‘All cultures believe that women become better and more generous through the process of giving birth. That is why some cultures use words such as ‘sacrifice,’ ‘suffering’ and ‘labour.’ These terms can seem overwhelming and to be avoided’ however, seen from a different viewpoint, childbirth helps us to become strong, resourceful and determined.’
(The Pink Kit)
“Understand that the tremendous energy going through you during birth is the same sort of power as the force of ocean waves moving towards shore. Know that just as a bird knows how to build its nest, and when to lay its eggs, you too will build your birthing nest…”
–Janice Marsh-Prelesnik (The Roots of Natural Mothering)
Women preparing to give birth for the first time often wonder what it is really going to be like. What is labor like? What do contractions really feel like? Is it really like “strong menstrual cramps” or is it “agony”? When I was pregnant with my first baby, planning to give birth at a birth center, and reading everything I could about natural birth, I remember feeling like I was studying for a huge test, but a test for which there was no “right answer” and that no one else could explain to me what would be on it. I read quotes about birth being a “mystery,” and found it frustrating. What kind of “mystery”? Why can’t anyone explain it? Culturally, we get mired down in a lexicon of birth-giving that is inadequate to express it, a mainstream birth model that communicates in terms of pain, medication, and clock-watching, platitudes about healthy babies being all that matters, and dichotomies or disagreements about what defines a “good birth.”
This week, a variety of articles caught my eye that help expand our vocabulary of birth by touching on what birth feels like….
My mom told me that when you give birth naturally, you get this power that you never felt before. This is true. Oh yes it is. And no matter what kind of birth you have, we all get that feeling of crossing over and joining our grandmothers and all ancient warrior women. We have joined the ranks. We will never be the same person we were before. We become a new human. A more refined human. A softer, more patient human. An unstoppable human. A mother.
Sometimes, along with feeling power, there is intense pain:
…And then the contractions got really bad. They were so strong. So long. And so close together. This was like nothing I had ever experienced before. Sure, maybe I had brief periods of this intense (that’s not really a strong enough word… hellish is more like it) labor, but it was typically brief and pushing came quickly after that.
What do I mean by “lexicon”? I mean our language, our vocabulary, for birth. What words do we have to choose from to describe our birth experiences? Is there only pain, or is there more?
…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.
In the book Labor Pain, the author describes the results of a study about how women feel labor pain. The most frequently used description was “sharp” (62%) followed by camping, aching, stabbing hot, shooting, and heavy. Tiring was another word used (49%), exhausting (36%, intense (52%), and tight (44%). Other words and descriptions used were burning, grinding, stony, overwhelming, terrific, bruising, knifelike, invaded, baby in charge, powerful, relentless, crampy, like period pain, like thunderbolts, excruciating, frightening, and purposeful. Only 25% of first time mothers and 11% of mothers with other children described pain associated with labor as “horrible” or “excruciating” (the top of the pain-scale range).
How do women having their first babies really learn about birth? Is it only through reading or classes?
“I usually claim that pregnant women should not read books about pregnancy and birth. Their time is too precious. They should, rather, watch the moon and sing to their baby in the womb.” –Michel Odent
Women may feel a real sense of fear and trepidation about giving birth and, unfortunately, that fear may end up limiting their real options:
Could it be that human fear of pain is being used to generate financial profit? (the opium-is-the-opiate-of-the-masses model). Perhaps once the notion of palliative care reached a certain level of acceptance for the dying within the medical community, it began to spill over into other human conditions (the slippery-slope model). Or, perhaps we don’t want transparency at all (the denial model)…
…I can think of many questions that fall under this topic…Why do we call the intense phenomenon of birth “painful”? How do our genetics, behavior, training and thought-processes affect our experience of pain? What about the health care culture – has it focused on relieving pain at the expense of what we gain from working with pain short of trauma or imminent death? How do we prepare women for working with sensation without automatically labeling it pain? Is the “empowerment” often attributed to giving birth what is learned by going through the center of the “there is no birth of consciousness without pain” experience? These questions are just a start…
Birth environments may also limit women’s movements, sounds, and choices in ways that may actually increase pain:
“Why do we, then, continue to treat women as if their emotions and comfort, and the postures they might want to assume while in labor, are against the rules?“
– Ina May Gaskin (via Birth Smart)
Giving birth isn’t simply a physical experience, it is an initiation. Facing fears, meeting challenges, moving through struggle, and coming out the other side, powerfully changed, are core elements of initiatory events.
Giving birth is one of a series of important initiations a woman may experience in her lifetime. Initiations are intimately with change. They bring the initiate from one state of being into a new state of being. Initiations accomplish this task by putting the initiate through a series of experiences that challenge them in a particular way and bring them into new ways of being and of understanding. The initiate must meet these challenges and overcome any obstacles in order for the initiation to succeed in bringing about these changes.
In the end, regardless of how your birth unfolds, there is one thing I will guarantee: you will feel the might of creation move through you.
“When I say painless, please understand, I don’t mean you will not feel anything. What you will feel is a lot of pressure; you will feel the might of creation move through you. Pain, however, is associated with something gone wrong. Childbirth is a lot of hard work, and the sensations that accompany it are very strong, but there is nothing wrong with labor.”
Nané Jordan is looking for contributions to her new book about the placenta. Sounds intriguing and I plan to contribute!
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“Birth is a time of deep transformation. We enter labor with excitement, trepidation and sometimes fear. We emerge with power, confidence and love.”
–Toni Lee Rakestraw, Organic Birth