The First Stage of Childbirth is the long, hard labor. It is the slow process that produces dilation, or opening, of the cervix — the “neck” or outlet at the bottom of the uterus. Once the baby’s head can fit through the open cervix, it is time for the Second Stage, but that is another topic for another post.
Before the baby can leave the mother’s body, s/he must leave the uterus. The opening of the cervix to let the baby out of the uterus generally takes up the most time. For a first time mom it can be 10 or 12 hours…or, yes, a couple of days. Of course, for some moms, this time is difficult and for others it only becomes difficult in the last few hours.
But, you know all this, right? What you want to know is: Why do I have to go through this? And, if I must, how can I make it the least painful?
Why labor is important. Let’s go to another question: How important would your offspring be if it was no big deal to drop one out? If you were walking along the sidewalk and you could simply drop a newborn on the pavement, would you even stop to pick it up if you could do it again in a few days, when, of course, it will be much more convenient?
Frankly, pregnancy and labor remind us to pay attention. A newborn cannot survive on its own for at least two years. If we don’t pay attention, it will die.
Okay, now that labor has your attention, what else does it do that is beneficial? It stimulates the baby’s stress response and teaches the newborn to be alert during situations of duress. Each contraction is pulling the cervix, helping it slowly open. If you are upright, each contraction is also alerting the baby to the influence of gravity.
Why is labor painful? So, you need to go through this because it is the bridge from pregnancy to parenthood. Why does it have to be painful?
The first thing to keep in mind about pain is that pain is a combination of sensations and emotion, mainly fear. Fear makes you tense; tension reduces blood flow. Reduced blood flow to the uterus makes the contractions less effective. In addition, cortisol is released, making sensations stronger and evoking greater fear.
Fear is the emotion of fight or flight. Interestingly, the opposite response, the relaxation response, is very effective in promoting labor. So, relax. Breathe deeply and slowly, focus, move through the center of your experience. You don’t have to be in fear if you know what is happening and if you are physically fit and prepared. Both childbirth education and physical fitness teach your body to work with discomfort. By including them in your preparation, you give yourself a tremendous advantage.
Does this mean you will never feel like you want to stop in the middle of labor? No, but it does mean you can do it. It is finite. The notion that the baby will not do well is also tied to your physical fitness…babies of fit mothers less often experience fetal distress. Your care providers will let you know if there is some factor beyond your control that requires medical intervention.
Birth is an empowering event. But, before the baby can be born, it must escape the uterus. It is a classic conflict and the mother’s body is the venue. Give yourself over; go with it. Only women can do this.