After my third son was born, I was talking with a woman who had also just had a baby, we were sharing our experiences of labor and birth, however our experiences and our perceptions were very different. She described to me that even though she had has an epidural her labor was very painful and in fact was the worst pain she had ever felt. This was her second baby. When it was my turn to share, I almost felt bad telling her that I had had a natural birth. She again, reiterated that she could never have a natural birth because it was so painful even with the epidural.
I felt like I knew a secret! The secret is that yes, labor is painful, and yes, labor is very hard work, but if you work with your body instead of against it, it doesn't have to be excruciating. I understand that epidurals do give pain relief during labor, but I don't think that they are a magic wand for a pain-free labor. I'm not speaking from experience here though, as I have never had an epidural. I have had 3 babies, all naturally. I wouldn't do it any other way!
I can't say that my labors were easy or pain-free. I can, however, say that I worked very hard during labor. I told the woman mentioned above, that while I felt my labor was very hard work, I would not describe is as very painful. The best comparison that I can make is to an athletic event. Labor is a physical event for a woman's body, so a comparison to another physical activity seems to fit well. In high school I was on the cross-country team. I enjoyed running, but it was not always easy for me. As a matter of fact, practice was usually pretty hard, I often had sore muscles from hard training. I remember when it was race day, feeling so nervous before the start of the race, and as the gun was fired to mark the start of the race, I began to use my legs pushing with everything I had, using those muscles that I had exercised during practice. While I was running the race I was working hard, my legs would hurt, my lungs would feel as if they couldn't hold any more air, I was breathing fast. In short, it didn't feel good, until the end. When the race was over, after I had crossed the finish line, I felt great! My muscles were still sore, yes, but the sense of accomplishment was overwhelming. That is what made it all worth it. All the practices and sore muscles were all worth the glory of crossing the finish line with a personal best time.
Labor is the same way. It doesn't feel good while you are doing it, it is very hard work. But once you cross that finish line and are holding your baby, the glory, the rush of hormones is worth is all! You feel as if you can fly!
Labor isn't only physical, it is also mental and emotional. If you go into labor expecting it to be a painful experience, it probably will be. But, if you go into labor expecting to work hard at something that you know your body was designed to do, you will have realistic expectations and be better equipped to handle your labor.
A woman's body is made to birth a baby. It is an extraordinary event that is very normal for her body. I don't believe that labor was meant to be painless. Pain during labor is purposeful. If you tune into your body, and listen to what that pain is telling you, it will guide you into positions and activities are helpful during labor. Pain is your body's defense mechanism, it tells you what to do to make the situation better.
The secret I have learned is that labor is not as awful as everyone tells you it is. Labor is hard work, but it's work that can be done, for your baby.