March 13, 2012

Pain During Labor

Last Monday night, I was on the panel to speak at an event following the screening of More Business Of Being Born. The event was organized by Urbanity Baby. What I appreciate most about this film is the honesty and bluntness about the hardships of labor, and the disappointments that evolved. Alanis Morissette was among my favorite as she described her labor. She was honest and straightforward in explaining that labor is PAINFUL. I often joke with my students that you must experience some degree of pain in order to get a human out of your body. But behind the laughter, there is truth in that statement. For years I was reluctant to say outright that labor is painful for many women. I didn’t want to scare a room full of moms-to-be, many of whom were first time mothers.

There is, of course, the exception to every rule. One of my closest friends had a seemingly pain-free birth (pain-free being relative to my own experience!). In fact, promptly after her first natural childbirth, she declared the experience “wasn’t all that bad and she would do it again.” Which she did, two more times. Now all that said, there are many pain management techniques available to deal with the pain. If a laboring mother is prepared mentally and physically, it can make the endeavor easier. (Read these blogs for pain management tips…7 Tricks of the Trade To Help You Have A Better Labor, Comfort Measures For Mom, Paging Dr. Feel Good)

I believe it was Cindy Crawford that discussed the idea that the pain of labor is different than any other pain one will experience. Labor pain is pain for a purpose, created by the body. It is not an injury or malfunction of the body. Labor pain is also rhythmic and offers the mother moments of relief between contractions. Sometimes being reminded that labor is only for a finite amount of time and is purposeful can help create a new perspective of the road ahead.

I also appreciated hearing about the birthing scenarios that did not unravel perfectly. The stories were not negative or scary, but they simply did not go as planned. One of the mothers explained that she needed to be induced and another woman gave birth via an unplanned cesarean section. I think it is important to hear of the “not perfect, but not scary stories” to realize there are so many variations of birth. I often recommend the books Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth or Spiritual Midwifery to my students. Both of these books are wonderfully inspirational and filled with a tremendous amount of wisdom and education. My only gripe is that the birth stories are not very realistic for the average women birthing off of The Farm (the midwifery center in Tennessee that Ina May and several other midwives pioneered). Few women find themselves embedded in a community of knowledgeable and nurturing midwives and friends who are willing and wanting to support you through your hours of labor. Some of my students have expressed to me that as beautiful as these stories of undisturbed birth are, they cannot relate to them and ended up feeling badly knowing their birth will not look like those in the book.

This brings me back to my new crush on More Business of Being Born. Alyson Hannigan (aka -Willow for you Buffy fans) was hilarious in recounting her experience of shock, disappointment and dismay when her midwife told her after several hours of laboring she was only 1.5 cm dilated. This is such a common and realistic story. I also loved when Alanis Morisette asked her midwife if the labor would get any easier and her midwife answered, “No, it will get harder.”

Thank you, ladies, for speaking the truth. Labor is hard work, which is why it is called labor! And from my experience, it is like no other pain you will encounter or challenge you will endure. BUT the stories of labor amnesia are true. My own labor lasted 42 hours- including 5 hours of pushing. Eight months later, I have a very hazy memory of the days it took to birth my son and only snap shots in my mind of the most painful moments.

…And keep in mind, the amount of pain one endures in labor is somewhat controllable. Some women will choose to take the journey of labor without medications, while others will include it in their experience. No judgment should be cast either way, as we all have our own threshold of what we are willing and open to endure.




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