Pain with a purpose?

The unalterable bedrock of natural childbirth advocacy is that women should refuse effective pain relief in labor. The “ideal” situation is for women to embrace their pain and pretend that it is “good pain” or “pain with a purpose.”

Of course, there is no such thing as “good pain”: NCB advocates just made that up. The pain of contractions and the pain of vaginal distention do not differ in any way from any other kind of pain. It is not carried by different nerves, it is not conducted through the action of different neurotransmitters, it is not routed to different areas in the brain. It is exactly the same as any other kind of pain. So the take home message of NCB is that the excruciating pain of childbirth should be ignored.

How about the “purpose” of the pain? Does childbirth with pain have any advantages over childbirth without pain?

I thought I might find the answer in this blog post, Natural Childbirth: Pain With Great Purpose. Amanda, the author, had a child with an epidural and then a child without an epidural. I was curious to learn how forgoing the epidural improved things. Maybe it made the labor easier; maybe the baby is healthier, maybe the baby is smarter. What does Amanda tell us?

The Pain Prepares You

When a women starts to feel contractions, the dull ache is a signal that it’s not just another day. When I felt I was in labor, it gave me time to gather up the things I needed and to make sure the support I needed was there. I also made sure to not to overexert myself that morning, to lazy around, take many showers and relax.

More importantly preparing myself mentally, physically and emotionally helped prepare me in a different way compared to my first medicated birth…

Really? But she didn’t forget to go to the hospital for her first baby. She didn’t think that the day her first child was born was just like any other. She didn’t forget to gather up the things she needed. I don’t know what she means by the claim that the pain help her prepare mentally. Did she forget to bring home her first child because the labor was painless?

The Pain Protects You

While I was in labor, the pain from contractions made me move, a lot. I was on my feet for most of the day. I walked outside, inside, upstairs, downstairs. I took a shower and then walked some more. When I did lay down to rest, my left side was more painful to lay on, so I laid on my right. All of my actions that day eased the pain a bit and helped me get from one contraction to the other.

This movement protected my body as well as my daughter’s…

How did it protect her? She doesn’t report any injury due to lack of pain at her first delivery, so what was she protecting herself against?

The Pain Provides Natural Relief

Coping with pain during labor allows the body to increase oxytocin release, which in turn causes more effective, stronger contractions. This ultimately leads to the release of endorphins, a natural narcotic. Endorphins are endogenous opioid peptides that function as neurotransmitters (say that 5 times fast)…

Aside from that being a bunch of baloney, how, exactly did that change anything. While she had a functioning epidural the first time, she had no pain. When she didn’t have an epidural with her second child she had lots of pain. It doesn’t sound like endorphins are remotely as effective as an epidural.

The Pain Helps You Respond

When I used drugs with my first birth it disrupted what I should have been doing to have an efficient labor. I know this only because I experienced what labor was like without medication. There is no way in hell I would have laid on my back for 6 hours straight if I was having a natural birth. Laying down is not effective at getting a baby out, whether using drugs or not.

So did the first baby fail to come out? Apparently not. So how can she say that laying on her back was ineffective at getting the baby out if the baby came out just fine?

Let’s summarize:

Amanda didn’t forget to go to the hospital for her first baby. She didn’t think that the day her first child was born was just like any other. She didn’t forget to gather up the things she needed. She didn’t forget to bring home her first child because the labor was painless. So how exactly did the pain “prepare” her?

Amanda didn’t suffer any long term effects from not experiencing the pain of her first labor, so how did feeling the pain of her second labor protect her?

Amanda had much more pain in the unmedicated parts of both labors compared to when she had a functioning epidural. So how did those endorphins provide relief?

Amanda was able to push her first child out despite having an epidural. So what exactly does she mean when she says she “responded” better the second time?

The bottom line is that Amanda’s pain with her second birth had NO purpose. It accomplished NOTHING. It changed NOTHING.

Well, that’s not completely true. It did have one purpose: it allows her to boast about her natural childbirth, and what could be a more important purpose than that?