You’ve surely heard there’s nothing quite like the pain of childbirth–that it’s the worst pain you’ll ever feel. Maybe someone told you that women suffer in childbirth as payback for Eve’s sin? Or that childbirth is to women what a grizzly, bloody battlefield is to men.
Well, I’ve had a couple of babies (with and without pain meds), and been to a bunch of births and I’ll say from personal experience that it hurts. It does. Some woman say it’s more like discomfort and subsequent births can be pretty straightforward, if not “painless,” but generally speaking, it’s hard, that’s why it’s called labor. But is it the very worst pain you’ll ever feel? Is it as bad as all that???
Erica Lyon, author of the Big Book of Birth, says, she hopes so. Lyon reckons there are much worse things like losing everything in a fire, a death of a loved one, a drawn-out divorce, clinical depression, chronic pain. Unlike childbirth–which gives you consistent breaks, (between the contractions women most often feel zero pain, even without medication), lasts only about a day (for a first-timer, hours possibly for a second-timer) and results in something pretty magnificent– other sources of pain can be continuous, relentless, and difficult to understand or resolve.
Childbirth expert Robin Elise Weiss, LCCE writes, “I’ve had short labors, long (45+ hours) labors. I’ve had an epidural and I’ve had natural birth. I’ve had forceps. One of my births was twins, weighing in at a combo of almost sixteen pounds. My biggest baby was 10 pounds 2 ounces. This doesn’t include all of the various labors I’ve attended as a doula. My point here is that there are things that do hurt more than having a baby.” A quick survey of mothers she knows produced this list:
- Broken Bones
- Migraine Headache
- Kidney Stones
- Bladder Infections
- Root Canal (recovery)
- Surgery (recovery)
- Induced Labor (and other interventions used in labor to that can increase pain like monitors that restrict movement).
Fellow Babble blogger Devan McGuinness told me she’s experienced 7 out of these 8 painful circumstances. She says labor was more painful than the broken bones she suffered but not kidney stones ( “it’s relentless and for no ‘real purpose’ which is surprising how much that will play on your pain tolerance”). The worst pain? “The worst pain for me ever that is hands down worse than childbirth and labor was when my bile duct was blocked after gallbladder removal surgery. I had a blood clot that lodged and restricted flow and my liver started to fail. That felt like 20 times worse than labor hands down.”
She also notes, and I’ve heard this from many women, “induction was a lot more intense by far than a naturally-started labor. The contractions lasted for over 5 minutes each and there is a lot of playing around with the dosage and speed that can make the pain worse.”
The subject of pain is very tricky. It’s so specific to each person and incredibly hard to generalize about and universally address. I think it can help all laboring women to remember that unlike other kinds of pain, the pain of childbirth does not indicate that something is broken. It’s actually normal to feel lots of pressure and ache in order to get a clever, big-brained baby out of an upright, bipedal female body. We’re fancy and smart and we walk to two legs– it’s a tight squeeze. It ends. You get breaks. And there a lots of ways to cope from epidurals to breathing and relaxation, meditation, massage; from water to body positioning; from doula support to moaning and rocking the pain away.
What pain in your life has been worse than childbirth?
- Smart Women Debate Home Birth
- The Ten Most Important Questions for the First Trimester
- CGI Animation of Face Developing In Utero