TIME

Why Having an Epidural Should Count as Having a Natural Birth

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Most people define a “natural birth” as delivering a baby without the aid of any kind of medication. But maybe the definition of "natural" needs to be broadened.

Three things happened when I went to my first Lamaze class: I was forced to slow dance to “Just Breathe” by Faith Hill (almost as horrifying as labor), I learned about the joys of episiotomies, and I was repeatedly asked if I’d made a birth plan. Actually, make that a natural birth plan. I quickly came to learn that natural birth is just like regular birth, only better because you aren’t medicated while a watermelon-sized human mercilessly makes its way down your birth canal. I also heard that if you really want to get in touch with your body, popping out a baby in an inflatable kiddie pool definitely earns you extra mommy-points.

Most people define a “natural birth” as delivering a baby without the aid of any kind of medication. But maybe the definition of “natural” needs to be broadened so that women don’t feel like second-class citizens for requesting an epidural.

A 2012 CDC study found that out-of-hospital deliveries (arguably the most natural of natural births) have a lower risk profile than hospital births, while a 2013 CDC study found that the c-section rate has declined to just 32.7 percent. All good news, but with the growing trend toward organic birth comes a growing (and misplaced) judgment toward mothers who embrace pain relief with open arms. I was met with more than a few side-eyes at Lamaze class when I flirted with getting an epidural, but what’s so terrible about having medication shot into your spine during the most agonizing moment of your life?

The Natural Birth Movement is becoming increasingly in vogue among millennial mothers, and of course this isn’t a bad thing. The CDC ran a 2008 survey of epidural and spinal anesthesia use during labor, and 39 percent of documented vaginal births in the U.S. were natural. This implies that somewhere around 61 percent of women had “unnatural” (read: medicated) births, and I’m guessing they didn’t feel less connected to their birthing experience.

For some natural birth enthusiasts, it’s the fear that pharmaceutical drugs will increase the likelihood of an emergency Cesarean section that makes them go med-free. For others, it’s the fear that drugs will cross the placenta and harm the baby. Both are frightening possibilities, but the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists released a statement in 2006 (reaffirmed in 2013) explaining that epidurals do not increase the chances of C-section and a 2011 English study found that there’s no difference in the Apgar scores of babies born via medicated vaginal delivery and babies born au naturale. Of course, sometimes it’s impossible to avoid a C-section, but the delivery of a baby through medical intervention doesn’t make a mother’s birth experience any less natural. One way or another, she’s still going through labor, welcoming a child into the world, and entering parenthood –– one of the most fundamental, and yes, natural, experiences a human body can go through, whether you indulged in drugs or not.

By classifying Cesarean and medicated vaginal births as unnatural, mothers who prioritize natural delivery are potentially put in a position of feeling inferior if their birth plan is unexpectedly thrown out the window. An unplanned emergency C-section is stressful enough without worrying that your birth experience was somehow less legitimate and authentic than you’d hoped.

“I wanted a low-intervention birth, but that changed when my daughter was delivered via emergency C-section at 25 weeks due to severe pre-eclampsia,” says Adele Oliveira of Santa Fe, New Mexico. “A high degree of medical intervention saved both of our lives. For many women, natural birth just isn’t an option, but that doesn’t make our experiences less valid or valuable.”

While medication-free labor is certainly a cause for celebration, new mom Lucy Foma believes we can simultaneously embrace the natural birth experience while also welcoming hospital births. “To me, a natural birth is one in which I used as little intervention as possible: no medications, no inducing, and very little help from the midwife,” says Foma. “I chose to do this because I believe that my body is built to perform this task and medications would inhibit my intrinsic ability. I wanted my own experience of this process, as well as my baby’s, to be intact and fully conscious so that we could embrace the moment when we first met each other. However…ultimately I think the only thing that matters in birth is that the baby and mama are ok.”

The health of mother and baby is certainly paramount, and the natural birth movement does its part to educate women in the benefits of vaginal delivery (The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says an estimated 2.5% of births in the U.S. are elected C-section), and encourage mothers to assume more control of their birth experience –– both great things. But the idea that women should prove their physical and mental prowess by grinning and bearing pain seems outdated, and the implication that choosing medication is unnatural is divisive. More importantly, restricting the definition of “natural” to only encompass un-medicated birth has the potential to alienate those who fear the pain of labor and want help managing that pain.

I myself felt alienated by the natural birthers in my Lamaze class, but didn’t hesitate to ask for an anesthesiologist as soon as I arrived at the hospital to deliver my son. I received my epidural straight away, but after a few blissful hours of napping and watching The O.C., my medication bag sprung a leak and I spent the last six hours of my labor drug-free. The majority of my delivery fit the current definition of natural, yet being drug-free felt decidedly less organic than lying in bed with my epidural while Seth Cohen and Marissa Cooper lulled me to sleep. In fact, watching my favorite high school drama and lounging around with my boyfriend felt familiar and comforting, while being suddenly catapulted into pain felt scary, foreign and completely unnatural.

Whether you have an epidural (or a partial epidural, in my case), an emergency C-section, or an un-medicated birth, every mother’s experience is special and unique. But the one thing we should have in common is permission to define our labor experience as natural. This can only happen once the term’s currently restrictive definition expands to include medicated and unmedicated births, regardless of whether a child was delivered with the help of doctors, or delivered by a doula to the dulcet sounds of Sting playing a lute.

TIME Television

Outlander Recap: Claire Discovers the Folkloric Key to Her Escape

Outlander 2014
Neil Davidson—© 2014 Sony Pictures Television

In this episode: a way out!

Things are getting intense on Outlander, and by “things,” I mean Claire Randall’s heaving bosom, which is literally begging to be unleashed all over the Highlands’ verdant pastures. Last week, Claire’s plan to go back to the future failed when she was made an official prisoner of Castle Leoch, and this week she spent most of her time finger-wagging, being wistful, and facing off against the evil demons who roam Scotland.

But before parsing through Claire’s life as a sexually charged sassenach, Outlander‘s third episode gifts us with a flash to the future, wherein Claire’s historian husband bids her farewell as she leaves for the front lines. Because yes, it’s Claire — not Frank — who occupied the trenches during World War II, and this reversal of traditional roles sets the viewer up for Claire’s insistence on challenging gender norms in 18th century Scotland. You know, where she enjoys life as a glorified witch-doctor / professional groper of shirtless man-breasts.

While Claire spends much of this episode diligently asserting her feminist beliefs (and getting to know an entirely different brand of feminism), we’re also re-introduced to the omnipresent supernatural, which — unlike almost every male on this show — might be an adversary that Claire can’t outwit. With that in mind, let’s take another trip to the rippling moors of Outlander, shall we?

Claire Experiences The Real-Life Version of Drunk History

Thanks to Claire humble-bragging about the fact that she’s a nurse every five seconds, she spends most of her time in a dank infirmary — the very same infirmary where Future Frank performed oral sex on her just days earlier. But rather than bemoan her new role as Castle Leoch’s doctor, Claire partakes in a cheerful montage of wound-tending (set to a Celtic jig), and happily conducts the unfortunate task of massaging Colum MacKenzie’s naked backside to ease the pain of his pycnodysostosis. Though the job is fifty shades of horrifying, it should be noted that Claire in a position of physical control over Colum. He might be her captor, but even his most demeaning treatment of Claire renders him physically vulnerable.

As a reward for Claire’s compliance, Colum invites her to a concert, which is essentially an opportunity for her to dive into yet another love triangle — this time between Jamie and Laoghaire Mackenzie, the damsel in distress whom he valiantly saved from a public beating last week. Laoghaire is obviously in love with Jamie (get in line, friend), but instead of Claire following through with her promise to set them up, she and Jamie get drunk and wander off to “dress his wound.” By now we know this is just an excuse for Jamie to muse about flogging while Claire strokes his shoulder, but the highlight of this particular bonding session is Jamie staring deeply into Claire’s eyes. They’re the windows to her soul, after all, and as a flag-waving feminist, Jamie knows that beauty is only skin deep. He’s so wise, despite his floggy malaise!

Claire Denounces Demons, Comes Down With An Acute Case of Love Sickness

Turns out everyone in the 18th century is full-on obsessed with demons, especially those that reside at the ruins near Castle Leoch. Apparently, this place is swarming with supernatural townies who love nothing more than possessing children, and Claire decides to protest an exorcism that’s being performed on one such child — the nephew of her friendly maid, Mrs. Fitz. Unfortunately, Claire’s attempt to save this bonny lad is thwarted by woman-hating Father Bain, and she fails to overcome the confines of her gender and seize control of the situation as she’d hoped. But is her failure really Father Bain’s gain? Or is Claire’s real foe in this situation the ever-intangible supernatural forces at play? Surely, if she can find a logical answer to Castle Leoch’s demon problem, she can find a logical answer to her own time travel conundrum.

More on that later, because important things are afoot: Claire catches Jamie kissing Laoghaire in a hallway. The good news? Jamie probably isn’t a virgin (I was worried). The bad news? He’s betraying his core belief system. Laoghaire obviously represents everything Claire doesn’t: she’s innocent, naive, definitely hasn’t read anything by Virginia Woolf, and most importantly, she’s all wrong for Scotland’s resident dreamboat. And considering that this semi-mulleted hero spent last week being the world’s best feminist, I’m slightly surprised that he’d so quickly fall into caricature by philandering with Laoghaire solely because she’s attractive. What about her personality, Jamie? WWBFD (What Would Betty Friedan Do)?

Claire Bests the Paranormal, Forms Cunning Plan

After mooning over Jamie atop yet another buttress, Claire visits her friend Geillis and meets Arthur, a flatulent fellow who dispenses justice among the locals. This is a learning moment for Claire, as she’s introduced to a conflicting brand of feminism when Geillis uses her “wiles” to convince Arthur not to chop off a little boy’s hand as punishment for stealing. While Claire attempts to reason with Arthur as one intelligent person to another, Geilles uses prototypical gender roles to her advantage and succeeds in changing his mind (though the poor boy still gets his ear nailed to a post). The question is, will Claire abandon her scruples and embrace new-wave feminism?

Claire doesn’t have to ponder this issue for too long, because Jamie wanders in and (after releasing the boy’s ear) whisks her off to the possessed ruins near Castle Leoch so they can discuss demons. (Not to be confused with flogging, which was shockingly not discussed.) It only takes Claire about five minutes to realize that Scottish children are being “possessed” thanks to their consumption of lily of the valley, which they binge-eat like it’s going out of style. Claire’s discovery not only shows that she’s smarter than her haters, but also that she’s rationalized the pervasive supernatural element in this episode. She’s found an explanation for demons, and now she’s free to find one for her own inexplicable journey through time.

Claire stumbles upon the answers she’s looking for after saving Mrs. Fitz’s nephew, and though she initially fears that she’ll forever be Castle Leoch’s “miracle worker,” she comes to an epiphany while listening to a folk song about — you guessed it — time travel. The key to Claire’s escape according to folklore? Returning to Craigh na Dun at night and touching the stone that whisked her to the 18th century. Claire might not know what she’s up against, but she’s ditching Castle Leoch with or without permission from her captors. Way to reclaim your agency, Claire, but I can’t be alone in hoping you stay long enough to educate Jamie in the ways of 20th century sex. Who’s with me?

TIME Television

Outlander Recap: Claire and Jamie’s Road to Star-Crossed Love

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Outlander 2014 Ed Miller—Copyright 2014 Sony Pictures Tel

On the second episode of Outlander, things heat up between Claire and her suitor

Last week on Outlander, burgeoning feminist Claire Randall flitted off to Scotland for a post-war tryst with her husband, touched an ancient stone that was high on magical Druid fumes, and time-traveled to the 18th century. (Normal.) This week, Claire found herself fully entrenched in the highlands’ undulating moors, and spent much of her time treading the line between spirited free-thinker and whatever word best describes “the urge to bosom-heave at a gaggle of unwashed Scots.” (Maybe there’s a Gaelic word for it!)

Claire’s transformation into a stoic adversary of sexism is more than fully realized, but don’t confuse her for a misandrist. Sure, the former Mrs. Randall now inhabits a world where she’s casually threatened with rape by a bunch of kilted randoms, but she’s all about discovering what lies beneath the skirts of a certain Scottish dreamboat named Jamie. Unfortunately, Jamie’s technically Claire’s captor — and she risks acquiescing the little power she has over her own body by surrendering to their undeniable sexual tension.

Getting around this troubling dynamic is central to this week’s episode of Outlander, which carefully crafts Jamie into a victim of equal standing to Claire. We’re encouraged to forget the fact that he captured Claire against her will, and instead focus on moments that give her power over him — like her ability to seductively tend to his wounds. And speaking of seductive wound-tending, let’s gird our loins, shout “Och aye!” and time-jump into another episode of this torrid show.

Claire Keeps Up Appearances, Jamie Remains Shirtless

In an effort to convince her captors that she can sashay around Scotland like the best of ‘em, Claire fully immerses herself in highland life. She ditches her 20th century smock, dons a choker necklace reminiscent of something Britney Spears might have worn in 2004, and even squeezes herself into a corset. But first things first: she must tend to Jamie’s bullet wound, which is a great opportunity for a bonding session — not to mention a great opportunity for Jamie to recount his flogging by Captain Black Jack Randall, aka the Redcoat ancestor of Claire’s husband, Frank.

Thanks to a gloomy flashback, we learn that Jamie was tilling the land / merrily enjoying his kilt flapping in the breeze, when Jack and his ponytail of doom descended from on high and tried to sexually assault his sister. Jamie valiantly tried to protect her from Jack’s physical attack, and though he failed (hence the flogging), he’s clearly a hero in the fight against sexual abuse. In this moment, Jamie becomes more than just Claire’s dashing captor — he’s a champion of women’s rights, he’d rather die than see his sister raped, and his body is a wonderland of sexy scars for Claire to massage with a tragic rag.

But we can’t forget that Claire has a nerdy husband waiting for her in the future, and as she basks in the soft glow radiating from Jamie’s pectoral muscles, she’s overcome with emotion. What if Frank thinks that Claire’s suffered death-by-Druid — or, “worst of all,” that she’s left him for another man? Either way, Claire’s fear that Frank would prefer her death to her infidelity makes me feel less sympathetic to his loss, and totally on board with Claire and Jamie’s quivering lips.

Claire Educates Scots In the Feminine Mystique and Enjoys a Breezy Buttress

Claire’s officially in 1743 Scotland under the reign of King George II — a fact that she familiarizes herself with while snooping around the offices of her host, Colum MacKenzie, before sitting down for a chat and unleashing her feminist fury upon him. Not only does Claire spare no detail recounting Black Jack’s attempted sexual assault, she muses, “Is there ever a good reason for rape?” when Colum ventures into the territory of victim-blaming. Basically, Claire pulls the 18th century equivalent of a #yesallwomen campaign, and celebrates her victory by standing on a buttress and smiling vacantly at some wee bonny children.

But wait — I’m concerned about Colum, and not just because his beard is a different color than his free-flowing wig. This inquisitive Scot and his brother, Dougal, are the only people in 1743 who’ve noticed that Claire has a sporran full of secrets, and they suspect that she’s an English spy. Will Colum and Dougal allow Claire to travel back to Inverness so she can hop in the stone circle equivalent of a DeLorean and go back to the future? Probably not, but while Claire waits in limbo she decides to visit Jamie in “the stables,” where he spends his time prancing around with his horse friends and living out the real-life version of a romance novel.

It should be noted that upon seeing Claire, Jamie compliments her personality rather than her staggering beauty, and then muses on his favorite subject: flogging. Turns out there’s a price on Jamie’s head for allegedly murdering a Redcoat soldier, and as such he’s an outlaw. Jamie’s revelation is verification of his outlander-status (yet another thing he has in common with Claire), but also proves his willingness to shift the power dynamic in their relationship. Jamie might have captured Claire by force, but he’s purposefully giving her information that could lead to his death. Or at the very least to some more flogging.

Claire Befriends a Pro-Choice Witch, Jamie Morphs Into 18th Century Feminist Ryan Gosling

Claire’s transition from progressive modern woman to full-throttle feminist wouldn’t be complete without an assertion of her pro-choice beliefs, which are reflected in townie witch Geillis Duncan. Claire meets Geillis while picking poisonous mushrooms in a field (as ya do), and she promptly schools Claire in the local abortifacient botany. We’ll see how this pointed chat plays out during the rest of Outlander‘s first season, but for now the fast friends head to a banquet hall where Jamie once again reminds everyone that he’s super-duper into women’s rights. Basically, our favorite hirsute clansman sacrifices his own body to save a local woman from public beating as punishment for being “loose.”

I repeat, in the course of one episode, Jamie stands up to rapists, compliments Claire on her personality, and scorns 18th century slut-shaming. His reward? Sponge baths from Scotland’s most hardcore feminist prisoner (because nope, Dougal and Colum don’t release Claire), and the promise of me (and you, viewer!) tuning into another stirring episode of Outlander.

TIME Television

Outlander Recap: Feminism and Time Travel in a Bodice-Ripping Romance? Sure!

OUT-101_20131011_EM-0630.jpg
Ed Miller—© 2014 Sony Pictures Television

Outlander's debut episode delivers on multiple counts

If you have a predilection for epic romances and the super-specific sub-genre that is historical time-travel fiction, then you’re likely to find Outlander to be a sensory feast. Superficially, Starz’s new show is a torrid romance primed for an eager fandom desperate to re-direct their Game of Thrones enthusiasm. But Outlander is more than a sweepingly cinematic bodice ripper: it manages to shroud what fans (myself included) guilt-love about the genre in the much broader themes of history, feminism and free-will.

Though the show begins just after World War II, it largely takes place during 18th century Scotland’s Jacobite uprisings. And while Outlander doesn’t necessarily seek to give viewers a history lesson, the fact that combat nurse Claire Randall’s husband, Frank, is a historian certainly helps. Frank’s incessant musings about his Redcoat ancestors might get yawn-inducing, but they serve as a necessary device to contextualize Claire’s time travel. As she re-lives Frank’s history lessons, Claire’s melancholic voiceover firmly roots the viewer in both worlds, building a bridge between the past and present.

It’s clear from the onset that Claire will spend the majority of Outlander diligently playing the part of an English Rose who eye-sexes thistly Scots, but time travel also becomes a means for Claire to unleash her inner feminist all over a bunch of kilted bros. The creators of Outlander want us to see Claire as a freethinker, and while she is on the surface, she’s also powerless against the romance genre’s inherent constraints against true feminism. Yes, she’s smarter than her male captors and she doesn’t want to be “saved,” but she also acquiesces to the genre’s stipulation that she must be — no matter how resilient a modern-day woman she is. With that in mind, let’s dive sporran-first into Outlander‘s premiere.

Meet Claire Randall: Feminist, Sex Goddess, Hausfrau

Outlander introduces us to Claire and Frank as they celebrate their post-war reunion with a romantic trip to the Scottish Highlands, which — thanks to this show — will now be the go-to setting for fan-fic writers the world over. Claire spends much of the episode trying to mend her war-torn marriage to Frank, but while she seems content enough with her life, there’s clearly something lacking in their relationship.

Claire remained faithful throughout her time apart from Frank during the war, but his willingness to forgive any possible dalliances should be kept in mind throughout Outlander‘s freshman season. Does Claire’s eye wander because she’s asserting the right to explore her sexuality Scot-style, or because her husband gives her permission to do so? Either way, Claire and Frank spend almost all their time having sex in derelict castle cellars and creaky hotel rooms, but Claire — like Heathcliff and Cathy before her — clearly needs to unbridle her passions all over some moors, ASAP. That’s a problem that can only be solved by time travel!

Scottish Highlands Morph Into Supernatural Hot Bed

Since something is wanting in her married life, Claire spends much of her second honeymoon frolicking in the ferns of Scotland and having dusty flashbacks to her past. But then Samhain (aka Halloween) strikes, a holiday that denizens of The Highlands celebrate by pouring blood on their door frames and being macabre. Of course, Samhain also happens to be the day that Scotland’s ghost population emerges from the indistinct twilight, and Frank runs into a particularly perverted phantom on his way home, whom he catches peeping at Claire through the window. This is the first of many supernatural elements in Outlander‘s premiere, and it doesn’t feel forced, despite the first half of the episode being rooted in the business of everyday life. What’s unclear is whether there’s something innate in Claire that’s attracting the paranormal (her palm reading certainly implies as much), or whether she’s simply found herself hanging with the wrong gamboling Druids at the wrong time. (It happens to the best of us.)

In Which Claire Experiences The 1940s Version of Throwback Thursday

After some X-rated intimacy that capitalizes on Starz’s clothing-optional policy, Claire and Frank get up early and visit Craigh na Dun, an ancient stone circle that becomes a literal touchstone for Claire’s thematic journey. Along with Claire and Frank (who somehow manage not to have sex in the ferns), we witness what has to be the best slow-motion Druid dancing scene in the history of television, complete with accompanying chanting and Celtic music. It was basically like watching a vintage Kate Bush music video, with a little Mists of Avalon thrown in for good measure. How can we blame Claire for paying Craigh na Dun another visit? Only this time, she makes the mistake of touching a rock, and promptly gets transported to the 18th century.

Claire Fully Embraces Stockholm Syndrome

Apparently the 18th century Jacobite rebellions were a much more visually vibrant time than the 20th, because Claire leaves the muted tones of 1940s Scotland and wakes up in an Instagram filter. She immediately starts panic-frolicking through the grass until happening upon Frank’s doppleganger ancestor, Redcoat captain Black Jack Randall, who wastes no time trying to rape her. Luckily, Claire’s rescued by a band of kilt-wearing Scotsmen, and sets to relocating the shoulder of the hunkiest clansman, Jamie Fraser, who drops this classic pick-up line: “I’ll get me plaid loose to cover ye.” (Heard that one before.) After proving her worth, Claire puts Frank’s history lessons to use by alerting her captors of a Redcoat ambush, ultimately saving their lives.

Claire’s role as a savior certainly bolsters her unspoken identity as a feminist, but she’s not exactly free of the patriarchy, no matter what year it is. And considering that the 20th century should give her greater opportunity to be a liberated woman, it’s all the more noteworthy that her true feminist leanings surface in a world where she’s threatened with rape and casually called a whore. Claire will likely spend the remainder of Outlander navigating her new role as a clanswoman — and while she does make a failed attempt to flee her captors, by premiere’s end, our plucky heroine is almost as entrenched in her new life as we are. And I’m already cueing up my DVR for next week’s episode and hand-sewing myself a celebratory Druid costume.

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