I’ve been thinking a lot about this twaddle I hear and read all the time about the “endorphin-high” you get when you push a baby out of your va-jay-jay without any pain medication.
The theory is that, in response to pain, your body produces endorphins and natural opioid-like substances which act on your brain and spinal cord to somewhat mitigate the amount of discomfort you feel and that, as soon as the pain goes away (the baby pops out), you are left with an imbalance between pain and endorphins. Since the endorphins don’t have pain to act against anymore, you get a “high.” If you get an epidural, some claim, you’ll miss out on this “high.”
Let’s leave for a moment the completely abhorrent idea that being “high” is a good thing (try explaining that to your teenagers one day…endorphins are natural…but so are marijuana, cocaine, morphine and heroine.)
I experienced 2.5 “highs” during my labour and delivery and I had an epidural.
How is this possible? Let me explain…
Before the epidural blocked the pain of my contractions, I also had natural endorphins floating around my central nervous system to counteract them. Once the epi blocked all that contraction pain, I had an imbalance between pain and endorphins and I got an endorphin high. I remember grinning stupidly at the anesthesiologist, the nurse the OB and my husband. I also might have been reacting to the small amount of opioid in the epidural but I don’t think that’s the entire reason for my blissed-out feeling. I give that amount of opioid to patients all the time (and more!) as premedication prior to induction of general anesthesia and I don’t see that many goofy grins.
The second “high” I felt was right when my son was placed on my chest. That was an “adore-phin” high, indeed. Wow. Double-wow. Enough said.
I might have felt “high” at that point too in that way that you feel high after a hard workout. I pushed for 2.5 hours. It was hard. Physical exertion also produces endorphins and chemicals that lead to a feeling of well-being.
I had a second degree tear from a semi-emergent vacuum extraction and while they were stitching it up, I noticed something…um interesting. See, the OB was using a retractor, and his hand rested, completely unintentionally and briefly, on my clitoris….and I could feel it.
Why could I feel it when being numbed from an epidural? One of the tricks of the NCB movement is to try to convince women that birth can be orgasmic and with an epidural they will miss out on the enjoyable sexual parts of labour and delivery. I know…not everyone wants to feel sexual in front of a bunch of strangers…but anyway. NCB people must not understand physiology or epidurals. For one, an epidural is not very good at freezing the sacral nerve roots. Those are the ones that provide sensation to the perineum. Lots of women with a working epidural will still feel perineal stretching and sometimes pain down there. I received local anesthetic before they started stitching because the OBs know an epidural is often inadequate “down there.”
The second reason is that orgasmic and pleasurable feelings are partially carried by the parasympathetic nervous system and travel up the vagus nerve. A nerve that originates in the head and bypasses the spinal cord completely. This nerve is the reason that some para- and quadriplegics can experience orgasms.
If birth can, indeed, be orgasmic, then it can be orgasmic with an epidural.
Physiology tells us so. Experience with people with spinal cord injury tells us so.
Take that Ina May!
You can be just as high with an epidural as those NCB people can be without one…and you do not have to go through hours of pain to get there either.
Take that Ricki Lake!
Addendum: I’ve been unable to find any actual evidence (peer-reviewed publications or even case reports) that orgasms can happen during labour and delivery on Pubmed. Not only does Pubmed cover all the hardcore scientific peer-reviewed journals, but it also includes all the crunchy midwife journals as well. Curious, no? Is this truth or heresy?