On occasion I have a chance to help out with a childbirth class, during which we discuss concerns the parents have or things they've heard about birth. Without fail each class has several moms (if not all!) mention their fear of pain, or the idea that the pain of labor will be more than they can bear. As these moms are preparing for out of hospital birth, their options for coping with the pain are different from those planning an epidural assisted hospital birth. Even when a mom is planning for epidural anesthesia, they will still be coping with contractions until they receive it, and not all epidurals are effective at blocking pain. These are some of the reasons why I think it's important for every expectant mom to consider her perceptions of pain, and what resources she has to face it.
The Birth Book: Everything You Need to Know to Have a Safe and Satisfying Birth has an excellent section on pain, how we perceive it, and how we cope with it. My husband says if fathers read only one chapter of one book to help their wives with labor, that's the one he advises!
While going through my doula notes tonight I found a handout - unfortunately there's no source cited! If anyone knows where this is from, let me know so I can credit it.
PAIN in labor is
P - purposeful
A - anticipated
I - intermittent
N - normal
During birth the contractions cause your body to release endorphins, which serve the purpose of making the pain bearable! The contractions are anticipated, which is easier to manage than dealing with unexpected or unexplained pain. Contractions are intermittent - there are breaks between contractions, allowing you to rest and relax in preparation for the next one. Labor pain is normal - your body was designed for this, you are not ill or injured. The contractions are powerful because your body is powerful, and knows what it is doing.