It’s OK Not to be Psyched About Pain in Childbirth

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Me with AnaBella, a few minutes after birth. See, I look like I forgot all about the pain, right?

Can I start by saying, of course I am eager to hold and hug and nurse and love my baby? We all are. But I don’t want to minimize the other, not-so-eager feelings that some women (myself included) have regarding childbirth. Not everyone falls into this camp, but for those who do, come join my club.

My EDD is 6 days away, and I’ve been eating 6 dates  a day for 4 weeks now, my supplies are all in place, and I’ve had more Red Raspberry Leaf Tea infusions to make me want to never want to drink a hot liquid again. I’ve done pelvic tilts by the 100s, my baby is in the “right” position, and I have a pretty rad birth tub ready to be set up in my bedroom. I’ve done this birth thing before.

Yet I’m nervous. Or reluctant. I can’t quite figure out the emotion, but it’s not the same blind excitement, the same “I’ve-got-this-in-the-bag!” I had the first time around. There’s something in me that knows. Knows the pain, the intensity, and isn’t looking forward to it.Yeah, there are women who have orgasms, and super fast, super fantastic childbirth experiences, where they purr, and just gush about how amazing/wonderful/crazy awesome childbirth is. (If that’s you, congrats. Tell me your secret in the comments.) I wasn’t one of them.

Most women aren’t.

For the vast majority of us, there is some degree of pain involved in childbirth. Given the fact that epidural usage estimates are 80-90%, it’s pretty safe to surmise that most of us aren’t eager to experience the intensity of childbirth. Maybe we feel unprepared, not confident, exhausted, or just can’t understand why someone doesn’t want to take away the pain. STAT. It’s hard for many around me to understand why I don’t want to just head the hospital, pop in an epidural, and watch a movie while my body goes through labor.

This isn’t a post about why I don’t want an epidural. I don’t take tylenol (though, to be fair, I can’t envision a time in the last few years where I’ve actually needed to), because I prefer to keep what goes into my body as clean as possible. So, an epidural doesn’t seem like a great fit for me. If you’re interested in learning a bit more about epidurals, you can head here. Instead, I want to just encourage you, in a weird sort of way.

My first birth was pretty “average.” I went to a hospital. I was in labor for 17 hours. No induction, no epidural. I walked around, went in the tub, had massage–that part of it was pretty decent. But it hurt. A lot. I hated it.

This might be news to some people. There seems to be a generalization that if you’re having an unmedicated birth, especially a home birth, you’re some kind of birthing bravado. Like you’re fearless, confident, or have a really big pelvis. Nah. Not me. I’m having a home birth this time around because I love the care of my midwives, because most births (and pain) are normal and natural, and don’t need to be treated like emergencies, and honestly, I just didn’t want to fight anyone this time. I can keep my baby with me in my bed, don’t have to explain my decisions to a dozen people–an hour–and will be in the comfort of my space, away from the sterile, and yet not-so-sterile, hospital environment.

All that said, though I’m hoping for a glorious, pain-free birth, I’m expecting and preparing for some pain. I’m breaking the rules of the natural childbirth community by saying that, I know. For those who want a natural birth, it’s all over the place – don’t listen to negative talk about birth. Fill your head with positive images of birth, don’t watch A Baby Story, don’t use the word contraction–call it a “surge,” read Ina May, take hypno-birthing–it’s FEAR that allows pain in, they say. And those are valid points, and I do whole-heartedly encourage you to look into ways to manage your pain, learn skills that will help in childbirth, don’t watch silly Hollywood depictions of birth, and rest, rest, rest in the weeks before your birth.

For many women, it’s really hard to bridge the gap of what could have been possible, and what actually happened. Yes, you *could* have had a pain-free, unmedicated labor. But what if you didn’t? Does that mean you didn’t “do it right,” or practice enough or visualize enough? How can we have a conversation about the reality of pain in most women’s birthing experiences, and yet still remain positive and encourage each other to press on and feel empowered, regardless of what is happening in your body?

I’m still mulling over that question, but in the end, if you are one of the women that experiences pain during labor, know you’re in good company. You didn’t fail. I give you permission to loathe your labor. Maybe you won’t, but if you do or if you did, it’s OK. Now you have a precious, precious baby.

And you’ll never have to deliver that baby again.

Megan McGrory Massaro is a mother, freelance writer, and author. She wrote The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year  to empower women to make the best choices for their families.