“Natural Childbirth is as Rational as Natural Dentistry”
I don’t know who first said that, but they may be onto something.
I went to the dentist for what I thought was a cracked filling. It was not a cracked filling. It was a cracked tooth, split right down the middle. Cue the endodontist, the emergency root canal, and the Novocaine. I now know where the expression “… about as much fun as a root canal” comes from as root canals are not, it turns out, any fun.
Thanks to my colitis, I can not take ibuprofen, which is recommended as it is an anti-inflammatory, and Tylenol and swishing warm water (!?) were just not cutting it for the pain. I called back the next morning and they were apologetic that they had not given me anything stronger. I immediately got a prescription for Tylenol with codeine, but by this point, the pain was really out of control. I actually could feel my pulse in what was left of my tooth because it was so badly bruised from the procedure. I called back again and they wanted to see me in person as “something was amiss.” The nice young doctor, who I am sure just looked really, really young but was perfectly certified to be doing what he was doing, shaved off more of the tooth as it was hitting on my bite (I didn’t ask for more details, which seemed to disappoint him; I just wanted them to fix whatever the heck was wrong) and they gave me a few days worth of Vicodin to get me through the worst of the pain. (As an aside, you can nurse on these medicine, as long as you give your body enough time to metabolize the stuff. I would pump, wait four hours, and then nurse or pump again. After three hours, the narcotics are mostly gone.) I have another follow-up next week with the endodontist and then I have to go back to my regular dentist to have a crown put on.
Now, you ask, what the heck does this have to do with an epidural? I must sheepishly admit that I had been feeling, well, like kind of a major wimp for begging for getting an epidural. I really thought I would be able to do it naturally, but the pain proved too much for me to handle. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I felt like a failure, because after all I birthed a healthy baby, but I felt like a wuss. I read natural childbirth books, I watched “The Business of Being Born,” and I really did want to try and have a go at it, so I surprised myself at how quickly I gave in and asked for pain medicine when I was in active labor.
At my 6-week appointment with my midwife, it was still bothering me, so I asked her if all women experience labor the same. If everyone felt what I felt, I have no idea how they could make it. It was honestly like my body was being ripped apart, the contractions were just coming one on top of one another, I had to stay on my back, and I was only 3cm dilated, so I had hours and hours of this ahead of me. My midwife was very reassuring and told me two things that made me feel better. First, everyone experiences labor differently. It depends on your pelvic size, the size and position of your baby, how many nerve endings you have there, and your individual pain tolerance. Yes, it hurts, but how much it hurts can vary quite a bit. Second, in her opinion (and 25+ years of experience with laboring women), the single most important factor regarding how women tolerate labor is how much sleep they had the previous 72 hours. “MC,” she said, “we were gong to admit you that night because you had not slept for days due to the contractions. Anyone who has not slept has a markedly — and I mean markedly — decreased tolerance for pain.” That made me feel better and much less wussy-ish.
It wasn’t until I was writhing in pain waiting for the endodontist to work on my tooth that I stopped feeling weird about having an epidural. As soon as that Novocaine hit and he whipped out that drill, I said a silent thank-you to the universe for anesthesia. For Pete’s sake, this man drilled out the nerves in my tooth and I didn’t feel a bloody thing. The tooth, even though it needs a crown, was saved. If I had asked, I could have done it without anesthesia, but why? (The awful pain I felt afterward, in case you were wondering, was due to bruising in the surrounding tissue.)
Now, I am not going to argue that a shot of Novocaine is the same thing as an epidural. The risks are not the same and the administration for the Novocaine is a lot simpler. They are there, however, to take away the pain. Why is it socially acceptable to get Novocaine but somehow I felt like a complete wimp for getting an epidural? Yes, childbirth is “natural” but it still hurts like hell. I also get migraines, which are also “natural” and also hurt like hell. Why does taking away one kind of pain, be it from a migraine or a cracked tooth, seem the logical, rational thing to do and yet having epidural made me feel conflicted?
Women who give birth without pain medicine often say that they feel proud of themselves for doing what was best for their babies and themselves. Yet if I had asked for the root canal sans anesthesia, people would think I was insane. Why is there such a double standard?
(And why when I re-read this do I do it in the voice of a post-partum Carrie Bradshaw?)