I’ve already talked about pain during birth in another podcast – how a fear creates pain during childbirth – so today I want to take a slightly different angle because pain is quite a biggie when it comes to birth. So I’d like to zoom in on the idea of pain and its close relative a fear of pain.

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A fear of pain in birth

Most pregnant women have a fear of pain when it comes to their upcoming birth. I have a lot of women going through my fear-clearance video training programme and a lot of them email me telling me how pain is such a worry for them during their pregnancy.

It was a huge one for me too. Once I started delving into my own fears, I realised that my fear of pain was near the top of the list. It was so big for me that early on in my first pregnancy I was seriously considering a c-section to avoid the pain of childbirth. Looking back, I’m grateful that I was able to off-load this fear because otherwise I would have needlessly put myself through major surgery and missed out on an incredible home birth.

So how can we address this fear of pain in a meaningful way? There are some circles in birthing that suggest just not using the p word at all. But or me this smacks of denial and positive thinking. And anyway, just because you’ve decided to stop using the p-word word, doesn’t mean everyone else has. Trying to control other people’s behaviour is guaranteed to end in tears; and probably yours!

I’m of the opinion that you need to accept it and embrace it.

Imagine you lived in the world of Xena Warrior Princess… and imagine that wandering this world was this big scary mythological creature that terrorised the locals. What would Xena do? She wouldn’t be hiding behind trees insisting that no-one mentions its name. No! She’d hunt it down and jump on its back and then she’d take control of it and use it to fight the baddies of the day.

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Rachel, another mama who emailed me totally gets this. She says “I just want to be realistic, and allow the possibility of pain into my birth. I have not done anything with hypnobirthing and I acknowledge the importance of the pain and cascade of hormones during childbirth.”

If you welcome pain into your world and acknowledge its intention you’re better able to tap into its power. Pain has a positive intention that we often dismiss. In day-to-day life, pain is a signal from our body that something needs attention; a physical or emotional aspect of ourselves needs healing. However, in birth the word pain is used to cover a broad range of sensations. And yes some of these might mean that something needs attention. But some of these sensations might simply be the sheer power of nature birthing your baby, which is not something that requires attention or healing. Instead it requires you to ride this incredible wave of energy; embrace it, grab it, jump on it and use it. Don’t pretend it’s not there. It’s avoidance and denial that turns it into pain, because that need to avoid it and its accompanying fear is what needs to healed.

But paradoxically, I’d like to suggest that we refer to it as something else. When I think back to both my births, if you asked me what they felt like, you’ll hear me say words like intense, relentless, powerful, hardcore because that is how those sensations felt to me. But they weren’t painful. Getting stitched up afterwards was painful! Stubbing my toe is painful. But birth wasn’t. When you’re doing something physical that’s demanding and requires you to dig deep; is that pain? Do marathon runners say that they’re running in pain? They probably say it’s hard and tough but not painful.

Why not keep the word pain for painful things, like things that need attention or healing? Not just use it whenever we’re too lazy to use a word that’s more appropriate.

A fear in disguise

A fear of pain is a sneaky, slippery thing that doesn’t always reveal itself. For example, I had one mama email me to tell me about her fear of tension. She wrote “When I know pain is coming I tense my body. I try really hard to stay calm and breathe deeply and when I do the pain is definitely lessened yet my body still defaults to tensing before pain. If I can keep my body from tensing, I think that would cover 80% of my obstacles to having a pain free birth.”

This, my lovelies, is a fear of pain in disguise. The reason she tenses is because she’s fearing the pain. But there’s a second thing going on here. She said “when I know pain is coming”… well, this is anticipation of pain and this acts very much like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Let me explain.

There are two things that make pain worse, or increase our experience or perception of it;

  1. Anticipating pain
  2. Fear of pain

Anticipating pain

Who says that pain is on its way? During birth that’s not necessarily the case… but thinking so almost guarantees it. It’s slightly different when you’re at the dentist having your teeth pulled out; some things just hurt! Period. But childbirth isn’t one of them. Yes of course it can and for many it does. But it’s not a definite thing that happens to everyone. So instead of assuming that pain is coming your way, imagine the possibility that for you it isn’t. Simply be open to it. In fact why not take it further, and imagine that birth for you is going to be pleasurable, orgasmic even! Many women report experiencing orgasms during birth so why not anticipate that instead. Remember this is all happening in your head – you’re making ALL of it up! Why not make up something nice? Take control where it counts! In your mind.

Having said all that, This doesn’t mean to say that if pain does show up for you that you’ve failed. But if it does, it’ll be much more manageable and you’ll handle it better. You might not even consider it as pain.

Some of you might be thinking that you need to anticipate it to prepare yourself for it. Well I say crap to that! Prepare? What kind of preparation are you going to be doing exactly. ‘Preparing for pain” is just psyching yourself up for a truly painful experience. Sure, if you want that; go for it!

When I was scared of injections, I believed that I needed to “prepare” myself but looking back that’s utter crap. The truth is you just prolong the agony of anticipation. So stop this nonsense of believing that you need to prepare for a crappy experience.

Fear of pain

I’m not going to dive down too deep into this aspect as I’ve got a whole podcast episode on it (Childbirth: why fear creates pain in birth). But suffice to say, fear is known to create pain as part of the fear tension pain cycle. And this is because fear, creates tension, which creates the pain. Well, guess what? A fear of pain, plays right into the hands of this one. Let’s just avoid it altogether shall we?

So how can we address a fear of pain? And I suppose even more importantly, what can we do to minimise pain during birth? Well there are three things we need to do;

1. Make friends with pain

If you make friends with pain, you will no longer fear it in the same way, if at all. This alone can make such a difference during birth. A huge element of pain is psychological. When we use up our head space saying things like “I’m not sure I’m going to be able to cope with the pain” it’s just not going to help. A great place to start doing this is to write out 30 reasons why pain is a good thing. I dare you to do it. And if you send it to me I’ll share your reasons on the podcast for everyone else to hear. The great thing about doing this is that it forces you to think differently. Sure, some of the reasons might be crazy or funny.. but that’s not the point. The point is that you’re shifting perspective.

2. Don’t anticipate it

As I mentioned earlier, just imagine you’re about to experience something else, preferably something more positive that doesn’t scare you. Again, it’s really important to keep tabs on what your mind is up to because you’ll need to avoid thinking things like “Oh my goodness another contraction.. this is gonna hurt…”. A huge part of anticipation of pain when it comes to birth is belief. We believe that childbirth is painful because that’s what we see written everywhere and it’s what we keep hearing. But what we’re failing to do is is apply some common sense. Yes, for some people it is. And yet, for some people it isn’t. Why only believe those who say it’s painful? Why do they have the final word? Just because their experience was that way, doesn’t mean yours will be.

***Rant alert!!!***

Why is it that whenever a women says that she has had a pain-free birth it’s always written like this

“Woman claims to have had pain-free birth”

CLAIMS?! Claims implies that she’s making some outlandish claim that is highly unlikely… as in “Hiker claims he came face to face with a yeti” to which everyone rolls their eyes and says “yeah right!”. How about simply “woman had pain-free birth”?

3. Clear your fear of it

You won’t be surprised with this because I’m all about the fear clearance. So yes, spending time clearing your fear of pain is going to help you massively. Once you no longer fear it, you’re less likely to tense in anticipation (if you’re still anticipating it that is!). By clearing the fear, you won’t trigger the fear tension pain cycle.

Slam dunk!

If you can’t be bothered with any of that but still want to clear your fear of pain, well you’re in luck. I’ve created a Fearless Birthing Meditation that does it all for you – you just have to sit back and listen to me doing the clearance for you.

You can buy a Fear of Pain fear release meditation by clicking on the banner below.

Fear Release Meditations

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Alexia Leachman

Alexia is the host of the Fear Free Childbirth podcast and the author of Fearless Birthing, Childbirth, Midwifery & the Media, and Clear Your Head Trash.

Alexia supports families planning pregnancy and birth. She helps them to overcome their fears and feel calm and confident about birth and pregnancy.

Alexia also trains birth professionals in the Fearless Birthing, a unique approach to birth preparation that is ideal for those who have fears around birth.
Alexia Leachman
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