A popular childbirth education method begins their classes by telling women there is no physiological reason for them to feel pain in labor, and then schools them in ways to escape from, and to disassociate themselves from the birth process, and that, with their method, “many women experience short, comfortable labors, like those of the Hebrew women in the time of Moses, that last no longer than three hours.” The quote below is one they share with class participants.
“According to physiological law, all natural, normal functions of the body are achieved without peril or pain. Birth is a natural, normal physiological function for normal, healthy women and their healthy babies. It can, therefore, be inferred that healthy women, carrying healthy babies, can safely birth without peril or pain.” – Dr. Jonathan Dye, 1891
I am not a fan of this method, as I believe it misleads women, and sets them up for a shock when the reality of birth sets in. If you are speaking to me, and I turn around backwards, refusing to look at you as you speak, it does not mean that just because I cannot see you, you are not still there. Just so in birth, if I do my utmost to pretend there is no pain, and that my labor will only be a couple hours long, relying on methods that help me to escape to a tropical island, or to my happy place, it does not follow that the spinal nerves that innervate my uterus, cervix, vagina, and perineum will not sense, and send messages to my brain, about the stretching, thinning, opening, squeezing sensations they are feeling.
This quote also says to me, as long as there is health, and nothing is wrong, there should be no pain, and so conversely then, if something is wrong there will be pain, inferring that pain is bad. This assumption is surely all American, as our culture has been conditioned to believe that pain is bad, we need to somehow escape from it, and that we are immediately entitled to a quick fix that will instantly alleviate our pain. If there is pain, there must also be a magic pill, drink, drug, or elixir, that will help us deny, mask, or mitigate it. But pain is not necessarily “bad”, it is simply a communication of sensation between our physical body and our conscious mind. It is our thoughts, and our interpretations of pain signals, that offer it another dimension and label. A label in fact, that if we work hard enough at it, can tip us right over the edge into realms of suffering. We see pain in labor as bad because we have been conditioned to believe it so. We can though choose a wholly different perspective. We can think instead about how pain signals in labor cause our body (and our baby’s body) to release endorphins, endogenous opoids, serotonins, and other pain reducing and feel good chemicals into our systems. We can remember that labor pain is not the same as the pain of an injury, or that of say, a toothache, which just hurts continuously, with no break or positive advantage. The stretching, contracting sensations a woman experiences in labor bring good pain, pain with a purpose, and not only cause the release of endorphins, but also rev up our babies circulatory system, so he can circulate his own blood, and clears fluid from his lungs, so he can breathe on his own after birth. The pain of labor is bringing closer and closer to our arms the most glorious treasure we will ever receive in this life, our precious child, and transforms us from a single woman, ushering us into the magnificent, honorific position of mother. We could just as well substitute the word power for pain, and should especially do so if our conditioning carries the heavy weight of negativity and fear where pain is concerned. Big Pharma wants you to see pain as bad, to feel anxious and fearful, and even dread childbirth and birth pangs. In fact, they spend millions of dollars per year creating marketing and advertising that will guilt, scare, and force you into buying whatever drugs they can sell you to numb out your pain. You have a choice though, to listen or not to listen to warped and manipulative marketing and societal messages. As you move into the exalted, caretaking position of mother and lifelong advocate for your child, take back your power, refuse to let anyone make decisions for you or your baby, become educated and decide for yourself. Don’t let others tell you what to do, especially if they stand to gain if you go their way.
Pain is not “bad” (or “good”), pain is a normal, natural communication from your physical senses to your brain and central nervous system. You are the one who chooses the label of bad or good, right or wrong, bearable or unbearable, or even suffering. So what will your choice be? The power of your experience is in your own hands, and your own mind. Pause and think about it and choose wisely and mindfully, don’t be manipulated, or have choices forced upon you.
As far as telling women there is no physiological reason to feel pain in labor, If you take your bottom lip and pull it over your head, do you feel stretching sensations, and even pain? If a woman is carrying a fully gestated six to nine pound baby, and her body must stretch and open in order to release it, do you not think there will be stretching, opening, squeezing sensations communicated from the body to the brain? During labor the cervix moves from posterior to anterior, the cervix shortens, thins, and opens, there is distension of the lower uterine segment, the pelvic floor, uterus, vagina, and perineum. These areas are all innervated and connected to nerves attached to the spinal column through a portion of the thoracic (midback), the lumbar ( lower back), and the sacral ( pelvic area) regions. The stretching of nerve fibers in these areas, (or any area of the body) sends messages to the brain, which we then perceive, interpret, label, and react to. To say there is no physiological reason for pain in labor causes women to expect to feel nothing, and further, sets them up to believe they are doing something wrong, or are a failure if they do feel pain. It is an undeniable truth that you WILL feel powerful sensations during your labor.
Teaching women to try to resist, control, and escape from being where they are, and feeling what they are feeling in their body, is asking them to also deny the power, the intelligent design, and the miraculous workings of their female body. A body that knew how to conceive a baby without any help or reminders, just as you don’t need to remind your lungs to breathe, or instruct your heart how and when to beat. Your body knew how to create, develop, and grow a baby, and likewise it knows how to give birth, and to bring your baby forth into life. To know and embrace the truth that your body is the very ground of the being of your child, that you are the sacred vessel within which he was conceived and formed, and that your pregnant body has stores of great strength and power you have never even dreamed of that will bring him forth into life, gives an opportunity to marvel at these wonders, to thrill to the magnificence of your female form, and to be uplifted and enlivened by the awe inspiring creative force surging through you. It allows you to join the dance with your baby as you work in harmony toward the moment when he finally bursts forth into life, becoming a visible and embraceable part of this world, and your loving family. Would you really want to deny, resist, seek to control or escape this miraculous process?
Pain is also a very subjective experience, and can be different for everyone. There are many factors that can influence the way a person experiences pain. A person’s personal pain history whether negative or positive, or lack of history, comes into play, and each one can have a different history and view. If a person is not well rested, nourished, hydrated, if there are emotional upsets in their life currently, if they feel safe or unsafe, supported or unsupported, if their psychosocial and emotional needs are being met, if they have prepared or are educated and understand the pain they are experiencing, or how to work with it, if they are able to relax, or are feeling very fearful and anxious, all these things will contribute to how well, or how poorly they are able to work and deal with pain.
It is also important to understand that pain is comprised of two separate layers. There is the initial physical sensation, and then there is a second layer, made up of the emotions and thoughts that we lay over top of the physical. If we are anxious, afraid, fighting, resisting, seeking to escape and get away from the sensation of pain, projecting fearful scenarios into the future, or remembering them from the past, this second emotional and thought layer we are creating will serve to increase and exacerbate the pain we experience, and can even elevate it to the level of intense suffering if we allow it.
Rather than telling women there is no reason to feel pain, and that you can teach them methods which will help them escape from their body and the birth process, so they dissociate from and are not present during their birth, why not simply tell the truth. Pain is part of labor and childbirth, but you can learn to embrace it, work with it, be with it, in such a way that it does not get away from you, or increase to the point of suffering. Pain in labor is a given, suffering is completely optional. When we enter our labor thinking we can and must control its every aspect, feeling anxious, fearful, and resisting the sensations of birth, we set ourselves up for increased pain, and possibly a challenging and unenjoyable labor. Fearing, resisting, and trying to control our labor will result in causing a fight or flight response. This causes anxiousness, upper chest breathing, racing heart, increased blood pressure, light headedness, inability to think straight, blood being shunted away from our uterus, and into our limbs so we may fight or flee, and the resultant adrenalines and corticosteroids that are released, stop the flow of oxytocin the hormone that causes contractions (as well as milk let downs in breastfeeding, and orgasm in sexual intercourse). Your labor can then slow, stall, or stop, and your contractions may become ineffective, and yet may even be more painful. If I told you there was no good reason to feel pain in labor, and that I could teach you a method to alleviate all pain, how do you think you would respond when labor becomes challenging and you learn that is not true? Might you not feel anxious, fearful, think you have done something wrong, failed, or even that there is something wrong with your body, because it is not supposed to be feeling pain?
The way we work with labor sensations is what will change the level of pain we experience. Learning to surrender, relax, be in the present moment, embrace and allow the sensations to be as they are, is a much better method than control, resistance, fear, and escape. Learning to be grounded in present moment awareness, remembering that everything is well and normal, and recognizing that fearful, anxious thoughts are nothing more than stories our mind is telling us, and letting the fear thoughts go, returning to the anchor of our breath, is a much better method. I teach mindfulness meditation and believe it to be the best method to prepare for labor and birth. This method, if practiced regularly during pregnancy, will allow you to let go, surrender, be here now, fully inhabit your body and your labor, and embrace and welcome each moment, one at a time, as they arise and pass away. It will teach you to pause and consciously choose your response, rather than simply knee jerk reacting from habit or fear. Mindfulness will teach you to be more aware of your experience, to be curious yet non-judgemental or controlling, allowing it to be as it is, accepting of whatever form is necessary. In so doing, to have the ability to recognize what is true reality, and what it simply fearful, anxious or angry thinking, and then show you how to let go of fear thoughts, and return to a sense of peace and surrender. This not only allows a more gentle, peaceful birth for you the mother, but also allows a more peaceful labor and birth for your baby, as he is not bathing in fearful and anxious fight or flight hormones being released by your body and crossing the placental barrier. It is possible to have a peaceful, gentle birth, and even revel in its joy and miracle, but as the saying goes, you must be present to win. You must be grounded in the moment, in your body, and in your birth, surrendering to,working with your feminine power, and welcoming your child into life, not resisting, controlling and trying to escape.
Ask about or Mindful Birth and Beyond Childbirth Education Playshops, and our private mindfulness meditation classes.