Having an epidural doesn’t mean you’re any less of a mom

Reports that Mila Kunis, the actress, plans on a “natural” delivery is all over the Internet. As a celebrity  she is clearly a medical expert and somehow it is relevant to hear how an actress with no financial concerns, doesn’t need to work on her feet until she goes into labor, has a BMI of 19 (OK, that’s a guess) who has never delivered before is planning to have her baby. Mila Kunis obviously represents the average American woman’s pregnancy experience.

But the distaste of asking celebrities their medical opinions and prying into the intimate details of their personal life aside, this is an opportunity to discuss the implications of what Ms. Kunis said.

For starters, the term “natural” as it applies to delivering a baby would be unassisted by anyone with any training, without electricity, and without medications to stem hemorrhage or treat infection from obstructed labor. In Africa, where most women have “natural” deliveries there is a 1 in 40 chance of dying during pregnancy and childbirth.

But it wasn’t this misuse of “natural” that got me peeved, it was this specific comment about not planning on an epidural …

“I’m crazy. I mean, I did this to myself — I might as well do it right.”

Having an epidural or needing pain medications isn’t doing it wrong. Asking for all the help that modern medicine has to offer isn’t wrong, it’s a choice. There is no prize for pain and it certainly doesn’t make you a better person if you sweat it out for 24 hours or more without help from pharmaceuticals. I despise the idea that if you need, or God forbid desire, analgesia during your labor and delivery that somehow you just aren’t mom enough.

I don’t think Ms. Kunis meant to be judgmental and she was asked this information, she didn’t volunteer it or send out press releases. However, I think it is a great example of a cultural bias that the only good delivery is unmedicated. I specifically blame the press because they ask about it, report it, and perpetuate it. Making women feel bad about their choices is a time-honored way to sell copy. If it were not no magazine cover would ever be photoshopped and Cosmo would have been out of business years ago.

Epidurals are not a great evil that looms over innocent mothers-to-be waiting to drag them down a path of certain destruction. An epidural is a safe, effective way for a woman to have pain relief during her pregnancy and delivery should she choose that option.

If you want an unmedicated delivery, have one. If you want an epidural, have one. Neither can be right because neither is wrong.

Jennifer Gunter is an obstetrician-gynecologist and author of The Preemie Primer. She blogs at her self-titled site, Dr. Jen Gunter.

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