Is Unmedicated Childbirth a Moral Obligation?

Some food for thought...

Barring any presence of medical necessity, do we have a moral obligation to birth our babies without drugs or medical intervention? Do we have a moral obligation to breastfeed our babies if no contraindication is present?

I'm not asking because I definitively think this is so but because I live like this is so and think it might be so. I have faced this question vaguely with each of my 6 labors and deliveries. I have decided to pursue unmedicated labors with each because my husband and I believe it to be best for the mother, the child and the relationship between the two. I am not inflexibly committed to this practice but simply have never encountered a strong enough reason or need to turn from it. If I needed a C-section, I would have one in a heartbeat for the sake of my child. I am talking about one factor here: PAIN.

As I rapidly approach the due date of my 6th child (not including our miscarriage), I find myself battling a very strong fear of the pain and trial of labor. I have done it 5 times already; one would think it would at least get easier mentally since I know I can do it. But the fact is that my physical memories are stronger. I remember everything. I remember how helpless I feel and how no pain I have experienced in life has held a candle to the pain of labor and delivery. I realize that it's nothing that I actually do; rather, it's something that happens to me that I must cooperate in to the best of my ability and endure until completion. The way I decide to undertake this trial is the one choice (to a point) that I do have.

So the temptation has come upon me time and time again in the last few weeks...Maybe this is the time to get an epidural. I'm tired. I'm anxious. I'm terribly afraid of that pain.

I recently read a book review online (I can't even tell you how I stumbled upon it), clipped the following excerpt, and promptly lost the source.

We Christians have been needing this kind of serious thought about "conceiving, carrying, birthing, nursing, and bonding" as personal actions with moral, spiritual, and even mystical significance....
...That inward experience...also touches on a mother's awareness of the personhood of her newly-conceived child; welcoming the baby while still in the womb; conscious intelligent birthing without drugs and invasive obstetric intervention; breastfeeding as a unitive sacramental experience; the rich protoevangelium of splendid, dedicated mothering...
...He (the author of the book under review) does not say, of course, that every woman is obliged to have children. Not at all. But he does say that every baby as a right to his own mother's dedicated presence: her welcome at conception, her conscious, intelligently prepared labor at childbirth, her encircling arms, her milk, her heart. Hers. No substitutes.


I'm not familiar with the author, the book, or the reviewer and I doubt I will look further into finding any of them; but these words touched somewhat on my present struggle and forced me to define my own thoughts. Even while I have struggled, I have known that I would proceed the same way with this labor as I have in the past in spite of my anxiety. I will give it my best because I believe that I owe that to my child.


Indeed, I believe that if it is within my power to do so, I am obligated to provide it for my child.


I know that I should and will pursue a non-medicated birth if I can. I know that I will nurse this child as I nursed my others; sometimes literally through blood, sweat and tears. Our culture makes this difficult. We're "crazy" if we actually want to pursue pain. Nurses like to ask repeatedly during the birthing process if we'd like "relief." I want to shout: Of course I'd like relief! But that is not the way I have chosen for my child. 


Do I believe that you are also obligated to do the same for your child? I don't think I can go so far as to make that statement. I do, however, think that every woman is obligated to educate herself on the physical, mental and spiritual elements of these important matters and make her decision with the utmost concern and gravity. I do think that each of us, after becoming educated on these matters, needs to be careful that when we say "I can't", we aren't really just saying "I won't." 
Posted on August 11, 2010 and filed under "catholic motherhood", "childbirth", "natural childbirth", "pregnancy".