Originally Published: Slate • May 19, 2011
The first of many fraught decisions a mother faces—one she makes before she’s even a mom—is the choice between “natural” (unmedicated) and pain-free (anesthetized) childbirth. As expectant women quickly learn, either choice comes with a caricature: You can forgo the drugs and be a smug, crunchy masochist, or you can accept them and be a selfish, epidural-dependent wimp.
Lately, though, a number of midwives have been pushing for a third way. They are advocating that more delivery rooms offer nitrous oxide, the inhaled anesthetic more commonly known as laughing gas, familiar to many of us from dental procedures (and, perhaps, ill-advised experiments with Reddi-wip cans). Why are midwives—a group that in this country is usually associated with natural childbirth—leading the charge to bring a new drug to laboring women?