A new post from my wife Caitlin (and a link to her blog)…
Practicing pain coping before labor begins allows a woman to get in touch with the ways she already knows how to cope. Coping for labor doesn’t always mean learning something completely new. Because we deal with stressful and sometimes painful experiences before giving birth, we’ve already had some practice. And it goes both ways, practicing for labor is also good practice for life. Life can be hard. Accessing our coping skills when times are tough might mean we move through them with some openness rather than shutting down and resisting.
I encourage women to practice by holding ice cubes in their hands (or on their wrists or behind their ears if the hands don’t bother her too much). Doing this for a minute—the length of an average active labor contraction—allows her to explore the ways she can make the ice shift into the background. I don’t know of a technique that can make it disappear completely, but some things that tend to work well are: focusing on breathing, progressive relaxation, partner giving a massage, movement and vocalization. And like in labor, these techniques will not take the pain away completely, but they will allow a woman to manage her contractions.
Another one I’ve recently incorporated into my classes is the 3 minute keep it up—where the women stand up with their arms outstretched so they’re parallel to the floor and the partners help them get through. We do 3 minutes here since you could hold your arms up for 1 minute pretty easily and 3 minutes is more challenging. I also recommend they couple do not chit chat with each other because while that could make the 3 minutes in this exercise go by quicker, that would most likely not work in labor. So, partners do massage, the women lean on them, they breathe together, move together, vocalize and get through it together.
There’s also mental pain coping and that’s the one that I find particularly useful in my life now—years after my labors. In labor, if we’re caught up in fear, stuck in feeling overwhelmed, unable to make the most of the breaks between contractions, the body can become filled with tension and actually make labor harder. Having labor support and practicing the techniques listed above can help a woman stay focused on the fact that she is doing it instead of feeling like she can’t.
I know the “I can’t do it” feeling very well. I have found myself saying that many times since becoming a parent. Or saying things like “I can’t bear it” or “I can’t take it anymore”. Well, the fact is, I’m still here—Still parenting, still living. And when I can shift out of “I can’t” mode into “I’m here” mode, I’m much more able to cope with tantrums, with arguments, with things just not going my way.
Deep breaths, meditation, yoga, exercise, journaling, reality TV (I’m not all that enlightened!), chocolate, supportive community…these are the things that help me get through. What are some of your tools—either for labor or life?