I recently purchased a new educational DVD about natural birth called It’s My Body, My Baby, My Birth. A childbirth educator interviewed during the film briefly discusses pain and says that we need more words for pain, because it is ridiculous that we have only one word that is used to describe a hangnail, a broken leg, being hit by a car, and labor. I had already been musing about pain during labor and how we perceive it, talk about it, and so forth and this comment was additional food for thought for me. I’m thinking that there are many other words used to describe women’s experiences of labor and birth other than pain–a word that is limited in scope and that for some women may well not even apply to the experiences in birth (I’m thinking of the intriguing “comfortable, easy birthing” philosophy of programs such as Hypnobabies).
I reflected on my own birth experiences and how I would describe them, especially my second birth, which was very quick. I would describe it as:
Major (this is a word I kept repeating during labor…”This is MAJOR!”)
If someone then asked me, “yes, but was it painful.” I would have to think a minute and then say, “oh yeah. I guess it was painful.” However, pain is very far from my dominant interpretation, impression, or experience of this birth. It does not make my “top ten” list of descriptors. I’m interested by that. I’m also interested to know about the other words women use to describe their births and where “pain” falls on their lists (feel free to leave a comment sharing your words for your birth experiences! If pain is at the top of your personal list, that is okay! I’m fascinated by women’s experiences of all kinds.)
I have heard people scoff at this kind of language to describe birth–triumphant, empowering, etc.–saying that it is just natural birth “rhetoric” trying to lie to women or that if giving birth is so wonderful why do we use “euphemisms” to describe it, but the words I chose above are truthfully my experience. Why would describe my births as painful, if that truly is NOT the best word to describe them? If I had to pick the best word, I’d probably say triumphant. Or, I might choose intense (particularly with that second, fast labor and birth).
As I said, I’ve been reflecting a great deal about pain and the word pain and how to address the issue of pain during birth classes. I hope to share some more of these thoughts soon.