Pain in Labor
If I had a dollar for every time someone asked “Why does it have to hurt so bad?” while in the midst of labor, I would have approximately $500. I’m pretty sure I would get a death glare if I tried to explain the important role pain plays in labor to a woman experiencing transition so I’ve never tried. But I do believe that pain is an integral part of the process and hopefully this will reach some women before they start labor. If it does, hopefully it will help put pain, intensity or pressure (whatever you experience it as) into a more positive perspective
If labor wasn’t difficult, it wouldn’t transform women the way that it does. And since as women we give life to helpless human beings that will need to be nurtured and cared for, we need that transformation!
When it comes to natural child birth, many people who have yet to experience it romanticize the idea. They think of it as eating chia seed pudding for breakfast or meditating: something that is going to be experienced as wholesome and nuturing. They imagine feeling good, powerful, goddess like and in control. While some women feel that the pain is manageable and that birth didn’t hurt as much as they thought it would, most laboring women hit a point where they feel like natural birth involves more pain and more time than is reasonable and definitely more than they signed up for. Moms tell me afterward: “I was thinking: We are crazy, my midwife is crazy, what did we get ourselves into?” It’s common to feel like you are drowning in a sea of contractions. So what is good about that? Several things.
First of all pain alerts us that something is going on in our body that we need to pay attention to. The pain motivates us to get to a safe place and find people to help us.
Second, the pain is directive. It gets most women to move and get into positions that are most tolerable and the movement and tolerable positions such as standing, walking, swaying and getting into hands and knees are usually great to help get the baby out. Without the pain, women rely on others to tell them when to push and what to do. It detaches them from their body’s experience and can feel disempowering. One client of mine told me that when she had an epidural with her first baby, all she could think of as she was trying to push him out was "would someone please get me a sandwich?" She felt bad that as she was about to meet her first child all she could think about was food but she wasn’t feeling the strength and intensity of the contractions and could easily be distracted by every other sensation in her body. When the pain is present it keeps you laser-focused. All you want is to get the baby out. Without the intensity the pain brings, birth doesn’t seem as big of a deal as it is.
Third, watching the laboring mother go through this intense process leaves spouses and support people in awe. I have seen partner’s admiration and appreciation of the birthing mother grow exponentially when watching how hard their bodies work and how strong they are.
Fourth: Pain is transformative. During labor, most women, even experienced moms get to a point where they feel like they can’t do it anymore. There is power in an experience where you’ve pushed yourself past what you previously thought you were capable of doing. It’s an empowering place to start parenting from. Take this example from a previous client of mine:
Camzin: "I consider myself to be a strong person both physically and mentally (she does cross fit and was squatting 300 lbs the week before she had her baby) but my pregnancy and labor were very humbling. Equally surprising was how empowering it was ot go through that experience, be tested to my limit and honestly, beyond, and make it through that. Becoming a mom is transformative."
What would you tell someone who is afraid of the pain of natural birth?
Camzin: "It hurt, not going to lie to you, but it is the most empowering thing I have ever done and when she’s [her baby] up all night or I don’t know what to do I know to trust my instincts and myself on a level I never knew I could."
Fifth: The cause of the pain is a major cause of the bonding that happens between mom and baby. Oxytocin, the hormone that is released when we orgasm or when we hug, the hormone that causes the milk let-down reflex in breastfeeding, is the hormone that is mass produced during labor. It causes the uterus to contract which causes the pain. That same hormone is also what bonds mom and baby so the pain and the bonding go hand in hand. The pain also triggers the release of endorphins in the body which make women feel "high" after a natural birth With an epidural, although they are sometimes necessary, you don’t get as much of an emotional high and rush after the baby is born. It doesn’t mean you don’t love your baby or can’t bond, it just means that if you don’t need the epidural, your experience will be heightened!