The Purpose of Labor Pain
When it comes to birth pain, it's essential to understand that it is a normal part of the childbirth process. Thinking "this is scary" or "I can't do this" reinforces that you are someone who can't do hard things. And that's just not true. As you continue to reframe your perception of labor pain, understand why pain is super useful, and how working with pain can actually minimize it, you create an idea of birth that is safe, not fearful.
What does it mean to reframe your thoughts on birth? It's my perception that women, birth, sex, bodies are a shameful or embarrassing aspect of the human experience in Western culture. So much is done to control natural processes in an attempt to create a specific and precise outcome every time. The unknown and unseen are scary. Acknowledging fear of pregnancy and childbirth and parenthood... and accepting those fears opens the door to learning. Knowledge brings peace to our logical brains and can keep our imaginations in check when they stray into fearful thoughts. When you face your fears, you meet the birthing process with your heart open.
The uterus is where baby has been hanging out this whole time. Your baby has existed in this large muscle to grow, receive love and nourishment, and has been kept safe. During labor, the uterus is contracting to thin (effacement) and open (dilate) your cervix. At 10 centimeters, baby is given a clear opening and contractions continue to help move your baby through the vaginal canal. So the tightening you are feeling is the two layers, horizontal and vertical, of uterine muscles contracting. The video below is a super cool visual of what your uterus is doing during labor.
Hormones also have an active role in the sensations of pain that we feel in labor. There are many more than two hormones involved, but for now- two is enough.
When our bodies are left alone, oxytocin is the driving hormone to labor starting and for encouraging contractions to get stronger and closer together continuously over time. This building intensity can have you feeling like what the f**k but keep in mind you aren't hit with contractions out of nowhere. It is a gradual process and gives way to the next important hormone, endorphins. When pain increases, so do endorphin levels.
Endorphins are natural opioids, meaning they give some (some- does not entirely take away, although some women do experience this) moderation to pain. Even cooler, endorphins also release you from your thinking brain and send you into "labor land" or an altered state of consciousness. The idea of losing control is a common trigger for fear. Trust in the process. Include people in your birth space you can trust to ground you. It's in this space, "labor land," where you can utilize your innate wisdom that already knows how to give birth. You are no longer thinking, "how long have I been at this," or"what position should I change to next," birth is unfolding, and you are now "doing." When we give into the labor process, the cycle of hormones helps us to feel less pain, take us out of our thinking brain, and keep labor flowing.
"Your body can stand almost anything. It's your mind that you have to convince." -Unknown
Here's how to work with your body to keep those hormones responsible for the progression of birth- flowing! There are a pattern of behaviors observed in mammals, both wild and domesticated that guide us to work with our bodies during labor. Darkness, privacy, silence, safety, and warmth are elements of childbirth that can support you in your birth. You don't have to add any of these elements to your baby registry either.
Light can make us feel exposed or like we are being watched- which doesn't create a space for safety nor relaxation. Don't stop at dimming lights and drawing curtains. Set the whole scene! Light candles (or battery operated for hospitals), diffuse essential oils, bring out items of comfort from home and put on your labor playlist. Create an entire space of familiarity and safety.
Maybe you get a "private" room in a hospital, but there is really no such thing as privacy. Your every move is recorded, you are routinely being checked on, staff changes, machines are going in the background, etc. It's kind of a lot. On the one hand, these intrusions can be seen as safety, they serve a purpose. On the other, they are kind of like a constant reminder that things could go wrong at any moment. That feeling gives off stress hormones. Your birth team, or support team, serves as a filter to additional questions and interruptions from both hospital staff and family wondering "is the baby here yet."
Ever try and sit down to a task like reading, writing a blog post (ahem), and there is a bunch of random noise going on in the background. It can be challenging to stay in the zone- your thoughts continue to go back to "what is that sound"? Music playing serves as background noise, so others don't feel like they need to fill the silence with talking or fidgeting.
Feelings of fear promote a different hormone, adrenaline. Adrenaline is the famous "fight or flight" hormone. When a birthing person doesn't feel safe, for instance, they are in a moving car- adrenaline will increase. Oxytocin and endorphins are at lower levels, and birth is on pause. That's why giving birth in cars isn't a super common phenomenon. Having a birth team, you trust to keep you safe, listen to you, and support you is significant. There is no room in your birthing space to invite anyone out of obligation, only. A birthing environment that makes you feel safe is another aspect of safety in birth.
A dark and warm environment is so relaxing. Think about times when you are comforted, or comfort others, by wrapping them in your arms, embracing them with warmth, and letting them "be" in the darkness of your shoulder-chest-armpit area. Change the temperature of the room, have socks, and blankets. You can easily take them off if you find yourself getting too warm.
Giving birth can be a positive experience. When you feel confident in your body, well supported, and able to express yourself without inhibition, the pain that you may experience can become bearable, and just one part of the process. You can then respond instinctively with your inner resources, such as breath, sound, and movement.
This is a safe space to release your fears about labor pain, so let's hear it in the comments.