Where to begin? I’ll start with a summary of my perspective (which I think could really help you out if you’re concerned about labour), then I’ll delve into it from a couple of angles…
Period pains are worse than labour.
More accurately, period pains are worse than the pain of surges (that’s contractions, if you’re new round here). Here’s 3 reasons why…
- Duration. I dunno about you, obvs, but my period pains begin the day before it arrives. They begin as a low level rumble, building up for the main event. On day 1, they can be overwhelming. I almost always pop a couple of paracetamol (paratroopers as they are affectionately known in my fam). And they are there ALL. THE. TIME. They start to ease off after about 24 hours on a good cycle. In labour, even if it goes on for 24 hours, most of the time you’re not having surges. During that time, you might be entirely pain free (this was true for me for lots of both my labours). Even if surges are really challenging, between them there is rest and recovery. Not so with the period pain.
- Purpose. I mean, yes, periods have a purpose, but it ain’t so profound as moving the human you grew out of your body. There’s massive benefit to keeping our eyes on the prize when our bodies are up against it- think about how anyone running a marathon may struggle, but find capacity to cope. Would they find the same resilience if it was an unmeasured, untimed, unrecorded solo run round where they live that no one would know about? Doubt it. Context is important.
- Focus. When you’re in labour, no one expects you to be doing anything else. It’s unique in that sense- the rest of life is on pause, and you’re able to employ any and all coping tools available to you. We teach couples 3 breathing techniques, massage styles, movement tactics, optimal postures for comfort, environmental cues for pain reliving hormone activation etc. When you have your period, life just goes on and you’ve gotta function as a mother, an employee, a business owner, wife, friend, whatever. You’re not helping yourself in the way you can in labour.
Hang on. I’m a hypnobirthing teacher, and I’ve used the P word (pain, I mean, not period- that’s not as taboo) loads of times. What’s the crack here? Aren’t we meant to avoid speaking about it? Yes. And no.
I do firmly believe that we should avoid talking about pain whilst IN labour- I don’t think there is any benefit to framing our experience of the surges with the p word. Instead, I suggest to our clients they think of the intensity of the sensations or the strength of the surges- more neutral, less scary, agreed?
But in the run up, I am honest with the women I work with- I don’t believe that all women can eliminate pain in labour. Yes- we can all reduce it SIGNIFICANTLY. I mean, SO MUCH that if we all understood this, our birth culture would be transformed within a generation. But eliminate? I don’t think so.
The pain we equip women to wave off is the created pain- that which exists as a result of fear and tension, suboptimal postures and crappy environments (in terms of all the senses, the people in it, etc). That’s a HUGE chunk.
But what’s left? The fact that you’re getting that human you made out of your body. “BUT YOU WERE MADE FOR IT!!”, cry the purists! Yep. But you weren’t made to sit down slouched for most of your waking life, to consume the type of food that’s available to us, to be so poorly hydrated, to be exposed to so many other unnatural substances.
We can’t be living thoroughly modern lifestyles for decades, then turn up for birth like, “BUT I’M AN ANIMAL!” and expect pain free. Periods can be painful. (Interestingly my crunchy friends who don’t use conventional sanitary products report less pain). Sex can be painful (notice that fine line there though between pleasure and pain). Exercise can be painful (same again).
I’m not going back on my advice to avoid the P word in labour. I’m not scaremongering you about the discomfort levels. I’m saying we should think about this absolutely logically and intelligently- not just choose the parts of the picture that suit us. Because if you expect hypnobirthing techniques to give you the same absolute relief as an epidural, and that’s not what you get- then what? You begin to feel confused, concerned, to blame yourself even- for not doing it right or trying harder. Ugh.
Our number one assertion is that ANYONE WHO IS GIVING BIRTH SHOULD ONLY KNOW HER POWER. No matter how it goes, you should be genuinely perplexed as to why no one is queuing up to kiss your feet, not second guessing your own worthiness because you didn’t live up to some unicorn-esque expectation.
Even if there is (probably some) residual pain, if you are prepared, you can perceive it in an entirely different way than you imagine. You can learn to own the sensations rather than them owning you- to be inspired and encouraged by your own capacity and strength, and to welcome what you feel.
When I think back to when Rory was born what I remember is certainly my power. I know, intellectually, that there was pain, but it was a tiny part of a much bigger, and very profound experience. I never once considered asking for the gas and air- not because I’d set myself any kind of challenge to do it without drugs, but because I’d cultivated a perspective where I didn’t want to eliminate the sensations- there were other ways to handle them.
Saying that, there are all sorts of reasons why you might opt for other forms of pain relief, and we support that, without judgement (because who the F are we to judge anyone for anything?). All we care about is informed choice.
To be frank, if I could get a 24 hour epidural on day 1 each month, without having to consider the impact on a labour or a baby, I’d probs go for it. Someone make that a thing.