Natural childbirth and the pain cave

I love to listen to the Not Your Average Runner podcast on my early morning training runs. Yesterday, I listened to Episode 68: Ultrarunning and Beating Type Two Diabetes with Betsy Hartley.

This episode was AMAZING. They all are, really, and I encourage anyone who is preparing to have a natural childbirth to listen to this podcast. There are so many similarities between training for a longer race and preparing to give birth.

The woman interviewed in this episode, Betsy, reversed her type two diabetes with running! I appreciated what she had to say about ultrarunning (which is way more than a marathon, y’all), and especially about what she had to do to prepare to run 100 miles. I loved what she shared about ultrarunning:

“So, that’s honestly why I love ultrarunning is because so much of it is mental. Like, honestly, there’s going to be people listening shaking their heads, but almost anybody can run an ultra. They say that you run like, the first third of an ultra on your legs, the second third of an ultra is with your brain, like how smart, strategic are you being, but the third third is with your heart, which is kind of your head telling you whether you want to do it, whether you’re capable of doing it. And that appeals to me so deeply, but yeah, our thoughts can really help us or derail us, and I’m a prime walking daily example of that.”

I loved how she broke it down into thirds because it reminded me of how labor is divided into thirds. I’d like to think that we can manage labor with the same three strategies. It’s tremendously helpful to prepare our bodies and minds for labor. At some point, though, we may need to move out of our minds and into our hearts. I’m definitely looking forward to adding this to my toolbelt for my half-marathon next month.

I enjoyed the story Betsy shared about her experience participating in a half Ironman in Mexico. She shared:

“So, I just finished this half Ironman down in Mexico and the whole back of the pack, we were all supporting each other. Like, 32 languages. I didn’t even know what language was being spoken half the time, but it’s unmistakable encouragement. Like, we’re all in the pain cave, we’re all hot and sweaty, and we’re all just trying to get to the finish line.”

The idea of a pain cave really struck me and later she explained more about what it is:

“I mean, you go into a pain cave and your brain is trying to get you to stop. And the training is all about making sure your body knows to go forward and to try to figure out how to get your brain to get the hell out of your head. To back off. But I mean, I literally remember saying, “‘Brain, shut up. You’re not in charge. You don’t get a say in this. You’re just along for the ride,”‘ and I said that probably 100 times. Just keep going, keep going. But you go into some pretty dark spots on those ultras.”

I’d never heard the term “pain cave” until yesterday, but it really captures the idea of transition very well. At some point, our brains want us to stop this whole labor thing. We are tired of the relentless sensations, the exhaustion, and everything having to do with being in labor. Most people get to a point where they feel like they can’t go on anymore. This may be a good strategy for overcoming transition, to remind yourself that you are in a “pain cave.” Your brain wants you to stop. Your brain is getting in the way. Tell your brain to shut up and get out of your amazing, powerful body’s way. Say it 100 times if necessary, but just keep going. If you expect that your brain may try to convince you to quit this whole natural childbirth thing, you can come up with some strategies for how to deal with it when it happens.

Another reason why this idea of a “pain cave” appealed to me was because it reminded me of the visualization my brain created during my first natural childbirth. I imagined that my uterus was a cave beside an ocean, and as the waves rolled in and out of that cave, they brought my baby out just a little bit more. My births have had such an energy about them, that sometimes it felt as if I was holding onto a freight train or being tossed around in stormy seas.

I invite you to check out this podcast, even if you are not a runner. The mental strategies shared in this podcast are so helpful for preparing for a natural childbirth.

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