Three things you've been told about pain and why they are not relevant for childbirth

What is the root of your fear of childbirth pain? Where is it coming from?

What are you telling yourself about yourself that's making you so afraid of this?

Here are 3 things we've been told about pain that may have to do with your fears.

(1) Pain is a sign that something is wrong

Well, in other cases in our life, yes, pain is a sign that something is wrong in your body. It is our body's way of signaling to you that more attention is required in a certain area that could signal that something isn't functioning properly.

But what if we look at where the pain of childbirth is coming from, it can more easily be compared with that of running a marathon rather than breaking a body part of having a headache. Would you encourage a marathon runner to take a pain killer in the middle of the run? No, we stand there on the side and cheer the runners on, telling them that they are almost there.

And you know what runners get when they push themselves hard enough through that pain, muscle ache, and discomfort? They get what’s called “a runner’s high” which is when endorphins start to rush in, helping you cope, easing the painful sensations and making you feel totally euphoric.

This too happens in physiologic birth! Our bodies are so intelligent that to help the laboring person cope with the sensations of the muscles of the uterus contracting, after some time, those same endorphins get released and are a natural pain softener that brings the birthing person into a state of feeling high.

(2) Pain is something we want to avoid

Whenever we have a headache or a bit of menstrual cramping, we pop a pill. Right? It’s so easy and we’re become so used to it. The pace of our lives are just too fast to slow down, go to sleep, recover, honor our discomfort and really pay attention to it properly. To keep pushing forward, we take this pain killer, numb the pain and move on. Not really listening to our body’s signals.

With other forms of pain, we get very uncomfortable sitting with someone in their vulnerability. We try to move past it as fast as we can, giving suggestions on how to fix the problem immediately without actually allowing that person to talk about what they’re feeling.

So it’s no surprise that with the discomfort of labor we try to do the same, shying away from the transformative potential that this rite of passage has to offer if we just give it the chance. That pain of childbirth calls the birthing person to dig deep within themselves to cope and actually prepares them in many ways for what parenthood will be like. By surrendering into the power of your birth contractions, you can savor deep important lessons for your parenting journey!

It is also when your body experiences the surges of oxytocin and that contraction and relaxation of the uterine muscles, that endorphins will start to be produced in the body, helping the birthing person move through the cramping in a flowing way. It is this euphoric state that comes form the endorphins that helps the birthing person experience labor as an enjoyable act. Therefore, by numbing the pain of childbirth you are also numbing the euphoria and the delicate hormonal cocktail that is at play in physiologic labor.

3. Pain is something you need saving from

As I mentioned before, we are not very used to just sitting with someone in their pain. We’re not very used to holding space for them, containing their emotions. We feel it is a weakness, or perhaps we were not give that as little children ourselves, we find it extremely hard to give it to others then later on in life.

This is why often when someone shares a sad or painful situation with us, we immediately jump to offering suggestions how to fix or deal with the problem before giving that person the chance to express their pain - whether it’s emotional or physical.

So now we’ve saved them. Phew, thank goodness we didn’t have to bear a moment of pain and discomfort with that person. How small and weak does that make the person feel? What if we could hold space for them, tell them they are strong, cheer them on, helping them see that they can deal with it just by listening to them.

In your birth, you do not need saving from your own childbirth pain. Those contractions and relaxations of the uterine muscles cannot be bigger and stronger than you, because they are you! Your wonderful body is creating these contractions to push down your 3kg baby so that they press on the cervix and slowly open it up for the baby to pass through.

What if instead of offering pain relief, we encouraged the birthing person to relax into the sensations to embrace them with all their might? What if we cheered them on, holding their their hand through every part of it? Imagine the strength and pride this birthing person could feel as they walk away from such a birth experience.    

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