Why Labor Hurts and Other Insights from CEA/MNY’s Ellen Chuse

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by Ceridwen Morris, CCCE

In her 30 years as a childbirth educator, Ellen Chuse, CCE, has built a huge following in New York. Week after week, young couples file into her cozy Brooklyn brownstone to prepare for birth and bringing home a baby.

I’m always thrilled when I hear Ellen speak–she’s funny, she’s frank and she knows everything about birth (seriously). In her class, a topic that may seem overwhelming becomes an opportunity for connection, humor and insight.  Ellen, who is also a birth counselor and former president of CEAMNY, has been an inspiration to me and many, many others.

Here is an excerpt from an interview I did with her some years ago:

In your classes I always love it when you say, “you don’t have to like it.” Can you expand on what you’re getting at with this statement?

Birth is an extraordinary event in the life of a woman—one she carries with her throughout her entire life.  But a woman’s experience of birth is completely diminished in our culture and as women we tend to internalize that.  In recent years, especially in the natural birth movement, there’s been an implication that to truly birth naturally the experience must also be ecstatic, orgasmic and spiritual.  I would argue that all birth is spiritual but it’s also hard, sweaty work.  Could you have an orgasm?  Yes.  Is it likely?  No.  Are you less of a wonderful, powerful birthing woman because you moaned, yelled or cursed your way through labor?  No.  As women we have a tendency to focus only on that which didn’t go as we had planned while ignoring all that we did successfully.  I want to give women permission to find labor difficult or their responses unorthodox but still have positive feelings about their accomplishment.  That’s what I mean when I say

” you don’t have to love it, you just have to do it”.

Why does labor hurt? Does it always hurt?

Although there may be a few women who claim to have experienced labor without pain, most women find labor contractions painful.  The degree of pain and the effect that it has on labor can vary from one woman to another but most of us would say that labor hurts!  I believe that the pain of labor is different from other kinds of pain we experience.  Rather than telling us that something is going wrong, it tells us that something is going right.  Mother Nature wants to get our attention and hold our attention to make sure that we don’t confuse this with anything else.  Longer, stronger and more painful contractions are Mother Nature’s way of telling us that we are getting closer to the birth of our baby – that we need to be in a safe place with all our support available.  After all, Mother Nature’s primary concern is the continuation of the species.  Since the beginning of human existence babies needed to be born in a safe environment in order to survive.  Mothers needed to know that something extraordinary was happening and make preparations to receive their babies safely.  Even today we evolved humans tend to avoid, deny and rationalize that which we don’t want to deal with. The intensity of labor overrides that inclination and forces us to pay attention.  And understanding why the pain is there – the normalcy of labor pain – can help to remove some of the fear of pain that is so prevalent in our culture.  Without the fear we just have to deal with the pain, which is often manageable with active coping strategies.

A woman in labor is vulnerable. A woman in labor is powerful. How can she be both of these things at once??

READ the rest of the interview here.


Register for Ellen’s PAIN COPING STRATEGIES workshop MARCH 8, 2015 10-4pm

PRICING & PRE-REGISTRATION FOR HERE (Early Registration pricing available until 12:00pm Saturday, Feb. 28)

Pre-registration strongly recommended as space is limited.

Remember to check out the required readings

Workshops are each approved for 5 DONA International Approved Continuing Education Hours