Keeping Cool Through Contractions vs. Passing Out at a Prick

If you started to fall while walking with your baby, what would you do? Well, when I crashed while walking downhill with my son a few days ago, I did what any mother would naturally do: try to catch my son. I did just that. He was totally fine- he didn’t even cry! I, however, did not catch my own fall and ended up with an impact split in my knee that went down to the muscle and required a trip to the urgent care clinic and 11 stitches (which is part of why I’m a little behind on blogging).

I gave birth completely naturally- I had not so much as a Tylenol. You would think, therefore, that I would be tough as nails about a little hole in my leg. However, the trip to the clinic told a different story. I nearly passed out when they injected me with lidocaine because I’m such a chicken when it comes to needles. At the end of the stitching, I could still feel a bit of it (though barely) and I was wincing every time she passed the needle through. And I’ve been limping around the house the past two days (even though I’m really probably just fine), making faces every time I feel a little discomfort.

What was the difference between this pain and the pain of giving birth?

Are they different types of pain? I’m not a doctor, so I’m sure I don’t totally understand the concept of how pain works. That being said, I don’t think that they are actually different types of pain (aside from the fact they were in different places and different causes). I think my brain was receiving “ouch” messages in both cases. Here’s what I think made the difference:

Pacing of Pain

When I busted up my knee, there was no pacing of pain. It was a crash then immediate pain that has persisted for days, though dulling as time goes.

In labor, the pain starts out as minimal and gradually increases. This gives your body and brain time to adjust to the rising pressure of contractions. Also, in most cases, there is “resting time” in between each contraction during early and active labor. This natural pacing gives mom time to collect herself and meet the contractions as they come. (Note that there are, of course, exceptions to this normal pattern of labor.)

Purpose of Pain

In the event of falling, a car crash, or a sports accident, there is no real purpose to the pain, except to tell you that something is wrong. It’s almost always an unfortunate event that ends in medical treatment and perhaps painkillers. You have nothing to show for it afterwards besides your bruises and scars.

In labor, the pain has a wider range of purposes, many of them positive! Generally, the pain is because your body is opening, working towards meeting your baby. Each contraction is a signal of dialation, effacement, stretching, and preparing for delivery. Sometimes specific pains, such as back pain, are indicators of a need to change positions or move to make labor more comfortable. A pain that feels “wrong,” or dreadfully unusual to a mom can also be an red flag to check and make sure everything is going alright. Finally, the toiling of labor (even if treated with medication) brings the greatest reward to a mom afterward- the joy of meeting her baby.

Perception of Pain

When you have an accident, you usually just react with an “ouch!” (or your own choice of exclamations). The suddenness of the pain gives you no time to collect yourself. Even treatment and recovery isn’t looked upon fondly, because you tend to wish that you  never really got hurt in the first place.

Even if you dread approaching labor, you at least know that you will meet your baby at the end. All women, whether experiencing natural, medicated, or cesarean delivery, have an end in sight that they are striving towards: holding that precious one in their arms. This very fact has drawn out great strength in women to face labor head on. The perception of the pain is changed because they are already willing to go through anything for their child, even without having met them.

Many women choose to change their perception of the pain they are experiencing in order to acheive a natural birth. Some use visualizations, some use breathing, some dance and move, some sing, and some use hypnosis. All of these can help moms to make it through labor without medical pain relief. Even if this is not your own personal goal, the reality of meeting your baby can drive you forward to make it through labor in whatever way you can.

Even if something hurts, the context of the pain can really change the way you think about it. Labor is not the same as an unfortunate accident. It is not random. Rather, it is designed. It can teach us about ourselves. But, mostly, labor gives the most valuable treasure of all at the end of its struggle. No matter how the delivery occurs, birth is a beautiful passage that creates both a baby and a mother. That is what makes every ounce of pain worth it.

One response to this post.

  1. Posted by dac on April 14, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    Two thumbs up!!!


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