I’ve been thinking about physical pain a lot lately. It may have something to do with the sensation of hauling around an extra 25 pounds (some of which wriggles on its own accord), and the extra stress that it puts on my back, my neck, and my butt (sciatica, anyone?). But mostly I’ve been thinking about it because in about 10 weeks I will be giving birth. I always assumed I would be flat-out terrified at this point. I pictured pregnancy as a train whose breaks have gone out just as it makes it over the top of a hill–think bareling, steam filled, shrieking panic to the valley below. But it doesn’t feel that way at all. In fact, I feel calm.
David and I have been attending hypnobirthing classes during the month of December and I’ve gotten all sorts of new looks at childbirth. I’ve watched several filmed births that involve no screaming, swearing, or (magically) epidurals, and I’ve wondered, could that work for me?
I’m not of the opinion that epidurals are evil. In fact I feel modestly annoyed when “natural birth” is toted as a girl scout merit badge to be won only by the truly womanly. When women feel strongly about giving birth without pain medication–and give birth–I think it’s incredible. When women opt for epidurals–and give birth–I think it’s incredible. Bottom line, the goal is a healthy baby who is no longer fist pumping your ribs, and there are many ways to achieve that.
As part of my hypnobirthing training, I have spent the past few weeks practicing relaxation and listening to positive affirmations in the soothing voice of Marie Mongan (we just refer to her as “Marie” around here). It’s pretty great. It has really made me think about how my paradigms affect other experiences in my life, and I’m pretty darn curious about how hypnobirthing will play out on D-day. My main goal is to have a calm, peaceful birth, regardless of whether or not I opt for an epidural. No, that’s not true. My main goal is to get Baby Sam here safely. And if I can do that without panic, so much the better.
For the past few years I have considered myself a person with low pain tolerance. This doesn’t necessarily add up with my previous life experiences. I’ve never been bugged by things like shots or getting blood drawn, and as a teenager I would dance until my feet literally bled through my canvas toe shoes. But when I was 21 I had and experience that changed my perception of pain. I was in Mexico and while walking in the ocean I stepped on a piece of glass. It slid right into the bottom of my foot and for a few seconds I felt nothing but the slicing sensation. Then the pain seeped in. Pulsed in. Crashed in?
Anyway, it was horrible. I walked through the sand and salt for what felt like a half hour and basically cried and screamed as a few unbelievably unhelpful Mexican lifeguards assured me I was completely fine, and an American nurse (who just happened to be lounging on the beach near me with a kit that included equipment for impromptu stitches) bandaged me up. I was basically hysterical for about 3 hours–it hurt so badly.
When I finally stopped crying and fell asleep I was positive that I had just proven myself to be the biggest baby in the world. Yes, I’d cut my foot. But crying for 3 hours? Geez.
So for years, I’ve looked back at that experience as proof that I simply cannot tolerate pain. Then this year on Thanksgiving a new family friend told me about the time he stepped on a stingray in the ocean. He talked about how badly it burned and what an incredible amount of pain he was in. I joined in with my story of stepping on the glass. And then he asked me, “Did you see the glass?”
“Then how do you know it was glass?”
In fact, our description of how the pain felt was remarkably similar–down to the several hours of horrible pain following the accident. And suddenly I realized. I don’t have a low pain tolerance. I just had a really painful experience.
It was strange how completely that one realization has changed the way I see myself handling pain and, subsequently, birth. It was like that weird moment on The Parent Trap when the twins realize they are more than just arch-rivals. (Okay, it was nothing like that.) And now I’m wondering, what other false premises am I working under? Yes, this is a bit heavy for 2 days after Christmas, but so is this baby who woke me up at 4:30 this morning…