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Friday Fun Question: for the Moms in the Audience

March 14, 2008

I’ve read several blog posts about pain and labor pain recently, especially concerning individual differences and tolerance. As a late Friday topic of discussion, I have a question for the moms, especially those in healthcare or with a tendency to accidentally injure oneself – How might labor pain compare to hobbling around on a broken kneecap for six weeks because some yahoo in the ED missed it on the x-ray? Or, you know, to other excruciating things you may have experienced, if your hometown ED wasn’t as incompetent as mine? Discuss.

Other dumb accidents from your blogger (feel free to share your own):
-Falling out of a van and onto a sidewalk in front of the security office for the National Institutes of Health. In a skirt.
-Falling stiffly (like a felled tree) face-first into a hot tub. Which was occupied.
-Falling backwards off a porch, bouncing off a dogloo, falling some more, and landing butt-first on a water spigot.
-I’ve also fallen up stairs on several occasions. We won’t even talk about accidentally stapling my own finger.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. March 14, 2008 4:27 pm

    You raise a good point here, however this is difficult to answer because we as individuals cope with pain differently. Back to being in labour, as a mother I can say giving birth is not a function of the body that comes without pain. But I would like to say that I would give birth any day before that of going to the dentist to have the pain of toothache relieved.

  2. March 14, 2008 4:30 pm

    There’s such an enormous spectrum when it comes to labor pain, but I’ll give it a shot! I’m insanely clumsy — for example, I simultaneously sprained one ankle and broke the other when I was 7 months along in my last pregnancy. That pain was definitely the worst of my life.

    How did it compare to labor? Well, my first baby was posterior, in the hospital, long labor… it was pretty excruciating. I did end up getting an epidural after 24 hours, and though it’s not how I wanted things to go, I’d say the epidural was therapeutic in that case. The pain wasn’t quite as bad as the double ankle accident, but it was longer and more emotional.

    On the other hand, my second birth was a piece of cake. I was at home with a wonderful midwife, labored in a big, warm tub, and felt just dandy for almost the whole thing. Up until transition and pushing, I wouldn’t even have called it pain.

    Our perceptions of pain vary SO much depending on the circumstances in which we experience it, and labor pain really is very different from the pain of injury. I agree that natural birth folks shouldn’t lie about whether birth can be painful. It usually is painful… but it doesn’t have to be a bad pain, if that makes sense. I think the natural birth advocates’ desire to downplay the pain isn’t done so out of a desire to trick or manipulate women, it’s just an effort to counteract every other message about birth in our culture. It’s really important for those of us who support and love natural birth to treat women with as much honesty and respect as we want them to get from their caregivers.

  3. onesillyme permalink
    March 14, 2008 9:05 pm

    I have not had “natural labor” (breech twins & pre-eclampsia the first time, big stubborn baby the next, 2 c-sections) but I have experienced the joy of 3 days on pitocin trying to induce labor with my last child.

    Day one, my husband & sister-in-law sitting around nervously was the most notable thing. Days two and three, the nurses were freaking out about the amplitude of the contractions on the monitor. They were also very concerned that my “support people” weren’t there, even though I explained I prefered to be alone until I was actually in labor (I felt like I had to be entertaining Day 1 & I really didn’t have the energy for it). I was perfectly happy in a rocking chair meditating.

    Each day at about 3 p.m. the doctor would come in, take a look & announce that I’d made no progress, at which point the previously quite tolerable pain became COMPLETELY UNBEARABLE. As long as I thought the pain had a purpose, I was fine with it. Same deal with post-op pain. I made due with Tylenol after my c-section with the twins because anything stronger made one of the twins too sleepy to nurse. Other surgeries? Bring on the narcotics!

    BTW, most painful experience ever: Breast Reduction!

  4. March 14, 2008 10:55 pm

    My top 5 most painful experiences ever:

    1) Immediately post-op total abdominal hysterectomy. I was given 2 doses of morphine, versed, toradol, a dilauded pump, and finally valium…none of it touched the pain.

    2) Epidural steroid injection into my sacroiliac joint. I said curse words at that doctor that I didn’t even know existed.

    3) Back labor because my epidural didn’t take in my back. That was indescribable pain.

    4) Removal of a pilonidal cyst off of my tailbone. Something about those never endings in the lower back…ouch!!!

    5) Almost severing the top of my index finger as I was cutting open a box of CDs with a box cutter. Then, when they shot the lidocaine into the end of said finger in order to deaden it and stitch it up.

    Good times.

  5. March 15, 2008 12:49 pm

    My contraction pains were somewhat painful but totally tolerable until my midwife decided to amp up the Pitocin to the point that I was begging for mercy and I literally thought I was going to die. Not only would the midwife (who was in an incredible rush) not stop increasing the Pit, but she also decided she didn’t have enough time to wait for an anesthesiologist either.

    As a point of reference, my abusive ex-husband broke my ankle in four place necessitating a 10 pin surgery. I could not walk for six months and all the pain I experienced with that paled in comparison to the Pitocin induced contractions.

    Please do not be scared of natural childbirth. Every woman should be very afraid of Pitocin.

  6. March 15, 2008 10:33 pm

    Dear Rachel & all,
    There’s some really useful information, data and personal stories in a chapter about pain & concerns in the new Our Bodies OurSelves: Pregnancy & Birth book.
    See the OBOS website and then links to the chapter headings. Out in bookstores now.

  7. March 16, 2008 10:08 am

    My copy came in the mail on Friday. 😉

  8. March 16, 2008 12:43 pm

    I had two natural labors and deliveries. I am no pain lover. I hate going to the dentist and getting my teeth cleaned. It really hurts my gums. I also really hated having the midwife try and rub out an anterior cervical lip during my first labor. I thought that was more painful than the labor and delivery otherwise.

    I have had migraine pain and GI pain that was worse than labor, but transition labor can get really intense, don’t get me wrong.

    What I think is that it isn’t the pain, it’s the endurance that is the issue. Most women who go into labor saying that they will “try” to go natural. but end up asking for an epidural after a vaginal exam. Not because a contraction in particular was painful, but because of the prospect of them continuing longer for some period of time. Many women do not realize that dilation is not linear. It speeds up considerably once you reach 7 cm. Women do the math in their head, and think. well, it took be 8 hours to get to 7 cm, so it’ll take me another 4 to 5 to get to 10 cm, I can’t take it, give me the epidural. They don’t realize that they have not been feeling labor this intensely the whole time, and that transition labor lasts, on average, an hour and a half until it is time to push. By the time many women choose the epidural, the baby is ready to come out. I can’t tell you how many stories I hear of women “giving up” at transition, getting the epidural, which takes a good half and hour to 45 minutes (if you are already checked into the hospital, much longer if you are just showing up in triage) and then it has to kick in – and then it is time to push.

    Contractions do not hurt nearly as much during the pushing stage, and they space out and there is more room in between. Most experts agree having an epidural is not helpful during the pushing stage, especially if you are interested in alternative positions. It can be of benefit for certain interventions like forceps.

    Some women translate this into thinking “the epidural finally allowed me to relax and dilate” when research indicates that they actually prolong labor. That always frustrates me. You don’t want to argue with someone’s interpretation of their birth, but in general, transition is much faster than you expect it to be, and that is when you start to feel desperate and out of control, right when the endorphins start to kick in. It’s a strange perfect storm for women to finally choose to get the epidural and then be at the end of labor.

  9. March 16, 2008 12:47 pm

    Oh, and I forgot to mention. I had already been through a “natural” delivery in which the midwife did give me pitocin (I wish I was more informed then!) and was pregnant with my second when I had an awful bout of sciatica. I told my new midwife that I would need an epidural for the sciatica, regardless of my labor pain, if it didn’t go away. it was far worse than any labor pain, easily. I have seen the size of that nerve in a cadaver – I am not surprised how much it hurt.

  10. Susanna permalink
    March 16, 2008 1:27 pm


    about #5: They actually don’t need to administer it through the tip. They can do it through the root of your finger, and the pain is negligible. Sorry! Figured you ought to know in case it happens again.

  11. Emily permalink
    March 17, 2008 1:49 pm

    My list of painful experiences would be
    1. when my younger sister poured a kettle of boiling water down my shoulder. I remember just not being able to take in a breath. As if my lungs had just been kidnapped.
    2. gall stone attacks that became so bad I went unconcious (I was an adult, so I guess it was just less traumatic.)
    3. stitches removed in England from my bottom lip that was stitched up in Spain. Unlike other stitches I’ve had, these were disolving stitches and the dumb dr heard a lot of screaming from me as a kid until he rechecked the paperwork.
    4. my first labour.
    5. kidney infection.

    However, my second labour would fall somewhere around 20th or so. It wasn’t that it was easier. I just had much better techniques to relax through the contractions and better support. It was sooooooo much better. Not painless, but definitely not nearly like my first.

  12. Emily permalink
    March 17, 2008 1:54 pm

    BTW, for some reason, I’ve never felt pain when I’ve broken a bone or slashed myself and needed stitches. They all happened during emergencies and I just had wayyyy too much adrenalin for pain to kick in. I looooove adrenalin, better than any pain killer. I’m accident prone and it’s saved me from experiencing fracturing my skull after climbing a roof as a kid, coming off my dirt bike as a kid, or slamming full speed into brick walls coming down a hill on my bmx. Never felt a thing!!!!!

  13. March 17, 2008 4:52 pm

    Emily, it’s funny you should say that about the adrenalin. When I broke my kneecap, I blacked out (standing up!) momentarily, but it really didn’t hurt appreciably until at least half an hour later.

  14. Judit permalink
    March 18, 2008 11:13 am

    Getting my IUD placed gave me far worse uterine cramping than my labors, though it was shorter.

    Otherwise, I’ve had a rather medically uneventful life so no other comparisons to report here…

    I second the ‘pain with a purpose’ concept as far as my experience. My labors felt like very very surprisingly strong menstrual cramps (plus menstrual backache with my first) but I was thinking happy thoughts about holding my baby soon and I don’t know how I would have dealt with the same at your typical hospital setting. Like with bad cramps that make you double over so I crawl into bed, darken the room, nobody talk to me, nobody TOUCH me etc. and I managed just fine at my home births. No complaints really. I absolutely believe anyone with personal experience with pitocin that it is hellish; that vaginal exams in labor are hellish; that interacting with anyone but the most angelic nurses and doctors while laboring makes the pain hellish.
    Oh, and my second one I even used hypnosis for, and it was smooooooth. Barely a sigh escaped my lips until I was groaning out loud with my spontaneous pushing efforts. A butter birth.

  15. Hildy permalink
    March 21, 2008 7:05 am

    Kneecaps are very hard to diagnose on plain film x-rays, so don’t put it down to incompetence.

  16. March 21, 2008 11:56 am

    Hildy, yeah, I’m kind of biased by the 6 months of painful hobbling. 🙂

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