I learned about this video via a post this week on Bust.com. In it, a dad goes through a simulated labor to see how well he can cope. The rumor is that men have a higher tolerance for pain than women. He proves that this is nonsense when he bails on labor well before he would be fully dilated.
The simulation is done via low-voltage electrodes placed on his stomach muscles. Obviously this is not the same as contractions (which involve the much larger uterine muscle squeezing and tightening to open and push a baby out) but apparently the pain levels were comparable, according to a mother of four who tested the rig beforehand.
What you’ll learn from this video has surprisingly little to do with actual childbirth but lots to do with our ideas about childbirth, suffering and women.
First of all, there’s the oft-repeated idea that labor pain the worst pain ever: “the most painful experience of them all: childbirth,” “the ultimate pain test .” Sure labor can be really, really hard but it’s also a normal and complex physiological process that involves the labor hormone oxytocin (which has a soft side, it’s known as the love or cuddle hormone) and lots of beta-endorphins, your body’s own opiates. I’ll get back to this in a second.
Secondly, I love how the assistants (who are midwives I think and totally great and eerily deadpan) try to comfort him by giving him a birthing ball or getting onto all fours– both GREAT ideas for coping with labor, but why would that help him with his electrode jolts? Truly laboring moms feel stretching, tightening and pressure and positioning can literally reduce those sensations. He also tries some insta-hypnobirthing which, of course, fails because it does require practice.
The dad concludes, “Leave it to the women! Forget the whole pain threshold debate, we have nothing! Women win.”
I think this is meant as kudos to all mothers (Go suffering moms!!! We love you so much!!) but note that earlier in the video he says, “I have never been so grateful to be a man.”
My experience of childbirth was painful but most decidedly not defined by pain. In trying to describe it I can never get away from the endless contradictions: “the most amazing experience…. totally painful… felt so safe… incredibly hard… mind-blowing… tears of joy… couldn’t talk… laughing so hard…. moaning so loud I thought neighbors would call… incredible… awful… incredible… awful… ”
I think it’s important to understand that childbirth is not about martyrdom to pain. That’s a very cute, old-fashioned idea started in the book of Genesis. I appreciate all men who see how hard we work in childbirth and feel for us, but I think what a lot of guys see is not just ability to suffer but ability to cope. They also see the profound and complex feelings surrounding this incredible physiological and emotional moment. Am I being too optimistic? I hope not. But I feel the need to always stick my hand up to say birth is not just about suffering through pain! Whether you have an epidural or a doula or a birth tub, you find ways to cope. And even then, when you do feel pain, it’s got to be assessed alongside the other sensations and emotions that accompany birth.
What do you think? Is childbirth the WORST pain ever?
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