Childbirth & the Reality of Pain
My wife gave birth to our third child this past weekend. Yes, we are sleep deprived and the other two are acting out in adjustment to such a major change to their world. She is beautiful and healthy and mom is doing well too. We are all in recovery/adjustment mode.
Minutes after my daughter was born, a reality hit me square in the face. Now, this is no reality that is deep and profound in any complicated way as most of you will say, “duh!”, but it was something that hit me nonetheless. As my daughter came into the world, one thing was glaringly obvious – this world is full of pain and discomfort. Not only was that a reality, but so was the fact that I was helpless to stop it: I was helpless to protect my daughter from rough hands, shots, cold air, noise and strangers.
Childbirth is traumatic – we come into the world traumatically, traveling uncomfortably through a narrow canal, after leaving the safety and comfort of mom’s womb, and straight into the hands of strangers who immediately bring more discomfort. Some could argue that some of this could be lessened with home births and such, which is probably true, but to some extent some of these procedures are necessary. To live, there must be pain.
The more poignant and disturbing reality to me is that I can do nothing about it as the father of my daughter, as the giant in her life. I cannot stop this trauma of life, I cannot fully protect her from others’ mishandling, I cannot keep her from experiencing pain. Not even the very minute she was born!!
So what am I to do? What are we to do when we experience pain? What do we do when our loved ones experience pain? Well what I realized I could do in the moment of my daughter being handled and poked and checked out, was to stay by her side and hold her hand. But even this I didn’t do every second of her life. I had to go get this or that, I took pictures, etc. She definitely had moments of lying by herself, naked and exposed and vulnerable to the world. But she was in our presence. I wasn’t far, and mommy wasn’t far. When they were giving her a shot I was talking to her and holding her hand. That was what I could offer her – my presence and support.
This isn’t news to me since it is the most major premise of why psychotherapy works, but as a father it became a different reality. I am often helping parents let go of too much responsibility for their children but this reality is just as traumatic for us parents as it is for the one in pain. But it is necessary. I cannot rescue my kids from the pain of the world. I can try, but ultimately they don’t learn to adjust to it. They need to learn how live within it. But how? Well, to me, it is about learning to fully embrace it and accept it, but one can only really do that if they are in the presence and love of another.
This is the biggest piece of realization I had at 12:45 in the morning in the birthing room. We must find the arms and presence of a caring other so that we can survive and actualize our true experience of that pain, discomfort, or trauma. This is why counselling works, because people get an opportunity to work through pain and trauma in the presence of a caring other. Part of the reason I was open to this realization is because of the work of Robert Stolorow. He focuses on the intersubjective experience of our lives and how that creates a housing for our pain and trauma, allowing us to return to “being.” (you can see his stuff at the Huffington Post as well as his website)
So when you are wondering how to help a hurting person, or if you are hurting your self, what is most important is to fully experience your self in this world in the presence of caring others. You cannot fix or rescue your loved ones, and you will not find someone to fully rescue you. But you can “be with” loved ones and you can find caring people to be with you in your pain and discomfort.
Lastly, this might sound depressing to some people, but what I want to address is this: we cannot do anything about this and the quicker we accept it, the quicker we can live in this world more authentically and freely. Further, there is something sweet to the pain when it is fully actualized in the presence of another. It is still painful, but it is bearable and livable, and actually gives birth to most precious thing in our lives: love.