Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Good Drugs - a Lost Post

This one was written while I was pregnant...

A couple of months ago we went to a BBQ at a friend's place. As we left home, toting a bottle of champagne I joked to my helper that it was all for me, and that my husband would be driving home. When we got back at midnight my helper was surprised that I was the one behind the wheel and said "I thought you were going to drink tonight." And she was serious... Admittedly I did have a tiny glass of that sweet, delicious, sparkly goodness but the thought that someone else assumed I would be willing to drink enough to make myself unable to drive, at 6 months pregnant, shocked me into sobriety.

When I was pregnant with J I was a bit of a martyr. I didn't want to take anything that might potentially harm my little foetus and ruin his chances of becoming Australia's first president one day. I was also still feeling extremely guilty about our ski weekend, several doses of painkillers and one or two margaritas I may have inflicted upon him before I knew I was knocked up. I battled through morning sickness, headaches and hayfever with the stoicism of one who feels wholly responsible for another living being. I did take the occasional Panadol and ended up needing antihistamines to breathe while on holiday in Melbourne, but the thought of anything more hardcore literally turned my stomach.

This time round I've been a little bit more relaxed. My all-day morning sickness was worse, a lot worse, and with a toddler to chase after I needed to be able to function. I'd been pregnant about, oh, 5 minutes before I was at the doctor begging for something to make the constant, insufferable queasiness go away. I've popped Panadol for those pesky headaches and I have a constant supply of antihistamines on hand for the sneezes, and occasionally for those nights when I just can't sleep. I had to have a course of antibiotics recently when I was struck down by "teacher's flu" and I didn't hesitate to take whatever my doctor told me was safe to take. And yes, on that night out a while back I had a wee drop of Veuve with friends. Maybe it's because I've realised that babies are more resilient than we give them credit for, or simply that I know I need to look after my own health in order to ensure the health and wellbeing of my little BITO. With a second child to look after, and a full-time job I didn't have the luxury of laying around moaning about how ill I was, so I did what I had to to get on with it, but I made sure I knew what I was taking.

It seems opinion on this one ranges from one extreme to the other. Here the medical profession offer you many "safe" alternatives when it comes to managing your health and wellbeing during pregnancy, moreso than in Australia I think. At points I have questioned whether or not it really is "safe," but like so many others here I put my faith in the doctors I've chosen. When we were in Manila before Christmas I was struck down by incapacitating hayfever. I sneezed so violently, and so frequently, I was concerned my BITO would make a premature exit. I didn't have any antihistamines with me but I went along to the pharmacy, feeling pretty confident that I could buy just about anything I asked for without a prescription, and requested the drug that my doctor here had prescribed. I was met with a look of horror and told there was nothing "safe" for me to take. It took a good 10 minutes and much consultation amongst the staff before I walked out of there with just enough pills to get me through the weekend. The looks on the faces of the staff and their tone as they talked about me, in front of me, made it clear that, in their eyes, I was a terrible mother doing unthinkable harm to my unborn child. Why the attitude towards one course of treatment would be so different, I don't know, but it left me more than a little confused.

When it comes to drugs and pain relief during labour, opinions are equally divided. I chose to have an almost drug-free birth the first time round, and I have absolutely no regrets, and no plans to do anything any differently this time. Again, I find it interesting to learn where people stand on this issue. There are those who go their whole pregnancies without taking anything, watching what they eat and drink, taking their job as gatekeeper very seriously and not allowing anything in that might affect their babies. But when the pain of labour begins it all goes out the window, and they request an epidural after the first contraction. Then there are those who treat drugs during labour as a basic right - a standard part of the process. During a conversation around the staffroom table one morning I was shocked by one colleague's comments when I was pregnant with J. When I mentioned that I was having a natural birth she said I was crazy, "if drugs are available to take away the pain, why be a hero?" (her exact words!). I didn't see it that way, and wanting a drug-free birth was not something I felt I had to do to prove my worth as a woman, but simply something I was capable of doing.

For me, what it comes down to is whether or not you need something. I know I can have a baby without drugs, but if I have a pounding headache and I'm on my own with a two year old, I do need pain relief (and maybe half a glass of wine...). There's also a pretty big difference between paracetamol and pethidine.

Which side of the fence are you on when it comes to medicating yourself during pregnancy and labour?

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