One night a year or so ago, a group of friends and I were out for a mom’s night. The subject turned to our birth stories. All different types were represented — epidurals, natural births, c-sections. The women who’d had an epidural remembered their pre-drug experiences as extremely painful and were shocked that a couple of us had chosen to go drug-free (incidentally, in this group, both home births).
But our memories were different. We (the women who’d had home births) agreed we remembered birth as being exhausting and intense, but not specifically as painful. I can even say that having given birth both with an epidural and without, that I remember the pre-epidural time also being very painful and difficult, while the birth without was totally different. The women who’d had epidurals simply remembered their births as painful and were shocked and amazed that we had chosen to go through naturally.
Women are afraid of the pain of labor. But why?
I know not all women are afraid. Some women simply prefer not to experience the pain because they don’t have to, and opt for the epidural. But there are a lot of women out there who have every intention of having a natural birth…until they experience labor, are overwhelmed, and end up with an epidural anyway.
There’s nothing like labor. You don’t know what it will really be like until you’re there, no matter how many people try to describe it to you. It’s not just the sensations you experience, it’s the length of it, the position of the baby, your body, your response to pain (yes, there is some), your emotional state, and so on. Even if everything goes as planned and you’re crazy-prepared, labor’s not a cakewalk. It is hard, it is a huge time in your life, and it requires all your concentration and focus to get through it.
Despite all this, there’s no reason to fear labor.
The truth is, labor pain is intensified by a few things.
- Being scared
- Being unprepared
- Fighting the pain
- Not having support around you
My first time, I had all of those going on! I didn’t take a childbirth ed class (which, if you are hoping to go drug-free, you really should), I didn’t really read any books on birth, I was scared of what was happening in my body (it wasn’t a textbook labor by any means, it happened faster, more intense, and more painfully than I’d imagined), and I had no one but my husband there to help me. And even though he didn’t leave my side and he did what he could — talking to me, bringing me water or anything I asked for — it was his first time, too, and he had no idea what to say or do to support me. I needed someone who could help me get into a different position, talk to me about how it felt, provide massage or counterpressure, and so on. I didn’t have that.
The second time, I did go to a childbirth ed class (and my husband went with me). I did read some books. I’d been through it, so I had an idea of what to expect. I had a team of people helping me who’d been there, done that themselves. They were able to suggest ways to relax, position changes, or even just coach me through a contraction if I started fighting the pain. (There were times, many hours into it, that I just wanted it to stop for awhile, and it seemed painful because I was fighting. But I was in transition then and almost done! It’s not uncommon to feel/think that way in transition.)
Women need more support in birth. They need more information. They need to be told that they can do it! They need to see birth videos and read birth stories and even, if possible, see live births (friends or family) so that they ‘know’ as much as possible what they’re getting into. It’s the only way to take away the fear of labor pain.
There will always be women who require help during labor, either because something goes wrong or because they, personally, don’t feel able to deal with the pain. There will always be women who have no desire to “experience” labor or the pain involved with it. And that’s okay — that’s why we have options.
For women who are curious about natural birth, or determined to experience it, though — we need to change the way we approach birth. We need to take away the fear of labor pain by helping women to understand, work with it, and have people around them to support them when the time comes. That support is so key to a woman’s experience in labor! Women aren’t meant to labor alone. (Even women who have epidurals usually have people around them — although it might be more like a “baby’s coming!” party than the same sort of ‘support’ that a woman laboring naturally requires. Most women do prefer to be surrounded by others in some capacity.)
I’m sitting here now, 38 weeks pregnant, and excited to feel the first contractions. I can’t wait to experience labor and birth again, and to hold my new baby. I’m trying to rest while I can, keep eating well, stay hydrated, and so on — so that whenever it does happen, I don’t feel too exhausted too quickly. Intense, though? I’m ready for it!
What do you think? Are we afraid of labor pain, and why? How can we help?
Top image by Philms