Before my baby was born- all I wanted was to find stories about pain in child birth. What could I expect and, more importantly- how could I get through it? Almost all I could find were stories of pain free births and people promising that with enough Positive Thinking, you would never feel any pain ever! The natural birth stories I could find never talked about pain, only talking about intensity and such.
At the other end of the spectrum, we get the stereotypical hospital birth- a woman (because only women birth) screaming her head off for drugs. The most easily found stories, at least in my experience, of pain in birth are stories where the person giving birth ends up “giving in” and getting drugs. Now, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this, and it’s wonderful we live in a society where this is an option.
But the message this sends is this: “If you feel pain in childbirth, you’re doing it wrong (not enough Positive Thinking, aren’t doing the right techniques, etc). If you feel pain in childbirth, you’ll automatically surrender to the medicalization of birth (which, of course, is evil)”.
I found one st0ry. It was by an unassisted birth veteran who had had a pain free first birth, then nearly went to the hospital due to pain in her second. It’s short blurb on the “Unassisted Childbirth Stories” describes it as “painful but empowering”- exactly what I wanted to hear about. As luck had it, the birth played out very much like mine had. Aside from the one detail that it was her second unassisted birth- she already knew that her body could naturally carry a baby to term and deliver it without needing medical intervention. It was still valuable to me, though.
Now, I was prepared for an easy birth. My mother’s was an unbelievably easy, unplanned, unassisted birth. She realized she was in labor when the water broke, half an hour later I was crowning. I had grown up with that story all my life. I half-dared to expect it.
I didn’t wholly expect it, though. Although I did not yet know it, as it wasn’t diagnosed until afterwards, I have fibromyalgia. My life is pain- I didn’t totally expect a painless birth because no part of my current life is pain free.
But I can get through it. I’m fortunate that I don’t need medication to handle my fibro. I barely needed pain medication throughout pregnancy (I ended up taking some acetominophen as it got bad). And I wanted to know that I could get through the pain that labor and birth would likely entail. I wanted to know that pain wasn’t proof of my doing something wrong, it didn’t always mean that things were going wrong, that I could survive it.
Instead, the pain scared me. I shied away from laboring in ways that made the contractions more intense, even though I now realize that they needed to be intense. This wasn’t helped by my utterly useless midwife, but that’s another story.
I don’t know if my laboring would have been “easier” if I had been diagnosed earlier. When I was diagnosed, aside from a general “Well, that explains a lot” from both my partner and myself- there was also the “Huh, I guess that’s why labor was so intense”. Even getting into the shower, which apparently decreases the pain by up to 50%, made the contractions more intense. Perhaps if I had known exactly why I felt pain so often and so intensely, I would have been able to face it with more courage.
In the end, I was able to have a natural, drug-free (well, aside from two acetominophen) home birth. I was able to face the pain. I was able to face the fear. I survived both.
After birth, of course, I started finding the stories. I started hearing about “pain with a purpose” and how to survive it. I started finding people talk about traumatic births as I sorted through my own birth trauma. Through this, I found people talking about being ashamed to admit they felt pain during natural birth, even though they hadn’t needed drugs (even more shameful!). It was a common thread of people feeling like they couldn’t share their stories, of midwives and doulas advising people not to read stories about pain in childbirth, or natural childbirth advocates brushing pain under a rug. No wonder I couldn’t find any stories about what the pain might be like!
I really dislike this. People who don’t want to hear about painful births don’t have to, of course, but I wish it had been easier to find stories of pain in natural childbirth. I wish we didn’t have this stigma against pain- as if acknowledging that, sometimes, natural birth hurts would justify making c-sections mandatory for everyone. I wish we didn’t make people who feel pain in childbirth feel ashamed of their experiences.
Pain in labor and birth is natural. It’s not inevitable, but it is natural. It can indicate a serious problem, it’s not something to be ignored, but sometimes labor and birth are painful even when everything works as it should.