All my life, I had heard about the pain of childbirth. Nevertheless, what I wanted more than anything else in life was children. So I was determined that somehow, I would make it through this pain.
Up until that time, the most painful thing I had experienced was a broken arm. It was a slicing, throbbing pain. This was the only kind of pain I knew, and so this is what I expected the pain of childbirth to be like. I had never experienced menstrual cramps, having a very predictable, easy monthly cycle. When people said that childbirth was painful, and when I saw people on television yelling and screaming when a contraction would come, it certainly seemed to me as if they were experiencing the kind of pain I was used to. It was this preconceived idea of what the pain would be like that caused me to feel unable to cope with my first birth.
During the latter half of my first pregnancy, my husband was away. I did not take childbirth classes because he could not be there to take them with me. The only preparation I made was to read one book about pregnancy, birth and parenting. I guess I figured that most books discussed pretty much the same material, so I didn't do any further research. Because I was totally unprepared for what birth was going to be like, this made the experience even harder to deal with.
Because I was expecting to feel "pain" during labor, I was not able to recognize when I was having contractions. The sensation was more like an intense need to have a bowel movement. This was not painful, but I'm sure you have all experienced this sensation. Pretend for a moment that you are driving on the interstate highway, where there are few gas stations or rest stops. All of a sudden, you have to go to the bathroom. That pressure begins to build up, urging you to release the contents of your bowels. But you can't, there's no place to stop. So, you grip the steering wheel tighter, and concentrate on the road ahead of you. Pretty soon, that pressure subsides, and you feel better. But a few minutes later, that pressure builds up again, and your knuckles turn white as you grip the wheel, trying desperately to make it until the pressure subsides.
To me, this was what labor felt like. A buildup of pressure, and a subsiding. There was no stabbing, slicing, throbbing pain. Because this is how I perceived the sensations, for the first several hours of labor I believed I was constipated, and not in labor at all. I called the hospital to ask what I could take for constipation, and since they had heard this same line a hundred times, they told me to come in to be checked. I didn't want to, because I knew this sensation, it's what you feel when you need to go. So I felt very foolish going to be checked for dilation when I wasn't in labor. Surprise! I was four centimeters dilated already. I was admitted to the hospital, and took my place in my hospital bed. An IV and a continuous fetal monitor were attached to me, and I was not allowed out of bed.
When I was able to move around, the contractions were bearable. However, when I was forced to stay in bed, they became unbearable, nightmarish. One reason they were hard to bear was that I was not allowed to cope with them the way my body was telling me to. I was trying everything I could to shut out what my body was telling me. Even if I had listened to my body, I would not have been allowed, in the hospital environment, to do what my body was urging me to do. They had procedures which could not be violated. They had a standard way of doing things that couldn't be deviated from. At that point in my life, I did not yet understand that I had rights, and could do what I wanted despite their rules and procedures. I was not yet secure enough to realize that I knew what was best for myself, and should trust my instincts.
This surging power that was moving through me, I had not expected it, and the one childbirth book I had read said nothing about it. It talked about contractions, and pain, but it did not really describe what was going to take place. I was not feeling pain. I felt gripped by a consuming force. It was like a presence which took over my body briefly during contractions, and then sunk into the background as I rested in between. It reminded me of what it feels like to be nauseated and vomit. A force within your body begins to build, and before you know it, your stomach is swirling, and the contents are being hurled violently out of your body. That swirling force seems to begin in the center of your being, then radiates outward, and takes control of your body and mind. I'm not saying giving birth is nauseating, I did not feel nauseated or vomit during birth. I was merely making an analogy that both processes involve a totally consuming energy force which makes your head feel fuzzy and causes your body to obey its command. Your body knows how to give birth, and will do so. If you do what you are being led to do, things will go much better for you. If you fight against it, and try to impose some man-made method upon your birth, it can become painful and unbearable. But I did not know this at the time, so I began asking for painkillers. I wanted something that would disable this powerful force. I did not want to feel that force building up within me, because when I was in the throws of it, I was overtaken, I had to succumb to it, and I didn't like that feeling. I didn't realize that painkillers could not accomplish what I wanted them to do. Painkillers can take away pain, but I was not feeling pain. I was riding a freight train, speeding powerfully down the track, and I did not like the feeling that I was not in control. I did not like that fuzzy-headed feeling, as if I was possessed by another personality. It was totally a control issue. It was not a pain issue at all.
At this particular hospital, at this particular time, they did not do epidurals. They said they could not give me any pain medication until I was completely dilated and ready to push. When I finally was completely dilated, they gave me a cervical block, which consisted of two very painful shots, one on either side of my cervix. Now THAT was painful, much more painful than the labor had been. However, it numbed my cervix, and my whole pelvic area. Not only that, it numbed one leg down to the toes. Now I could not feel anything below my waist, and when they yelled at me to push with each contraction, I could not effectively do so because I had no feeling. So I ended up with an episiotomy, forceps, and a third-degree tear extended by the forceps. However, at the time, I was elated. The nightmare was over. I had a baby. Now I could heal.
With my second birth, I had educated myself. I had read dozens of books about childbirth, home birth, non-intervention, and I was ready to have a better birth experience. My second labor began the same way the first one had, with those feelings of needing to go to the bathroom. Consequently, I was once again fooled and did not realize I was in labor at first. I was sleepy, but I was getting up every 20 minutes to go to the bathroom, and that was exhausting. Finally, I decided to sit on the toilet until every bit of pee was out of me, so I could go back to bed. While I was sitting there, I finally realized that there was a pattern to this, and began timing how often I felt the urge to go to the bathroom. It was every 20 minutes like clockwork. That's when I realized I was in labor. I got up off the toilet to go call my mother, who had flown in for the occasion, but found I couldn't walk because I felt like I had a basketball between my legs. I called for my mother, and sat back down on the toilet, which was the most comfortable position at that moment. She got up, and began to make preparations. As soon as I realized I was in labor, things began to speed along. The contractions moved from every 20 minutes to every 10 minutes. As one seized me, I felt the urge to breath loudly. I would inhale, and make a sound with each exhale. The sound gave me something to concentrate on, and I felt better. Eventually, I got up from the toilet and laid down on the bed. After laboring all that time in an upright position, it felt very disorienting to lie down, it almost made me feel sick. After lying down to check dilation, I got up again, and experimented with different positions, since I was completely dilated and could push anytime I wanted.
I wanted to remain in an upright position because it has many advantages, but I began to feel shaky, and so laid down in the floor on my side with one leg propped up on the bed. At that point I was listening to my body. If someone had come and said, "Now you have to get in such-and-such position, and breathe such-and-such a way, I would not have done it. This felt right, and it was right. My body knew what I needed. They had given me a washcloth soaked in cold water to wipe my face with, and I started using that washcloth as my most important labor tool. When a contraction would come, I would breathe loudly while vocalizing, hold that washcloth over my head, and as I pushed out my bottom with all my might, I pulled on the ends of that washcloth with all the strength within me. It sort of gave me leverage, something to push against, to balance the pushing I was doing from my bottom. This might not work for everyone, I am not suggesting it would, but it was right for me. I sort of rocked back and forth on the floor, pulled on the washcloth, breathed loudly and vocalized, and out that baby came. A ten-pounder, easy as pie, no tears, no episiotomy, no pain, no problem. Length of labor: approximately 6 hours, start to finish.
Was that tremendous, powerful force still driving my labor, as in the first birth? Yes, but coping with it was much easier when I didn't have to worry about anybody else's agenda. All I had to do was worry about what my body was telling me. I didn't have to worry about any hospital procedures, or any doctors' ideas or rules, or the distraction of having people coming in and out of my room, or the discomfort of vaginal exams, nor did I worry about pleasing anyone but myself. I was in charge, and what I wanted was what I got.
In my experience, taking charge of your birth, feeling free to trust your body and act on your urges, and trusting your intuition when it tells you to make a change is what makes childbirth at home, without medical professionals in attendance, the safest way to birth. Only when procedures are imposed upon you which don't feel right, and were not initiated by your body's wisdom, do complications arise.
Most importantly, my childbirth experiences taught me that birth is not painful, but is a challenging and rewarding experience which causes you to call upon resources you never knew you had. It is a crucial, life-altering rite of passage. After you have experienced a birth in which you were in control, you will never be the same person.
Try the Accu-Balancing Technique to reduce or eliminate pain during birth.
Once I began devoting my life to teaching and helping empower mothers to take control of their lives and births, I found that the experiences that many women related to me were almost identical to mine. They also did not experience pain, but found the process very intense and challenging. Ultimately, they all felt they had grown and evolved through their experience. Some of the women even experienced childbirth as a pleasurable, sensual act.
To read some articles about the pleasurable, sensual aspects of birth, see:
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Copyright 2014 Judie C. McMath and The Center for Unhindered Living