Labor is Like….

I’ve spent some time trying to imagine what kind of mental, physical, and emotional effort labor will require.  In conversation with my husband one day, I thought of some of the most difficult things I’ve done in life and attempted to make comparisons.  I also remembered what I needed to do to bring me through those experiences and how I might be able to apply that to labor and birth.

I know that nothing can ever truly prepare me for the birth experience because it is as yet unknown, but I’ve done what I can.  Here are my comparisons.


When I was in graduate school to earn my MS in Biology, I had to take something called “comps”.  Comprehensive exams, that is.  It was basically a huge open-book essay exam that took a week to complete.  And I do mean a full week.  I did nothing that week but work on the exam.  I may have eaten and slept, but I’m not even sure I showered.  Each question required the equivalent of a research paper to answer, complete with a bibliography of peer-reviewed references, a table of contents, and who knows what else.  I’ve successfully blocked some of that stuff from my memory for self-preservation.   The questions were not easy- neither to understand nor to answer.  It was the most mentally exhausting time of my life, and I thought many times that I may actually not be able to do it.  Even completing the task felt like an impossibility, but I definitely doubted my ability to make a passing score.  But I did finish.  And I did pass.  And it felt amazing, both when I turned in the finished work and when I learned that I’d actually passed!  I could continue graduate school!

What got me through was sheer willpower, dogged determination, and a surrender to the inevitability that I must keep going day after day.  Yeah, I could relate that to labor and birth, especially a long labor.


The first thing that comes to mind is climbing mountains.  Well, hiking might be a better word.  I’ve done a few hikes up mountains in my lifetime that really tested the limits of my physical endurance.  I would feel that I couldn’t take another step, but I would keep going.  Another switchback, another corner, another scramble up a steep part.  The thing about climbing a trail that you’ve never climbed before is that you really don’t know for sure when it will be over.  The trees get in the way, each summit looks like the last- until you top it and see the next one waiting.

What got me through these experiences was usually a couple of things.  I often didn’t want to lag behind or let those behind me pass me up because it would be a blow to my pride.  I wanted to look strong and tough and keeping my place in the group provided excellent motivation.  I also knew that EVENTUALLY I’d reach the top.  Every trail has an end, and every mountain has a summit.  It may seem to go on forever, but it cannot.  Definitely some parallels to labor and birth, which also cannot last forever.


While the mental and physical challenges I’ve experienced definitely all had emotional components as well, I wanted to come up with something primarily emotional.  That would have to be breakups.  A broken heart can be very difficult to pick yourself up from, and I know that well.  I remember one particularly devastating winter when every morning for months I awoke with fresh horror over the realization that my heartbreak wasn’t a dream.  I’d have to get out of bed and go through the motions of getting dressed, eating breakfast, and driving to work even though it all felt secondary to what was going on inside me.  I was like a zombie.

What got me through that experience was a combination of moving through life even when I doubted my ability to do so as well as taking the time to give way to my emotional pain- to really feel it and give a name to it and express it.  Being honest with myself about the horrible things I was feeling inside made me less afraid and more alive.  I could apply this to possible emotions during labor such as fear, self-doubt, and anxiety that could really slow things down if I try to deny them or push them away instead of just admitting that they are there and allowing myself to work through them.


I have no idea how difficult labor will be, but I do expect it to be one of, if not THE MOST, challenging thing I have ever done.  I expect it to be hard physical work and require mental determination and emotional fortitude.  I expect that I will doubt myself at some point.  I expect that I will have reach deep in order to keep going.  I also expect that I will feel amazing when I have accomplished it.  I imagine feeling the success of passing comps, the victory of conquering a mountain, and the relief of surviving heartbreak- but with the added component of overwhelming love for the baby that has been birthed as the result of my hard work!  When I think of the end result, I really cannot wait to make the journey to get there.

I still cannot believe it, but our doula told us that she loved being in labor so much that she “would do it every day of the week”!  It’s pretty exciting to hear something like that and to realize that an event most women in our society are taught to fear can actually be something that you look forward to- not just the end result, but the process itself.  It truly is rite of passage that every woman must take to get to motherhood, and I dream of a time when we can treat it as a privilege and a wonderful experience instead of scaring each other with our horror stories and fearful tales.


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