I wonder what the cultural relevance of this statement is in 2014.
I can recall seeing it on many a soaked-through tee shirt at the gym. It's a mantra. "No pain no gain" is a philosophy to be proud of when physically pushing yourself. If you're not sweating and sore and in pain, then you're not really doin' it.
More disturbingly, I have overheard this phrase said on the subway as it relates to physical beauty. Two young girls joking about botox. Boob jobs. That "beauty is pain." I remember that they laughed in unison as they agreed and held on to a subway pole with one hand, flipping their shiny hair with the other.
When is pain okay? Or to an even greater extent, when do we search it out because we feel it's a foregone conclusion on the way to some outcome we desire - a sculpted body, a perfect face?
And when is pain not okay? Something to be avoided at all costs?
I am planning on having my baby naturally. In a birthing center - no machines or IVs hooked up to my arm. Just a bed, a jacuzzi (score!), my doctor and my husband (with other loved ones nearby) and scores of positive stories in my head. I want to experience it. All of it, because I do. I know it won't be the easiest thing to do, and I maintain that it will be a beautiful process regardless. I get confirmation from reading voices like Ina May Gaskin's (she is known as the "mother of midwifery"), that women's bodies are built for this. They always have been. And Ina has told me about woman after woman who has given birth with little pain, little struggle. Women who have come to the process with open arms, ready to surrender, relax, and breathe.
And then I've heard other much different voices. The 99% of people who have asked and whom I have told who say:
"What are you thinking?"
"Why would you want to go through that pain?"
"You better get that idea out of your head immediately!"
And new this week:
"You wouldn't get a cavity filled without novocaine! Why would you have a baby without an epidural!?"
People have laughed, made fun of me, and rolled their eyes.
These responses have bothered me. They haven't swayed me, but I wonder why people feel so strongly that they must not let me naively pick this route when I am clear and confident about the choice myself. I absolutely don't know what this will be like - this is my first child - but I do know that it's important to me to experience all of what having a child has brought me/has yet to bring me. Why isn't that reason enough? I don't have an overwhelming desire to describe those who have chosen a different route as foolish/wimpy/whatever-else-that's-rude-and-insensitive-and-not-my-business, so why is it okay the other way around? I am sure that part of it is that pregnancy brings on a strange dynamic that elicits unwanted advice from all corners (I get that people are trying to help, but let me find out for myself if that's what I want). But the other part is that pain - pain that is the natural part of life - is something that people just do not want to give the time of day.
We drink our pain away, hobbie our pain away, drug our pain away and deny our pain away. We don't let those things in life that are painful actually be painful. Why do that when we can find an easier solution? A bigger band-aid? Something to distract us and help us move quickly on?
I know I sound a little judgmental, and mainly it's stemming from my disappointment with our culture around pain. There are endless things to keep us occupied and numbed to that which is painful in life. Things that we constantly advertise, focus on and glamorize - alcohol, drugs, food, objects to own, escapes like Facebook and other things that have turned into platforms for showing how awesome your life is - and many fewer things to encourage us to grieve, feel what we actually feel (i.e. a wide range of emotions), become more self-aware, look inside, actually see and wrestle with that which is difficult and painful.
I think everyone's choice is their own. I don't think anyone else should have a natural birth who doesn't want one and I don't judge that individual choice. On top of that, I know that I have no idea how all of this will go on the day that I meet my baby for the first time. All I wish for is this:
That a woman who chooses to live life in a way that is authentic to her gets the respect that she deserves. That a choice to take the "harder" route with less numbing is understood as a good option. That we do more to encourage ourselves and others to be present and feel what is right in front of us.
That having my baby and wanting to feel every part of the process with no medical interventions (knock on wood) is seen as a strong and clear choice and one from which I may actually gain something.