Sunday, February 26, 2012

Building a Pain Coping Mindset Empowers Mothers and Prevents Birth Trauma

Good Morning Birth Peeps,
Friday evening I gave a little talk at the New Mexico Midwives Association about how building a pain-coping mindset during pregnancy empowers women and prevents emotional birth trauma associated with not being prepared to cope with pain.

I don't think of pain-coping preparation as simply dealing with the sensation of cervical dilation, but rather a broader stroke of labor experience. Building a coping mindset includes preparing the new mother (and father/other mother) to embrace and work with the sensations of pain, but also uncertainty, intensity, and exhaustion.

It is interesting to me that the first sensation that alerts most women that labor has started is "pain".... and yet it is the last thing we want to talk about in a meaningful way. Mothers are well informed about the risks and benefits of medical birth, but often least informed about labor pain, intensity, and uncertainty and least prepared to cope with these primal elements of labor.

We'd like to think that because labor is natural and our bodies are made to do it that we will just "know" how to cope, that we will figure it out... hence the popular dictum, "Trust Birth." (And of course, if labor is short enough, and the woman has had certain life experiences up to that point that have prepared her, and her support team and environment are all in alignment, she will be blessed with a harmonious experience!)

It is my point of view that we cannot risk allowing women (especially first-time mothers and their partners) to figure this out--on their own--in labor. I respectfully think of new mothers (and their partners) as uninitiated. In traditional cultures, the uninitiated were not expected to initiate themselves. They were mentored through some kind of personal and experiential preparation so that when the Ordeal or new role in life occurred, they were prepared to meet it.

The catch word in birth is "empowerment." I work with mothers who have experienced emotional birth trauma related to being surprised and unprepared to cope with the normal pain of labor or how to labor in awareness (and self-acceptance) with an epidural.  Feeling betrayed (by false assurances) is not empowering. Feeling unprepared for uncertainty and pain-coping is not empowering. Experiencing helplessness and not knowing what to do--does not engender empowerment. These lead to negative self-beliefs that are not true, but feel very true to the mother who was not prepared.

The midwives had so many good questions and shared experiences. I thoroughly enjoyed sharing a little time with them and hope to do this again soon.




  1. What would be some steps we can take to begin to guide our initiates and prepare them to take that journey?

  2. Hi Mamaloo,
    There are so many pieces that come to mind in answer to this question.

    One concrete you could do is to order the BFW How to Teach Parents Pain-Coping Practices--for Mentors/ Teachers. First practice these yourself. Master them, using ice, and using them during stressful times in your own life. When you have lived the mindful practices, you can share them with confidence. They are simple and effective.

    Don't think of any pain-coping practice as a technique or something to distract or escape pain.

    Pain is a normal sensation in labor. If women think they can escape pain with a technique, and they can't escape the pain and "relax", they may feel they are or have failed. So the practices I teach are more about "embracing" the sensations of labor, rather than trying to escape them.

    The larger answer is to experience a paradigm shift yourself. You may consider taking a Level One Introduction to Mentoring workshop.