Some things just go together. Peanut butter and jelly. Chips and salsa. Diet and exercise. Benny and Joon. Chocolate and anything. Pain and suffering. Pain and suffering? Hold up. I’m here to contest that one. Many birth stories are all about pain. Well really, the fear of pain. When you’re pregnant, all anyone wants to talk about is the worst birth they’ve ever heard about. And usually the story is all about the pain. Yes, labor is painful. I won’t try to pretend it isn’t. But when we talk about the pain of labor, we’re usually talking about the suffering. Those words aren’t as interchangeable as that hotline lawyer on TV would have you believe. Let's consider how the perspective changes when we separate pain from suffering.
Before I had my second son, an early delivery was predicted by an experienced caregiver. Sure enough, on the day she predicted labor would start, I started showing signs of being very close. I had no appetite and started throwing up. I became an emotional basket case. I couldn’t produce a cohesive thought. I was having some contractions, but they weren’t progressing. The doula in me said “yippee! I’m close.” But it didn’t happen that night. Or the next night. Or for weeks after. I became mired in what’s called “prodromal labor.” Prodromal labor is when a woman’s body starts having regular contractions as if she’s going into labor, but they don’t progress. Like turning the ignition of your car and it makes noise trying to start, but won’t turn over. Now imagine carrying that car around your waist as well. Sometimes called “false labor,” prodromal labor usually only lasts a few hours or days, but mine lasted three weeks.
I wasn’t in pain. I was having regular contractions almost every day, but they weren’t painful. But after a week and a half, I began suffering. The Germans have a special word for the challenges of waiting for a baby. Zwischen. This was zwischen plus. I kept trying to jinx myself into labor by making play dates, chiropractor appointments, and scheduling work meetings. (It didn’t work.) I had to make back up plans anytime I stepped outside in case my labor turned the corner. I had to stay very close to my house-especially if I had my son with me. I sent many texts to my doula and music therapist saying “Having ctx today! I think I’m close.” After the third or fourth time of admitting it stopped a few hours later, I just quit sending the texts. Anytime I missed a text or my husband didn’t answer, I’d freak out that our phones weren’t working and I’d be alone when I went into labor. I literally couldn’t eat anything, go anywhere, talk to anyone, sleep, exercise, shower, work, play with my son, or sit down without thinking of how it would affect my chances of going into labor.
I worried a lot. Why wasn’t my body doing what it should be doing? Was there something I was missing emotionally, physically, or mentally? I was trying desperately to get it rolling on its own. When my water broke, I was so relieved. It wasn’t the way I wanted to start, but at least it was a definite start. When labor didn’t begin on it’s own, fear crept back in. Was I going to have to start considering labor inducing interventions? Reluctantly, we went to the hospital to check on the broken waters. The result: no broken waters. WTH! Part of me was glad to get a second chance to avoid induction, part of me was heart broken. What was it going to take?!
In the 24 hours before I finally went into labor, I added a half dozen things to my already intense labor inducing routine. At the suggestion of a caregiver, I began taking a new supplement and herbs. I began using a couple meditations from Dream Birth. I began journaling. I used as many exercises as I could find from Spinning Babies. I began sitting on my yoga block or other hard surfaces that put my knees lower than my hips. I went to a yoga class with my son and did yoga two more times at home. Everything about every day was about getting labor started in earnest.
Something finally unstuck. I ended up having a fast and dramatic 2-hour, 20 minute labor. There was torrential rain and tornado sirens. Babysitters who almost took a little too much time to come. My bag of waters broke with a pop. I swayed. I moaned. I yelled. I felt pain. I did not suffer. I refused the medications. I did not suffer. Thirty minutes after arriving at the hospital, my son was born. I did not suffer.
That was an awesome experience. One that solidified a concept I had learned in doula training-pain and suffering are not always linked. Sometimes they are paired, but each stands alone as a separate experience for laboring mothers.