This time around I am afraid of a lot of things related to childbirth, but I am not afraid of pain.
Pain is a sensation. I think I’ve always been good at not allowing physical sensations to disrupt my equilibrium. Also, I’ve been blessed to never have had debilitating sensations – never had chronic pain, chronic digestive issues, chronic anything. Ever since I was a teenager I’ve found physical sensations to be interesting, intriguing, sometimes enlightening. Instead of medicating my menstrual symptoms, I charted them and discovered my discomfort was seasonal. I braved the cold of Montreal’s winter on my bike with the help of scarves, jackets, multiple layers of socks, etc. And of course as an athlete I reveled in the endorphin high that would come after I recovered from a grueling session of stadium stairs, weight lifting that turned my muscles to jelly, or doing technique drills until I literally dropped from exhaustion.
Before my birth experience, the things that scared me included the death of those I loved, war, drowning, losing my mental capacities or physical control, being seriously or permanently injured. I didn’t really fear being attacked or shot, although mugging and rape did scare me.
I wonder if modern medicine does our souls a disservice by identifying pain as something to fear, something to be avoided at all costs. The focus on pain allows the discipline of medicine to ignore a glaring gap in the western concept of health: we can treat our physical pain but we don’t have tools to mitigate the intellectual declines of dementia, to make peace with loss of control due to permanent injury, or feelings of helplessness in the face of disease, and our society does little to eradicate domestic violence, racism, and culturally sanctioned abuse. These are wildly more penetrating and harmful than mere physical pain. While we focus our attention on pain as the thing to avoid, we fail to develop a culture that supports people suffering from these and other hurts.