Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Some (Pre) Reflections on Pain

I've been thinking about pain lately. This is mostly because I have been in the ambiguous land of "early labor" since Sunday night and have been analyzing every twinge, twang, stretch, pull, jab, and squeeze for some signs of progress. It's a little maddening. I know that everyone says I will "know" when the real thing gets going, but since I can't "know" if I'm knowing or not, I'll just have to keep wondering until then.

Most of what I've felt so far has not been very painful, but that realization had me thinking about the language of pain. It's really hard to talk about. Pain is only known in metaphor and simile. I can't tell you what pain really feels like; I can only tell you that it feels like something else. I can say, for instance, that the current tightening in my belly feels like a plastic bag having all of the air sucked out of it or I can figuratively call the cramping I feel tiny clinched fists pulling at the sides. But you can't ever make someone else understand what you feel. Even if it really is the exact same feeling, it's so subjective that the experience can't be duplicated.

Some of the more post-modern approaches to understanding reality might suggest that a thing does not exist if we don't have an adequate langauge for it. Of course, any one in severe pain would likely tell those post-modernists where to stick it. Still, thinking about the connection between the way that we share experience and how that modifies the reality of the experience is interesting to me.

I've been thinking about the pain medication commonly used for labor and delivery. Does it make the pain go away? Let's say you have a successful epidural that completely numbs you from feeling any pain. In this case, your body is still going through the exact same trauma that the body of a non-medicated woman is going through (accounting for individual differences in delivery, of course), but does one woman have pain and the other not? Or do both women have pain, but one does not experience it? Is pain only an experience or does it necessarily include the physical element of trauma?

I wanted to write down what I was thinking about pain now, before active labor. I'm very curious as to how I'll perceive this post after the birth, especially if I get the med-free birth I'm hoping for. I'm also curious as to how memory will play a role in this, as I've had so many people tell me that I'll forget all about it the minute I hold my baby.

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