A constant pain in my head for the last day has made me reflect on pain – it’s really not pleasant and I wish it would stop now. I don’t know what it causing it and it will start to wear me down but, for now, I am being positive that it is a migraine or a sinus issue rather than a brain tumour or a stroke.
As an antenatal teacher, I talk about pain a lot – I get asked questions about pain and contractions. And knowledge and acceptance is crucial for labour pains – we need strong, powerful contractions. Labour is about endurance, the muscles of your uterus are working hard. Understanding why contractions hurt, how you can work with them and what might make them more painful really helps but everyone’s experience of labour is so individual and pain is so subjective – it can be can be so fast, it takes your breath away or it can plod on for hours and hours, never seeming like the end will come. And as such your need for support and pain relief is unique to you.
Something I hear a lot about in pregnancy is pain threshold. Women can often say, I have a low pain threshold so I expect I will need pain relief. Yes, let’s look at pain relief and how to make it work for you but don’t doubt yourself just because you reach for the paracetamol when you have a headache. With ‘normal’ pain like headaches, toothache and backache we know that the pain is a symptom of something not being quite right and we want relief from it. I reckon that is fair enough. And, while I am using my breathing to stay calm with this damn head pain I currently have, I am also taking pain medication. I don’t like pain or discomfort and I often want it gone so I can crack on with my day but I have still laboured three times with very little pain relief and birthed three times with none because the gas and air didn’t help me with my pushing.
I’m certainly not after a medal for this and I’m not saying that every woman can and should be able to do this but I do think perspective and a bit of positivity about working with contractions can be powerful.
Labour can demand that you accept it, go with it and be immersed in the powerful pain of contractions rather than wanting it to go away. So it can help if you think about pain differently – working with it and being guided by it. For this you need good prep and support, to help keep this mindset going and so you don’t feel vulnerable and scared.
I often compare labour with a long hike up a hill and you have never done it before – it is going to hurt, it is going to demand much of you, you won’t always feel in control and you don’t know how long it will take. There will be times when you are in your stride but there will be other times when you need the support of others, and when you feel safe because you are not alone. Good preparation is key but what you need on the day will be unique to you.