Right now I am working on my thoughts on why we would choose to feel the pain of labor, or even why not. I'm exploring pain and how we make choices regarding this in childbirth...feel free to comment and express your fears, choices, and reasons for making those choices.

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My choice to have a homebirth was driven by the choice to NOT have drugs. And after going through natural labor it is easy to see why most women do not want to feel that. But just trusting and knowing that this is the process of getting my baby out got me through it. Also, being a Christian pain in child birth is biblical. God designed our bodies to do exactly what they do in labor and it is not mine to question his will. I have not had A drug not even a Tylenol in my body in over 7 years and getting any type of medication during a completely natural process was out of the question for me. It's sad to me that women do not believe thatthwy can endure the pain. Before pain relief during labor came along EVERY birth involved pain. Be strong ladies! Show those male doctors how awesome a woman's body is.
I think that sometimes women choose an epidural out of fear. The number of tests, ultrasounds and then continuous fetal monitoring provide an aura of anxiety for an expectant mother. Sometimes doctors say fearful things. Fear increases pain. And the hospital system that continuously offers medication directs women to choose that path. A woman needs to be well educated about the normal physiology of birth to believe that she can go through labor working with the contractions. And then she needs a support person that cheers her on.
Can you imagine the effect on a marathon runner if the people around him suggested all the things that might go wrong? If his friends suggested that he stop running and instead allow them drive him to the finish line?
http://www.compleatmother.com/articles2/childbirth/fear.shtml

http://www.compleatmother.com/articles2/childbirth/pain_free.shtml

Love these articles. They address the fear/pain relationship. I was completely at ease, not afraid at all, and had four pain-free natural (no intervention whatsoever - no monitoring, IVs, nothing) childbirths. The mind is INCREDIBLY powerful.
I need to find the article, but I read that women who experience the pain of labor, get that "labor haze" post partum, when they start to forget the pain. In contrast, women who had the epidural more vividly remembered the pain they DID experience which made them more likely to choose the epidural on the next go around.

I remember this haze(in it now as I'm pregnant again :) ), and immediately after both my births I remember thinking "Do I really ever want to do this again?" But 2-3 weeks later, the memory wasn't so clear, and 2 yrs later, I'm rarin' to go!

I'll find the article and post it.
AH! Can't remember where I read it OR find it! Does this ring a bell with anyone? My lack of memory this pregnancy is astounding!
I've heard about the haze and experienced it, but I haven't seen any articles about it.
I agree with much of what has been said already, but I want to offer a slightly different perspective. For me choosing unmedicated birth is partially a matter of control. When I was in labor with my first child I felt completely out of control, helpless. The hospital staff were telling me what I should do, and since I didn't know I had other options, I fearfully complied. I gave in to the epidural because I felt I had no other choice, and I couldn't handle the pain in those circumstances. I felt I had somehow failed for giving in, but I couldn't see how I could have done any differently.

The more I learned and the more support I sought, the more I was able to claim my own power and take control of my birth experiences. I feel powerful when I give birth without medication. I would rather feel everything, from the most intense pain to the unbelievable ecstasy of birth, than to be numb to the whole experience. There's nothing that compares to it, and being able to master the kind of control you have in birth is a monumental accomplishment. It's a beautiful balance of control and submission, and once you experience that you are never the same person again.

Birth has also been very faith-promoting for me, as I put my faith in God, and He is the one I trust to guide me in the process of working with my body and my baby. It's not about pain.
I think also that the experience I had of putting my trust in the hospital staff and giving them control was a disappointment for me and didn't achieve what I had hoped for. I realized later that I had put my trust in the wrong source, and that provoked me to find a better way.
My personal reasons:

1- I don't respond well to pain meds, most of them make me feel out of it. Add to that that my son, being my genetic offspring, obviously shares a lot of traits with me. I didn't want to expose HIM to something that would potentially make him feel lousy for the first few days of his life. Beginnings can be rough enough as it is.

2- Labor is natural, it's something that many female animals go through. I've seen many cats, rabbits, hamsters and other animals give birth. They always seemed very focused and at peace, rather than in pain. The only "pain" that I have seen has been with human births, and those have been dramatized for television. When we see things dramatized on TV, we often think that's how they should be. That, compared with the fact that my mom had me without painkillers and said that it was intense, but not that bad.. And I was skeptical about the whole "crushing pain" thing.

3- As it turns out, labor was intense, and yes I felt pain. But it was not the 'I am being ripped apart by a pack of wild coyotes and salt is being rubbed in my wounds" type of pain. It was not a wounded pain. It was the type of pain that you feel when you're riding a bicycle up a steep hill. The type of pain where you have to focus on each revolution of the pedals and tires, and where you have to focus on breathing. It's the "pain" of being exercised, of muscles being used for what they are intended for.

Do marathon runners run with epidurals so that they can't feel it when their legs burn? Why not? Do they take sleeping pills and a shot of Demerol at the midpoint so that they can take a nap and be 'refreshed'? No? Why not? They don't have to worry about exposing a very newly born infant to the drugs.

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I didn't see it as a choice to "feel pain". I saw it as a choice to only take pain medications if I needed them. To not have unnecessary interventions and introduce possible complications as a result.

The doctor sort of found it funny that I refused pain meds during labor and delivery, but that I requested a numbing injection when they repaired a (fully avoidable) tear with "two little stitches". Your body is prepared for childbirth and delivery. It's NOT prepared for a piece of metal to be jabbed through torn, bloody and sensitive skin. Different types of pain.
I really like this, and agree with what you've said. Thanks so much for sharing your perspective :)
I was choosing not to experience the side effects and risks of epidurals and narcotics (I had both during my first baby's birth). That said, I'm not a fan of pain and chose to learn and use hypnosis (I like Hypnobabies). I had the best of both worlds: no side effects or risks of drugs AND a comfortable birth. :-D

Also, I still felt that great endorphin rush after the birth. The more comfortable the birth (I've used hypnosis four times after an epidural with my first), the more "high" I felt afterward. :-) I didn't get the post-birth high after my epidural birth. After my epidural wore off, it felt more like I had been hit by a truck. :-/

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