What If You Could Turn Off Pain?

I have an admission to make: I am a man. The reason this will matter is I am about to talk about the pain of childbirth. What could a man possibly know about it, right? So I have a request: give me the benefit of the doubt for now.

Won’t That Hurt?

It all started when my wife went into labor with our first child. I’m an empathetic guy and my little lady was suffering. She was only 127 pounds at nine months pregnant and our daughter who was about to be born was almost seven of those pounds. She was having a natural childbirth so she wanted no drugs before the child was born. That was all very noble when this was all just theory but now it was really happening.

The doctor said he wanted to make this easier for my wife by making an incision so she wouldn’t tear. By this point, my wife was up for any experienced professional advice coming her way so she readily agreed. What he didn’t mention to her was that he would do it without anesthetic. He pulled me to the side and told me though. I was, shall we say, concerned. I mean, wouldn’t that HURT? He said actually no, he would make the incision when she was distracted by a contraction.

And he did.

She didn’t even notice. I almost passed out.

More Demerol Please

Things went smoothly and after 45 minutes of pushing, we two were now three. My wife, who had been awake all night with contractions, went straight to sleep. So did the baby. Everything was great.

The next day, the doctor comes bursting into my wife’s hospital room. “Do you feel all right?!?” he practically shouted at her. “I’m fine. What’s the matter?” she replied. He said in spite of his precautions she had still torn on the inside and that he didn’t know how she was conscious with her blood count as low as it was. He rushed her into surgery and repaired the tear. He prescribed a serious painkiller (Demerol) and all was fine again.

The next day, with all this drama swirling in my head, I asked her if she was in pain. “Yeeeessss…” she replied, with a big silly smile on her face. That seemed…odd to me. So I asked, “Do you care?” “Nooooo…” was her response. Ah, our new friend Demerol to the rescue.

Something Better Than Demerol

Right about now you might be thinking that this has been a commercial for Demerol. Far from it. I learned about two “pain switches” from watching my wife and considering how she was able to turn off the pain:

  1. Pain only hurts if you focus on it
  2. Pain only hurts if you give it meaning

So let’s consider each point in more depth.

You Get To Choose Where Your Focus Lies

Have you ever cut yourself without noticing? Maybe someone calls out to you, “Hey, do you realize you’re bleeding?” and you didn’t. Upon being alerted to the bleeding though, you now experience pain. What changed? Physically, the circumstances are identical. The reason it didn’t hurt before is because you didn’t place your focus there. Now you do, and so you dutifully experience pain because, well, you’re supposed to when you are cut and bleeding. And that leads to the next point.

It Only Has the Meaning That You Give It

Who says you are supposed to? Everybody, I guess. At least that’s what we tell ourselves. But it’s not the truth. The fact is some tough guys would just slap a little duct tape on that cut and move on.

Really though, you don’t have to be all that tough to use these two methods to reduce or eliminate pain. They work equally well for emotional pain as they do for physical pain.

Changing Focus

So how can you change focus? One way is to expand your view. The point of pain can still be in it but it is now a smaller part of the picture, perhaps even an insignificant part.

Another approach is to focus your attention elsewhere. That’s what worked for my wife. She was so engaged in contracting and pushing and bringing a baby into this world that the doctor’s procedure didn’t even enter the picture.

It Means What You Say It Means

When my wife was laying there, postpartum and post surgery, I presumed she must be in pain. I was wrong. I was wrong because she did not allow me to give that meaning to things. She gave it her own meaning, albeit encouraged by Demerol. But the painkiller was just a detail. She was also free to choose to not care about the pain without it.

External pressures aside, nothing means anything to you unless you consent to let it be so. An athlete may actually associate pleasure with pain, exclaiming, “No pain, no gain”. You make your own associations and you are free to change them if your past choices no longer serve you.

So here I am, still just a man. But I saw in action that anyone can turn off pain if they use the right switches. I am told (and you mommas can back me up on this) that childbirth is about as painful an experience as one can have. So if these switches work for childbirth, they can work for anything anyone, male or female, might encounter.

What do you think?

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