A guest post from Stacey Curnow.
Have you ever gone through so much pain that you doubted it could have any value?
Sometimes life can present so many challenges you may very well wonder if it will ever end.
Is this pain worth it?
To answer that question, I invite you to look through the eyes of a woman as she labors to give birth to her child.
As a midwife, I have seen this process again and again. In this article, I will share with you both my experiences as a professional and my personal experience with the birth of my son – and 7 key life lessons to take away.
“What is to give light must endure burning.” – Victor Frankl
1. Life comes with very few instructions.
There is no how-to kit for life, and we learn as go along. Sometimes it all comes easily, and other times it’s like knocking your head against a wall.
In the same way, most of the instructions given to pregnant women are inadequate – not least because they encourage women to focus on the little things related to their pregnancy and miss the big picture.
When I am in clinic, I try to give them the big picture – pregnancy is the “new normal.”
When you’re not pregnant it’s not normal to feel nauseated, dizzy, and most of all, in pain. But when you are pregnant it often is. That’s the bottom line, and it’s unlikely to change.
So just know that at certain phases in your life, you will have to face some challenges, no matter what.
2. Learn to bear the pain.
Notice that I said pain and not something else, like discomfort.
I remember thinking when I was pregnant that if I hadn’t known that such multifaceted pain was normal, I would have gone to the ER and presented my complaints with a hope for a cure. But there is no cure. There is simply the will to bear it.
You either have the will to dig in and prepare for more or not.
Fortunately, the intensity of physical pain that women feel in pregnancy, labor and birth doesn’t happen much in the rest of our lives. And yet there’s plenty of other pain—physical and emotional—and just as in childbirth we have to dig in no matter what challenges we face, always trusting that there’s a reason for what we’re going through, and something greater on the other side.
3. You are far stronger than you think.
Going through so much pain sounds frightening. And looking ahead to birth, many women are frightened. That’s because even in a world full of amazing women athletes, entrepreneurs, and astronauts (not to mention billions of mothers) most women don’t know just how strong they really are until they gestate and give birth to another human being.
In the same way, you are far more capable than you give yourself credit for. The world is full of people who have faced adversity – when you face up to it, you are more likely to surprise yourself and come out on top rather than fail.
4. Prepare yourself for life.
The most unfortunate thing about women underestimating themselves is that many of them give up even before taking something on and they pass up the opportunity to train, prepare and become even stronger.
Women who are pregnant should behave like they are in training, like Olympic athletes, or serious applicants for the space program.
Of course the same goes for our lives – we have to be in training and focus on getting better at what we do. Knowing that you are already very able, you can prepare yourself for any challenges that life may throw at you.
5. Find and choose your friends and supporters carefully.
Even for those people who have trained for years, actually performing — whether in a stadium or on the space shuttle—remains the ultimate challenge, achieved under unique and unpredictable circumstances.
Similarly, there are as many experiences of labor and birth as there are women and no “correct” way to do them.
So when patients and friends come to talk to me about their pregnancies, my first suggestion is that they find a provider they trust, and put together a team of additional supporters.
It’s quite a challenge for a woman to have the type of birth she feels is right for her and her child, without engaging and planning with the people around her.
In life too, it’s rare that we’ll be able to accomplish a vision or goal all by ourselves. It’s so important that we ask for help when we need it – and we are open to receiving it.
6. Have a vision of what you want.
As vital as it is to get help, receiving it is really only possible if a woman goes into birth with a clear vision of how she wants things to go.
In the same way, it’s important that you go through your life with a clear vision of what you want. And don’t be afraid to share your vision with the other people in your life.
There is no correct way of going through life – you learn and live through your challenges and your mistakes – the lessons will come. The trick is to learn from them!
7. Face your greatest fear in order to overcome it.
I chose to have a natural home birth with my midwife, also dear friend attending on me. As we talked about preparing for the birth she asked me what my greatest fear was. I told her that I was haunted by the story of one of my fellow students in midwifery school – she too had planned a homebirth with a midwife, but after many hours of labor at home she ended up in the hospital with an epidural and forceps delivery.
I told my midwife that I was afraid I would also suffer the same fate. However, since there is a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest that the more a woman states what she does not want in child birth, the more likely it is to happen, I kept my birth plan simple.
“I know what I want. My support team knows what I want. I will do what my midwife says.” That was it.
“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become.” – Buddha
However, the Law of Attraction always holds – simply put, energy flows where attention goes, so you get what you think about, even if you don’t want it.
So it was no surprise that I came up against my greatest fear!
After a relatively short labor time of 12 hours, I was fully dilated, but I didn’t make much progress after pushing strenuously for two hours. At this point my midwife told me to get into a squatting position. In my exhaustion, I told her, “After the next contraction.”
When the next contraction came and I said that again, I glanced up just at the moment when all of my support people looked at each other as if to say, “Here it is, the thing she feared.”
And then the vision I had for my homebirth, the one they had supported me in, took hold.
In the next moment they had taken me in their arms to support me in a squat – I found that position better for pushing, and although it took another hour, my baby was finally born.
And what an amazing feeling that was!
Instead of fearing the pain and running from it, I faced it, learned from it (what I was doing wasn’t working), acted on the lesson, and received the greatest gift of my life – my baby boy.
Pain can be a guide, leading you to a magnificent creation.
Enduring pain does not make you a better person – I am all for pain medicine if the woman wants it, and I am convinced that parenting another human being brings meaning and joy whether it happens with or without outside intervention.
But if your mind and body are prepared, the pain you feel in labor—and the effort to embrace it, move toward it, and work with it—can be transmuted into a gift that informs the rest of your life.
That’s because labor and birth are intensely spiritual and physical all at once. As such, they are also apt metaphors for life.
So stay open and be willing to receive the messages in pain—whether that pain is physical or spiritual.
This is one of life’s greatest challenges, and running away from it is also one of life’s greatest temptations.
It takes enormous courage to stay with the pain long enough to hear what it has to say.
Yet, working with pain and developing the ability to rise above it to reach your vision allows you to tap into something profound and magical that can remind you of your true power.
And that will serve you well for the rest of your life.