Childbirth pain: Ignored, revered, and deserved

In her article article “At long last, some recognition of the pain after childbirth. Why is women’s suffering so ignored?” published in The Guardian on March 17th, Agnes Arnold-Forster brings the much-needed awareness about how pregnancy and childbirth pain is diminished and ignored by society under the premise that is natural.

She also mentions how that’s been the case for centuries: “The routine diminishing of pain in pregnancy and childbirth has a long history. For centuries, reproduction was seen as women’s divine and natural purpose. As the theologian Martin Luther said in the 16th century: ‘If women become tired, even die, it does not matter. Let them die in childbirth. That’s what they are there for.'”

I posit that there are also other two complementary angles that make the pain during pregnancy and childbirth such an explosive issue to address: Reverence and deservingness.

Last year, I wrote the article Levels of Pain about the world’s contempt for women’s pain. In it, I highlighted how – unlike other kinds of female pain – childbirth pain is often revered. Society sees it as yet another painful rite of passage for women, who are expected to embrace it and feel proud of it.

As an example, I shared the case of a relative of mine who, after enduring an exhausting and painful 23 hours of labour with her first baby, she decided to be sedated during the childbirth of the second. The carers at the hospital didn’t miss the opportunity to reprimand her whilst breastfeeding her newborn for “being selfish and only thinking about herself” for choosing anaesthesia over “natural” birth even if she delivered a healthy 4.35 kg baby boy.

In the article, I also draw attention to the fact not all groups of women have the same experiences. Notably, pregnant Black women and women with disabilities. Their pain and needs are often diminished with negative repercussions for their physical and mental wellbeing.

As Stephanie H. Murray points out in her article describing her epidural ordeal, nobody questions a woman getting anesthesia to get a tooth extracted but everybody has an opinion if that same woman decides to get pain relief during labour: ” these conversations made me wonder why society treats labor pains with such reverence. The questions of whether and how to relieve them are subject to deliberation and scrutiny that would seem absurd under any other circumstances. I certainly didn’t consider forgoing anesthesia when I had my wisdom teeth taken out. And no one asked me about it either.”

And then, there is deservingness.

For more than 2 millennia, the book of Genesis has taught billions of Christians and Jews that women deserve childbirth pain because of Eve’s disobedience (Genesis 3:16): ‘To the woman he said: “I will intensify the pangs of your childbearing; in pain shall you bring forth children. Yet your urge shall be for your husband, and he shall be your master.”’

Moreover, for some religions like Catholicism, this punishment through labour pain is so central to women’s experience that they have explicitly asserted that the Virgin Mary was spared of it as a consequence of her immaculate conception.

No wonder medicine prefers to stay away and let pregnant women suffer.

Personal invitation

We often read that there are no more women in leadership because women are less confident.

But what’s confidence? Why does it matter? And what can we do something about it?

I’m running the webinar From inner criticism to inner wisdom on Wednesday, April 26th at 18.30 BST. I’ll share

  • My journey with my feeling of confidence.
  • Common myths about how to “cure” our insecurities.
  • How we can leverage our inner wisdom to achieve our professional and personal goals feeling lighter, supported, and proud of ourselves.

Join me on Wednesday April 26th at 10.30 am PDT 1.30pm EDT 18.30 BST 19.30 CEST to learn how to develop a healthy relationship with your feeling of confidence.

How does this article resonate with you?