Saturday, October 8, 2011

It Hurt. I Screamed. I'm Still Legit.

Walking while in labor. Pre-screaming.
Ok, I might piss some people off with this. There is something in the natural birth community that annoys the heck out of me sometimes. I need to vent a little.

It's pain and the attitude towards it.

You see, in the natural birth world, there are many who believe that a natural birth should not be painful. It shouldn't hurt. You should only feel an intensity that is almost a relief. Something you work with. Furthermore, everything should be gentle. You should birth your baby in near silence with a serene smile on your face. Bonus points for popping an orgasm while you're at it. Pain and/or screaming is a sign that the woman is not prepared for her birth and that she is afraid. It's a sign that she has let fear take over the labor. Screaming will make the pain worse. Screaming will scare your baby and scare that precious child for life.

I call bullshit.

Now, I am not knocking how anyone else gives birth. Please know that this is not an attack on anyone who was smiling serenely or having an orgasm. I completely support a woman's right to educate herself and empower herself to have the birth of her dreams. I'm totally behind those who want to use hypnosis, orgasmic births or other techniques to help them through the process of labor and birth. What I'm knocking is the holier-than-thou attitude that can be seen in many discussions of pain in labor and birth. This idea that if you're feeling pain then you're doing it wrong.

I'm serious - those words have been typed out by some of my fellow hippie, loving, gentle natural birth comrades. You are doing it wrong if it hurts. You are too afraid. You don't know how to give into the intense sensations of labor and let your body take over. It's only painful because you are calling it, "pain." It's only painful if you don't know how to cope and if you let it "get to you." It's painful because you are not educated enough and you don't know what to expect. If you don't imagine that your vagina is a beautiful lotus flower slowly unfolding, petal by petal, then it's going to hurt. The worst I've seen is some women telling other women that normal births are not painful.

It makes me want to bang my head on my desk when I read these things - but, that would hurt. It's true that your emotional state plays a part in your labor. It is most certainly true that fear can hinder labor. And I definitely advocate for women to be educated about the birth process, partly to eliminate that fear. But having pain and even experiencing fear do not equal failure. It's not an all or nothing scenario. Birth is not black and white.

I gave birth three times. Twice to live, full term babies and once during my miscarriage @ 12 weeks (baby died at 8 weeks and, yes, that was "real" full-blown labor). Guess what? It hurt. No, it really fucking hurt. I screamed. All three times. I screamed.

My first birth was in a hospital. It was a last minute transfer. I did not have a single medical issue that needed a hospital. I was supposed to give birth in a birth center, but the head midwife closed it down that weekend because she had a horsie show to attend and didn't want her sleep interrupted. The other midwife was not able, per birth center policy (and the law, I believe) to attend my birth at the birth center on her own. So, I had to have my birth at the hospital with her. In all, it was 27 hour labor with a posterior little boy. I spent 8 hours of that labor in the hospital. My labor was fine and manageable at home. I got to the hospital and let her check me - 4 cms. Things began picking up and my contractions became more intense. They were - gasp - painful. They remained painful for the rest of my labor, until that little guy slid out (more like rocketed out) into the world. I was able to deal with the pain through position changes, a little dip in the birth pool, walking and saying "fuck" as many times as possible. I dealt with the pain. the pain had a purpose. I don't remember the actual sensations of pain, but there was pain. Pain was part of it. I screamed while pushing. Like I was being murdered. I pushed for about 45 minutes. Looking back on it, I wondered if my pain was caused by the fact that I was in the hospital. I was upset that I wasn't having the birth center birth that I had planned for nearly half my life. That could have been part of a lot of things. That may have made the pain worse. Would I still have had pain at the birth center? Would I scream at a birth center?

My second labor was to birth my angel baby, River. River died at 8 weeks, but the physical miscarriage didn't happen until 12 weeks. I had chosen to allow it to happen naturally as opposed to getting a D and E. My midwife told me to expect "real labor." It was her experience that miscarriages after 8 weeks were more likely to feel exactly like any other labor. I was prepared for that. I tried so hard to manage that labor - all 6 hours of regular contractions and actual transition - as gently as possible. Once I knew it was really happening, I got into the tub and prayed (the "Hail Mary" is my go-to labor mantra, until transition when Mary is replaced with "fuck"). It hurt like a mother fucker. Of course, I was birthing death. In a few hours, the last of my physical connection to this little baby that I had bonded with in 8 weeks would be gone. There was emotional torment like you wouldn't believe. Of course that contributed to physical pain. I later wondered, would it have been painful if I was giving birth to a live baby at home?

My third labor was just two months ago. This time, I had a homebirth attended by two midwives, one of whom is a best friend and the midwife who delivered my son. I had been telling myself for my whole pregnancy that I was going to have a pain-free, 5 hour labor with one painless push. Positive thinking, you know? I had no fears about labor. I even studied some hypnosis techniques. My labor was about 17 hours from the time my water broke until the time my daughter was born. I slept during the early part of that labor. My midwife/friend came over late in the morning and we hung out while I contracted. My contractions were definitely manageable with movement, especially belly dance. I walked, I prayed, I cursed, I ate, I took showers, I pooped. I moaned beautifully like a humpback whale in heat. All the fun stuff. There was pain and I worked through it. Then transition hit and OMG it hurt like a mo-fo. Transition is the point where I'm almost certain I will die unless I get an epidural. So I ask for an epidural. I have done this through all three labors. It feels good to me to ask for that epidural. Before the birth of my first son, I was told that the moment where I feel like I can't do it anymore and that I need an epi is when it's almost over. So, feeling like I needed that told me that I was close to the end and I embraced it. But, it still hurt like a mother and I began my usual screaming. From transition to pushing was barely an hour. I began to whine. My other midwife arrived at that point. I whined to both midwives that I was "supposed" to be that woman you see in all the natural birth videos who just smiles through labor and doesn't feel pain. I said that over and over until both midwives said, "Jenn, that's bullshit. You're doing great and this is almost over." I pushed for about 15 minutes. And screamed. I screamed that I was going to die. That I gave up. I screamed that I just knew she was going to get stuck. I screamed because pushing that baby - all 6lbs 8 ounces of her - hurt so freakin' bad. The dialogue inside my head was slightly crazy. I'm going to die. I'm not going to die. This hurts like hell. She'll be here any minute and it'll be over and you'll forget the pain. She's stuck. Oh my God, the ambulance will have to come and take me to the hospital. They'll take me out of the house on a gurney with her head halfway out and all my neighbors will see my vagina and that I missed a spot shaving and...oh God, she's going to be stuck. I'm going to die. Oh my...and she's here. That was the actual dialogue inside my head while I was screaming. And then my daughter was here and all that pain was worth it. My placenta - the part I dreaded because I remember it hurting when I gave birth to my son - slipped out 5 minutes later without so much as a single second of discomfort. Well, there was the painless birth, I guess.

My question had been answered. I gave birth at home. No hospital. My baby was full term and alive. No sadness. I was educated and empowered. It still hurt. It may just be me. That might be what I need to get motivated to push a baby out of my vagina. It's part of my physiological make-up. I experience pain in labor. It doesn't stop me from birthing naturally. Yet, I had a little nag inside my head. One one hand, I was proud of myself for having the homebirth I had desired for so long and for rocking it. I was proud of the sweet little girl nestled up to my breast. I was an awesome birthin' mama. On the other hand, I wondered why I screamed. I went into this with the specific intention of not screaming like I did with my other labor. Why did I scream? Then I felt like I failed. I felt a sense of failure for allowing myself to feel pain, for not being able to get into some peaceful, serene or hypnotic state. I felt like I failed myself and my baby for screaming. Then I worried that I scarred her because the last things she heard while in my womb were, "fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuccccckkkkk!" and my pain-induced bellowing. Within days after her birth, I actually googled to see if other natural-birthin' mamas were screamers. I came across a blog entitled "Judging Birth." I'll let you read that, and the following comments, without expanding on it too much. In essence, she says we need to stop judging how we labor and that not all of us are quiet birthers. It made me feel better to read that blog and then the comments. And then it made me mad. Why was I seeking "acceptance" for my birth behavior? Why did I feel the need to justify why I felt pain and why I screamed? I was mad that I allowed myself to feel like some sort of failure. Yet, to read many of these blog posts, comments, discussions on facebook, you will feel like a failure if you admit to feeling pain or having the slightest fraction of fear during your birth. We need to stop this.

I find it funny that the natural birth community can actually have these discussions. Aren't we the ones telling women to empower themselves to have the birth experience that's right for them? Aren't we the ones fighting to make sure women feel supported with their births? Aren't we the ones who admonish the OB who tells a woman to "hush" if she is too loud in labor? Aren't we the ones who yammer on and on and on about how birth is a normal, biological and very primal event? So why are we judging women who are, in fact, acting very primal? Why judge someone who feels pain? It's upsetting to me. We talk all about empowerment, but then we rip each other apart if our birth wasn't the right kind of natural. It's the granola wars, man. We're not helping anyone. We have mamas who are going to have natural births and feel pain and want to scream. They'll feel good because they gave birth naturally. Then they come online and read these comments that if they felt pain then something was wrong with the way they gave birth. Or you have the mamas who are pregnant and reading all of this before labor. So they hype themselves up into thinking they must have a completely painless labor. When it doesn't go that way, they feel like they failed. Those of us who feel the pain and scream it out fail Birth 101? Bullshit. This is no different than women feeling like failures because they ended up getting induced, getting epidurals and having c-sections. Only this time, we don't have an OB or evil hospital to blame. This time it's the woman's fault for allowing her psyche to take over.

Again, I have no problem with wanting a painless birth. I don't doubt that there are women who give birth without pain. I've seen it. I've seen women birth without making a peep because it wasn't hurting them. That's awesome, but those same women should never turn around and tell another woman that she failed because she felt pain...that it wasn't normal because she felt pain...that she wasn't educated enough to be pain-free. I'm very educated when it comes to birth and have been for a very long time - way before my first child was born. I grew up with a mother who worked in maternity and told me that birth is just plain old normal and natural. I know birth isn't something to passionately fear. I know all the biological, chemical, emotional and mechanical processes that are part of birth. I know what they say about high-pitched birth noises vs. low-pitched noises and I understand why that works. But, I also know that fear is a normal response. No, you shouldn't be in absolute horrified fear, but you shouldn't feel like you're doing something wrong if a moment of anxiety happens. You can't tell me that I wasn't educated or empowered. You can't tell me that I was a fraidy-cat. It's not true. Yet.I.Still.Felt.Pain. I still had moments of fear. In fact, those moments of fear may play an important role towards the end of labor. Check out this article by Michael Odent.

"A typical fetus ejection reflex is easy to recognize. It can be preceded by a sudden and transitory fear expressed in an irrational way ( “kill me”, “let me die”, etc.). In such a situation the worst attitude would be to reassure with words(5). This short and transitory expression of fear can be interpreted as a good sign of a spectacular increase of hormonal release, including adrenaline. It should be immediately followed by a series of irresistible contractions."

If you can birth with nary a fearful thought or moment of ouch then you go girl. If you start feeling the pain and you lose your rational brain toward the end then embrace it, work with it and know that your sweet little baby is so, so close. Don't feel like a failure if you didn't hypnotize as planned. Don't put yourself down for crying and telling everyone that you can't do it because you're going to die. You didn't fail. We all experience birth and pain differently and no one is better than the other because she did or didn't feel a certain way.

On another note, there is a lot of criticism of the natural birth community. There are blogs dedicated to trashing us or trying to debunk us. There are trolls who visit our blogs and facebook pages to stir up trouble and controversy. A lot of people see us as crazed hippies. They don't see that we're striving for better outcomes for mothers, babies and families. They don't see us for the good work that we're trying to do - for wanting to change such a failed maternity system. They see us as judgmental and insane. It doesn't do us any good to judge one another on this subject. It doesn't help get our message across. It just feeds the criticism and turns people off to the message.

Judging is for crappy reality shows, not childbirth.

Peace and much love.


The Stay at Home Wifey said...

I yelled and screamed my way through transition too. Vocalizing really helped me get through the intensity and pain that is for me the end of labor.

My DH did say after it was all over that it did sound a lot like the noise I make during an orgasm only a LOT louder. It didn't feel like an orgasm, it HURT, but I think it makes sense that it would sound similar in some ways.

Our births are just as unique as our sweet little babies, and something that only we can truly experience.

So glad I'm not the only one that gets noisy for transition.

Funky Little Earthchild said...

There is a theory that we approach labor much like sex and it does make sense on a biological level, what with hormones and all. A lot of women and their husbands/partners say the same thing - that their birth sounds are much like their sex sounds. It's interesting.

I feel like I need to be vocal during transition. Like you said, it helps with that intensity and pain.


mommyof7 (2inheaven) said...

I've had 6 births. The 1st 4 were c-sections. The last 2 were due to miscarriages.

My 1st miscarriage: The baby died around 15 weeks and the doctor put the seaweed rods in my certix to help it dilate, since I had never been in labor. He didn't think my body could work. That was a Monday, and my d&c was to be Friday. I came back Wednesday for more rods to be put in. That was so painful and I wanted to die.

I woke up Thursday morning around 5am with contractions and they got more regular around 9m. And by 10:30 they were coming every minute and lasting 45 seconds. I had never been in labor before, so this was all new. I got to the hospital around 12 ish and they left me in the ER. I finally delievered the baby around 1pm. It hurt so bad. I couldn't believe the pain and how bad the contractions would be. They ended up doing the d&c for the placenta. I wish I would have told them to just wait. My body could and would have done it alone.

My 2nd miscarriage was less than 14weeks after my 1st one. I was 7 weeks when we found out we lost that baby. I chose to decline the D&C for this baby all together. I delieved the baby the next day in the tub, that was the easy part. The hard part was the next 3 to 4 days with the cramping and bleeding. My uterus trying to go back to normal.

So I would agree, it is as bad as full term labor, just not with the happy healthy baby at the end :(

Funky Little Earthchild said...

I'm so sorry for your losses. So many people don't know or don't understand that miscarriages are real labor and delivery and the ending doesn't "make it worth it" as they say with live births. I'm sorry you lost two babies. :-(

Mama Birth said...

felt the same way w/ my second- I was actually ashamed of myself after-

Funky Little Earthchild said...

Mama Birth - isn't it awful that we even questioned ourselves?

Lia Joy said...

I've give birth 3 times. They were all planned the same: unassisted waterbirths at home, yet they were each very unique. I have videos of my second & third births up on youtube (liajoy83) and on #3 people say "omg. you are so calm..." but on #2 "what a drama queen" "you should use that energy for pushing, not screaming!" I have to laugh at that one -- seriously, if you could *feel* the intensity of the energy at that moment... I'd probably have torn in half If I'd put all of that energy towards pushing! Anyway, my point is that I think too many people see different women reacting differently to *birth* as if it's the same every time (the weak ones scream from it, the powerful ones orgasm, or whatever) when in reality, we are reacting to a *very specific birth experience* and you could have 100 birth experiences without ever feeling what I felt while screaming my head off -- or what I felt while looking all calm & composed... Just because all of your births up until now were painfree doesn't mean they all can be, and just becuase they've been excruciating doesn't mean they all will be -- I think baby's position often plays a HUGE role...

Liz May said...

I concur about the position of the baby. Sounds like you had a very "active birth". The F word is a fantastic Anglo Saxon invention and swearing is scientifically proven to reduce pain. But every women and every birth is different and some women don't feel swearing is appropriate for them. Each to their own. I had a wonderful home birth with my first son, very quick and very intense (lots of sitting on the loo and pooing). I did hypnobirthing and I like to share my homebirth story with women online but only to inspire them that it is possible to have a positive experience but not to make them feel bad. I think that sometimes women put too much pressure on themselves to achieve perfection (thanks flylady) and very often over-think situations. When I was in labour I felt that I was being squashed by a giant Boa Constricta Snake to the point where I was fighting for breath and at the same time it felt like someone had a finger up my back side and was trying to drag me backwards but the word "pain" doesn't fit the picture. I wish there was a different word in the English language that described "labour pain" that was positive. Are there any words in other languages that make this distinction between negative pain and positive pain?

Funky Little Earthchild said...

Lia Joy - I love everything you said.

Liz - position has a lot to do with it for sure. You are right about our striving for perfection - and flylady is to blame!! :-) Interesting question about the words used in other languages. I wonder...

Melissa said...

I've had 4 amazing home births and 2 miscarriages. And yes, I had 4 hours of labor with my misscarriage (14 weeks along, baby had died around 9 weeks) including transition and yes I moaned, and cried and breathed through it. All of my births were painful in different ways, and with each of them I was afraid. With my first I was afraid because I had never done it before and I was so worried that the baby would die before she got out. I pushed for almost 2 hours, and bellowed through both of them. With my second birth I was so afraid that I would have to push for that long again, instead she was born in record time after only 2 1/2 hours of intense labor, I felt amazing afterwards. With my 3rd labor I was afraid things would go super fast like the previous time and that I would feel out of control again. Instead I had a longer slower labor and a very painful transition with a posterier baby and a short cord wrapped around her neck. I NEVER wanted to do that transition over again, so that was my fear going into my 4th labor, and I was surprised with a short and sweet labor that seemed to skip that horrible transition period. If I had to do it again, I would pick that 4th labour, still painful, still screamed, but manageable. Every birth and every woman is different. There is no wrong way for a woman to choose to birth her baby. There is no wrong experience for a woman to have during labour and childbirth.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could all accept each other's experiences as true and valid? I was a quiet birther. Had one birth that wasn't painful- but it was intense. Had two that hurt. Yep. Ouch. Hurt. My non-painful one was my second. I grew up with a grandmother who swore that birth doesn't hurt and a mom and aunts that swore it does. Why not simply believe that another could have a different valid experience? There isn't a "birth enlightenment scale" (nor is there a "parenting enlightenment scale"- because the comparisons and judgments don't stop with birth, do they?) Thanks for speaking your truth!

dani said...

YES YES YES! Thank you for posting this, for sharing this! I've been needing to read something like this for awhile now.

Anonymous said...

"They'll take me out of the house on a gurney with her head halfway out and all my neighbors will see my vagina and that I missed a spot shaving and..." --

Nope, that would be ME. :)

You rock. Screamers are alright.

Invi said...

I screamed. My boyfriend had thought I'd be the kind to grit and bear it. I wasn't sure what would happen.

I remember pain. I remember being uncomfortable at the onset.
I remember whimpering and whining much like a dog through transition.
I screamed through the part at the end, where my body was pushing and I didn't have a choice. Told my midwife I wanted to take a break.. but I couldn't. Screamed that I couldn't do it, even as he was coming out.

This was only 5 weeks ago.
I'm still kind of upset that in the end, I ended up on my back (but on my living room floor, so that's all good). This was at the request of the midwives so the baby had more room (since I couldn't really hold myself up squatting, I guess).

I think transition was the worst part. It was certainly not pain-free, but I didn't expect it to be, either.
I think perhaps the fact that I read this blog entry before I had my baby helped in some way. ;)

Funky Little Earthchild said...

Congrats on your new little baby, Invi!!!

KLO said...

Love this post! Thanks for putting it out there. I was so that mom obsessed with a beautiful birth. I did have a home birth with my first. It was actually short, 7hrs. And it hurt like hell the whole time. I screamed. My midwife urged me not to and rather to moan. But screaming, vocalizing felt right and damn appropriate for what I was experiencing. The beautiful thing about a non-medical birth is that I was flooded with hormones and by the time my 2nd degree tear was being stitched up I didn't feel a thing. And a week later I couldn't quite remember the pain as vividly as it truly was, as I was engulfed with my new life as a mama.

elaina said...

wonderful post - thanks so much for putting into words what doubtlessly many women feel. i also had a very painful at home back labor and screamed (a lot). and felt really odd about it afterwards, especially after having watched all the pro-natural birth videos and the candles and peaceful music in the background, and the baby silently slipping out into the birthing pool. in advocating for natural birth, perhaps what should be stressed is the lack of harm to mom and baby and their bonding, not the lack of pain and the glamour of birth. because it is so not glamorous. amazing and beautiful perhaps, but so not glamorous. so again, thanks for posting!!

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