Pregnancy & Birth Thrive

Birthing Through the Pain of Motherhood

two women touching their foreheads together
Written by Amy Phoenix

We don’t always want to talk about pain. It’s one of the more uncomfortable experiences of being human, and of being a mom. Avoidance only gets us so far because pain is an interesting form of communication from the body to the mind; communication that once denied often pops back up for attention. But maybe if we talk about pain, if we consciously explore what we feel, we will be able to better meet the pain that comes, in whatever forms it may arise.

Birth is one of the most poignant experiences that prepares us for motherhood, with an intense mix of both emotional and physical pain, we’re alerted to the reality that we are not in control – yet we likely realize that we do have a significant influence on our experience and the experiences of those around us.                               When I speak of mothers birthing and about the experience preparing us for motherhood, I’m not just speaking about mothers who birth naturally or vaginally and I am including mothers who don’t birth physically at all. Although the metaphors in this article relate directly to the natural, physical process of birthing a baby, birthing through the pain of motherhood is a rite of passage for all mothers.

As I prepared for the birth of my first child, I read books and practiced a few relaxation exercises. When labor set in, so did a heavy cloak of fear and with the fear a new pain I’d never known. Sure, I’d heard stories. I’d read about the process of the uterus tightening and relaxing, the cervix stretching, the walls of the birth canal opening to a magnitude they did not commonly know and the opening itself stretching to a point that some would call the “ring of fire” for baby to make entry into this world. Intellectual knowledge is helpful, but the body has its own experience.

All I could do was breathe, succumb and ask for help. During that birth I accepted pain medication, and warm compresses and whatever else might get me through the intensity of birthing my beloved firstborn. Afterwards, I was exhausted, distant and completely overwhelmed. All feelings I hadn’t experienced in such strength–and did not want to feel after birthing my baby. I was afraid to open both during and after birth, but in those moments, motherhood ripped me open. It’s not really a choice; it’s an awakening–and each mother knows what I mean. Birth and motherhood change us, permanently.

As months rolled by and I reflected upon the birth. And now after having birthed four more times, I realize how much humans tend to avoid pain– and how learning to be with pain in new ways can change the way we live our lives, and mother our children. But why wouldn’t we avoid pain? It hurts, we usually take it as a signal that something is wrong, maybe very wrong, and avoidance may be all we know. Maybe avoidance gets us through, so we can actually make the most of the moments we have.

Sometimes avoidance or anesthetization of pain is necessary–and helpful. I definitely would not want a cesarean section without any pain or numbing medication. Sometimes the emotional pain we feel as mothers may be so strong at times that we feel a need to move away or push it down, for fear that it will take us over or because of some other fear we feel is valid at the time.

Whether the pain we are feeling is related to the actual process of birthing a baby, however that happens in our lives, or if it’s completely unrelated, we can benefit from learning how to transition from avoiding to approaching. From pushing away to meeting at the edges, in the capacity we are able. As we allow ourselves to birth and grow through pain, to actually open to what the pain is communicating, we become friends with parts of ourselves that desperately need our attention and loving care. Much like our children when they are in pain, whatever the form, need from us as well.

When our bodies are seizing with intensity during birth, while our uteruses are squeezing fervently, then relaxing and repeating the process until our babies are born, we have two choices. We can focus on the intensity, the squeezing, the pain and any after effects of tension or soreness, or we can learn to be with it through gentle, curious attention, and then we can just as strongly focus on those heavenly breaks of rest that come in between each contraction. I’ll admit, this definitely takes practice, not only before birth begins, but as it’s coming on strong and well after baby is born.

As inhabitants of an environment that naturally moves through the same rhythms of birth and breath, the cycle of expansion, contraction, with a small space in between, we are invited to tune into these small spaces of rest and relaxation. Sometimes the invitation comes through feeling so capsized by pain that we decide we must find another way. Sometimes the invitation comes in those calm moments, when we notice that the stretching, pulling and fiery aspects of motherhood are at peace — even if for a second or two. Pausing to deeply notice what and how we are feeling, allowing ourselves to be birthed through what we experience, can be a game changer for motherhood. We are birthed through pain, into our potential as human beings, as stewards of the next generation.

How do we do this? We commit to noticing, gently with curiosity and kindness. We notice the pain and contraction, and we notice what happens in our bodies and minds when we feel these sensations. And then, when rest comes, and it always does — even if it’s in the solace of the exhalation in the cycle of breath–we notice, deeply. We allows ourselves to really, truly, fully rest and rest deeply.

Not only is this essential to keep up our strength during labor and birth, this will carry us through motherhood to help us embrace the growth experience that it is.

Meditation, mindfulness, yoga, hypnosis (birth or otherwise), affirmative statements and realistic goals are all valuable practices which support us in birthing through the pain of motherhood while we honor the presence and rest within. Whether we’re stretching through the expansion of our child’s abilities as they crawl, walk and then drive away from us or contracting through the pain of them leaving our homes as our hearts walk outside of our bodies into the depth of the world, whatever practices we find helpful will be most useful when we integrate them as ways of being.

So, instead of just looking at them as things to do, we can benefit from inviting ourselves to juice them of their nourishment, to actually assimilate their benefits by absorbing the goodness that comes from meeting pain intentionally, with awareness, grace and gentleness.

For many years, I wished pain away. I moved here or there to avoid it, I consumed this or that to fade it, I laughed about its presence in my mind and body. I cringed when my children would feel pain, and would rush to aid them in their suffering–not really knowing how to truly help. And then it gradually hit me, hard. As mothers, pain begs to be listened to and grown through–in ourselves and ourchildren.

May our experiences with pain be a series of openings, birthings into and through the depth and beauty that motherhood holds for us, however bit- tersweet it may be at times. May we embrace pain as an opportunity for closeness, an invitation to deepen our experience of being human and a re- minder that life is a rainbow of experiences that we have the gift of sharing with those who inherit this earth from us. May we seize the rainbows, even and especially the painful ones.

About the author

Amy Phoenix