Pregnancy and Birth

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Pregnant womanTalking to people about childbirth, as I often do whenever the opportunity comes up, I have found many people don’t understand the nature of the pain we experience during labour.

Men often feel fear, frustration, and worry for their partner.  Wishing there was something they could do to help her, and feeling useless is a common comment..

When speaking to women who are pregnant with their first child, their fear of the pain of childbirth is often made worse by not really understanding the nature of it.

So I like to take the opportunity to explain my experience and understanding of it to expectant parents, hopefully without being intrusive or boring them too much.

My own fear of childbirth pain, when I was expecting my first child, is the same thing I have often heard pregnant women tell me.  I knew that the labour pains were caused by the contractions of the uterus, but I was more afraid of the head crowning than anything else.

Why is this?  We know that labour can go on for hours.  It might be 3 hours or 24 hours.  For me it was always around 12 hours.  We just don’t know how long it will take unless we submit to having it escalated with Syntocinon (don’t get me started – actually, I’ll be writing about that separately).  And the actual head crowning and birth part, second stage, may only take half an hour or 20 minutes or so.

My theory is that we see our uterus contracting as being a pain we might be familiar with, which really does us no harm.  We may have experienced period cramps, or at least heard of them, and we may imagine that labour contractions are really just an intense kind of cramp which we must endure as our cervix slowly softens and opens.  I was not really scared of that part during my first pregnancy.

But the crowning of the baby’s head, well the idea of it, can be much more frightening.  Things can happen.  We can tear or graze.  It can sting.  We are pushing something through a space it does not seem to be meant to fit through, and that could cause damage, and therefore more pain.  And that stinging, that sounds really bad, doesn’t it.

What I want everyone to know who needs to know, is that it’s the contractions which are the most painful part of labour.  Yes, it’s pain, I don’t call them rushes like Ina May Gaskin, much as I worship her.  It sure felt like pain to me.  It hurts. 

But as some very wise midwives told me, it’s pain with a purpose, it’s good pain.  You could associate it with pain from exercising, pain which is doing you good, not harm.  Looking at it this way does help with accepting it.  Accepting it and encouraging it to continue to it’s ultimate conclusion is the way through to the hopefully joyous part of the whole experience.  Many women have described being able to alter their perception of how contractions feel by means of the attitude they adopt towards them.

Getting through those contractions is a major achievement, and a well managed second stage, hopefully with a smart and experienced midwife guiding you through it correctly, is much less painful and distressing than those contractions. 

If you do feel a slight sting, it does not necessarily mean any damage at all, and is more a discomfort than a pain compared with what you have just been through.

What I really want to get across here, is that second stage can be easily and very well managed, and is not generally significantly painful compared with the contractions of the uterus as our cervix is opening. 

Understanding this through lengthy discussions with my midwives and other mothers, reading good books, and eventually my own personal experience, made a huge difference to my ability to cope with giving birth.

Sure, when I got to the transition stage, where it is almost time to push, I have declared that I am over it, can’t do it, want to stop now and so on.  A midwife who knows her stuff recognizes this, and uses it to reassure the mother that this means the worst is over and we’re getting to the good bit.

Removing, reducing or minimizing fear of labour and birth for expectant mothers is vitally important.  We can do this through better information and sharing our experiences with each other. 


#1 Teresa 2010-06-09 07:24
Very well said, and I agree, a good midwife makes ALL the difference :-) Great blog!


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