I gave birth to a beautiful 7 lb girl two weeks ago. I wanted a natural delivery, and my midwife suggested the “hypnobirthing” method of dealing with pain. The method is all about breathing. One is supposed to be able to put oneself into a state of deep relaxation though breathing exercises. My hypnobirthing book said that, with practice, many hypnobirthing mothers can put themselves quickly into such a state of relaxation that contractions feel like nothing more than “tightening” and that the final stages of labor and pushing feel like nothing more than “pressure.” The book states that women feel pain in labor because we’re told it’s painful, so we get anxious about it and feel more pain because of our anxiety. It says animals give birth without any painful yelping because they trust their bodies to complete the natural process of birthing.
I found some value in the hypnobirthing method, but during labor I definitely felt more than “tightening” and “pressure.” There was pain. While I didn’t practice the self-hypnosis techniques as much as the book directed, I seriously doubt that any mind-over-matter practice could completely mitigate the pain of labor. And do animals really feel no pain in birthing their babies? I don’t know. Most animals aren’t fitting a 13 inch head through a 10 cm (~4 in) cervix, so maybe it doesn’t hurt them as much. But I bet they still feel some pain.
Pain has an obvious function in life – it saves us from injury because we instinctively recoil from harmful things that cause pain. Pain makes us slow down and rest when we’re sick and teaches us to avoid our fingers when driving in a nail. Pain is also a problem, as C.S. Lewis observed. The existence of pain in a world created by a good and almighty God is a perennial dilemma. The existence of pain is just perennial. Even Jesus, we’re told, was a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. So no one can avoid pain, but at least it sometimes has a purpose.
Not all pain is clearly purposeful, however. Some physical pain, and grief, it’s close cousin, may have no meaning except what we give them. I don’t embrace those kinds of pain, but I do expect them. I think the purpose of life is to learn to respond well to them. Regarding the pain of labor and delivery, I hardly reveled in it, but I am grateful to be acquainted with it. My sweet baby couldn’t have come without it.
(As a postscript, I want to say that while natural delivery worked for me, I know all mothers go through pains in bringing new life into the world. It’s no cakewalk even with an epidural. From what my sister tells me about recovering from a C-section, that sounds a lot worse than labor.)