Pain; Nemesis or Mentor? pt. 1

I’ve been hearing it a lot these days.

lean into the pain… 

I’ve had a lot of experience with pain… for the most part, I’d rather avoid it.

From the moment labor started with my first baby, I knew I was in trouble.  The pain was out of this world. I needed to vomit, but couldn’t, I needed to move, but couldn’t, I wanted to pass out… but didn’t.  I don’t have words to describe the pain – a pain I still shutter over at the memory of now nearly 15 years later.

Exactly 3 hours  after the first horrifying contraction, my daughter entered this world.  I was hailed by the nurses and my OB as a rockstar for how quickly I labored and delivered as a first time mom.  And my second labor and delivery, despite complications and attempts to slow it down,  was only 4 hours start to finish, again I was hailed as a pro-delivery mom – and with both deliveries I had epidurals as soon as they would let me.

As I approached labor with my third child, he was at high risk of being still born, so we induced almost 6 weeks before his due date.  However, I was determined to go as long as I could without an epidural.  I was remembering the pain of my daughter’s inducing, and I was gearing up for an experience akin to living death… that may be a tad mellow dramatic… but I was expecting a repeat of my very first experience.

However, after chatting casually with my nurse, who’s only patient was me for the moment, she began to see changes on the monitor that I wasn’t responding to.  She asked if I was feeling contractions, and I told her I was, but they weren’t painful – they were nothing like the labor I remembered.  We continued chatting, and relaxing, even giggling over silliness on TV together, until in one instant I knew I needed the epidural – I wasn’t going to make it through labor without it.  My nurse, quick to respond,  said she had to check my progress before putting in the order – I didn’t care what she had to do, I just wanted relief from the pain NOW!

But as she lifted the sheets her face went ashen. She ran to the wall and screamed into the intercom – WE HAVE A BABY CROWNING! She was back at my side ordering my husband to hold my leg just so, raising the back of my bed and gripping my hand as hard as I was squeezing hers. She looked me right in the eye and said, honey, you can’t have an epidural, you’re having your baby instead.

I looked right back at her as a scream ripped from my throat – I was certain I was turning inside out, and she was wrong… that what was coming out was every organ in my body… every horror story about birth I’d heard was filtering through my mind at that precise moment and I knew I was dying. I screamed at her,  I can’t do this!   To which she calmly responded, look down honey, you just did.

There on the bed was a tiny quivering purplish body – all pain was gone, a distant memory – as I scooped up my newborn son and pulled him into my chest.  I was so enraptured I didn’t notice anything else going on around me.  Not even the doctor stitching up tears I’d incurred with such a rapid delivery.

“Honey, you only labored for an hour and 45 minutes, and I’ve never seen a woman labor like you.  Do you realize you not only labored up through transition while hardly skipping a beat, but you only felt like you needed an epidural when you were crowning.  Crowning!  I don’t think I’ve met a person with such a high pain tolerance and relaxed approach to pain.” 

The words of the nurse who delivered my son went straight to my heart.  That was not how I viewed myself, and it certainly wasn’t a strategy I’d used on purpose.   I pondered her words for months, and for years since.

The only difference between my first and third labor experiences, was my expectation of what pain was going to feel like.  This realization has followed me around ever since…

 “A relaxed approach to pain…”

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