When I went into labor with my son at 1:30 on Monday afternoon, I never imagined that he wouldn’t arrive into the world until 12:40 on Wednesday afternoon. Somehow, I survived forty-seven hours of labor and lived to tell the tale. Surprisingly, I was even joyful and mentioning things I’d like to do differently “next time” as soon as we were recovering.
Other than the epidural, my secret to managing nearly two full days of labor is Buddhism. I was raised as a Buddhist and returned to a solid Buddhist “practice” after my own Personal Apocalypse in 2007. It’s something that’s fairly important to me in daily life and became of utmost importance while managing the pain during labor.
Buddhism has helped me immeasurably when things get intense. I simply remind myself to take a step back and just label what I’m feeling — telling myself literally “this is what X feels like.” During labor, you bet your ass my thoughts were pretty much “This is what pain feels like.” Being able to sum up what I’m feeling in a single word helps me so much to just feel it without being attached to it. Here’s this part of the human experience that I’m experiencing now. Yep. Here it is.
Another aspect of this non-attachment to what’s going on is a continuous effort I’ve made to divorce myself from the concept of time. The scenario other than labor where this has come in the most handy has been Trans-Atlantic flights. I honestly tell myself that I’m going to be in this present moment in perpetuity and it’ll simply be over when it’s over. I don’t look at clocks much and there are situations where I truly go to great lengths to avoid it. Before I began nursing Paulo and wanting to have an idea of how much he was sleeping between feedings, I hadn’t looked at a clock in the middle of the night in years. It’s mentally easier to do things like “be in labor for 47 hours” (or “be on an airplane for seven hours” which is frankly almost as unenjoyable) if you’re not counting off any of those hours.
Being able to just be in the present moment and tell myself that what I was going through was simply the part of the human experience that was “giving birth” and simultaneously not even thinking for a moment about the length of time that this was taking is how I managed to stay focused for the two days I was in labor.
Y’know, that… and the epidural.
I didn’t attend a single birth class, but I truly did find that when I detached my mind from the contractions and just gave myself over to them, I did instinctively know how to handle them. The positions I chose were exactly what my body needed to do. I needed encouragement to not get “too comfortable” and keep the contractions coming, but I didn’t need to be told how to breathe or how to position my body beyond a few pointers here and there.
I’ve done my best to give up on the idea of any kind of time frame for my son sleeping more at night and just think of this as the reality that exists indefinitely.
Now that I’ve gotten through labor, my next “trick” is trying to use the same Zen techniques to get through feeding every two hours round the clock. I must say, this phase is much more trying and exhausting to me than labor. I’ve done my best to give up on the idea of any kind of time frame for my son sleeping more at night and just think of this as the reality that exists indefinitely. It’s helped as getting focused on reports from friends/pediatricians/etc. that “Oh, he’ll start nursing less at X age” has thus far just been other people’s experiences — not mine. Giving up on the sense of time the way that I did in labor is more difficult now, but when I can do so and not think about “Oh, I hope he sleeps more next week!” the nights are much less frustrating.
In the mean time, I find myself saying “This is how exhaustion feels” quite a lot.