The pain from the contractions during labour. It has been a direction of research, a thinking subject (a subject to ponder), a source of inspiration since the conception of the film “Don’t push!”
The first question that is asked when someone mentions (a) labour without an epidural is:
“But why choose pain*? It makes no sense!” *the pain from the contractions
For the birth of my first child, I chose to give birth at home. I chose to give birth at home because I didn’t want to be told what to do, I didn’t want to be treated like a child, I didn’t want any suggestions telling me that pregnancy and birth were pathological conditions and that I needed the help of the medical teams. I actually thought the opposite. I told myself that like all the other “females” I would know what to do when the time came. That my body and my baby would know how to maneuver together and that birth would happen smoothly, as long as my neocortex didn’t interfere in the process with intellectual considerations, that I felt, had nothing to do with the birthing process.
Up until the birth of this first baby, the pain from the contractions were abstract for me, as they were unknown and I didn’t fear them. That must be why I keep a wonderful memory of this birth. At no point did I get scared about the pain nor about any complications.
I went through this day like it was a magical parenthesis, in the warmth of my bubble, with my partner who stood next to me discreetly, present and confident. There was also a good friend of mine there who had experience in birth, as she was the mother of 2. She had 2 births without an epidural. For her second child she was at home without her midwife, as she was travelling on the D-day.
So, Lili was here, my husband too and my baby was in great shape. It was a wonderful birth. It hurt though. Intensely.
This pain still remains a journey of initiation for me.
For my second birth, it is the fear of tearing that came during the delivery. As the expulsion of the first child had been a little… sudden. Once the head got visible, I got scared that it got stuck so I pushed hard, a little too hard. The outcome was I ended up with a big tear. I had to leave my body in the hands of the hospital expert seamstress. They did an excellent job!
So baby 2 arrived with the fear of a tear but never with the fear of any complications. Finally, the birth was easy with a small tear of my perineum.
For baby 3, I got scared of the pain. Labour started at 2am, I was missing sleep, which made the pain of the contractions harder to welcome. They overwhelmed me, they took everything with them. Like waves from the ocean, they flop us around, we are nothing in the center of the storm. Then the wave dies and let us ground in sand. Until another wave takes us.
Sleep deprivation is what I struggle the most with. It is a personal matter. I know people that are ok with it, not me. My sleep is sacred.
I didn’t go through any birth preparation, I just listened to my intuition, to my body.
1 • Has this pain got a purpose?
As per Wikipedia article on Pain:
Pain is “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with, or resembling sensory and emotional experience associated with, actual or potential tissue damage.”
The role of pain in general
Pain plays an essential role: it gives a message for the one who feels it to let him know that something is wrong and for him to do the necessary to resolve the problem.
It happens that the pain transmission circuit gets damaged and that the information that something is wrong does not circulate normally. Two consequences are possible:
- Despite an injury, the victim doesn’t feel pain. I am thinking of someone that I knew who had nervous fibers damaged on one of his hands. One day, while he was standing in one of his friend’s kitchen, he placed his hand on a cooking hob that was still hot… His nose gave the alert… Not to feel pain can have catastrophic consequences.
- Feeling pain without any reason is the second possibility of dysfunctioning, just as terrible. Chronic pains, which are consequences of signaling errors in the nervous system, can make life really difficult.
We can be glad when we are in neither case and feel pain when it is needed.
The Pain from contractions and childbirth
So what is the pain from childbirth? It hasn’t got a key function, it generally doesn’t give any indication of a complication like a placenta praevia, a cord prolapse, or a risk of hemorrhage. So what is its purpose?
I personally felt pain at each birth. Fear came to amplify it. Over my years of pregnancy and breast feeding and up until today, I tried to understand why? Why is childbirth difficult ? Why make the choice of this pain since a solution exists to erase it? As I went along my thought process, I started seeing clearer and some answers appeared to me.
The pain of the contractions to support the process of attachment
First, there is nothing more wonderful that the fulfillment we feel the moment we take our baby in our arms, after a certain amount of time of deep intensity previously unknown. The calm after the storm. This indescribable feeling. I never felt as strong, as good, as confident in me and in life as I did during these few minutes after the birth of each of my children.
I guess that it creates connections in the brain: the image of a baby associated with this wonderful feeling. The baby becomes my analgesic, my vitamin, my cocaine.
No questioning on living my life without him. He instantly becomes my reason to live. My baby’s life becomes more important than mine.
At the time when babies were born in caves badly heated and surrounded by bears and other saber-toothed cats, it was more than healthy for this little fragile being to be the apple of his mum’s eyes. If we gave birth as easily as a chicken lays an egg, a few babies would have probably been abandoned to some bear’s claws.
Note: Let’s observe the difference between a female emperor penguin and a hen. The female emperor penguin only lays one egg a year in a hostile environment to let the baby develop properly in its shell. The penguin couple dedicate all their energy to protect this baby. You can watch the film « March of the Penguins » for more details. When it comes to our dear hens, I steal their eggs from them every morning and I can’t detect any expression of despair on their feathered faces.
Of course, this attachment also happens in other ways. As someone can love a child immensely that they haven’t carried in their belly, we can fall in love with our baby even after spending labour surfing on Facebook, as is generally the case with dads. But then we will never experience this natural oxytocin shot. I believe it is depriving ourselves of an amazing trip. The only concern today is that these mummies haven’t been informed enough to really make a conscious choice.
This is the calling of my film “Don’t push!”. Please find all the information to watch the film here. It has been produced in French and subtitles in English for you HERE.
The pain of contractions as a guide
It is instinctive to try to relieve pain. When it comes to pain from contractions, from childbirth, the movement of our body is our best ally. Finding a position, which eases labour and that changes during it – rarely laying on the back with legs in the air, the famous suprine recumbent position. I will come back to that in my next article – Moving to feel. Moving instinctively, guided by the pain and more broadly guided by the feelings from all over the body. Moving to use gravity, letting the baby turn, helping him go down in the pelvis bowl, relieving with a posture… Without knowing why, the woman moves and her position choices and movements are always supportive of an easy delivery. Epidural is of course a radical solution to relieve the pain of childbirth. With it, no need to move, only observing passively the feelings, waiting for the caregiver’s instructions and maybe getting bored…
I can’t remember getting bored during childbirth and I confess to finding it sad to think that someone can get bored through it.
Pain as an invitation to reach a state of trance
Since I started listening to and reading childbirth stories, I have always had the same appetite for them. I am sure about one thing: trying to battle against the pain amplifies it. It is the same for a cramp in the calf muscle as for contractions. Of course, fighting to fight doesn’t bring anything good. Are you following me? To give up fighting, you have to disconnect your brain. I will come back on this subject in another article on the states of Hypnosis and of trance.
A little Champagne glass can make miracles – hence Michel Odent’s words -to stop thinking, to stop fighting, to observe from another level, even to properly launch labour… I can’t resist wanting to share this expression coming from midwives: “flat brains, sliding vaginas”
Careful, it has nothing to do with intelligence but more about putting the neocortex brain to rest. Him again. In short, childbirth is a rare opportunity to plunge into the fashionable “mindfulness meditation”. For once I find that trend a good one.
Check below for the section “ Is this pain inevitable? “
2 • Pain or Suffering ?
In the same Wikipedia article, an experience in evaluation pain is mentioned in 2 types of population. The first one was one of soldiers, the second one of civilians. On similar lesions, the level of pain wasn’t the same depending on which filter it had gone through… by the neocortex!
- For the soldiers, the injury was synonymous with going back home and for recognition, therefore it became bearable.
- Whereas for the civilians, the wound meant being diminished, losing their jobs and therefore the pain became unbearable.
That is where the shade between pain and suffering dwells. When it comes to childbirth, as the pain is not associated with anything serious, we just have to laugh about it instead of cry. Easy said.
There is a French saying : “This lovely pain: as soon as it disappears we laugh about it”. Well especially men and menopausal women.
But it is true, if we don’t listen to pain, if we don’t wait for it, if we don’t fight against it, it disappears. The fear of pain amplifies the actual pain. I have gathered together a lot of testimonies and here is what came out:
- An infinite number of women express regrets when it comes to their childbirth: impression of not being the main person in it, not to have felt it, to have been treated like a child by the medical staff
- But where is the problem: MUM AND BABY ARE BOTH WELL !?!?
- Most of the time, women who had both types of childbirth, one with epidural and one without by choice, the one they keep the best memory of is the childbirth without epidural.
- For those who wanted the epidural and didn’t get it, they are often traumatised. They fought, hoped, waited and suffered, they never allowed themselves to enter labour and it was a horrible experience
- I also had 2 testimonies counteracting my suppositions: they tried without epidural. Finally, their words were: “Never again”!
3 • Can we identify where this pain comes from?
At this point, knowing that this pain doesn’t have a purpose, we can ask ourselves the question: where does it come from? I am not going to be able to answer this question with certainty. Some aspects have been mentioned in this article, some will be discussed later. Here are a few clues:
- The Homo erectus might be part of the answer. The human body, to allow walking straight, evolved in a manner that made childbirth harder (size and shape from the pelvis, from the skeleton, from the musculature)
- The attachment (mentioned above): The “little man” is easy prey for several years. He needs protection and therefore the attachment to his mum and his tribe.
- The neocortex is responsible and with it comes the conditioning and the fear.
- I am now making an assumption: the pain comes from the fight against the opening of a sphincter. Indeed, if we consider that a sphincter is a circular muscle located around a natural conduit and that its contraction allows a hole to close partially or totally, therefore the cervix is a sphincter. Fighting against the opening of a sphincter can be painful. In the present case, the contractions are so powerful that fighting against this opening causes painful cramps
Note: It is a good reminder that to relax and let the sphincters open up a minimum of intimacy is required… A word to the wise… To share the feeling of women who chose to give birth at home during the confinement, I invite you to watch the 28 minutes film in French realized back then “Thank you the Pangolin!” It is clear that women who give birth easily & pain-free do not speak about it because they feel guilty. They leave the space to the ones that are traumatized by childbirth and that need to talk about it to evacuate. They may also feel the cynical need, as has been done for many centuries, to tell those that will give birth “You will see how awful it is!…”
4 • Is this childbirth pain inevitable?
We all are conditioned to give birth in pain. However, since the start of the XVI th century, numerous childbirth preparations more or less hazardous are offered to mothers: sedative, narcotic, alcohol… and then at the beginning of the XIX th century, the use of anesthetic propagates (ether, nitrous oxide, laughing gas, chloroform, frequently with the harmful effects kept silent. The first to question this inevitability in France was Doctor Fernand Lamaze. He spent all his career searching how to improve women’s condition at work and on a trip back from the USSR, he developed a method called “Childbirth without pain” – ASD Accouchement Sans Douleur – in France or the Lamaze Technique in the rest of the world. Note: to learn more about this method, treat yourself to the film “Don’t push!” fully subtitled in English.
In the USSR, their method is based on conditioning and based on Pavlov’s work. For Lamaze, never mind that the process used was only tested on animals up to then, as long as it serves his research purposes it is worth trying. Back from his trip and after having attended an ASD, Fernand Lamaze started his research, experimentation and theorizing. In the Bleuets clinic in France, all the staff, from the reception lady to the canteen staff, were trained. The doctor is sure: any stressful situation can destroy the months of preparation by the mother. After facing lots of mockery, insults and threats, Fernand Lamaze finally meets success. Doctors from all around the world attend his training and all the women from Paris went to give birth in les Bleuets. Doctor Lamaze died at 66. His research on childbirth was the leading theme of his life’s research. His method was very successful until the 1970s. For more information, please refer to the Wikipedia’s article dedicated on Lamaze Technique.
Why has this method fallen into disuse?
- The generalisation of epidural aneasthesia: easier, more cost effective than childbirth preparation, the easy solution for the mummies, it won the majority.
- The Lamaze Technique came from the East. Lamaze was communist. The Bleuets Clinic, the property of the communist party and financed by the metal trade Union… This may have been sufficient reason for the West to do it differently.
All due to conditioning !
I follow the path of my story. My readings are guided by my questioning as I continue writing. A few months ago, I decided to look at the conditioning passed through the Bible. “In sorrow you shall bring forth children”… Ite missa est. La messe est dite. (writing in latin).
Note : This paragraph concerns our Judeo-Christian societies. For the populations that haven’t had to go through the “mono-divine” sentence, birth is usually easier that for us…
Without being a feminist, I asked myself why such a sentence? As I went on my journey, I realised something was obvious: the woman has got the supreme power to be sure of her descendant (except in the case of a MAP – medical-assisted procreation – which is quite a new risk). Whereas the men can never have the certainty that the children are his (except with a paternity test… which is a new response in the history of humanity). A woman knows that it is her son who is standing under the crown and on the throne, while the ancient king wonders if he is the groom’s son. On the basis of that postulate, it is logical that men remove all women’s other powers, frustrated not to have given birth.
In Judeo-Christian societies, women have given birth for a long time as per instructions and in imposed positions far removed from those respecting the women’s basic needs in childbirth, as described by Michel Odent. Knowing that to support a delivery, intimacy is needed, as well as the disconnection from the neocortex and a big natural Oxytocin shot. Unfortunately, I believe that since Abraham it has been impossible.
What if we unconditioned ourselves?
Here, I will introduce what will become another of my articles. Deciding to stay away from medical support in childbirth and particularly having an epidural. Is it a step backwards? Some people will say “and while you are there why not go back and live in caves?”… I think rather the opposite. That it is a groundbreaking revolution, a massive progress for the human species: that childbirth happens in total respect for the mummy and the baby. Yes we are talking about the baby here: let him choose his rhythm, him who knows the journey out, him who is coming out in the world. For the woman, that she regains her rights, that she discovers confidence and power inside herself, that she says “Fuck you” to the obstetrician and his authority. This man who wants to make her believe she is incompetent. Moreover, she has an urge to live, once in her lifetime, an intense moment, without watering it down, without questions, without doubts, just living for the moment, here and now.
And there are others that don’t feel pain !
Yes, some women stay away from the pain. I met one woman who gave birth to her first child in one and a half hours and had no memories of pain, only remembered some intensity. There is also The Farm, the American hippy community which saw three generations of babies and where women believed with certainty that giving birth was something easy, natural and painless. There are also all these arctic people that leave their women alone to give birth, respecting the most basic needs of a woman in labour. There are also those women who deliver their babies while sleeping, while dancing, while laughing, while walking… In only a few minutes. Please read Ina May Gaskin’s book for more details.
Is their body different to mine? To have a beautiful physiological childbirth, let’s trust life.
I didn’t get scared, I didn’t suffer. It just hurt. Very possibly because my Neocortex was very switched on. The more I read about the childbirth
stories in medical places, the more I am grateful, so grateful to have followed my instinct and given birth to my children without any constraints. It was wonderful.