In blog 73: Much to her relief, Zani discovers that understanding the mechanism of labour and the function of labour pain calms her fears (somewhat) and that there are practical ways to manage pain while giving birth to a baby.
As soon as I get home I check the programme for the antenatal classes and bingo! The programme indicates that tomorrow evening the topic is … ‘The pain of labour’. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not suffering from paranoia, but my word, it’s as though Pain is stalking me! It is everywhere I turn! And out of nowhere I remember a story my gran used to tell me when I was little girl. It was about a boy who was afraid of cats. When he spotted a cat, he would run like the wind, because cats would always chase him. As he looked over his shoulder while pounding down the ally, the cat would grow bigger and more frightening with every step he took, until he ran into a dead end. There he stood facing the wall, terrified out of his mind to turn and face the humongous cat that was about to pounce on him and devour him. But that wasn’t the end of the story, because as he turned, staring up at the sky, expecting to see the monster of a cat, he heard a gentle meow and when he looked around for the source of the sound, he saw a teeny tiny little kitten. The giant monster of a cat was only real in his mind; what was real, was a cute, fluffy kitten. It was Gran’s favourite story to teach us about facing our fears and, in her matter-of-fact way, that things always seem worse than they are.
So the next evening, bolstered by Gran’s story, I’m off to Tina’s to face my fear with Jake by my side, ready to slay each and every dragon for Brandon and me. Tina starts by telling us that labour hurts. Drat!
“But understanding the source and mechanism of labour goes a long way towards helping you manage the pain of labour. The pain of labour initiates hormonal responses that will benefit both mother and baby. It is important to note that pain in labour usually means progress, and at the end of the process there is a beautiful baby.”
Thankfully, she continues with, “Most of labour is pain free, but we tend only to talk about the pain-filled moments. When you hold your baby, you soon forget about labour pain. Pain in labour has a predictable pattern, which is associated with the contractions of the uterus and is why the location, duration and intensity change constantly.
“Initial pain alerts a mom to seek a safe place to give birth. In this first stage of labour the contractions build in intensity as the baby descends and the cervix opens. Pain at this stage is due mainly to the stretching and opening of the cervix and because giving birth demands the cooperation of many parts of the body. The uterus and cervix have nerves that are sensitive to stretching, and the lack of oxygen causes the nerve ends to become agitated. So it’s important to breathe in order to keep the working muscles oxygenated.
“As the second stage of labour approaches, the weight of the baby on the uterus, lower back, sacrum and tailbone are also a cause for pain; as the baby moves down the birth canal, there will be a lot of rectal pressure; close to delivery, the vagina and the vaginal opening stretch to capacity and this causes a burning sensation. The physical and emotional challenges of labour cause great fatigue, so you also feel more vulnerable to pain. A full bladder and dehydration can increase pain too; fear, tension, incorrect positioning, a lack of emotional support and knowledge of the process may also magnify your perception of pain.”
She hands out a list of coping skills: