Why Lemony?
(the “About Me” page)

March 31, 2004

Serenity Lady gives birth

Suzanne grilled me about labor the other day, and I got to thinking about it. Here's what happened. (this is my longest webble yet!)

After going through labor, and coming back for more, I finally think I've come to some understanding of what it means to me to deal with the pain of giving birth. Not that I have tested this new understanding, mind you. But here are my musings.

I saw this TV commercial when I was pregnant with Maya, I think, for Thermasilk (this shampoo that activates when you blow dry your hair, or something of that nature) where this lady is in dry-hair land and she's in a desert and her hair is all sticks and hay and is breaking off- it's so dry. Then she turns and sees this doorway of fire and through the doorway is this lush green pastoral scene with a stream- the image of moist paradise. And she walks right up to the burning doorway (and I'm thinking, 'NO, DON'T GO IN THERE! YOU'LL BURN UP! RUN AWAY! STOP DROP AND ROLL!) and serenely walks right through and the fire doesn't burn her up, it makes her hair all (insert good hair adjective) and life is good and she's in moist pastoral paradise. I know, it's just a commercial, but you know, video is such a powerful medium that sometimes it can transcend even its most superficial uses and really mean something. And to me this meant a lot. Pregnant people that are nervous about labor, like I was, will find encouragement anywhere they can.

So here's what it means to me. The desert place is the first parts of labor, the parts you can sort of deal with by using techniques that you learned in classes and strategies that you figured out ahead of time, and tools that you brought with you. All intellectually based, reasonable things. But then you see the door of fire, and you realise that it's going to hurt more than you can reasonably handle and you don't want to go through any doorways of fire thank you very much I'd like to go home now and you did this to me, etc. The doorway of fire is the transition phase of labor and the green scene is, of course, having given birth and holding your amazing miracle of a baby. So the big question is, how do we get through that doorway? How is it possible to endure the fire? Maybe it's by tapping into that serenity.

Serenity Lady beleived, and staked her life on it, that she would not burn up in that fire. I didn't burn up either, of course. But that kind of pain usually means that there is something seriously wrong with you and you just might not make it, like multiple stab wounds or a heart attack or serious poisoning, and if you do, you will be seriously scarred or impaired in some way after the fact. I've got thirty years of conditioning in my mind and body that says that if I feel pain, that I am hurt in some way, that something is WRONG. And my body jumps into action and responds to that stimuli with the adrenalin I need to either fight or run away from that pain that's coming at me. And my whole self is whipped into action to deal with the emergency.

But then there's labor. Nothing is wrong when those contraction come on strong; I am not hurt, I'm not burned. And there's noone to fight, and I can't run away. My natural response is totally wrong for labor pain. (I fought it every second of the way. I was not the serene lady, confident in the end result, willing to go through the fire.) The first time, I tensed up at every contraction (fight), and in the second labor, I tried to avoid getting to the end by not doing things that would make labor progress (flight). When I would tense up, my doula would instruct me: Relax! Put your shoulders back down. But I didn't know how to relax when I was in pain. It just didn't seem possible. I didn't know any other way to respond. I've been told that tensing up during a contraction actually makes it hurt more, but maybe I didn't understand why at a deep level. It's so hard to beleive that something that seems so passive (relaxing) could deal with something so intense. I think I beleive it more now, though, because during transition with Maya I really did relax in the sense that I didn't fight against it. After the midwife finally decided with me to break my water completely, the serious get-the-baby-out contractions kicked in. And it really felt like fire, white hot, but I knew that I was going to be ok at the end, and I knew deeply that a baby would come out of all this. It took a great deal of concentration to stay calm and not flail when I felt another contraction coming but it was entirely possible to do. I can't really say it took all I could give, because I don't really know what that is, but it took a whole lot.

When I think of how Serenity Lady comes by her transendence, I am reminded of the real life martyr, the famed Mona, who was killed by hanging in Iran not too long ago for being a Baha'i and teaching children's classes. She didn't fret about physical pain, she kissed that dern noose and put it around her own neck. The physical pain and even the assurance of death were completely irrelevant to her goal of living according to her beleifs. No flames were too high or hot for her. She was focused somewhere else entirely. On Baha'u'llah- her heart's desire and her goal. She was HAPPY to walk through fire for Baha'u'llah.

And I wonder if I were to go through labor again, if I could focus on the fact that everything worth doing requires me to walk the path of sacrifice. Would I get that serenity and transcendence? Could I become like a spiritual warrior whose weapon is their submission to the will of God? It seems to me that practising that in the other areas of life would be a good preparation for trying to be detached from labor pain. From what I've read about the sympathetic nervous system, there is a mechanism in the body that will respond to that serenity and make contractions hurt less, be more effective at pushing the baby down, and go faster, as well as giving the baby more oxygen. So it could actually happen that spiritual understanding could be an effective way to deal with labor pain. But I haven't actually tried it.

Labor always felt like a testing ground for myself, where I could see my character as it really was, without masks or walls to hide behind, so I tend to think a lot of how my character can be improved in relation to labor. It's like a analogy for all the tests of life for me, and so I tend to get intense about it. But another less critical part of me says: it doesn't really matter what I did in labor or how much it hurt or what the state of my character was, as long as the baby came out alright, it was a completely successful labor. And I beleive that too. And why is it so important for me to judge everything anyways? But that's a whole other webble.

Posted by Bahiyyih at March 31, 2004 12:24 AM


Wow! What a cool (I sat and tried to figure out a fitting word to describe what I feel and cool is the best I could do...) way to describe labor.

I have a good friend who once told me that the way she dealt with her menstrual cramps by thinking that the pain was a sacrifice that she made so that she would be able to have babies in the future.

And there's this really cool song by the Roots called "Sacrifice" and it goes like this:

Tell you one lesson I've learned
If you want to get something in life
You ain't gonna get it unless
You give a little bit of sacrifice...

And I've been thinking about that, and about the early Baha'i believers and about out American culture and our fear of death and pain...

And wow - it's a crazy mix.

I really appreciate that you posted this.

Sacrifice. It's definitely a "negative" image in our society - but yeah - think about the seed. it's got to split to grow, and once it splits, it's no longer a seed. And it doesn't really have any idea of what it's going to be to make it feel better about splitting - it just knows it has to grow!

Posted by: liz at April 2, 2004 11:57 AM

Yes, I totally use the seed analogy in my head about big changes too. That seed is history. There's something else coming and it bears almost no resemblance to that seed except in it's genetic makeup.

Posted by: Bahiyyih at April 3, 2004 09:06 AM

I have to put my 2 cents in because as I was reading about Bahiyyih's birthing experiences, I realized that Suzanne might not know that each woman's birthing experience is unique, not only because each woman is unique, but because each birth is unique. I could tell three different stories, one for each baby born to me, but instead I have practical things to offer.

One very important thing I learned is about the nature of the labor pain itself. It's a lot like when you get a huge gripping cramp in your calf or foot except it's your big belly that clenches. Your belly gets as hard as a rock during the contraction it's so strong. What an awesome muscle! Sure, the pain can get pretty uncomfortable at the peak of the contractions, but the really hard part for me was simply not being able to control the comings and goings of the contractions. I hate not being in control! The breathing exercises learned are supposed to give the mother some sense of control, but it didn't really work too well for me, especailly for the first birth. I hyperventilated and stuff. I simply didn't know what to expect and didn't handle any of it well. Guess what? The baby came out anyway!! Yeah!

I took the lessons learned into the second birth and things were MUCH better. I laid on my left side with about 15 pillows all under and around me. I was very comfy. I faced the wall didn't chat with anyone. It was quiet. I actually read a novel for most of the time and only moved when the nurse needed to check the progress of the labor. I closed my eyes and breathed the shallow he-he breaths during the peaks. At the transisition stage, I couldn't read any more and called for the nurse and the baby was born within 20 minutes or so. The baby arrived very calmly and I was calm, too.

Same contractions as with the first birth, but no fear because I knew what to expect. I knew myself better, too. I knew the only way I was going to feel more controlled was to be more on my own. The first birth was crazy -people coming in and out of the room, everyone asking me if I needed anything or telling me to breathe etc. Too much sensory input for me!

I feel like the second labor experience was hallmarked by the achievement of a type of self-hypnosis. When the contractions came, I closed my eyes and while I breathed my shallow little breaths, I imagined riding the pain like a surfer would ride a huge wave, slowly traveling right through the middle of it, having it curl over my head, but emerging unscathed out the other end. I could not have done it except I asked everyone to be very quiet for me during labor. I did the same thing for the 3rd birth, and it worked pretty much the same way.

I do feel that pain supressing drugs are a good thing as long as they don't hurt the baby. I did not have anything for my 3 births, since "natural childbirth" as they say, was very popular when I was in my 20's. However, I have often thought that the epidural sounded like a great invention, and if I had to do it over again, you bet I'd be happy to have it. But, I really am pretty happy with my experiences as they were. And man, what great kids I had!

Don't be afraid! It's so wonderful to have a baby! Such a gift.

Posted by: Janie at April 21, 2004 12:24 AM

Thanks Janie! It's great to get a different perspective into the conversation. I love your story too. Your novel-reading experience helped me a lot in early labor with Maya. I couldn't figure out the self-hypnosis thing, unless that was what was happening during the transition part. I don't know what to call that. Maybe focus; or necesity.

Posted by: Bahiyyih at April 22, 2004 09:54 PM

We have water.
We have salt.

Bahiyyih, I am reminded again of the great privilege of being allowed into Maya's birthing experience. Thank you forever for that gift.



Posted by: Nana at May 8, 2004 10:25 PM