“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?)

September 14, 2008. Colitis is Fun (Not), He-Beastie's Big Debut, Other Sucky Things.


  1. Kath replied:

    Dear MC, I couldn’t agree more. My husband always says, “We live in the twenty-first century — why not enjoy twenty-first-century anesthetics?” He’s got a point, no? And I’m so sorry about your tooth — it sounds utterly grim. Glad that’s behind you now.

  2. Farah replied:

    First … Let me say OUCH! I hope you get to feeling less pain.

    Good to know about the meds/bfing – thnks for that

    *I had to re-read it thinking of Carrie Bradshaw..GOOD STUFF, totally made me chuckle

  3. liz replied:

    Maybe because men don’t have babies but they do have root canals?

  4. aspiring baker replied:

    I wanted natural childbirth and ended up having laughing gas, morphine, and an epidural. I had back labor (36 hours total) and realized that a long, excruciating labor would not properly equip me to care for my baby at the end of it. (I realized I wouldn’t even have the energy to push when the time finally came.) I have a healthy, beautiful baby, and he’s no worse for wear — and nor am I. Hooray for modern anesthesia.

  5. kona replied:

    We need to quit feeling guilty about needing pain relief.From what I heard,every labor is different…even when you talk to the same mom. Though- I have to add, please don’t come down on natural birth moms (I don’t think you are) because it is very neat if you can do it. 😉

  6. kona replied:

    P.S.- I wanted to add that I was lucky and did have a natural childbirth with DD. But I went into it knowing that if the pain was REALLY unbearable, I would do whatever I needed to to get through it. I have to say, the labor for me was better than I expected for the most part…felt like really bad menstrual cramps for a day and a half until my water broke when the pain became so bad I could barely talk. By the time I got to the hospital I was 8 cm and in transition.At that point it hurt like crazy.Worst pain ever!! I was certainly not stoic! I cried out “Help me! Help! Help me!” with every peak of contraction…but still did not take any medications… and I think part of that was knowing I was already 8 cm, so it made me feel I could stick it out (I am a really stubborn person, too).I was only at the hospital 2 hrs before DD was born. If everyone could be so lucky!!! 😉

    It’s true I am proud of having had a natural birth, and it did boost my confidence, but I know every labor is different, and it’s not fair to judge, since there are so many variables.I hope to have another natural childbirth in my future, but I reserve the right to request analgesics if I need to. 😉

  7. Karen replied:

    I have done both root canals and childbirth with and without pain meds — note to anyone listening: DO NOT cheap out on a root canal and go to the dental school, just because you’re a poor college student, ok?

    With my first kid, I also hadn’t slept for days and my pain threshold was kaput; like you I was also on my back and, well, forget it. It took me a long time to get past feeling inadequate (I also ended up with a c-section the first time around so I did a ton of second guessing of everything).

    Second time around, I was better rested and the pain was nowhere near as bad. I was able to move around and I think I was upright for 90% of the labor, which makes a gigantic difference. I am actually super proud of my natural childbirth because I dug down deep and really worked hard — but I know that labor is not a predictable thing and if things had taken a different turn and I had more interventions than I had planned, I would have accepted that as well.

    No reason to beat yourself up for any informed choice, and it feels like you made exactly that!

  8. niobe replied:

    Yeah, I’ve never really understood this. I think that a very interesting book could be (and probably has been) written about changing attitudes on pain meds in childbirth.

    I think (though I’m not going to actually, y’know, research it) that there was originally a lot of religious-based resistance to pain-killers (meaning chloroform) for labor based on that line from Genesis (which I’m also too lazy to look up) about how Eve was henceforth cursed to bring forth children in pain.

    Then Queen Victoria had herself chloroformed for a few of her umpteen deliveries and anesthesia became all the rage.

    Though this may all be an urban myth or a confabulation on my part.

  9. Maggie replied:

    You know what the difference is? There is a life involved!!! Have you ever researched the harmful effects it can have on you but ESPECIALLY your baby?! How could you possibly compare the two?! And its hilarious to see everyone agree with that silly comparison. Its not about being a hero, its about protecting your baby. If comparing an epidural to Novocaine makes you feel less guilty…then more power to you. You shouldn’t feel guilty though. You did what you could and you had good intentions. And you shouldn’t write it off for the future…give it another try.

  10. A Message From My Husband to Maggie « Missed Conceptions replied:

    […] left a comment recently on MC’s post about “natural birth” and “natural […]

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