Week 7: Pain is the least of my worries

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.

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About investigatingbirth

My investigations of birth began in 2009 when I was trained as a doula. I helped women consider the evidence on common interventions, and helped them prepare for the physical and emotional challenge of giving birth. After some time it became clear to me that there was another type of challenge that I was unable to adequately prepare them for, the challenge of the maternity system. But it was only after my own traumatic birth in 2013 that I realized how little I had understood. I began to ask questions that few around me - doulas, nurses, midwives, doctors - were comfortable hearing. Questions like: Under what circumstances, and for what reasons, do doctors not practice informed consent? How do hospitals deal with other patient populations vulnerable to abuse? How does loss of professional autonomy, for obstetricians, and professional authority, for midwives, impact the quality of care they are capable of providing - regardless of their training? This blog will collect noteworthy information that attempts to answer these and other questions. Most of what you see here will be aggregated from other sources and analyzed. You will also see original interviews, and the occasional opinion piece or personal story, as I try to piece together a clear picture of the system in which American women give birth.
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