In my work with pregnant women one of the most common things I hear is that women are afraid. Afraid of pain. Afraid of not knowing what will happen. Afraid of birth. There is lot to talk about with this and why this might be the case socially and culturally, but I’m going to save that sociological discussion for another day…
First let’s look at what can be done internally, in the mind, to help cope with pain and intensity during labour and birth.
One of the greatest ways for women to feel they can do the hard work of labour and birth is to have techniques to cope with the intensity. Often women do this without any relaxation training or learning any specific skills, they just intuitively respond to what needs to be done (withdrawing, closing eyes, making sounds, moving the hips etc). Learning how your body works and the role of your hormones during labour and birth also shows the amazing innate wisdom in our bodies.
You can’t really talk about pain during birth without also talking about fear. There are lots of external factor that can help or hinder how safe women feel, like having a care provider you know and trust, understanding what is happening in your body, and having continuous emotional support throughout your labour and birth. Accepting and planning for the intensity of birth and embracing this aspect of the journey means you can prepare, while you still have time!
Learning to develop your inner resources by building a pain coping mindset means that you have something practical and tangible to call upon during challenges – which is handy because there’s always something that will be challenging in the childbearing year! From the Birthing From Within approach we explore many different types of pain coping practices, because we know that no single method will work all the time, for all women. During Birthing From Within classes we spend a lot of time practicing different techniques, because a pain coping practice is just that – it’s a practice, and it takes time and effort to cultivate.
One of the practices that I use regularly to cope with pain which I share with expecting parents is Non- Focused Awareness. There are many different practices that are effective, and it’s good to experiment to find out what works for you. You might call them relaxation techniques but really they are much more than that. They are practices that help you cope, and be present in each moment, regardless of whether you’re experiencing pain, intensity, distress, fear, confusion or anxiety. And the best part is they can be used alongside any other form of medical pain relief, if that is a part of your birth experience as well. Your partner or support people can use them too, which makes for a very grounded atmosphere for your labour and birth.
It’s important to remember that pain coping practices are useful for being present in the moment, whatever it brings. They’re NOT about getting rid of pain, or thinking that your birth should be pain free (and then beating yourself up when it’s not and thinking you didn’t practice them enough or in the right way!). If your birth ends up being without much pain or intensity then great (you are a lucky woman!) – but it’s not compassionate or realistic to think that this is how it will be for most birthing women…
If you’ve already welcomed your baby to the world, what helped you cope with the emotional and psychological intensity of your labour and birth? Even if medical pain relief was used, what else did you draw upon that helped you focus and do the hard work of birthing?