All I Know Is That I Know Nothing

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By Tracy G. Cassels

“All I know is that I know nothing.”

̴  Socrates

We have an unfortunate habit these days of being convinced that we know everything; we sorely lack the epistemological modesty of Socrates.  And there is no area where this is greater than parenting.  Simply because one has been a parent seems to be license to tell anyone and everyone that the way they did it is best; the books they read and followed work better than any others.  And if you try to tell them, no matter how gently, that there may be a better, or equally good, way out there, you will witness defensiveness and deafness like you’ve never seen.  The parenting “experts” are even worse.  In a rush to make a fortune, they treat all babies the same with rules and regulations that they promise will help everyone, individual differences be damned!  The big problem with this know-it-all culture is that it’s built upon a false foundation – we don’t know everything.  In fact, what we do know is enough to fill a teaspoon and we’d be wise to accept that fact if we want to truly be good parents.

Socrates’ quote about knowledge has stood the test of time because of how accurate it is.  I remember reading a piece by a famous psychologist about how the more research he did and read, the less he felt he knew; to the point where he simply had to accept that he felt as if he knew less as a tenured professor than he did as a first year undergraduate student in psychology (going with the knowing less, I cannot, for the life of me, remember who it was).

When it comes to parenting there is a vast history of varying ways to parent and only through constant exploration do we start to understand the implications of each and understand how little we know.  The problem in our culture (and perhaps others) is that we are so adamant about believing we must be right in how we do everything that we fail to acknowledge that a) we can still learn and b) that if we’re willing to learn and sometimes admit that perhaps the way we previously did things isn’t perfect, we can be better parents.  Let’s start with the first notion – that we can still learn.  I think many people would argue against my suggestion that we don’t learn because of the vast popular literature out there for parents that is eaten up by so many.  Books, videos, websites – people go to these and “learn”, right?  I think wrong.  I think people go there in hopes of quick fixes and step-by-step rules to follow without actually learning about parenting, their child, or why these methods may or may not work.  We have a society of people who feel that they are incapable of learning about development, childhood, and specifically their own baby and using that information to do what is best for their child and instead turn to someone else to tell them what to do.  There are rebels, though, and I believe most people reading this fall into that camp.  And the rebels are the ones out there searching for information on myriad practices and then figuring out how it works with their particular child.  Because let’s face it – your child is a unique individual with his or her own personality and if you ignore that uniqueness, you run the risk of squashing it.

When it comes to the so-called “parenting experts”, it is astounding how the lack of epistemological modesty runs rampant.  You know, the ones who write as if only they hold the key to all parents’ happiness and when questioned on some methods they promote, tend to shut down and refuse to answer?  The ones who get defensive when you question their authority?  In any realm, parenting or otherwise, defensiveness is the key to realizing someone is under the illusion that they know much more than they actually do.  Because if these experts were to actually go and learn some of the information out there (e.g., research, how other cultures function), they would have to stop what they’re doing and acknowledge that what they propose may not work for some children (or, more realistically, is downright dangerous for many children).  Again, truly learning isn’t about following the often-insane recommendations from experts, but rather finding out what the options are for parenting and what would be best for your family.  All this is to say that we are capable of learning so much about parenting if we’re willing to put in the work.  But this capability is totally dependent upon the second point which I mentioned – being willing to learn – and that is much harder.

This willingness to learn should be the easy part because it’s entirely self-motivated, but in fact is much more difficult because it forces us to, at times, admit that the way we may have done things in the past might not have been ideal.  This is hard for all of us generally but is particularly hard when we talk about parenting because the stakes are so high.  To think that you were “wrong” on how you decided to raise your child?  It’s difficult to fathom and even harder to acknowledge.  But if we’re all totally honest, none of us are perfect parents and we will all screw up.  The difference between the best parents and the not-so-great parents is, I believe, being able to let your ego go enough to admit when you’ve been wrong.  If you don’t, you’re doomed to repeat your mistakes and the people who will suffer are your children.  For example, I know a woman who has one son.  He is in elementary school and all his life she has decided she should do everything for him – he was probably in grade two before she let him pick his own clothes to wear.  She would open doors for him, carry any of his stuff for him, and absolved him of any responsibility.  Now, in school and with friends, he suffers.  Teachers have commented that he has almost no awareness of how to cope with assignments, particularly if he doesn’t understand something.  Instead of asking for help, he simply sits around waiting for someone to come to him and fix it for him.  She’s been told that she needs to let her son be responsible and take care of some things himself, but she seems unable to admit that she ever did anything that wasn’t perfect as a parent, and so she doesn’t change, and it is her son who pays the price.  What she seems to forget is that we all make mistakes.  However, if you are willing to admit to the occasional lapse as “perfect parent”, you can learn from it, learn how to potentially mitigate the damage from it (if there is any), and figure out an alternative going forward should the situation arise again.

Having been raised by two parents who could never admit they might have been wrong about anything, I know first-hand that this defensiveness is also easily passed on to our children and very difficult (though possible) to overcome.  Because they learn from watching us, when they see us refuse to admit wrongdoing (even in the face of overwhelming evidence), they believe that is the way to behave.  Sadly, the more we dig our heels in with certainty, the more children are going to learn from it[1]Is that really the lesson we want to pass onto our kids – to be completely inflexible when dealing with a baby?  Or to ignore all their own instincts in favour of a set of rules some idiot came up with to make a boat-load of money?  I hope not.

There’s the WHO code for marketing breastfeeding alternatives (which we know isn’t followed at all in North America), but I wish there were something similar for the myriad parenting books out there today.  Instead of allowing experts who typically know very little to make money off families looking to do right by their child, we should have some system that prevents these people from giving the harmful advice they do and instead provide the information parents need to learn for themselves.  If we can all agree that we know nothing, we can finally start to learn something.

 

 


[1] My supervisor, Dr. Susan Birch, does tons of work in this regard and the work I refer to here is about how children are more likely to learn from confident others than those who waver.  So in one regard, while it’s best for us to waver a bit and accept uncertainty, we need to be certain in our uncertainty for our kids to learn it!

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  1. Marian Keech says

    Seriously? So writes a self appointed “expert” who has even coined a name for her particular parenting ideology? And what of Sears and fam et al? Or is he and other AP “experts” the *true* experts?? The irony and hypocrisy is palpaple. Literally everything you rail against in this article, you yourself are guilty of (except that you’re probably not making much money on your brand yet). Confirmation bias and disconformation bias operating in full force. Rationalization and justification of cognitive dissonance at its finest.

    For another perspective, some eye openning recommended reading – Sara Blaffer Hrdy – Mother Nature and Mothers and Others (an *actual* evolutionary psychologist who has a somewhat less quaint and rosy tinted notion of evolutionary processes and the diversity of parenting practices across time and space). and on another note, very good book about cognitive dissonance and the ways that we delude ourselves – Mistakes Were Made (but not by me) – Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson.

    (as an aside, whole heartedly agree with the article, just thought it needed to be pointed that *you’re not there yet*.)

    • says

      Marian – I’ve never claimed to be an expert – I write to supply research on parenting topics that many people don’t have access to. As for the Sears clan, in terms of credentials, they are definitely better “experts” than the masses writing baby whisperer books (you rally against my credentials without knowing what they are, but accept those of people who acknowledge their work has no basis in research). But what they propose is listening to your instincts which is very different than following a prescribed set of rules. And what I hope I’ve promoted here is information on previous practices and people listening to their instincts. However, I will fully acknowledge that I too suffer from thinking I know more than I do at times – we all do. But simply because we all fall short in certain ways doesn’t mean we stop striving to reach a certain goal or don’t discuss it altogether. I’m far from perfect, but as you said – you agree with the gist of the article, but does it mean it shouldn’t be written if I personally am not there? Even if someone else reads it, gets it, and becomes a better parent for it?

      I also am not sure you understand the terms you’re using here so it makes it a little difficult to understand your points. I note that you’ve used the concept of cognitive dissonance in all of your posts and I think you’re convinced that any type of research-based writing is based on cognitive dissonance (which it isn’t). For me to have any of it, I would have had to have uncomfortable feelings about something that didn’t work out as I wanted – the way I parent, the way I gave birth, etc. – and yet I never did (and still don’t). You hold two ideas that conflict – either through experience and belief, or even two separate beliefs or experiences – and try to integrate them, but find they are incompatible. That’s just not the case here. (Though I appreciate the obvious pseudonym for your name given your obvious love of cognitive dissonance.) As for confirmation and discomfirmation bias – would you like to present to me the research that contradicts whatever you think I’m biasing? I try to make sure I read the articles that don’t support what I think and integrate them when I can, but obviously you know of research that I have missed.

      As for reading others, thank you for the Mother Nature recommendation. Note though that Prof Hrdy is actually and anthropologist – not an evolutionary psychologist – and there is a distinction (my dissertation research includes evolutionary aspects of psychology so I have evolutionary psychologists on my committee). The way in which each studies these processes is actually quite different.

      Finally, by no means do I think *all* practices or cultures in the past were perfect. Even in more primitive cultures, there have been practices that have been less-than-kind. In primitive farming cultures, for instance, they have used very harsh parenting techniques that lead to more crying despite some of the other uses of babywearing and co-sleeping. However, when you take it back to the initial hunter-gatherer societies, anthropological evidence suggests an overwhelming use of the positive forms of parenting that lead to happier baby outcomes. So why not take the practices that have worked so well and promote them in a society in which what we’re doing obviously isn’t working that great?

  2. Jespren says

    One of my favorite authors, Dr. Donald Chittick (ph.d in physical chemistry, and yes, I realize that says something interesting about my reading choices, but his book I like isn’t about chemistry, although ironically the only highly technical book I own is chemistry based ), says ‘everyone is biased, it’s impossible to not be biased, the question is which bias is the best bias to be biased towards’. It’s important to think, act, and precede under the assumption we are correct (it makes no sense to assume we are wrong and still procede), but it is important to constantly reevaluate your baises whenever we gain new information. I like what you say about learning. I adore learning, but I know so many people who, even if they do take in information, never learn it nor learn from it.
    Btw, I didn’t feel like this was a hypocritical post, you’re very open and honest in your posts in general, stating why and where you get your beliefs and what info needs to be improved, enlarged, or researched to further expand your understanding of certain things. And you’ve given specifics on reasons you disagree with certain practicies. Simply holding a position isn’t hypocritical, even if you are pointing out that others are being unreasonable or unethical in their position. That’s called ‘discernment’ not ‘hypocrasy’.

    • says

      I love the bias comment! Brilliant :) And yet – you’re totally right that it makes no sense at all to proceed if we think we’re wrong. But I will admit that of course I function at times under what is quite possibly an illusion that I know more than I do. But when I start looking up articles, I do my best to put that aside and read what’s out there – confirmatory or not. But it’s hard at times :)

      I’m curious about the book you read – what is it and what’s it about if not chemistry? Why so good? Always looking for good books here…

      • Jespren says

        Dr. Chittick is a Christian apologeticist, I’ve heard him lecture a few times and the book I was refering to is called: The Puzzel of Ancient Man. It has a subtitle but can’t remember it right now. It’s about OoPArts, which has got to be one of the funniest acronyms in science sanding for Out of Place Artifacts if you aren’t familiar with the term, and other sighs pointing to advanced civilization in man’s past. His lectures are great and range from radiohalos to Aztec toys. He’s also very down to earth and approachable, and I like that. Have gotten to chat with him after one of the lectures I attended. Anyway, it’s a facinating read and you’d probably enjoy it, even if you didn’t agree with his starting point (creation not evolution), I know it’s availible through Amazon and through http://www.answersingenesis.com but I doubt your local bookstore would have it.
        I read a lot, and on a lot of different topics and generas (which I can never spell correctly), looking for something specific? I’d be happy to toss some titles and/or authors your way.

        Aren’t you supposed to be on vacation right now?

        • says

          Will look it up – will start with the library though as the budget requires that. Sounds interesting (and I can always start with accepting a different premise, but it usually means I get something different from the book, but that’s fine too).

          Yes, on vacation, but with a little girl who refuses to adopt the Eastern time zone we are now in. So she sits here taking apart my wallet while I surf. Too tired to do much of anything else :)

          • Jespren says

            Good luck with the little one, mine took about 3 days to switch to our new time zone while we were visiting my parents. And I hope you find it at the library, it’s been in print for a while and Answers in Genesis (the parent company that released the book) is worldwide, so it wasn’t just a USA release. In a related vein, irreducible complexity, but widely different because the author rejects special creation, is a book called Darwin’s Black Box. By…Michael Behe, and I think that is more likely to be in your library, although Behe is a bit less laymen friendly than Chittick, in my view. Behe makes me laugh (in a sad and head shaking kind of way). He spends a couple hundred pages pointing out that Darwining evolution can’t stand up to irreducible complexity and then backpeddles and says since he can’t believe in special creation he postulates panspermia, which he knows doesn’t answer the objections he’s raised, merely placed the question further back (panspermia relies heavily on an ad infinitium logic falsacy) but he’s not willing to accept the alternative. Which reminds me, did you happen to read my post In the Beginning? http://tigaseren.blogspot.com/2005/12/part-1-in-beginning.html like to know what you think.

  3. Marian Keech says

    So Sears et al is a “better” expert than other experts (whose stance just happens not to fit with your breastfeeding, co-sleeping, baby wearing world view). They’re all just a bunch of money grubbing hacks with questionable credentials…. and this is not an example of confirmation bias (and it’s corollary disconfirmation bias)? (which, to be clear, I am not saying that there is anything wrong with breastfeeding, co-sleeping or babywearing, just that I see them more as personal choices that may or may not work on an individual level, depending on individual circumstances and temperament).

    And you have no internal conflict between the planned natural homebirth and the hospital birth with epidural reality that ensued? Epidurals are vastly overused and hurt babies and mothers and generally do more harm than good, *unless*, labour is *very* long, and *very* painful, and it helps to relax the body and expedite the process, then it’s a ‘great scientific discovery with the power to help women in labour’? and let me guess, this just happens to fit with your own personal experience? and this is not at all an attempt at self justification and rationalization?

    And so tell me, how does one differentiate between regular old painful, and *very* painful? and how does one differentiate between long, and *very* long? and how does one tell the difference between the epidural that slows things down and leads down that slippery slope of pitocin and c-section and the epidural that relaxes the body and allows things to progress (other than in retrospect)? (which, again, not saying there’s anything wrong with getting an epidural, had one myself and co-incidentally had those same beneficial effects for me, with the extra added benefit of lowering my blood pressure back into the normal range, which up to that point had been approaching 160/110, a benefit you don’t mention…but anyhoo…)

    Yes, I do think that cognitive biases are a pervasive aspect of human nature and as such, that it is almost impossible to weed it out of research based writing. I agree with Jesperen in that everyone is biased and she makes a valid point that we all have to start somewhere, on the basis that what we’re doing is the right thing, otherwise we would be perpetually awash in ambivalence. But then I don’t have a blog where I impart “wisdom” to the masses.

    It seems to me that “All I know is that I know nothing” is rather at odds with “Look at this site – there’s no denying that I am definitely judging the way in which we parent, though I like to believe that if everyone were properly educated they would follow Evolutionary Parenting for the benefit of their children and themselves. Judgments can work to help promote change, but the problem is that, as a society we don’t seem to know when to stop with the judgments and condemnations.” So are you part of the solution, or part of the problem? Just sayin.

    http://motherwonder.blogspot.com/2008/11/june-cleavers-of-childbirth.html

    • says

      So Sears et al is a “better” expert than other experts (whose stance just happens not to fit with your breastfeeding, co-sleeping, baby wearing world view). They’re all just a bunch of money grubbing hacks with questionable credentials…. and this is not an example of confirmation bias (and it’s corollary disconfirmation bias)? (which, to be clear, I am not saying that there is anything wrong with breastfeeding, co-sleeping or babywearing, just that I see them more as personal choices that may or may not work on an individual level, depending on individual circumstances and temperament).

      Let’s start with the definition of an expert… an expert is “somebody with a great deal of knowledge about, or skill, training, or experience in, a particular field or activity” (taken from the dictionary). By this definition, there are those who have had a great deal of training or experience and knowledge. In this camp I would put the Sears’ as they all have had extensive medical training and experience with children and they keep up to date on the research. I would also include Dr. Ferber in this group, despite disagreeing with his overall view. When he first proposed the Ferber method (which is generally done incorrectly but I still don’t agree with it), it was based on scientific theories and he has kept up-to-date on the research, leading to modifications of his views to adapt to what we learn through research. Other so-called experts, like Tracy Hogg and Tizzie Hall, have little to no training, very little knowledge about the research that exists, and in turn promote practices that counter what we know of infant physiology and behaviour (not to mention breastfeeding, sleeping, and other practices); in some cases, they are downright dangerous. And when evidence about this is brought to them, they hide it (now there’s your evidence for a disconfirmation bias). That is why I believe some people are better “experts” than others.

      And you have no internal conflict between the planned natural homebirth and the hospital birth with epidural reality that ensued? Epidurals are vastly overused and hurt babies and mothers and generally do more harm than good, *unless*, labour is *very* long, and *very* painful, and it helps to relax the body and expedite the process, then it’s a ‘great scientific discovery with the power to help women in labour’? and let me guess, this just happens to fit with your own personal experience? and this is not at all an attempt at self justification and rationalization?

      First, I knew that a transfer to a hospital was a strong possibility prior to giving birth and the positives pertaining to epidurals was first brought to my attention because of a friend’s birth. And when I first encountered that with a friend, I did have an internal conflict and modified my views on epidurals accordingly after processing it. But no, I had no internal conflict of my own experience because while I had hoped for one thing, I knew it wasn’t a definite, I never wrote out a set plan figuring I would go with the flow, but I still felt like I had control over the situation as we went through it (something that I’ve written about and will be posted next week). That doesn’t mean I didn’t ever wish I’d had the birth I’d hoped for – I’d hoped for it so obviously there was some sadness there – but I was well-informed and prepared for not having that experience which meant I didn’t have conflict over it. And by well-informed, I don’t mean I knew everything that could go wrong with the birth, but that I knew what the protocols were in my city about when I would have to transfer, what the questions were to ask about interventions if I didn’t want a particular one, etc. That’s information and education, not knowing the entire biology of birth.

      Second, I still fail to see how this is “self-justification and rationalization”. What am I justifying? The use of my epidural? That would imply that my view is really that epidurals are all bad, all the time, and I’m only allowing for exceptions to my own experience. I don’t hold the view that all medical procedures are bad, but I do stand by the fact that they are vastly overused – as the research into maternal and infant outcomes has suggested. There is a difference because a model that utilizes the medical regularly and for profit (which, sadly, is what seems to happen) and one in which leaves medical interventions as necessities but not inevitabilities. Why do you think the US has such awful maternal and infant morbidity and mortality rates relative to other ‘advanced’ nations?

      And so tell me, how does one differentiate between regular old painful, and *very* painful? and how does one differentiate between long, and *very* long? and how does one tell the difference between the epidural that slows things down and leads down that slippery slope of pitocin and c-section and the epidural that relaxes the body and allows things to progress (other than in retrospect)? (which, again, not saying there’s anything wrong with getting an epidural, had one myself and co-incidentally had those same beneficial effects for me, with the extra added benefit of lowering my blood pressure back into the normal range, which up to that point had been approaching 160/110, a benefit you don’t mention…but anyhoo…)

      It’s a big question that you aren’t the first to bring up. As I mention in an upcoming post, based on my conversations with birth practitioners, individuals who have attended many births seem to know when a woman has hit her threshold or when things are going down a certain path that will lead to an epidural being beneficial. It’s not nearly as clear-cut as I would like, but I think it sounds better than the rampant overuse we see today. I also believe women do know their limit and know their bodies. I firmly feel that an epidural is a personal choice, but I’m shocked at how many women know so little about the epidural and the potential side effects of having one. I believe that for something to truly be a personal choice, it should be an educated decision and that is not the case with many birth interventions these days. Knowing what the possible pros and cons are to any intervention should be standard. And lowering bp is a great benefit that I should add – thank you!

      Yes, I do think that cognitive biases are a pervasive aspect of human nature and as such, that it is almost impossible to weed it out of research based writing. I agree with Jesperen in that everyone is biased and she makes a valid point that we all have to start somewhere, on the basis that what we’re doing is the right thing, otherwise we would be perpetually awash in ambivalence. But then I don’t have a blog where I impart “wisdom” to the masses.

      Well, thank you for assuming that wisdom is what people are taking from this blog. I never thought of this as being about wisdom, but about sharing the research I have found (which is difficult without access to journals as individual articles cost a fortune) so that anyone who happens to read it can make a decision with a bit more information out there. Pop psychology books rarely include the research that is done on a regular basis in labs around the world and so most people aren’t given the opportunity to read up on what research is finding. I don’t assume anyone just uses this as a sole source, nor do I believe anyone reads it and follows it blindly. There are also my opinion pieces which you clearly have problems with. Here’s the thing about a blog though – I can write what I like and people can read it, ignore it, disagree with it, etc. – they are pieces like an editorial in a paper. It’s the joy of communication and sharing experiences and beliefs. If a story resonates with someone because they’ve been through it or it makes them think about their own life in a different way, so be it. I’ve had many self-reflective moments from reading other people’s thoughts and personal experiences.

      It seems to me that “All I know is that I know nothing” is rather at odds with “Look at this site – there’s no denying that I am definitely judging the way in which we parent, though I like to believe that if everyone were properly educated they would follow Evolutionary Parenting for the benefit of their children and themselves. Judgments can work to help promote change, but the problem is that, as a society we don’t seem to know when to stop with the judgments and condemnations.” So are you part of the solution, or part of the problem? Just sayin.

      I would imagine some would view this site as part of the problem, some as part of the solution. Re: the statement, I don’t know how it is at odds. I’ve already mentioned that I don’t think I have obtained epistemological modesty, but it doesn’t mean it’s not worth writing about for others to consider or think about. Your opinion, as I understand it, is that I shouldn’t be writing about this because I may not have attained it and I flat out disagree. If we never wrote about things we hope to aspire to (whether we succeed or not), then I believe we’re left with little to write or read. We’re human and flawed, but we have the mental capacity to understand ideals and sharing those ideals is a social act. I see nothing wrong with that.

      For the record, I assume your link is to your own blog. It says a lot about where you’re coming from and the judgments you have about others. While you write yours under the guise of rejecting those who are judgmental (in your mind, all of those who promote natural birth), you are even more judgmental than they. Your attack on natural birth, prenatal education, and allowing that women can have some level of control over birth screams of the very psychological processes you speak of herein, especially given your own experiences. It seems it was you who had the inner conflict around your birthing plan and reality that has left you angry and defensive. But not everyone who plans for a specific type of birth goes in with such rigid views around what will happen; many women are flexible in their approach, knowing what they want, but being open to things changing. Knowing what I know now (after reading your site), I can say that your closed-mindedness around these topics means there’s little fruit in discussion here. I can also only gather that you somehow see me as one of the parenting experts that you believe “suck”. For that, thank you.

    • Jespren says

      I had to stop reading your link when you started in on birth trauma and how ‘these women’ are only traumatized because they expected too much. I know women who were held down while they screamed ‘no! I do not consent!’ While a doctor shoved his hand into their vagina. I know when who were blatantly lied to by their doctors or nurses. Or who were intentionally hurt by their doctors to punish them for giving birth naturally, or at home, or just before the doctor showed up. I know women who went along with everything their doctor said and were just so mistreated by hospital staff that they have a panic attack at the thought of birthing in a hospital again. I know rape victims or molestation victims who asked, for their comfort, to not have students present, or male present, or have X done who were told to ‘shuit up and deal with it’. These women are not traumatizes because they expected ‘too much’ from a system, being respected and afforded patient rights shouldn’t be asking too much. They were traumatized because they were abused by hospital staff! (Or even homebirth attendants). I know other woman who *today* not ‘in the past’ were traumatized because emergencies happened and they ended up with a crash c-section without pain medicine, or who had other forcible extractions of babies, absolutely warrented due to emergency, but terrifying and agonizing and traumatizing all the same.
      Birth trauma is real. Birth rape is real. And real women who did nothing wrong and whose heads were not in the clouds on flights of entitled fantasy have been really hurt, changed, and traumatized by it. And it’s no more their fault for having ‘unrealistic expectations’ as it’s a soldier’s fault for being traumatized by a bullet wound or a rape victims fault for being raped by *that* boy because she thought he’d be a nice date.
      And having a ‘healthy’ baby isn’t the only thing that matters, and you can still be traumatized even if baby isn’t healthy. The human mind is plenty complex enough to hold terror for your child’s life at the same time as it hold shock and horror over your own treatment.

  4. Jespren says

    Hey Tracy, hope you had a nice break. I wanted to chime in on epidurals if I may, as pain management is something I’ve had to struggled with. I think we forget that’s what an epidural is, prescription strength pain management on the same level as vicodin, morphine, or some such. Pain medicine, both OTC and prescription absolutely has it’s place in life. Pain happens in life, it’s quite impossible to get through life without experiencing pain. But our bodies are built to accommodate a certain level of pain, although certainly pain thresh holds and limits vary, and it’s truly ridiculous to think every pain needs medication. Think of a marathon. That’s a lot of running, a lot of pounding on your feet and legs, a lot of weather on your body, be it wind or sun or hail, etc. But a runner (even a nonprofessional) who took morphine before each run to avoid the possible pain would be utterly rejected. On the other hand if he pulled a muscle half way through and wanted to finish no one would think badly of him taking some I.b.prophen, and if he fell and broke his arm (not something that in and of itself would keep someone from running) no one would think it strange for him to take a vicodin from the field doc so he could make it across the finish line. In fact most of us would think very well of him for sticking it out.
    My mom (and grandma, and any number of people) always said ‘childbirth is hard work, that’s why it’s called labor’. But any number of other things are also hard work. My 1st labor was 24 hours with 3 hours of pushing ending in a shoulder dytocia and me unable to walk for almost 3 weeks, and on a walker for another 2 months. Yet there was no time during the labor when I thought ‘this is just too much, I need something to take away the pain’. But, without the hormones of labor coursing through me (and with none of the breastfeeding induced post partum good flood of hormones cuz baby was taken immediately to NICU) I sure ans heck wanted some pain relief afterwards! My hips hurt so much I could barely move my legs. I happily downed the script they gave me without guilt or shame. I needed it. But I *would* have felt guilty and a ‘failure’ if i’d been talked into an epidural during the labor. Why? Because *I* didn’t need it. I would have been taking pain medication unnecessarily (we have a name for that in everyday life). My 2nd birth was 15 min shy of 4 hours and it took 3 pushes for her to slid right out. But I had horrible back labor the last hourish of it. Really bad spasms from shoulder to tailbone with every single contraction. If i’d had to deal with *that* for hours on end I very well might have said ‘enough, I need something!’ And have taken it without shame because I needed it.
    What I see as a problem epidural (mentality) is this assumption that every mother should just have one upon admission. It’s just as foolish and absurd as giving every runner before a marathon a vicodin. Now if any one mom decides she has hit that level of pain where *she* is comfortable receiving pain management in prescription form, absolutely I hope it is availible and she is given the full medical knowledge needed to choose which form of pain control, including an epidural if she so chooses.
    An epidural is a strong prescription strength pain medicine. It should *never* be given out (any more than morphine) for the *assumption* of pain surrounding a normal physiological event. It should be used if and only if a person has reached a point where they need it. I don’t know anyone (other than drug adusers) who start the day off taking a vicodin because something that is to painful for them to bear might happen in the course of the day, yet I know any number of women (none of who to my knowledge would abuse drugs in an average day) who had an epidural right after admission because they (or the doctors) assumed their labor *would get*, not *was* but sometime-in-the-future-might-be, too painful for them to handle.
    Given how pushy most hospitals are about epis I don’t blame (the vast majority) of women for this abusive drug taking behavior, but the medical institution and professions (who if they were in the ER wouldn’t think of giving an otherwise healthy person drugs before a hard days work just cuz it might be painful) who all but, and sometimes do, force them upon women who have no reason to have them.
    It’s the abuse of pain medicine I take issue with, not the use of an epidural by any woman who decides her labor is too painful to be bore without assistance.

    • says

      Love it – so wonderfully said! I too would never deny a woman the choice to have an epi, but it’s pushed so hard by hospitals and doctors and some women end up taking it only to find out the possible side effects the hard way. If a woman knows all the side effects of such a strong medication and still wants it because she can’t handle the pain and knows she needs it, great. That’s when a labour is too painful, imo. But sadly that’s not when most women ask for it – they do it as you said, because the pain *might* be there in the future. My friend who works as a nurse says she encounters this regularly – women come in at the start of labour and simply demand an epi because they don’t want to experience the pain. Abuse of pain medicine is a perfect way to put it! Thank you :)

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