Thursday, August 30, 2012

Labor and Pain

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It seems as though labor has been one of the primary topics among my pregnant peers during this last stretch of pregnancy. Whether it's coping techniques or what to expect from the different phases of labor, it seems that we're all trying to get our heads around this big event that's about to rock our worlds.

But I have to confess something. I am so excited for labor. There is no explanation other than God's grace as to why I'm not scared, but I'm not...I'm really not. Like I said, I'm actually pumped for it. And, frankly, it's about time I'm not a big ball of nerves about something. You see, I can't help but trust that this is what my body is meant to do. God designed me to be a mother mentally and physically. I feel strong in my identity as a woman right now.

What I'm actually fearful about is not having a true labor, or labor not ending in a natural birth. At birth class last week we were asked to tell the group what our biggest concerns were. Many of us agreed that having a c-section would be a big challenge and pretty devastating, but I was the only one that said I would be let down if I didn't get to have a good "normal" labor. In fact, everyone chuckled when I mentioned this. "I'm serious!" I explained, "I've put so much energy into preparing myself, I want to experience everything I've been learning about." I want to experience what God designed my body to do is what I was also thinking.

A few weeks back in class we learned a really helpful acronym for labor P.A.I.N. Labor pains are Purposeful. The pain is not happening because my body is in distress, it's happening because I'm birthing a baby and that takes effort from my body. Labor pains are Anticipated. We know what's coming and generally when it will happen. There is a pattern to the pain (or rushes as Ina May likes to call them). Labor pains are Intermittent. They aren't constant and I will get a break in between periods of pain. In fact, for the duration of labor, I can expect to be in pain only about 30% of the time when you factor in the rest time between contractions. And labor pains are Normal. The pain that I will feel isn't bad pain. It will be hard for my mind to think that the pain is good, but there is nothing bad about this pain and I can keep reminding myself of this.

I have to say though that reading Ina May's Guide to Childbirth was the most influential factor in normalizing childbirth for me. I mentioned above that she doesn't even use the word pain or contractions. To her they are rushes, like a big ocean wave surging in and out. She talks about how in her community young girls grow up seeing women give birth and hearing positive stories about the experience. They don't avoid discussing how it can be painful, but to them it's very normal pain, just like the PAIN acronym describes.

Another factor that Ina May says is integral to her community's view of childbirth is the strong support network every woman has around her. Whether it's the midwives themselves or the community of women who have experienced birth and are eager to help, the laboring mom isn't left alone. To me, this is why we hired a doula. Even if this birth does end up with a c-section, our doula, Matilda, will be there to give us both emotional support. Matilda has an incredible birth story herself that involves days of laboring, eventual interventions, and in the end, a c-section. I know she will be an important part of the labor and birth, no matter what happens.

Going into labor, I am also trying to prepare myself for what to expect in terms of the medical view of labor. While I will be under the care of a midwife, we are still in a hospital and will have to abide by the hospital policies and practices. For example, there is a mostly unspoken time limit on labor at our hospital—18 hours. If my cervix isn't making any progress for a long period of time, induction will be talked about. In many ways I understand this, but I also wonder just how long they will let my labor go without any signs of progression. I was recently reading about the Natural Alignment Plateau theory and really believe that my body knows what to do. Here is an excerpt from the post:
"Something that ALL women walking in the door for their births need to know, is that the ‘numbers of progression’ are simply a guessing game. Your body knows best when it comes to laboring. Understanding that our bodies do what they do for a reason, and interfering with our body due to misguided education, or understanding, can actually take what was meant to be an amazing and life giving experience and turn it into a spiral of intervention that leaves you feeling disappointed." 
I tried mentioning this during our appointment with the midwives this week, but was met with a bit of push back and the conversation didn't go very far.

In the end, I could have a precipitous (fast) labor, have a first or second stage induction, everything could end in a c-section, or I could labor for days on end, but I know that however labor happens my Father will be with me. Despite my countless hours of reading books and going to birth classes, it's ultimately out of my control and I am okay with this. It's easy for me to get wrapped up in this experience being all about me and my hopes, but it's also about my husband and my sweet baby. Simply put, it's about bringing this little girl into the world to grow up and hopefully love the Lord. This is the beginning of her life, not the pinnacle of mine. To me, it needs to be just a day—although a very, very special one.

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