2/11/10

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.

"The power and intensity of your contractions cannot be stronger than you, because it is you." -Unknown

In a recent post by the "First The Egg" blog titled yoga and the pain/suffering distinction Molly writes a great article on understanding the distinction between pain and suffering. This was my inspiration for writing this post.

We can change is how we experience pain in labor.

Some of the following has been adapted from Buddhadharma to show the parallels between the Buddhist philosophy to pain management and coping in labor:

First of all, it is useful to recognize the distinction between physical pain and the mental reaction to it. Although body and mind are closely intertwined, the mind does not have to share the same fate as the body. When the body feels pain, the mind can stand back from it. Instead of allowing itself to be dragged down, the mind can simply observe the pain. Indeed, the mind can even turn the pain around and transform it into a means of inner growth.

Let’s try to make this process more tangible. In labor, if pain arises, you can clearly observe the interaction of the pain and your resistance to it. For example, an uncomfortable sensation may arise during a contraction. At the same time, you may observe that in reaction to the pain, you are clenching and tightening other parts of your body, while in your mind a stream of judgments and aversive thoughts are erupting. The sensation in your uterus is the pain. The tension is your bodily resistance. The judgments are mental resistance. The resistance can be distinguished clearly from the pain itself. As you consciously relax the tension and drop the judgments, even though the pain level is the same, it seems to be less of a problem. Later, when the resistance returns, you notice that the pain has again become a problem. So once again you drop the judgments and stop the clenching, and the sense of suffering diminishes, even if only slightly.

When we approach labor this way, we find that far from being trapped and defeated, we are able to work with it in an increasingly open, fearless, and productive way.

Let's define pain: As defined by the International Society for the Study of Pain, pain is an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience that is often associated with bodily injury but pain can occur without an actual physical problem. The sensory system may be inaccurate. An analogy would be a rocket launch stopped because of a fuel leak but upon investigation, there is no fuel leak; it is just a sensor or computer malfunction. In the human body, pain may be experienced because the pain system, the sensory system is malfunctioning or overstressed with no underlying problem. It is also important to note that the definition describes pain as unpleasant, not necessarily unbearable.

How exactly can you make labor a more pleasurable experience? Besides going to childbirth education classes, researching your birthing options, choosing a supportive careprovider and hiring a labor support professional, I believe the most important labor preparation work you can do is cognitive.

Examples of cognitive labor preparation:

birthing affirmations
visualization
focusing on the breath
non-focused awareness
meditation or prayer

Our society greatly influences our perception of the birth experience, and it is unfortunate that so many women fear the act of giving birth. Women's bodies were built to do this! If a laboring women can let go of her urge to control her body and just trust the process, her innate bodily wisdom will guide her.

"In order to overcome something, you must submit to it first, to understand what it is you're to overcome." - Juan Wa Chang

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