was to give birth. Of course, having a baby is not the safest thing you will do in your life; a hundred years ago it was the thing most likely to kill you as a young woman, but it seemed weird to me to be afraid of something before it has even happened.

And after the fact I can say that yes, having a baby hurts, but for me it was very do-able, also because I was able to choose whichever position I wanted to be in and relax enough to have lots of endogenous opioids released. I don’t look back on BlueEyes’ birth as being particularly painful. I’d choose the pain of childbirth over a migraine any day.

So why is it that in this country that on the other hand values hard work and some degree of suffering to attain a goal (‘no pain no gain’) so many people seem to be afraid of pain? Why does the dentist have to numb you before giving you an injection with a local anesthetics? (I had never have that happen before) And could this fear of pain be the reason of the high C-section rate?


  1. I wonder if in general health care in your country was not a "quick fix-take a pill" sort to begin with. I've sought out doctors who will seek alternatives to drugs to treat different ailments and only take medication after exhausting other options. It seems medical advice here is to treat symptoms rather than cause in many cases.

    I think I went into my birth experience in the same way that you did. My aunts, mom, and grandmothers had not neeeded pain medication. Labor itself turned out very differently than I planned, but I wasn't scared going into it.

    1. Yes you might be right about doctors being less eager to prescribe medication. I once went to my family doctor with sinusitis and asked for antibiotics. He told me it was most likely a virus and antibiotics wouldn't work. He told me to inhale steam with camomile for a week and if that didn't work I could come back for antibiotics. (it cleared up within that week)