What if I can’t cope with the pain of labour?

'What are you doing? Come back to bed.' I dimly register the plaintive plea from my sleepy and confused son, but replying is difficult.

“I can’t, it hurts.” I manage in reply.

In fact, ‘it hurts’ is a massive understatement. Lying next to him was excruciating and it is barely better now I am standing by the bed. It was some time past 11pm and he’d woken twice already sensing something unusual. Each time I lay down he closed his eyes, instantly soothed. I meanwhile gritted my teeth and willed myself, against all my instincts, to stay still just a little longer, in the hope he would sleep deeply enough not to be disturbed when I got back up.

The third time I couldn’t do it. I got up and started walking, pacing the room with giant strides back and forth, back and forth as fast as I could.

It helped. I breathed more easily.

Then another wave of pain swept over and through me. I kept breathing. But I felt myself tense, involuntarily bending forwards to meet the rising sensations and hearing panic give voice to suddenly fearful thoughts.

Red hot searing pain for a minute of eternity and the words ‘What if I can’t cope?’

‘I can’t not cope,’ the internal dialogue continued, ‘This is what I do for a living, helping other women find inner confidence and trust in their body so they have amazing birth experiences. I have to succeed. Otherwise I will be a total fraud.’

With the panic, came guilt shame and crashing realisations. ‘Now I get it. Now I understand why some women beg for epidurals, caesareans, anything to take the pain away.’ I felt myself tumbling down from my superiority into humility, appreciation and empathy.

But still the fear and panic persisted with the refrain, ‘What if I can’t cope, what if I really can’t do this?’

There is a brief pause between contractions and in the respite I resume walking but a little slower. I have remembered what I forgot during my first birth- The NPA Process. NPA stands for Non Personal Awareness and it’s a simple 6 line process that can facilitate huge shifts quickly and easily.

The time is definitely ripe for some big shifts and I know exactly where to begin.

‘This scared I can’t cope, I say out loud . This energy of Scared I can’t cope…’

My son watched silently, slightly perplexed as I completed the sixth line and my walking slowed to some moments of stillness. I felt myself falling into the centre of myself. Around me the energy swirled and eddied. Reality rearranged itself.

A new wave of contractions starts.

Physically it is exactly as before. I am half doubled over in pain equally as intense as before.

This time though I emerge grinning in delight. For the next few contractions, although nothing at all about the level of pain has changed I am practically skipping for joy around my room. I no longer need to frantically pace either. Time has slowed and I have slowed with it.

So what happened?

In just a few moments my whole perspective on what was happening changed. The fear left me as my question was answered. I now knew that I could cope. I knew. Not hoped, or guessed, or rationalised or tried to talk myself into a state of positivity or self belief that I wasn't feeling. I knew from the depths of my being, from the marrow in my bone. From my heart and soul and back again I knew I could do it.

This was a true knowing that could only be experienced. It was not forced or rationalised. I did not have to give myself pep talks and remind myself of the historical statistics of successful births and the biological normality of what I was doing. I did not need to engage my neocortex and rational brain for support.

I could truly let go and trust in something so much more simple than that.

In this simplicity all the head talk and pressure evaporated along with the fear and I moved into the experience. Like in my previous post on experiencing fear in the context of trust I was now held in the context of knowing I would cope and all was well. Note: not could cope but would cope. It was a done deal that I couldn't argue with. So I didn't argue or question. All drama in the situation had left along with my doubts.

This whole doubting, worrying, panicking consciousness in fact left with as little drama as you might move from one room to another in your house. Which is in fact exactly what I did.

I moved to the bathroom and although I didn’t register it at the time the pain did finally diminish.

By the time I was pushing it was gone completely.

Although the pain left, the best gift was precisely that the pain didn't disappear immediately. That was my big agenda right. That was what I thought I needed to happen in order for all to be well. That would be success.  I wanted to be proud of my pain free achievement and paint some credibility over my insecurities and self-doubts as a birth worker.

That the level of pain had become largely irrelevant and didn't matter to me any  more was pure freedom. That I'm writing about it now, 2 years and 9 months on feels apt as Freedom is my word of the year for 2016.

There was another shift that happened in that moment too. Surrendering fully to the energy shift of that one NPA Process, (the only one I did in my whole labour,) paved the way for me to let go of all my remaining ideas of how the birth should go and allow the labour dance to unfold in its own way. Which was a good thing as I was plugged into the strongest most exhilarating flow of life force energy I have ever experienced. Like being wired up to the National Grid or perhaps holding a lightning rod as the lightning strikes. I would not have liked to have been trying to control or manage that against its will.

This surrender and letting go of the need to control how my life experiences and feelings show up is also part of my journey in freedom. Just thinking about that brings joy singing to the surface. It sounds like the song of my soul. And I hope you hear her song in my words and in her song you hear your own song and that this post sets off some inspirational shifts in your own journey.

Do let me know in the comments.


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Charlotte Kanyi

  • Clare says:

    Beautiful eloquent sharing Charlotte – thank you. Takes me back to my own incredible natural home birth experience 15 years ago. My daughter was “being birthed” and my job was simply to surrender to what my body knew how to do. Wonderful to be reminded of that on this rainy Saturday morning when said daughter is in the forest with 6 other teens on her Duke of Edinburgh bronze expedition! Happy days

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