Considering Home Birth ~ Part 4: Labor Pain

What about the pain?

Whether you’re expecting your first baby or your fourth, it’s normal to be worried about labor pain. I recall being about seven months pregnant with my first baby when I looked down at my belly and thought, “this is really going to come out of me somehow?” It wasn’t full-on panic, but I was definitely worried.

Our normal individual worry during pregnancy is only made bigger by our cultural fear of birth. We commonly hear people say that birth is the most painful thing that a body can experience.

Is it really, though?

I have a chronic low-back issue that is expected to worsen as I age. It can sometimes be excruciating. I had a flare-up a few years ago, and it was one of the most severe I’ve experienced yet. I cried just thinking of moving. Changing from sitting to standing or from standing to sitting felt like climbing Mt Everest. Bending over to pick up a dropped item from the floor was impossible for me. The pain was nearly constant, with no promise of an end. I was not getting a sweet cuddly baby for my trouble. This experience was decidedly worse than giving birth.

Descriptions of other injuries make me question our notion that birth is the worst pain of all. My normally mild-mannered brother-in-law was not at all mild-mannered when his shoulder dislocated. The relocation procedure was probably a ten, maybe eleven, on the ubiquitous pain scale, given the colorful language that ensued during the event.

Medical and dental complications can be incredibly painful, with no guarantee that the pain will be temporary. The only reward, in the end, is going back to normal. A good imagination and a varied reading list could lead any thoughtful person to see that the human body can and regularly does experience much more painful events than a normal birth.

Is pain necessarily a bad thing?

If a friend told you that she is training for a marathon, you would hopefully respond with words of encouragement and praise. She will probably experience pain pushing herself to run farther than she’s gone before. She may be injured during training or the event, and she will probably be pretty tired after the race. The fact that she may experience some pain and discomfort would not be a reason to try to dissuade her from her desire to take on a big challenge.

Pain in our bodies is a message:

  • Take your hand out of the fire!
  • Get your shoulder back in its socket!
  • Your teeth need some expert care!
  • Good for you for exercising some unused muscles!
  • Take it easy so your muscles don’t get injured!

In pregnancy, our bodies give us feedback all the time. Round ligament spasms remind us to take our supplements and to stretch. Low back pain tells us to be careful about how we lift heavy things. Headaches can be our bodies saying we need water, food, or sleep.

In labor, too, bodies speak and instincts listen. Contractions may make a woman get on her hands and knees and sway, which helps the body open and the baby descend. The sensations of birth help a woman assess how far along she is in the process. Sometimes her pain can signal that something is wrong that needs medical attention.

Birth without pain medication is a reasonable goal

There is much information about the “right” way to be pregnant and give birth. The truth of the matter is that on the scale of “Painless Orgasmic Birth” to “Birth Is The Worst Pain Imaginable,” most women’s experiences are somewhere solidly between the two extremes. (I support Debra Pascali-Bonaro’s work, appreciate her joyful spirit, and think she has a lot of good things to say). Planning for a pain medication-free birth is reasonable, and I support clients to birth without medications. It is also reasonable in many situations to have a medicated birth, and no one should be judged for choosing this path. An un-medicated birth is more likely achieved with some preparation ahead of time.

Childbirth classes

Taking a childbirth class, focused on natural birth is a great asset to a family expecting their first baby. It’s great to be in a group with other expectant parents. Others ask questions you might not have. You begin to begin to cultivate a like-minded community and a group of potential friends for your children. If you can’t find a local childbirth class, then read all that you can. Include your partner in the education process, so that you can both be on the same page. I still really like The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin. If your partner is only willing to read one book, make it this one.

Labor support

A doula is a support person who is hired separately from your midwife to provide information, physical and emotional support during birth. There is good evidence supporting the work of doulas, especially if your goal is to have an un-medicated birth with few interventions. It is an additional expense, but I’ve not known a person to regret having this helpful and knowledgeable person at their birth.

There are many certifying organizations; take a look and see if any fits your personal philosophy and then see if there is a doula certified in that method in your local area. (Please note: the links provided are not an exhaustive list, only a starting place. I am not affiliated in any way with any of the linked organizations, and this is not necessarily an endorsement of their programs.)

Know your own goals, values, and personal challenges

Home birth is not for everyone. Take a personal inventory to help you to decide if this is the right choice for you. How do you experience pain and sickness? Childbirth isn’t an illness, and it may not be the worst pain you can imagine, but you will likely experience some pain. Even women who say they birthed easily, also say that they felt pain.

Do you have a good support system? Will you be able to relax in your home? Have you experienced past trauma, sexual assault, or abuse that may make pregnancy and childbirth additionally challenging? These are all great topics to take up with your care provider, your partner, and any other support person you will have with you for the birth.

A great place to start looking for local resources for doulas and childbirth educators is Care Network Wisconsin.

Keeping yourself healthy and low-risk

Pregnancy is a good time to develop life-long habits that are good for your health. I will not expound on that topic here; suffice it to say that nourishing yourself and your baby with good food, plenty of water, fresh air, relaxation, gratitude, and play can go a long way to experiencing your birth positively.

Labor and birth are an unknown, for every woman, every time. It is not a process that is easily controlled. In attempting to control it, we may alter it and create additional problems. While a medicalized birth may be right for you for many reasons, it is also worth considering embracing the untamed delight that can be home birth.

Find Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of the Considering Home Birth series to learn more about common concerns.
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