Midwifery professor Denis Walsh argues that labor pain is good for women:
article for Evidence Based Midwifery, published by the Royal College of Midwives, Dr
Walsh said the NHS was too quick to give in to requests for
He said: ‘A large number of women want to avoid pain, but more
should be prepared to withstand it. Pain in labour is a purposeful,
useful thing which has a number of benefits, such as preparing a mother
for the responsibility of nurturing a newborn baby.’ [...]
He said labour pain was a timeless component of motherhood, but
warned: ‘There has been a loss of rites-of-passage meaning to
childbirth, so pain and stress are viewed negatively.’ [Daily Mail--where else?)]
The guilt trip is part of Prof. Walsh's larger crusade against epidural anesthesia for laboring women in the National Health Service.
It's one thing to argue that the risks of a particular pain-relief strategy outweigh the benefits, or to point out that some technique is often used on people who don't need it. Those are empirical questions.
It's another thing entirely to assert that women ought to endure pain for their own good. That's a dubious value judgement based on an unsupported claim about the benefits of pain.
Does Walsh have studies supporting a link between labor pain and maternal responsibility? Or is that just his pet theory that he feels entitled to dispense as if it were a medical fact? If pain builds character, does he advocate torturing new dads to harden them up?
Even if it's true that labor pain confers some marginal psychological benefit, a responsible clinician would lay out the potential costs and benefits and let the patient decide. Of course, the principle applies for pain relief options. Every option from drug-free birth to general anesthesia has its own costs and benefits. It's pretty rare that any one strategy is medically necessary, so the decision should be left to the woman.
Dr. Amy Tuteur, The Skeptical OB, has a great post about the sexist roots of the anti-anesthesia evangelism. She argues that Walsh is carrying on a long and ignoble tradition of romanticizing labor pain and dismissing women's suffering.