One-Minute Book Reviews

June 23, 2008

How Bad Is the Pain of Childbirth? A Possible Way to Tell If You’re Going to Want That Epidural, As Described in ‘Predictably Irrational’

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Women, make your husbands try this before you head for the hospital

How bad is the pain of childbirth? Behavioral economist Dan Ariely offers a way to get a handle on the question in his new Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions (HarperCollins, 280 pp., $25.95)

Ariely says that before the birth of their first child, he and his wife spoke with a birth coach who swore that if Sumi plunged her hands into a bucket of ice for two minutes, the pain would resemble that childbirth. That test might help Sumi get a sense of whether she would want pain relief during the delivery. She tried it and, after two minutes, “clearly understood the appeal of an epidural.”

I have no children, but this idea sounded a little kinky to me. So I went to the Exxon station, bought a $1.99 bag of ice and lugged it home. Then I stuck my hands in it.


I tried the test twice, repeating it in the interest of scientific accuracy, and it confirmed what I had long suspected: If I’d had children, I’d have asked for an epidural after 20 seconds. That was longest I could stand to have my hands in the ice.

Afterward, it occurred to me: What if all pregnant women made their husbands keep their hands in a bag of ice for the amount of time their labor might last — say, 36 hours? Even half an hour might be revealing.

So here’s a suggestion for pregnant women and others: The next time you and your husband sit down to watch Jeopardy!, bring out a bag of ice. Ask him to keep his hands in it until the end of the show. If he wants to quit, yell encouraging things like “Pant! Pant!” or “You’re doing great, honey!” Or come out wearing a shower cap to help him get in the spirit of the test. The results could be interesting, don’t you think?

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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