Guest Post — Getting Over the Guilt: NCB is Not Easy to Shake

Please welcome guest blogger and raptor extraordinaire, Lisa Miller.

On different parenting sites we’ve all seen quotes like this:

“At the moment we decided on the transfer, however, was the moment I felt the most guilty and as though I had failed.”

“ [I] Was so ashamed and embarrassed to have gotten the epi[dural] after 26 hrs of horrible back labor, I somehow had myself convinced I did something wrong for it to hurt so bad…”

“Even though I KNOW that I want an epidural this time, I occasionally catch myself thinking that I should just tough it out again and see if it’s better”

“I was not strong enough to make it. I pussed out.”

“I remember feeling immense guilt and failure for several months after Anna was born.”

“I knew I wanted the epi[dural] with #6 but felt weird about it all at the same time.”

“I still feel guilt over not nursing Elijah as long as I did the others and feel that it’s my fault he has had so much to deal with health wise.”

“ I do remember – however – feeling worried about posting my birth story on Babycenter (haha, why Lord, why?) because it ended in a c-section and I felt like I failed at birth (siiiiiiigh) that first week or so after the surgery.”

A Confession to my Closest Friends:

Common as these types of conversations are, this is not a collection of quotes from Birth Without Fear or Baby Center. These are selections from a conversation the Raptors were having just this morning. Yes, all these women are the rational ladies who support a woman’s right to choose drugs for labor and to formula feed and see nothing wrong with either. Apparently we do not extend such courtesy to ourselves.

How deeply do those of us who were steeped in Natural Child Birth still feel guilt over making the choices we did in labor? I feel so guilty that I have been lying to you all for the past year. Yes, I’ve told this lie so many times that it just seemed natural to tell it to the hordes of new best friends I have made over the last year. You all know that I got an epidural with my second birth, but you didn’t know I also got one with my first.
Why would I do such a thing? I know that getting pain relief in labor is a fine, safe, and perfectly acceptable option. Why the lie?

The first thing I am going to do is to rationalize my lie to you, because I STILL feel the need to defend it. With both my kids I was pushing within 30 minutes of getting pain relief—thus I still feel like I earned the title of Natural Birther, because I did all the hard stuff without drugs. This does not matter one bit. But it still does to me. Why is that?

The Natural Child Birth Does Me Wrong:

I had not been able to unclench my jaw since my daughter had been born. The pain from the clenching had caused my teeth to ache. I went to the dentist where he filled my teeth and gave me Vicodin. The only time I felt OK was when I was taking it. Soon enough I could not get any more narcotics and the pain from my jaw had moved to my neck and was making its way down my back. I was frantically borrowing pain killers from friends and family, scared to ask for some from a doctor because I feared they’d think I was a drug addict. Something was wrong.

Nine months pass and I can no longer get out of bed without help. I ache like a 90-year old-woman. The Doctors test all come back fine. They occasionally see some inflammation but they test me for everything under the sun. It’s not Lupus, it’s not Lyme’s. In the mornings I load my kids up in the car. We buy lunch at fast food places and we drive until I can’t afford anymore gas. It is the only way I can take care of them. At least when they are strapped in I don’t have to walk or move much, which causes me too much pain. I have resorted to buying pain pills from a sketchy guy that comes into the place where I work for $5 a pill. And they don’t help much. This is not the mother I wanted to be.

When my legs start swelling and I get fevers of 101.1, I break down in a doctor’s office. I tell her about everything, the pain, the pills, being an awful mother. She places her hand on my knee and looks over my record. “Honey, you have Fibromyalgia” She says as she rubs my shoulder.

And finally I have a name. Fibromyalgia is a disorder of the central nervous system that screws up the bodies pain receptors. It tells your brain that you are in pain when you are not. In people with fibromyalgia, as many as 35% have also been diagnosed with PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. When my doctor asks me about what was happening around the time the disorder started, I wrack my brain.

“If it was some type of trauma” She began “It would be something that you’ve replayed over and over, almost obsessively. Perhaps something that causes you nightmares?” Well, now that you mention it…

I had been having the dream since the day of my labor–the first one starting in the hospital. I see my husband– his usually calm and collected face looking at me in terror—eyes wide, head slightly shaking, and this scares me. He is the strong one and here he is falling apart. It scares me to death. And the pain, I can feel it like it was actually happening. Most people forget the pain of childbirth almost as soon as it is over, but I wake myself up having another dreaded contraction, only to find that it’s not real. I am clutching a deflated belly with not so much as a cramp.

My son’s labor was just long. Twenty two hours, with back labor and Pitocin and I got just got tired. The epidural helped to relax me and he was born soon after.

My daughter’s labor was 6 hours start to finish and was frantic. I remember trying to walk in the parking lot outside the hospital but every step caused a contraction and each one was worse than the last. When I actually got into the room, I went from my hands and knees, to the tub, to the ball to the bed and could not get a break from the pain. It hurt so bad that I remember looking down at my knuckles, which were white and griping the bed sheet and wondering how I could kill myself quickly. I didn’t ask for the epidural so much as I demanded it, and then begged. I cried knowing that it would take an hour for them to get a bag of fluids in me and then to get the actual drugs. I don’t like remembering this. Some folks might say that it was the epidural that caused the fibro to flair. To them I say: I didn’t have nightmares for months about getting pain relief. But I still have guilt.

So I did it to myself. I have given myself a life-long disorder for a belief I would later come to realize was not even real. The medicine they have me on has allowed me to be the mother I have always wanted to be. I still have bad days but I have a life. Having this condition has taken so much from me and once it is released, no amount of getting over my birth will make it go away. I am currently pregnant with our third child, taking a risk to be on the medicine while I am pregnant. Fibro has taken so many things from us, I refuse to let it take the family that my husband and I always dreamed of.

This labor, I plan of trying to be induced so that I know I can have an epidural as soon as possible with no waiting time. I have not a bit of guilt in that, and yet I still have guilt and shame from the epidurals I got in my other labors. I still feel like I failed at some goal I had set for myself. My rational mind knows this is insane, yet the guilt is still there.

So to my Raptor friends: I apologize for lying to you. And I am also sorry that I still have the need to offer further explanations (I have a pelvis that turns my babies’ sunny side up and makes labor very painful). But knowing that many of you still carry around the guilt makes me see how powerful this business of NCB really is. I see how it can get into your head and make you crazy with thoughts and insecurities. So here is to getting over it, moving on and not forgiving ourselves…because we’ve done nothing wrong.

19 thoughts on “Guest Post — Getting Over the Guilt: NCB is Not Easy to Shake

  1. ((((Lisa))))
    Trauma from pain is real and you remind us how dangerous a belief system that makes us feel guilty for seeking relief from pain during labor can be. I am so sorry this had been your experience. I hope you can get some permanent relief from the fibro. For the trauma, the VA uses EMDR as part of their protocol. It can be a really effective way to work through it. Hugs (gentle ones!), my friend.

  2. Hold your head high, girl. There is nothing in your story to feel shame about. Easier said than done, I know. This is exactly why it is so important to break down these NCB guilt inducing lies.

  3. Lisa, you have NOTHING to feel guilty about. That is what drives me nuts about this cult-like mentality that insists if you do not do it their way, you’re a failure. You are not and never have been a failure. You did what was best for you and your babies.

    I am so sorry that you are suffering from such a painful disease but am happy that you have a good doc that took your suffering realistically and didn’t try to tell you “it’s all in your head,” like some fibro sufferers get. I stand by ya, chick…;-)

    From a huge “failure” C-section mommy…;-)

  4. Oh Lisa, you know that you don’t need to apologize to any of us! This is why NCB dogma is such a poison – it makes us feel guilt in a situation in which there should be none. Our female ancestors fought for pain relief so that they could have some modicum of control over the excruciating pain of a typical labor. Why are we idolizing the past when we are so very fortunate to live in an age where we and our babies have access to quality medical care and safe pain relief? Rationally, I don’t know why, but given that I’m quoted in this post, you know that I haven’t completely been able to shake the hold that this crap has one me.

  5. Very powerful post, Lisa, and I am so sorry that you have suffered so much. I hope this next birth goes FAR better, and I hope sharing your story, getting the word out there, and also relieving yourself of so painful a secret can bring positives to you. I’ve read your stuff on another site where I am known by a different name…

  6. Thank you for being strong enough to share this. It will help shatter the illusion that NCB has. The guilt that eats me alive is that my son was injured during his Birth with midwives. I choose to go to a Birth Center instead of a hospital where his injures would have been prevented. I ignored my body’s messages and I believed the midwives when they ignored warning signs too. I thought if I could be strong for my son it would be the best for him. Instead with ever minute that I endured he was being killed. This was my first act of motherhood and the flash backs haunt me everyday.

    Women need to be Truly honest about their experiences. Than we could help each other heal and learn instead of putting unrealistic standards up for each other and ourselves.

  7. I’m so sorry you guys feel that way. I understand. Reading all your quotes especially, I related to that stuff a lot. Some of those very things were things I thought myself, about me. You have to do what you have to do. You shouldn’t be made to feel like failures.

  8. This was very moving. It is strangely taboo to admit that your childbirth was not the beautiful, magical experience everyone gushes about. And that’s just so wrong. I felt the guilt, too, and hated that I felt it.

    I didn’t ask for the epidural so much as I demanded it, and then begged. I cried knowing that it would take an hour for them to get a bag of fluids in me and then to get the actual drugs.

    I remember having a similar moment. When I begged to transfer to the hospital for an epidural, and the midwife told me that it would be an hour before I could actually get relief, I burst into tears. The first part of my birth – the “natural” part – is not a fond memory. (Anyway, I guess the hospital staff took pity on me because, mercifully, they placed the epidural immediately.)

  9. I’m so sorry you had such a horrible experience, and even worrier that fibro was the end result. I’m glad you got the meds you need to feel human again. I know I cannot walk without them and know how crappy that is.

    NCB is like a long acting poison, it takes many years to eliminate it. Eventually, the irrational guilt will go away.

    P.S.- I didn’t even know whether you got an epi or not, I assumed if you had it was waaaay late.

  10. “Nine months pass and I can no longer get out of bed without help. I ache like a 90-year old-woman. The Doctors test all come back fine. They occasionally see some inflammation but they test me for everything under the sun. It’s not Lupus, it’s not Lyme’s. In the mornings I load my kids up in the car. We buy lunch at fast food places and we drive until I can’t afford anymore gas. It is the only way I can take care of them. At least when they are strapped in I don’t have to walk or move much, which causes me too much pain. ”

    I know that feeling. I have an autoinflammatory disease (there’s a bunch of rare diseases that cause chronic inflammation – TRAPS, FMF, HIDS, MWS, PFAPA etc). The pain, the hobbling and the fevers for no reason. It sucks. Glad you’re feeling more under control now and good luck with your pregnancy. I often felt better during pregnancy but would have a big flare shortly after birth (I hope that you don’t but something to keep in mind so you can make sure you have enough meds and support just in case).

  11. Thank you for posting this difficult story. It spoke so much to me. I spent months in “Birth Art” group after my c-section being the example of how not to have babies. That caused much more psychological damage than my surgery. I am only now coming to understand what my doula and NCB classes set me up for! Especially when the first thing the doula said to me when they said I would go to The OR was “it’s ok to mourn and let yourself feel let down”… Ugh. Congratulations on #3 and your brave journey to shed your guilt and trauma.

  12. You finally dragged me out of hiding. I have fibromyalgia and had an excruciatingly painful delivery. I try to remind myself that everyone’s perception of pain is different and that we have to honor those differences. Some people will be able to give birth with pain they can manage without narcotics – some won’t. It’s all ok.

    I was 4 cm dilated for a week and half. The doctors kept giving me morphine because the pain was so bad. It didn’t touch the pain at all. Two days of contractions got me to 6 cm. 5 hours of pitocin took me the rest of the way. I wish I’d had pit from the beginning. I cried when the OB said she could help me and got me the epidural.

    Our pain receptors don’t define us, how we raise and love our children does. Hugs.

  13. Speaking as a retired RN with fibro, NCB woo is a pernicious vile toxin and fibromyalgia sucks wet farts out of dead pigeons. (Can you tell I’ve struggled with pain control with fibro also?)

    Just telling it like it is.

  14. Elizabeth, re: “Our pain receptors don’t define us, how we raise and love our children does.”

    I love that. As a hopefully future mommy who has a very low pain tolerance, your words spoke to me very deeply.

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