Last week, hilariously awesome comedian and author Jessi Klein published an opinion piece in New York Times called, "Get the Epidural." In an unexpected and off-putting exchange with a stranger, Klein is asked whether she will get an epidural during birth, to which she replies, "Yes. At the very least." In her comedic, tongue-in-cheek style, Klein goes on to write about the all-too-real experience of a pregnant woman (and really, all women) in today's society. You must give birth like this, you must look like this, you must eat only this, you must feel like this. In spite of how far we've come, women are still pitted against standards that are neither realistic, healthy, nor emotionally satisfying.
Perhaps most frustrating, according to Klein, are the cultural mores of self sacrifice women are subjected to daily: "The criterion for whether we are doing our jobs as women 'correctly'— and, yes, it’s a job — is more often than not how many of our own wants and needs we are putting aside." Of course, what is cultural often becomes internalized truth, which means that women often find themselves wallowing in a mud pit of guilt from within and judgement from outside.
So yes, Ms. Klein, I agree with you: when it comes to your happiness (which is subjective, of course), freedom of choice, and freedom from shame, false standards, and guilt -- get the epidural.
And. ("Buts" are so passé.)
Encourage others to do the same. Encourage women to do what makes them happy, to choose freely, and to renounce shame and guilt. Live up to their own standards. Because if there is one time in a woman's life to take back power, to begin again from a blank slate, it's childbirth. And if there's one time in a person's life to dredge up and clean off the priority of self care, it's parenthood. Sure, there's always going to be sacrifice, but you can still put on your own oxygen mask first.
Consider how the passage of pregnancy and childbirth presents other ways to take back power and shirk cultural standards. To make informed choices through research, childbirth classes, and discussions with health care providers (vs. doing what mom did or what Cosmo says). To have autonomy over decisions in your prenatal care, the care of your baby, and in parenting (vs. being told what to do and when). To take responsibility for not only the care of your pregnant self and new child, but for your parent self too (vs. sacrificing yourself completely).
Promote support, not judgement. Time and again, we are finding that the one key component missing from pregnancy, birth, postpartum, mental health, parenting, relationships, and so much more is: support from others. Help, encouragement, hands-on support, a boost, emotional support, love, compassion. Moms, dads, families, and children all need support to grow and thrive.
So if you were to ask me (and I'm sure you would because I think we would totally get along), I'd suggest a slightly different title for your piece: "Get the Epidural. Or Not. I Support Your Choice."