2010.09.29 Labor: Take a deep breath and start laughing

Written by David Green.


“It’s like childbirth—after a while the memory of how incredibly painful it is subsides and you find yourself pregnant again—and you know it’s going to hurt—but not until you’re in the throes of it do you realize: Dang, I remember what this is like! And that’s when you swear: I’ll never do THAT again!”

I didn’t realize how irresponsible I was being when I wrote the above in my last column—until I received a message from a friend who took exception to my offhand description.

“Is that a message you want to send to first time mothers? Assuming someone like Rosie would want a natural childbirth, isn’t it better to mentally think of it as something other than pain, something the body is made to do and to do well? Maybe it is just my training in the Bradley Method (and being trained by [my wife]), but the whole breathing to distract oneself from pain, goes against the idea that it is a natural event, not a painful event requiring distractions and/or drugs. Eating quiche with tumeric, that could be considered painful!”

My immediate thought was, Yikes! I need to apologize! To any pregnant women or any women of childbearing age: if my column scared you (or scared you off), I am so sorry! I did not intend that at all.

But I wrote back to my friend about my birthing experiences and my opinion that I still think it’s pain. He hasn’t convinced me otherwise. In my mind, it’s pain—but that doesn’t mean the pain is something to fear or to avoid.

It’s not that I think women are heroes if they give birth naturally and the scourge of the earth if they don’t. But, in most cases, a natural birth is going to lead to a better start for the baby and an easier time for the mother. Breastfeeding is easier, for one thing, and childbirth without drugs is one way to avoid the slippery slope of one intervention leading to another, and finally to a Cesarean, and the difficulties surrounding that procedure.

“We didn’t have Bradley (The Bradley Method of Natural Childbirth) in Lenawee County 28 years ago,” I wrote back to my friend. “Maybe if we had done that I’d have a different attitude. But having experienced labor three times (even my one-hour start-to-finish labor with Rosie), I’d still call it pain. I knew it was productive, but it still hurt like crap.

“...I saw the pain as something normal...not something to get rid of with drugs...just the natural course of events and eventually it would be over. It always elicited great episodes of cursing for me; but pushing was pretty fabulous.

“You could say it’s something other than pain, but for me, it still hurt like a mother. I think breathing [exercises] kind of went out the window with Ben...whatever they told us to do wasn’t working and I just did some combo of whatever felt right...it wasn’t any kind of thing they taught us, but maybe a combination of several things used sporadically.

“So much of my labor with Ben was me telling David, ‘Enough of this..., just give me your shoulder and walk.’ He had a stopwatch and was timing contractions and all of that business went out the window, too. I don’t think our classes were any particular brand, but they might have leaned to Lamaze. I remember learning breathing techniques and relaxation and something about a focal point, but none of that worked for me.

“I don’t recall doing much of any birthing class or preparation for Rosie except lots of pelvic rocks and walking around and around the upstairs rooms and the same with Maddie...accompanied by Ben and Rosie jumping all over with excitement. I think with all three I just walked until it was time to push.

“I think i had this pervasive feeling with Ben that if this is what my body is doing, it must be right...still hurt like anything else I’d call pain.

“And i agree with you about turmeric on quiche...”

My friend explained that there are lots of young pregnant woman at his workplace and when he sits at their table at lunch, “inevitably, the focus of the discussion turns to other moms and telling them how much it is going to hurt. I leave lunch wondering about it. Is it our culture? Is it healthy having this attitude? I never hear real positive talk. Maybe that is just assumed.”

“Maybe it's all semantics,” I replied. “I think the pain is just...what it is...and it's part and parcel of the birthing process...at least as I've experienced it. I don't mean to talk about it as something like, ‘OMG! It's going to hurt so much! You fooley, fool, why did you even get pregnant?!’ or to scare women.

“I just think it's something to endure to get to the great reward. Maybe ‘endure’ is the wrong word...maybe it's more like, this is the ride you take...and it's kind of bumpy, but that's just the way it is. Like riding the school bus at Denali [National Park and Preserve in Alaska]. It's pretty uncomfortable for a long time, but then you get out and see Mt. McKinley and the mountains all around and it's pretty awesome. Maybe Bradley is like the helicopter ride you can take instead...”

Or, maybe you can read my husband’s column next door and try laughter.

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