I think there were three major components that truly got me through with relatively no pain until the transition at the end and I will share them with you, although it's not a magic key to painless labor. For me, though, it was damn near close. I did a disgusting amount of reading while pregnant about natural birth and two things that seemed cohesive through all my reading material was the way things used to be and then how they changed. The materials specifically highlighted the ages where women labored and birthed with other women, it was always a calm environment, the laboring woman was treated with gentleness, warmth and her requests were treated with the upmost respect. Then it went on to talk about how women have been trained for years to fear the pain of labor - AKA male doctors hammering in their limited perspective of childbirth to rework it into some unbearable dangerous anomaly and they have all the answers. Yeah ... OK. You have a penis? I'll make my own rules about my vagina, thanks.
The first thing I learned about was visualization; however, a lot of them suggested visualizing an open meadow – that shit never worked for me. Open meadow? Oh, hey bugs. Nothing about that was calming for me, nor was it something I could focus on. It was too big of a picture and I needed something basic and concrete to hold onto. I read a description of the uterus and the direction of the muscles, and it was pretty damn amazing. There is a set of muscles that wrap around the uterus and a separate set that run down from top to bottom getting closer together at the bottom - think of the way a hot air balloon is quilted. One of the things I was taught was to picture the muscles around the uterus as a long ribbon, and with each contraction it loosened just a tiny bit more. It was long, thick, and silky smooth and the coolest shade of blue. It was something I spent a lot of time meditating on, thinking about and creating a very strong and solid visual in my mind.
I went to a couple of craft stores and bought a beautiful, high-quality blue ribbon and would run it through my fingers and hands. It kept my senses busy with how cool it was to the touch and how easily it slipped through my fingers, and it helped me create a very strong picture in my mind. Every contraction I had, I would let my body turn to jelly, and I would picture the ribbon loosening it just a bit more, starting at the top and working its way down to the cervix (dilation). It was incredibly helpful to have something not only tangible but also anatomically correct. I knew exactly what my body was doing during each contraction and when I realized how much purpose each wave of pain had, it stopped/never starts to hurt.
The second layer of it was truly about my comfort and listening to my body. The ability to move, adjust, wiggle, stay still, sit, stand, etc., was crucial. Even though we don't often notice our own level of anxious behavior, our bodies respond even if we aren't consciously aware. I spent the last trimester of pregnancy focusing on the sounds of my own breath, the sensations in my body from my scalp to the tips of my toes. So many people want to tell a laboring woman what to do, where to sit, how to lay, but frankly they have no idea what they are talking about. While in labor, I was ushered around so they could monitor me and I found it infuriating. Each time I had to refocus, I knew I was fighting what my body wanted and it made me anxious, it made my shoulders stiffen and it made me extremely agitated. I felt like I was a wasp nest and they were poking me and the buzz of my agitation made it more difficult to listen to my body.
I had to limit my sensory input - lights went low, no sounds, machines turned off, cell phone off, I only allowed one nurse and she had to knock before coming in, she was told to speak softly and not to speak to me while my eyes were closed as I was having a contraction. Listening to your body sounds easy, but when the daily noise of life around you is compounded with the anxiousness and excitement of having a baby, it can be hard to find the right channel. When I felt like my voice was getting muffled, I went into the bathroom into a corner and refocused. Being in the small space made me feel safe, I was alone and could tune back in to me. This changed everything.
The third and most important piece of the puzzle is acceptance. It's going to hurt like a motherfucker. Your body literally breaks in half to bring your baby into the world - it's normal, it's healthy, it's supposed to hurt, and there is not a damn thing you can and should do about it. As with any great toll in life, once a deep level of acceptance is achieved truly and sincerely, the fear simply evaporates, and it's the fear that brings the pain. With death and birth, great pain is experienced. It's a sacrifice, it's the bounty we all pay to the universe in exchange for our time here. It's pretty profound once it sinks into your pores, your soul, your bones. Now this was not something I could grasp easily. I had a child before Lorelei, I knew how much this hurt and yet ... I couldn't really wrap my mind around it as something normal and that took practice.
Once I got it, I suddenly was no longer afraid of the pain, it was something I anticipated and looked forward to, that meant my baby girl was coming to me and it was a bounty I could not get out of paying. My water broke, I waited four agonizing minutes for my contractions to start, and once I felt that wave it hit me like a ton of bricks, I knew this train has left the motherfucking station, so hold on and enjoy the ride. I truly did. I rejoiced in the miracle of what my body was doing, I smiled a lot, I goofed off, I painted my nails in the middle of labor, I stopped for breakfast, I took pictures with Amelia before we left, I hung my head out of the car window like a dog and soaked in the sun on my face and the cool air running through my hair. I focused on the small pleasures, my husband’s heavy, warm hands on my back, I rubbed my belly and enjoyed the last moments of being full in a way only a woman can truly understand. With every fiber of my being, I refused to fear the pain, and that is where we come full circle: it was the lack of fear that let me focus on my proverbial blue ribbon and allowed my conscious mind and my physical body to be united in one amazing effort. It was the lack of fear that allowed my body to speak in a manner I understood, it was the lack of fear that allowed me to enjoy my journey, the sun on my face, the yummy breakfast I had and my beautiful round body that was soon to be changed forever.
This all got me through labor with nearly any pain and made it a pretty enjoyable experience, all things considered. I did lose my grip at one point, though. I was stuck on the toilet because my body was emptying out in epic proportions, and having to sit so low on the toilet was intensifying my contractions in a way that felt too fast. I felt trapped ‘cause I couldn't get off the toilet without shitting on the floor. (Hey, it's better than pooping on the table.) I got panicky, I couldn't hear my body anymore, I couldn't let my muscles lose, and the fear grew by the second. I lost my resolve and doubted my ability to follow through, and that is how I know it works. The minute I lost my focus and the fear came in like an ugly black smoke, I was overwhelmed with pain. Only minutes later my midwife checked me, I was 6cm and fully effaced and she said I could get in the tub, finally! I started to cry waiting to get in the water, I was anxious and hesitant, I was being monitored and had to lie in the bed again, so I was also getting pissed off. I'm not kidding you, as soon as my immersed myself in the warm water I felt the change and I felt my resolve beating back the fear. Seconds later, she turned on the jets and my entire body lifted a little, and every ounce of fear evaporated. Sixteen minutes later she was born, the most painful 16 minutes of my life, and she shot out like a damn rocket. Once her head was out, I felt no pain, just an exhilarated rush, my baby was HERE!