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.
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
Birth Notes from the Doula’s Perspective
Even though most people associate doulas with "natural birth" this story serves as a reminder that doulas do in fact support mothers that want pain medicine for labor.
It was Sunday January 31st at around 11:30pm when your water broke. You were 41 weeks and 4 days pregnant. You let me know that you were going to try and get some rest since the contractions you were having were mild and irregular. At about 3:00am you let me know that the contractions were 4-5 minutes apart. I advise you I will be heading over and I arrive at your home at around 4:00am. We joked about how baby Lorna waited to come out until after the snow storm that we had just days earlier.
As contractions intensify, you use the TENS unit for relief of your back pain. You labor in the hands and knees position on the bed while you lean on the birth ball. I do double hip squeezes during contractions to help you stay loose. You follow your body’s urges to sway, rocking your hips left to right. Laboring gracefully…at your bodies perfect pace.
At around 5:00am you decide its time to go into the hospital. We arrive at 5:15am. Your mother and sister meet us up in triage. They offer you loving words of encouragement and praise. You had been feeling nauseous and your mother wipes your forehead with a cool cloth. You sit in the bed tailor style and lean on the birth ball while Ben & I massage your back during contractions. You breathe slowly and deeply. You joke with Ben about how you thought you’d be more irritable during labor as you say “Hey, I don’t hate you yet!” We all laugh.
Ben gives you a foot massage as you labor. Your iPod is playing your music, the lights are dimmed and you are working hard, laboring strong to meet your baby girl. I remind you that each contraction is bringing you closer to meeting your baby girl. We do visualizations of your cervix melting away and blossoming to make way for your baby to come down. You focus wholeheartedly.
You feel the desire to stand, so you slow dance with Ben, rocking back and forth for a while. Later, you mention that you are exhausted so you lay on your side to rest. You say “I don’t know if I can do this.” And I remind you “You ARE doing this and it won’t be that much longer!. At 7:00am you are 6cm and 90% effaced. You are feeling like you would like a little stadol to help you rest. The stadol gives you a chance to doze slightly between contractions. Your mother stands at your head and brushes your hair as the sun starts to rise casting a grey hue to the winter wonderland outside your window.
At around 7:30am you opt for the epidural because you are tired and wanted some rest from the contractions. After your epidural was placed you were 7cm. You and Ben lat down and take a much needed nap. After resting, at 9:18am you are 9cm and are getting excited, knowing you are getting so close to meeting your baby girl! At around 10:00am you are complete and you give a few small pushes but we all agree that it is a good idea to “labor the baby down” so that your pushing phase will be brief. When the OB arrived you start pushing and after only a few very glorious pushes your baby girl emerges at 11:32am! She was 9lbs 4oz and 20 inches long. She was placed on your chest skin-to-skin as you and Ben marvel in her beauty! She latches on to the breast within an hour from the birth as she tenderly gazes into your eyes for the first time. It was a glorious moment!
Congratulations mama! You did amazing! These are the birth notes from my perspective. The official birth story belongs to this couple. I'm sure I left something out, as birth brings so many magical moments.