by Trish Wilkinson
“300,000 women will be giving birth with you today. Relax and breathe and do nothing else. Labor is hard work, it hurts and you can do it.” — Unknown
As a doula, one of the primary questions I get asked is about the pain of childbirth.
I almost always give the same answer to every woman who asks: I can’t describe how labor will feel. Yes, labor hurts. But the pain women feel is a very subjective and individual experience.
Therefore, I tend to define labor in terms of intensity … a woman will work hard, and be able to define for herself after she has her baby what labor pain means to her.
We all carry baggage that defines our experience with pain — physical baggage, obviously, but also emotional. That baggage can set the scene for how a woman goes into her labor.
And that can exacerbate the discomfort the expectant mother perceives during her labor.
When I meet with clients, one of the things I discuss with them is the fear that is brought into the labor room. While it’s normal to have some apprehension about the unknown, the amount of fear a woman (and her partner, for that matter) brings with her into birth will have an enormous impact on how her labor progresses.
A big part of my job is to help redefine her fear and use it to empower and strengthen her, and make her birth-space a safe one.
A step in that direction is to make sure she and her partner are getting up-to-date, positive, accurate information and education. Not only are the typical hospital classes available, there are other resources in our community for alternative education.
I also encourage networking with other mothers who have given birth, and reaching out to groups of peers who can share their experiences.
However, I also add that expectant moms need to be careful to establish filters when taking in any information. The Internet, while helpful, can contain a myriad of professional and lay opinions, which can be overwhelming. Moms should make sure they are getting information from reliable sources, and know that not everything printed out in cyberspace is accurate.
Moms should surround themselves with positive influences. We have all heard the birth “horror stories,” and while these may be shared with the greatest intentions, they are also the source of alot of anxiety about what to expect from labor and birth.
While birth stories can be helpful, they can also be hurtful. Remember, while birth is a common thread among women, we are all individuals — each pregnancy, labor, and birth is a unique fingerprint. Just because it happens one way for an expectant mom’s mother, sister, grandmother, best friend does not mean it will be that way for that expectant mom. She will write her own birth story.
All these factors should be considered by both support systems and the professionals attending a woman’s birth. Her experience with pain in labor and birth can be greatly buffered if understanding and caring are applied by those around her — and help her look back and say positive, empowering things about her birth, and hopefully not a birth “horror story.”
Married for 24 years and the mother of two boys ages 18 and 14 (first born by unplanned cesarean; the second was a VBAC), Trish was a child and family therapist for 15 years before becoming a doula in 2001. She started Tree of Life Doula Services and Birth Resources in 2005 and has attended more than 250 births, including cesareans. She is a certified doula through Doulas of North America, as well as licensed clinical social worker for the state of Illinois.