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Birth and the Purpose of Pain

Comedianne Sarah Silverman pretending to give birth

I have heard all the stories and I know you have heard them too. “I never could have done it without the epidural.” “My hips are too small.” “My baby was too big.” “I would have never gone into labor without the pitocin.” Have you ever considered that this is nonsense? You actually can give birth naturally, by your own initiation and you can give birth to 8 pound babies and larger! No kidding, you can do it!

We are surrounded by a tremendous culture of fear when it comes to childbirth. That fear is perpetuated by our friends, our families, our care providers and by ourselves. Have you ever stepped back and noticed how fear takes hold in our minds and in groups? It happens quickly and quietly until all of the sudden there is an all out panic at the thought of experiencing pain, or the thought of our bodies stretching. Some people will even go so far as to use death as an excuse not to experience the joy of giving birth! It is crazy.

What if we actually stopped the panic, quieted our minds and considered giving birth naturally, on our own, by our own choice? What if we actually considered that giving birth naturally could be filled with joy and pleasure? What if we actually decided to trust our bodies and their innate wisdom? What if? Pain with a purpose Most people in our culture do everything to avoid feeling pain. The pain of childbirth actually has a purpose and is an important part of giving birth. The experience of pain releases important hormones within the body that actually protect both the mother and the baby. The hormone oxytocin, which is the main stimulant of labor, is actually the hormone of love and bonding. The hormone adrenaline peaks just before the baby is born so that the mother is fully alert when the baby is born. Endorphins and opiates are released into the body during childbirth by the mom and the baby to both decrease the sensation of pain and to increase the state of dependency necessary for the baby’s survival. If a woman has an epidural to alleviate her own sensation of pain, it actually increases the baby’s experience of pain. The epidural blocks the release of these important hormones, which circulate through the baby as well as the mom.

Likewise, during labor the part of the brain that produces all of these hormones is the primal part of the brain, the part of the brain that exists in all mammals. Because we are human, we spend a good portion of our time in the neo-cortex, which is the thinking part of the brain. The work of labor is about moving from the neo-cortex to the primal part of the brain. The reason why childbirth is often seen as such a struggle is because so many people don’t understand how to facilitate this action. The things that interfere with this action are induction, epidurals, lights, talking, sounds, lack of privacy and fear.

When a woman is allowed to go into labor on her own, allowed to follow her own body’s natural rhythms, given the privacy and space to let labor unfold, not asked questions or be attached to any type of machine that makes a noise, and supported and nurtured in the process, the amount of pain is already reduced by a large amount and any pain that she experiences is taken care of by the important hormone cocktail.

Many of my moms comment on how tired they are in transition and many of them actually fall asleep at this point. Endorphins are to thank for that. Many of my moms have renewed energy when they begin pushing their babies out. Adrenaline here is the key. Many of my moms are so grateful after they give birth that they thank me profusely even though they did all the work. We are blessed by oxytocin for that feeling of love and gratitude. These hormones are essential to our ability to love, nurture, bond with not only our babies, but our partners, our friends, and our families. These hormones are the peacekeepers and the love makers of humanity.

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