Or…. not so much.
Here’s the disclaimer: I am going to talk about sex (you have been warned). Sex and love and passion and that kind of stuff. Not the pornographic kind (so it’s safe for general reading) but more like the “stuff dreams are made” of kind. Read on my friends.
So recently this Stanford University study was published. Their mascot is a tree which has nothing to do with this blog post but I’m sure makes for an interesting half time at football games. I digress. They are a school of research, and a good one I hear, so the aforementioned study was both interesting and timely, considering my recent painful experience (I’m referring to childbirth. It hurts.).
You may go read the study, I’ll wait (which I would recommend because a. it’s interesting and b. this won’t make too much sense if you don’t) or alternatively I will summarize it for you here: Love relieves pain. Or rather, it diminishes our perception of it. Do I have your attention? Now, lest I be misunderstood, not just any kind of love but the “passionate, all-consuming” kind. Still have your attention? Sounds pretty good right? In a nutshell the study participants were subjected to a “mild” pain and asked to 1. Look at photos of their “loved” one 2. Look at photos of an “equally attractive” acquaintance (whatever that means) and 3. think of sports that “involve balls” (because distraction too can be a pain reliever) and rate pain whilst doing said activities.
So obviously they are in fact not talking about pain equivalent to childbirth pain. That would be both difficult and cruel to emulate. Plus it has been suggested that the pain of labor is not like any pain you’ll ever experience. Conversely, it has also been said that you can actually attain orgasm during labor and birth and I believe it. I do (I’ve watched that movie, by the way and it was pretty outstanding). But I’d have to say I fall in the former category of women who happens to think labor hurts. Kinda bad. It definitely does Not (capital N) feel like an orgasm to me. I mean I’ve never had a kidney stone and I’ve never been shot. I’ve only broken my toe once (which hurt pretty bad), severed my toe once (which again, hurt pretty bad, plus was very bloody) and stress fractured my leg running (which obviously didn’t hurt enough because I kept running long enough to actually break it all the way). Anyway, labor hurt way worse than any of that. I don’t want to shoot down the orgasm claims though because well… parts of labor felt pretty good.
So… if we can accept this basic principle it will assist greatly in the proof of the hypothesis:
Getting a baby out is a lot like getting a baby in, if you know what I mean.
Wink. Wink. (and thank you Ina May Gaskin for that). Now, something you may or may not know about me is I was a L&D RN. Before that I was a doula. In addition to those professional experiences I’ve given birth to four babies. Their births differed greatly however which is why I am now an expert on the subject (Note: I’m not really an expert on anything, except pie. Which I like. A lot.). Babies 1-3 were basically the same kind of births with similar pain experiences. I’ll give you a quick rundown (I’m not going to go too deeply into what happened, or what I wish I’d done differently because that would make this particular post a novel. I’ll save it. Read on.):
Baby #1: I was “overdue” (whatever) @ 41 weeks and induced using the prostaglandin/pitocin/ AROM (that’s artificial rupture of membranes, for the non-birth junkie types) method. I had contractions basically every 2-2.5 minutes ALL NIGHT LONG and dilated to 2 whole centimeters. This is when I realized that pitocin hurts. Bad. I caved in a got an epidural at 12 hours of labor on the OB’s suggestion because I was “going to be in labor all day”. Well that and who am I kidding, it hurt like hell. She was born 3 hours later (for a total of 16 hours). The epidural made me so numb I felt like I had no legs, which I hated, so I had them turn it down. She was born after 15 minutes of pushing and I had enough sensation to know what to do but not too much pain during that phase. P.S. Pitocin hurts like a mother f*er (pardon the expletive)
Baby #2: Suspected to be macrosomic (that’s bigger than 9 lbs, which he was exactly). I was induced using AROM/pitocin. Epidural at 4 cm (which was 2 pm). Pit hurts. Even with an epidural it hurts (HELLO it’s supposed to take the pain AWAY). He was born at 4 pm (12 hours of labor). 3 or so pushes. Again very little pain during delivery but the pit was murder. Again.
Baby #3: Was feared to be bigger than #2 (but was in fact only 8 lbs) so I was yet AGAIN induced (I was educated, very, but fearful and not in the mood to argue with the medical establishment. Again. Another post. Another day.) This time cervical ripening/pit/AROM (in that order). Transition was AWFUL. I had no space between contractions. I was pacing and basically out of my mind. The intrathecal came right before he delivered so the getting him out phase was almost painless. I pushed like once, and poof, out he came (9 hours of labor). I felt pretty powerful after that birth because it was really painful. Somehow pain equaled power. I don’t get it. I’m just sayin. P.S. Pitocin hurts like a son of a gun. In case I haven’t mentioned.
This brings me to #4. Let me preface this by saying I went into this homebirth ready to handle whatever was thrown at me. I knew there were be no epidural or pain relief but I wasn’t afraid. I just knew it would be fine. Moving on.
Baby #4: Ahhhh. Baby #4. There would be no artificial measures. You can read the birth if you haven’t already (as it’s linked above). No pitocin. No AROM. Just some Kung Pao chicken and my water breaking. Then labor and birth (well slightly more complicated than that but you get the idea). It hurt. Let me tell you how bad it hurt… at one point during my labor I actually said out LOUD, “I don’t know what all the fuss is about, I could do this 10 times.” And I totally meant it. She was a little tougher to get out, taking 6 whole minutes, 5 of which she was stuck (14 hour labor total). HELLO pain, pleasure principle. P.S. Pitocin can kiss my behind.
So what’s the difference you ask? Let me tell you. First let’s go back to my being an expert. I have to have knowledge of both pain AND love to be credible (and I have to have experienced both I’d say, to even be believable). In light of the study and how it relates to this blog, let me say, I am in love. Like LOVE. The real deal kind. My husband and I are a perfect match. And I am not even exaggerating (I’m just trying to make a point here, not rub it in). I should disclose that we are newly wedded. Well if you look at the pictures over there <---- you can see we are VERY newly wedded. But again, no joke. We are so deeply in love that I swear I can't tell sometimes where one of us ends and the other begins (you may throw up... now). Anyway, we decided to make a baby and we did. Also we continued to remain intimate throughout our pregnancy, even up to hours before her birth (hey, I warned you). We just love each other. We both love sex equally and think it's fun. Plus he's a really great kisser (I'm pretty sure that makes a difference). Ok I'm done now. Moving on. With that in mind it should follow that we'd love each other during labor too. And we did. We showered. We danced. We hugged. We kissed. In short, we acted just like we would on any normal day. We had a birth team (the midwife, two good female friends, and the 3 other kids) and we discussed before Ella's birth if their presence would have a negative impact on our ability to act normally intimate and we felt it would not, and it did not (if you know them, ask Staci and Jenny, they'll tell you. If you don't know them you just have to take my word for it). So how painful was this labor? Wait for it... Not a fraction as painful as my previous 3. Not. A. Fraction. And I had EPIDURALS with them. Epidurals. The absolute in absolute pain relief. I'm not making this up. For the sake of science and the well being of birthing women everywhere I don't think my husband would object to my saying that our intimacy was the single biggest factor in my perception of pain. His being a sweet and gentle and generally loving man was THE thing that made this labor so different. Oh sure, there was no pitocin which undeniably makes labor more painful (read: miserable). Oh sure, there was the birthing pool, which undeniably makes you feel less pain (read:water-dural). Oh sure, I was at home, which undeniably makes you more comfortable. I ate pancakes. I listened to Bob Marley. These are all huge factors as well. I’ll admit. But the one factor, the thing I could get only from him, was love. The real deal kind of passionate love. And if it is possible (read: it is possible), Ella’s birth actually made us even CLOSER than we were before. Thank you honey.
And thank you Stanford for studying for a year what I could have told you in 14 short hours. Love makes all the difference.