My births were normal, uneventful, simple, and straightforward. The first one was attended by a slightly hands-on and mystical yet rooted in the traditional modern and slightly medical midwife. The second birth was attended by more of a spirit of midwifery, a bright yet hazy light of people who seemed to be an embodiment of sage service. Both births were short in my mind, 10 hours and 6 hours, respectively. Both I look back lovingly on, not because they were simple and safe (which they were), but because they were my experienceces, ones I chose to enjoy.
And although I would not describe them as painful, there is no doubt in my head that birthing can be physically and emotionally painful. I don’t want to undermine pain, it’s purpose and it’s reality. I know that a broken tailbone does not feel good, and getting a gnarly tear like I did with my first baby is not pleasant. I know unwanted intervention can be excrutiatingly painful. I am sure that a baby coming out shoulder-first is bottom-line: Painful. With a capitol P. I know that when a woman is birthing in a situation where there is no comfort or support, no sense of safety or encouragement and her adrenalin and oxytocin are inhibited, the pain of labor can be and is real. But is the pain there to tell us something, warn of something, like a kink in the birthing system? Is it there asking us to change something so that the process can continue normally and more easily for the birther? Or is pain just there, just because our muscles are contracting (like in sex?) and we are passing a human through a small fleshy, nerve-ended opening.
“To speak to your topic of pain. I never would describe labor as painful. I would define pain as a signal that something is wrong and needs fixing etc. Labor isn’t like that. It is a bodily function demanding attention like sleepiness or hunger. Those are not pleasant feelings and labor isn’t either. I didn’t enjoy labor per se.” Chris commented to me on the past piece I wrote. I immediately was attached to what she said. (note: if labor is bodily function grouped with other unpleasant bodily functions and it is typical thought of as painful, ,what if we gave it a different kind of attention, like the kind of attention we give something we think positivly about and can also be difficult to acheive…like hard-core exercise or sex?)
The physicality of the muscles contracting and a small opening of your body stretching is a lot of work, but it’s a work that most bodies are made to work efficiently. It seems that the body would respond accordingly by creating hormones to allow birth to happen without the need for narcotics. I received a lot of replies that spoke of surroundings and care providers. There has been mention that when provided with safe and comfortable place, caring, gentle and supportive guidance, and the chance to freely explore the realms of birth in their own terms at their own pace, in their own (mental or physical) space, the pain becomes purposeful and perhaps even transcending the sensation of something hard and negative, and transforming itself into a positive, empowering experience. An experience that when looked back upon, can be seen as orgasmic? Or at least exhilarating?
I am looking for a study Iheard of somewhere…I can’t remember where. Don’t quote me on this but it went something like: 2 groups of women were part of a medical study. The first group of mother’s used spinal epidurals for pain relief in their vaginal births. The second group of mother’s had unmedicated vaginal births. Shortly after the birth, the first group was asked what their birth was like, pain-wise (I think it was a day after) and the majority agreed that is was easy, painless…some would even go so far as saying wonderful. When the second group was asked the day after birthing, the majority of the women claimed it to be hard and intense, painful and scary. Three months down the road the 2 groups were asked the same questions again. The first group, who had originally spoke of the ease of labor with epidurals, had did a turn around and the majority of women claimed to be struggling from the experience, having a hard time dealing with the pain of the birth, in general they looked back with negativity. The second group’s majority also changed sentiments and their response claimed that it was ‘the most wonderful and easy experience”. I heard this about 3 years ago and I honestly don’t even remember where I heard it…radio, book, on-line…I was pregnant at the time so my head was mush. I have searched and searched for this study on-line but can’t find it. If anyone knows of it, please let me know where I might find it.
The next time I sit down to right about this I am going to try to talk about an article written for Salon.com by Nina Sharpiro called “Give Me Drugs!” What’s so feminist about a painful childbirth?”
I am slightly taken back by Ms. Shapiro’s article. I am digesting it right now and have to sleep on my feelings. Tomorrow I won’t be so emotional about it. I saw the article as a backlash to the natural childbirth movement, calling it judgemental at best, and distructive at worst. I read an article by Jock Doubleday which was a response to another article regarding drugs and birth by Sharpiro. I didn’t completely take to heart his blunt response in which he told Shapiro to ’step outside her bubble of myths’. I hadn’t read that particular piece so I took his words with a grain of salt. Now after reading this Salon.com piece by Nina Sharpiro, I can see where Doublday was coming from. I have to say her piece is preachy, inaccurate and simply agrivating and worthy of criticism. Not because she totally bags on the ‘birth junkie’ and generalizes the movement which hopes to bring power and autonomy to woman through education, advocacy and support, but because her writing is so biased it makes my eyes hurt. Not to mention where there should be facts. there are holes so big I could fall threw them. Enough said. More later.
ps. if i keep getting the amazing and thoughtful, wonderful and important…appreciated reflections from readers on my notes, everyone will be credited with writing this article.