To say pain or not to say pain

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Last month one of my beautiful doula client couples lent me a very interesting video. It was about an acupuncturist who was doing pre-natal groups on preparing for birth, and Chinese philosophy around that. It was really interesting. She was using moxa and a particular type of massage to release pelvic tension. She was also explaining things from the yin and yang perspective, which made a lot of sense. She did say one thing right at the beginning of this video though, which made me think about pain and how we as pregnant women are encouraged to approach labour pain. She said:” birth shouldn’t hurt”……… This always gets my back up a bit.

If you are pregnant right now or if you are not, think back to when you were pregnant. How tempting is it to listen to this: “Birth shouldn’t hurt”. It is so tempting to go along with not saying the pain word, with not thinking about pain, because ‘birth shouldn’t hurt’. But is it useful to come from a belief like that and are we doing ourselves a favour not thinking and preparing for pain?

Pain seems to be one of the biggest issues for women and rightly so. It is one of the big unknowns. How painful will it be, and will I be able to manage? Too often in my opinion, we enter birth totally unprepared for the intensity, the pain and the hard work that labour is.

In my classes I teach mindfulness pain coping practices. These involve practicing being mindful about your own mental chatter. We then add a negative sensation, in the form of an ice cube, which will help us practice these skills up against something, where our minds naturally will try to look for a way out. By no means does an ice cube resemble labour contractions, but the point is not to resemble the pain, but to practice being mindful of how we respond to unpleasant sensations, and notice how our mind respond.

In this video the acupuncturist also talked about not having cold on or in your body, which made me think about the practice of using ice cubes to learn this mindfulness. When I next did my own mindfulness practice, while thinking that maybe it is wrong and bad for me to have cold ice in my hand, I found it so much harder to handle the negative sensation the ice gave me and much harder to keep my mental chatter quiet.
How might this relate to birth; if you are coming from a point of view that birth really shouldn’t hurt, because it is a natural and normal process, wouldn’t that resistance or avoidance make labour pain harder to deal with? Just like the ice. If we are mentally thinking: ”oh, no this is wrong, birth shouldn’t hurt”, wouldn’t that make the whole experience much more negative? If we are consciously not looking and thinking about how to cope with strong intensity and pain, would we not also likely find ourselves even more unprepared to deal with any difficult sensations. I know it is a scary place to go to, but I wonder if this is not what labour is all about. Daring to go to the scary places and thereby grow stronger.

Pain is part of most women’s experience of birth all over the world, but it doesn’t have to be a negative thing. We are so used to, in our culture, to avoid pain, and ‘turn pain off’, but pain in labour really is something that should be embraced not avoided. Labour pain is not meant to alarm us, like pain normally is. This is what makes it very different to normal pain. Pain only becomes negative or suffering or ‘bad’, when we attach negative meaning to it. Maybe if we spent less time and energy trying to avoid pain in one way or the other, maybe if we dared embrace labour pain as a positive thing, then birth might become the amazing experience that it really can be. Birth takes us to the edge and asks us to keep walking, and a lot of the time pain is part of that. But it is at the edge and out of our comfort zone that magic happens, in life and in birth.

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Birth Connection is the online presence of Childbirth Educator, Advanced Doula, Birth Story Healer, & Birthing From Within mentor, Pernille Powell. Pernille is based on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.

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