As we now know, the mass hysteria over “crack babies” and their deviant mothers was unfounded. Crack cocaine doesn’t do the kind of damage we thought it did to developing babies. Unfortunately, instead of learning from this heady mix of bad science, a sensationalist press, over-reaching prosecutors, and the narrative of the selfish mother content to damage her baby, we’re repeating it.
Nitrous oxide has a lot going for it. It merely blunts pain, but it also lets a laboring woman walk, perch on a birthing ball, whatever. It’s comparatively cheap, and it’s fast-acting, offering relief in less than a minute. Perhaps most key from midwives’ point of view, it is easily administered by the laboring woman herself. She grabs the mask when she knows a contraction is coming. She stops as the contraction ends. In other words, she is empowered to manage her own pain.