Saturday, October 06, 2012

What Labor Is

For me, my greatest fear in life was childbirth.

I was terrified of it.  In fact, my fear of the pains of childbirth clouded much of the joy I should have experienced during pregnancy.  My constant thought was, "Being pregnant is fun, but this baby has to come out of me somehow!"

But now, having lived through a natural, vaginal childbirth, I am ready to celebrate!  And I am equally eager to empower and educate women, assuring them that they need not be so afraid, as I was!

Our culture makes women afraid of their own bodies.   We see in movies and television shows women who are screaming their heads off in pain, cursing at their husbands, and demanding from the doctors any and all medication possible to make it go away.  In an instance like this, the use of drugs to dull the experience seems very, very appealing.

But I don't believe childbirth is like that at all.  Obviously, each of us women are limited to our own experiences, though.  As much as we might empathize, we cannot feel each other's labors.  And so, all I can ever share with you, dear reader, is my own experience.  You must forgive me, please, if my representation of it is vastly different than your own.

But I don't think it will be.  Because, being a woman myself, I do know some secrets about our anatomy.  When we women are afraid or stressed, our muscles tense and the feelings of pain by those muscles is certain.  When we are not afraid, our muscles relax and pain is absolutely absent.

Notice how this is an extreme, "all or nothing" dichotomy.  In fact, in the case of the love between a husband and wife, those very same muscles that could experience great pain instead feel not just the absence of pain but the very presence of pleasure!  This is why rape is excruciatingly painful yet acts of love are exceedingly pleasurable.  It's a dichotomy connected entirely to the mind and what the woman understands as her experience.

The same holds true for us ladies during labor, I believe.  Thus, it is so important to help a woman get into a comfortable, trusting, and loving place of mind as she prepares to trust her body and lovingly welcome her child.

And so, I would like to attempt to share with you, dear reader, what childbirth feels like.

First, let's talk about what childbirth is not.  Childbirth is NOT pain.  Childbirth is NOT work.

Rather, childbirth is an act of endurance.  The laboring woman is called to peacefully endure that which her body will do automatically.

The first part of childbirth is quite easy to endure because most women are oblivious to what their body is doing.  The body will begin contractions but they are so slight that a woman will often have no idea.  :)

The second part of childbirth, that which will last the longest, feels like menstrual cramps.  In fact, 95% of a woman's contractions are nothing more than that.  They are waves of intense menstrual cramps, the same kind that you got as a young teenager, which made you wish you could skip middle school that day and sleep in.  And it's the kind that you would still get, if you weren't on birth control pills or didn't take Midol.

And yet, we women know that those crampy menstrual feelings, as unsavory as they are, can and have been endured by us.  In fact, we can even push our minds past them entirely, if we're focused on getting to work and doing what needs to be done in life.  For me, menstrual cramps were magnified only when I didn't have something else to distract me from them.  For example, if I were experiencing them during 2nd period pre-algebra class, I might hardly feel them because I was so distracted by teaching.  Yet, as soon as I'm home on the couch, then I can acutely feel those menstrual cramps!

The only difference between menstrual cramps and the majority of labor contractions is that the feeling is not continuous; rather, those crampy feelings last only a few seconds or minutes before a period of resting time begins that lasts 2 to 5 minutes.  And, during those guaranteed periods of rest (which God has built into the entire childbirth experience, up to and including the very end) you feel so normal that you might as well be sitting at home on the couch watching TV.  The contrast is amazing (and certainly welcome).

The third type of contraction is the most intense but these last the shortest and you get very few of them compared to the others.  These happen in the phase called Transition.  When I got my first one, I was scared only because I did not know what to expect.  But, after that first one, I was no longer afraid because I recognized the feeling.

This type of contraction feels like throwing up in reverse.  Just as throwing up involves strong, involuntary muscle spasms, these contractions will strongly push your baby down into the birth canal.  Again, no "work" or "effort" is needed on the part of the mother.  She merely has to relax and endure.

At the conclusion of these type of contractions, the cervix will be so open that a woman has finally arrived at what will be the most joyful and cooperative part of her labor.  Up until this point, her body has done all the work of labor involuntarily.  Now she is given an opportunity to cooperate with her body to bring out that beautiful baby!

The last type of contraction is really no different than the waves of intense menstrual cramps that I spoke of before.  The only difference is that now a woman can mitigate those feelings by doing something which alleviates them and thus brings relief: she can now push!  Yes, pushing is a very satisfying feeling that brings relief.

A woman pushes at the same time that a contraction wave comes upon her.  She pushes with the exact same muscle that she'd use to for a bowel movement, for--at this time--the baby is in the birth canal and located so close to the anus that the strength of that muscle is quite capable of working that baby out.

Perhaps I should concede and say that pushing is a voluntary type of work.  It does require participation of the women, but remember -- God has built into the process guaranteed periods of rest every 2 to 5 minutes.  And since this phase is voluntary, a woman can push only as often and as hard as she wants to.  I dare say that she could probably even skip an opportunity to push if she felt like resting longer. 

But when your midwife or obstetrician or husband is excitedly telling you that they can see the head (and when you begin to realize yourself that indeed YOU can feel that head coming out), then you will have no problem pushing with a strength that comes from sheer excitement, for you are almost done and baby is almost here!