One of the biggest concerns for anyone preparing for birth is how to eliminate pain. Most modern women choose medication to eliminate pain without the knowledge of alternate methods in addition to putting themselves and their babies at risk for side effects (short term and long term). Not to mention, medications don't always eliminate all the pain, or wear off, leaving a mother who isn't prepared to deal with labor sensations unable to cope. There are many methods claiming they are the best and the only complete method to work. The problem with any one "method" is, everyone is different, and everyone needs different techniques, and often a variety of techniques. They also have different expectations for birth, and don't necessarily understand why any one particular method works for an individual, but possibly not for them. They, too, can feel inadequate when their labor needs intervention because their "method" didn't work. When we prepare and we understand informed consent, we know that we had just the labor that we needed without having these thoughts or feelings.
Childbirth does not have to be painful because it's all about perception. In America, especially, we are taught by our friends, family, and Hollywood that childbirth is a very scary and horrifically painful experience. This is due to lack of prenatal education, and the medical society making childbirth an intense procedure rather than a culture that welcomes birth and accepts it for the normal process that it is. When you teach one "method," an expectant parent often believes, "if I breathe just like this, it shouldn't hurt," or, "if I lie in just this pose, I will be able to eliminate contracting my muscle," or even, "I am going to read this verse to help me be calm and visualize a beautiful birth." But then, labor starts and women experience unexpected outcomes, often finding their "planned method" is not working for them (or their birth partner), or even forgetting it altogether. And, without putting much focus on how to eliminate their fear of childbirth and their perception of the event, they have nothing to fall back on when their "method" doesn't work.
So, how do we change into a society where childbirth is normal and pain free? At Esali Birth, we teach about the 3 R's of childbirth (relaxation, rhythm & ritual), and we include motivational support during the prenatal period that alters women's (and men's) views of what labor and birth should be like. We teach the vast array of what is normal in birth, because often a mother experiences something unexpected, which scares her and physically increases her pain. We also stress the importance of experienced labor support. If you ask almost anyone who had a natural childbirth how they coped with the "pain," you will get responses like these:
"I didn't know it was supposed to hurt."
"It was painful, but not that excruciating-I-can't-deal-with-it-pain. It was a pain that I could handle and I just had to learn to work with it. I never once felt like I needed medication."
"I wouldn't describe it as ‘pain' but more of a sensation that I had to focus on really hard."
"My doula was great, she helped me stay focused and really took care of my husband as well, while also communicating with the medical team to help stick with our birth plan."
"It's not like pain when you break your arm or scrape your knee; childbirth is completely different - it's usually gradual to allow you to handle a little more each time."
"I had realistic expectations and understood the birth process, so I didn't get overwhelmed."
With countless research to back, women who cope well use more than a "method" during childbirth. They know that relaxation is vital to the process and know to relax as much as they can in early labor, and between contractions when they increase in strength. They get into a rhythm with each contraction and find their own rituals (which may change), spontaneously, as they continue through labor. They know that deep noises open up their cervix and help them to stay calm. Labor often takes women into an altered state of mind, especially when they are allowed to move and eat freely and cope with their labor in the ways that make them feel safe and secure. Being confined to machines and a hospital bed does not work well with a natural labor. And to top it off, because natural and unmedicalized childbirth is so seemingly taboo in America, we do not have the education and perception of childbirth that you see in most other cultures, which is why childbirth education classes are so important.
We need to understand how labor and birth work to become confident in our mind's and body's ability to have a natural birth, and to know the realm of expectation during labor. With education comes confidence, and with confidence comes a change of perception. When we start to learn that childbirth is normal, healthy, and know the techniques that have worked for so many people, we have already eliminated over half the reason for pain in childbirth. Your mind is a powerful tool and there are many ways to use this tool effectively to allow a pleasant childbirth experience.