There’s a video circulating (somewhat like a UK one from a couple years ago), in which men are hooked up to electrical stimulation, and put through some labor ‘contractions’. And make no mistake, it is pretty darn funny, because they are not expecting what they experience, at all, and they don’t take it well.
But is it anything like labor? Well, other than having muscles cramping tightly at intervals, not really. They haven’t had any preperation or expectations, they don’t have the mental shift that comes during labor, it is all the wrong muscle groups tightening up, and they can call a halt at any time. So while they’re experiencing intense muscle contractions in a way they never have before, it isn’t labor pain.
The most important thing missing is all the physiological chemistry that happens when a woman goes into labor. The laboring woman’s body responds to the increase in oxytocin in labor by producing endorphins- which are the body’s natural pain mitigators. Endorphins give us a nice fuzzy headed buzz that helps distance us from pain. Ever had a tattoo and felt lightheaded after? Endorphins. The afterglow of orgasm? Endorphins (And oxytocin! but more about that wonder hormone in a different post).
A laboring woman who is well supported, and has a range of coping skills to instinctively draw upon, will be less likely to react to the pain of labor with fear or stress, and that will reduce the chance of triggering the Fight or Flight Response. In FoF, our bodies actively suppress endorphins, because you don’t want to be loopy if you have to either run away or kick something’s butt. It also increases blood flow to the limbs… again good for running or asskicking, not so good when you have major physical work happening in the torso. FoF makes our bodies ready to respond to crisis.
Unfortunately the side effect of this in labor (even if you aren’t actively feeling ‘afraid’ or ‘scared’… your body doesn’t know the difference between ‘omg I’m in labor!’ tension and ‘omg something is about to eat me!’) is tension in the limbs, increased heartrate, all the signs of being really scared, which makes the pain of labor more painful, and even threatening- which increases fear, fear causes loss of endorphins which causes more pain, and so forth.
Fellow Birthing From Within Mentor Diana Kirke wrote this wonderful article: Of Course You Fear Birth. You should go read it, I’ll wait…
…Western culture has shifted birth from ‘just this thing that women do’, to this thing that woman fear. We’ve eliminated so many of the reasons our ancestresses had to legitimately fear birth (thank you modern medicine), and replaced it with images of birth as this freakypainful thing where anything could go wrong at a moments notice and you’ll become a crazy woman during birth and omgomgomgomg. But the reverse picture is of these hippy-granola women chanting OHM in candlelight, and never making a sound. The reality is steadfastly in between.
Every birth is a journey, a rite of passage, and something to be approached with honor, and awareness. Even the cesarean births, even the epidural supported births, even the water births or home births on your hands and knees. They are all BIRTH. And every woman, no matter where and how she births, is going to experience complex, intense emotions and physical sensations. Once we get over the natural vs other birth mindset, and start teaching women awareness instead of avoidance, birth culture will get much less fear based.