No, I’m not talking about a certain alternative menstrual product. I’m talking about something Robbie Davis-Floyd, Ph.D, a medical/cultural anthropologist, natural/home birth advocate, and a detractor of the patriarchal, male OB-directed “technocratic model of childbirth”, calls the “perfect technocratic tool”.
That evil, horrible, birth-experience underminin’… epidural.
I’m sure most of you have never heard of the late Gertie F. Marx, MD (1913-2004). But she turned the practice of obstetric anesthesiology on its ear by fighting to have epidural analgesia used on laboring women, and for the best of feminist reasons:
Before the late 1960s, women had one of two options: either accept the well known risks of general sedation or anesthesia for themselves and their babies or undertake sometimes difficult deliveries without any pain relief, a process that could be brutal for both mother and newborn. “There was no in-between,” said Dr Ingrid Hollinger, professor of anesthesiology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York.
Dr Marx suggested that epidural anesthesia could provide pain relief without the risks of respiratory depression, aspiration pneumonia, and death that accompanied systemic sedation. But many obstetricians and midwives argued that epidural anesthesia would slow delivery and cause an increase in cesarean sections. Some even cited a passage from Genesis in the Bible, “I will greatly multiply your sorrows and your anguish. With sorrows you shall bring forth children,” indicating their belief that childbirth was meant to be painful.
Despite the sometimes acrimonious opposition, Dr Marx held her ground and was able to demonstrate that epidural anesthesia provided excellent pain relief, did not cause a rise in cesarean section rates, and was safe for the newborn—even though it might, arguably, prolong the first and second stages of labor.
The use of epidural anesthesia also helped to usher in a new era in which fathers could be present with mothers as they gave birth. Epidural anesthesia could be delivered in the birthing room instead of the operating theater, allowing the father to be present. With the mother alert, childbirth could be a shared event for mother and father.
In 1993, Queen Elizabeth presented Dr. Marx with a lifetime service award and a college medal from the Royal College of Anesthetists. (QEII may have acquired her taste for pain relief in labor from her great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria.). She also has had an epidural needle named in her honor.
So next time you hear a so-called “feminist” rant about how male OBs are out to undermine womens’ sacred “birth experience”, spare a thought for a true feminist who genuinely sought to help laboring women. And given that some 80% of women use her product, I’ll say she succeeded 🙂 .
Filed under: Birth |