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Giving birth is a huge challenge, no matter how you do it. But sometimes our preconceived ideas about ourselves limit what we think we’re capable of in birth. So, dear expectant mama, here are a few truths in case you’re in need of encouragement.
#1 Your body is designed to birth babies. As Ina May says,
“Your body is not a lemon. You are not a machine. The Creator is not a careless mechanic.”
The fact that you exist proves that you have come from a long line of women who successfully gave birth. Genetics are on your side. Just like any other function of the body, the function of birth usually works like it’s supposed to, just like your heart beats like it’s supposed to and your lungs breathe like they’re supposed to. Of course, complications can arise, and it’s smart to be prepared for them. But until there is a complication, there’s no reason to think that you won’t be able to give birth the way you want to.
#2 You are capable of making good decisions about pain relief, medical interventions, and any other aspect of your care during pregnancy and birth. You are smart and loving and have more invested in your baby than anyone else does. You can choose a good care provider and the right birth setting. You can make educated decisions about risks and benefits of a medicated or an unmedicated birth. You can choose how to prepare for birth, both for how you want it to happen and for how it might happen. Birth is unpredictable, and nothing can guarantee it going the way you hope for, but that doesn’t mean your choices and the way you prepare doesn’t make a big difference. The decision-making power is yours.
#3 You are capable of meeting the challenge of unmedicated birth, including the pain. You don’t have to be extraordinary to give birth without pain medication. Women with many different strengths, weaknesses, personalities, and pain tolerances have been giving birth for thousands of years before you. It’s not an unusual thing. A hard thing, yes, but so very normal. It’s ok to not want to give birth naturally, to not want to experience the pain. But if you do want an unmedicated birth, know that you have it in you to do it.
#4 The way you think about pain matters. Your expectations can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It will be hard, but hard doesn’t have to mean horrible. Labor will probably start out simply uncomfortable. There’s no need to think of it as painful before it actually is.
Sometimes the language we use around labor and birth feels negative and changing some of the common vocabulary can help to reframe the pain. Some women choose to call contractions “surges” or “waves” instead of contractions, carrying the idea of needing to ride it as a powerful force. There is a climb, a peak, and then a downhill that gets easier.
If I may quote Ina May again, she calls it “an intense feeling that requires all of your focus.” Thinking about pain and contractions in a more positive way may not eliminate the pain, but it can make the intensity feel less overwhelming and something you’re able to flow with and surrender to with more ease.
#5 Your values around pain matter. In American culture it’s very common to avoid pain and discomfort as much as possible, to assume something that is uncomfortable to feel is necessarily bad, abnormal, or harmful. Especially in women, it’s common to medicate normal feelings away. Mayim Bialik touched on this when she wrote,
“The vocalizing and emotional experience that is commonly referred to as “complaining,” “screaming,” or “suffering” is a normal part of labor. Birth is not neat and fast and quiet: it’s gritty and primal. But it’s nothing to fear unless you also think we ought to fear women crying when they are sad or laughing when they are happy.”
In her book, “Natural Hospital Birth”, Cynthia Gabriel shares her experience of observing childbirth in Russia.
“… our culture doesn’t teach us that birth pain leads to something valuable. Our society fails to recognize the merit of most pain, not just birth pain, and we go to great lengths to avoid unpleasant feelings. So many North American women have experienced the pain of labor, and then an epidural, that our collective memory about birth is now full of hurt but is missing the feelings of ecstasy and success that natural birth provides. In Russia, by contrast, suffering is considered an admirable pathway to becoming a better person. Russians from all walks of life can speak eloquently about positive transformation through pain. Russia is not unique. Most other cultures in the world provide a lifelong message to girls and women that the physical labor of birth is not just valuable, it is heroic.”
It’s rare in American culture for pain to be seen as a valuable experience, something you can grow from, or a journey of transformation.
#6 You can experience pain and joy simultaneously. They are not mutually exclusive. Pain may very well be part of your birth experience. Even if you are planning on an epidural or other pain relief, you will likely feel some discomfort.
But pain is not all there is. So many other feelings can coexist alongside and intertwined with pain. Some, like fear, dread, and anxiety are not pleasant to feel, and can even make your labor harder. But they may be part of your journey, and there is no shame in that. Walk that hard path if you need to.
But other feelings can coexist with pain, too.
Feel what is real. Don’t let the difficult feelings crowd out the beautiful ones. Let them intermingle. They are all transformative.
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