|Something this size is supposed to come out naturally!?|
After nine months (or more!) of growing, planning, dreaming, and preparing for such an awesome gift, the birth of a baby will most likely be one of the most rewarding and challenging moments in a woman’s life. No matter how or where the baby is born.
With my first child, I did the expected, predictable thing. I went to a hospital and got an epidural. There’s no reason to go through the pain of childbirth if you don’t have to, right?
While we may not know for sure all the purposes of pain in labor, we would be reckless to think there are none.
With my second, I had a non-medicated, midwife assisted homebirth. I found out first hand what I had missed with my first. The pain experienced during labor does have a purpose, many in fact.
(No matter where, what, when, why or how –childbirth is a remarkable event and every woman should be supported in her decision. There are those out there wanting to belittle, condemn, scrutinize, and humiliate but these actions get us no where in the safety of mothers and babies. Instead, I ask you to read the list with an open mind and consider there is another option available to birth that doesn’t automatically necessitate drugs.)
The Pain Prepares You
When a women starts to feel contractions, the dull ache is a signal that it’s not just another day. When I felt I was in labor, it gave me time to gather up the things I needed and to make sure the support I needed was there. I also made sure to not to overexert myself that morning, to lazy around, take many showers and relax.
More importantly preparing myself mentally, physically and emotionally helped prepare me in a different way compared to my first medicated birth. There was a level of selflessness there that I didn’t have with my first daughter. I am in no means stating that all women who take medication are selfish – I am only speaking of my personal experience.
I knew no matter how painful labor was going to get, I was opting out of drugs because I wanted my baby to have the safest, most gentle birth possible. I wasn’t choosing pain because I am a masochist, I was choosing it because I wanted what I thought was best and most safe for my daughter.
For me, this altruism made room for me to grow into a better mother and wife.
This was what love meant after all: sacrifice and selflessness.
It did not mean hearts and flowers and a happy ending,
but the knowledge that another
is more important than one
The Pain Protects You
While I was in labor, the pain from contractions made me move, a lot. I was on my feet for most of the day. I walked outside, inside, upstairs, downstairs. I took a shower and then walked some more. When I did lay down to rest, my left side was more painful to lay on, so I laid on my right. All of my actions that day eased the pain a bit and helped me get from one contraction to the other.
This movement protected my body as well as my daughter’s. Since my movement was not restricted at all the entire process, I was able to help facilitate the baby’s decent. Using gravity in the process, movement also eases the pressure on the baby and on the birth canal.
It was extremely helpful to remember during my natural birth that my baby is not a passive but rather a very active participant in the process. I thought of pain as sort of a language between us.
The Pain Provides Natural Relief
Coping with pain during labor allows the body to increase oxytocin release, which in turn causes more effective, stronger contractions. This ultimately leads to the release of endorphins, a natural narcotic. Endorphins are endogenous opioid peptides that function as neurotransmitters (say that 5 times fast). They are normally released during exercise, excitement, love, orgasm and you guess it – pain.
With my first child, the epidural wore off about half way through labor. The pain was excruciating. I was laying down, tied up to monitors, plastic IV’s, and a catheter. I had to lay there and deal with the pain until I was able to talk the nurse into calling for the anesthesiologist. If I combined the pain of getting the epidural, the pain of it wearing off, and the pain of a slower recovery, my first birth that was medicated was more painful then my second natural birth.
I understand that it may be difficult to understand that, but in my case – at home, naturally, the pain was gradual and manageable. I relaxed and breathed deeply while I swayed back and forth. Not only was this beneficial to me, but the deep breathing allows the baby to get lots of oxygen.
The Pain Helps You Respond
When I used drugs with my first birth it disrupted what I should have been doing to have an efficient labor. I know this only because I experienced what labor was like without medication. There is no way in hell I would have laid on my back for 6 hours straight if I was having a natural birth. Laying down is not effective at getting a baby out, whether using drugs or not.
For me, when I was unable to feel contractions or feel the pressure of my baby, I was unable to respond to it. I laid there and waited for a doctor to tell me to push. My body wasn’t stimulated to produce optimal oxytocin and endorphin levels. I found that out when the epidural wore off. I went from zero to 1 million. I didn’t know how to react.
Once I removed the pain during the journey, I removed the signals my body needed to keep labor progressing and to protecting itself and my baby.
When I had a natural birth, it was like I knew exactly what to do. I distinctly remember leaning over the couch a going through a pretty intense contraction. Immediately following that, I stood up and changed positions – I knew that I had to respond in a different way.
Coping with the pain in labor helped me have an easier birth, I had an alert baby, and I felt healthier.
Pain is not just an unfortunate side effect of labor but instead it is an important piece of the normal process of labor and birth. I think it would be most valuable for women and babies if more people would talk about the benefits of pain during labor instead of attempting to escape it automatically.
Epidurals do carry medical risks as well as the interventions needed when deciding on pharmaceutical pain management. Personally, I find the bias encouragement women receive in pharmaceutical pain relief for their own good with little reference to the possible side effects for the baby very distressing. Luckily, many women when discovering that these drugs do cross the placenta are motivated to try other forms of pain relief, since harming their baby (even if it is remote) is undesirable.
I found labor very bearable, especially when I knew it meant better health for my daughter. I no doubt that other women would feel the same way if they knew the benefits of pain in labor, to both themselves and their babies.
Rejoice not in the fact that you are suffering,
but in the confidence that the pain can be transformed.
The value lies not in the pain itself,
but in what you can make of it.