FUNCTIONAL PAIN // "We know it takes working with pain to achieve peak performance of the human body. Acceptance of ‘functional pain’ goes with this territory of physical achievement and power. By ‘functional pain’ I am referring to the physiological pain felt in a healthy body working at high intensity, well beyond usual comfort levels. I am not talking about the pathological pain that arises from injury or disease.
Maybe if birthing women connected with pain in labour as the functional physiological pain of a body working at peak performance levels then, rather than falling into the culturally reinforced ‘victim to the pain’ role, they could reframe pain as the functional potency of their body working at an extreme edge. And claim it, ‘as a badge of physical and spiritual strength and courage’. Oxytocin, plus endorphins, plus adrenalin: this is the simple version of the basic hormonal formula for normal physiological birth. And functional pain is one of the catalytic agents for this hormonal mix. We need high levels of oxytocin to drive the contractions; these contractions create functional physiological pain, which causes the release of endorphins. The endorphins give some moderation of the pain, but more importantly they swamp the ‘thinking brain’ to release the labouring woman’s birthing instincts. Then there are two important surges of adrenalin at particular points in the labour—right when they’re most needed.
It’s an amazingly tailored recipe, refined over the ages. And embracing and working with the normal functional pain of labour is a key to unlocking this hormonal formula.
Endorphins take the edge off the pain and bring on a ‘runner’s high’. Surely you want to experience the equivalent ‘birther’s high’? But even more important than this high, as far as normal physiological birthing goes, is the way endorphins ‘take out’ the cerebral cortex (the judging, thinking, planning brain). They bring on a trance-like state and reduce our inhibitions, setting off a shift in consciousness that triggers what I refer to as ‘the evolutionary regression’
- Rhea Dempsey author of Birth with Confidence