I’m not sure I would have read an article called “When Lovers Touch Labor Pain Wanes” when I was pregnant with any of my children. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to learn better ways to cope with an upcoming labor. It was that I didn’t want to illuminate what I already knew I lacked. You see, when I was pregnant and gave birth to all three of my children, I was in an unhealthy marriage.
I Didn’t Know What I Was Missing
At the time, I didn’t completely understand how my unhealthy marriage affected my experience of pain in labor. I was not aware that when two deeply connected people touch, their breathing and heart rates synchronize. Also, I didn’t know that lovers could communicate empathy towards each other through touch, and therefore decrease their pain. (SOURCE) I had no idea that when lovers touch, labor pain wanes. I didn’t know what I was missing.
I’m sure I had read about this phenomenon in books like Spiritual Midwifery, but like other things in that book, it seemed so outside of the box for our relationship that I didn’t give it much attention. For example, I couldn’t fathom creating a birth plan that included kissing throughout labor and delivery, which not only could make the experience better 😉 , but also help prevent tearing during birth.
For many reasons that I won’t get into in this post, we were never big on physical touch or being cuddly with each other, etc. There were no back rubs, foot rubs, or other things that are common in healthy relationships, especially when pregnant. During our childbirth class, I remember he tried to rub my back during a relaxation exercise. Whatever he did hurt me enough to make me snap at him. His answer was to become immediately defensive and that put an end to all backrub offers. It was clear we were not in tune with one another.
He Wasn’t My Rock
Sadly, every time I prepared to give birth, this deep-seated feeling of being alone, unsupported, and needing to be self-sufficient hit me like a ton of bricks. I knew he wasn’t “my rock”.
However, in his defense, during our first labor he did a wonderful job of staying by my side, holding me up when I threw all my weight on him, pouring warm water on my back, etc. I was actually surprised at how well he did, considering how unsupported I thought I would feel in labor.
During our second labor I invited a crowd. Again, he was there when I needed him and he offered his support where he could. (I even remember him looking up what time the sun would rise because my irrational self wanted to wait until then to push out our baby. I wanted good lighting for our birth photographer. Yes, I’m that ridiculous in labor.) But no, I don’t think his presence or our connection offered me additional pain relief. We just were never that connected.
The third go around, our marriage had taken a turn for the worse. He was not happy about our unplanned pregnancy, or where his life was headed. I wasn’t completely aware of the magnitude of it, but our marriage was unraveling. If I felt unsupported and alone in previous pregnancies, that had nothing on how I felt for our third. I knew that when push came to shove he would be there for the birth, but the support wouldn’t run deep.
(Oddly enough, with my third I had a dysfunctional labor. Despite my water breaking and “doing all the things”, I transferred from home to the hospital for pitocin to get labor going. I’ve never shared this with anybody, but I’ve always wondered if my dysfunctional labor was because of the stress of our dysfunctional marriage. Maybe the oxytocin just wasn’t there. I’ll never really know, but it does make me wonder.)
SIDE NOTE: Studies show that the perception of pain decreases when someone you know supports you compared to a stranger. (SOURCE) That’s another reason why doulas are so great for births! Before labor begins, doulas establish a relationship with their clients. It makes sense that they’re so helpful with pain coping!
When Lovers Touch, Labor Pain Wanes – It’s Remarkable
Enough about me. Let me tell you about the couples that take my childbirth classes. 😉
In general, there are two kinds of couples that take childbirth classes (haha) – ones that have wonderful, loving relationships and are deeply connected to each other, and those that are working towards that goal (or at least I’d like to think that were true). Over a six week class, I get to see a lot of really neat, and encouraging dynamics between couples.
One thing I’ve noticed is that many woman feel very supported by their partners, so much so that their perception of pain decreases when they work together. Let me explain.
Ice, Ice Baby
One of the ways I teach about labor pain and to help parents develop coping skills, is by using the handy-dandy tool of ice cubes. On the first night I have everyone hold ice for one minute, which is the average length of a contraction.
No, labor does not feel like holding an ice cube, but it is the most ethical way I can inflict pain on someone. It hurts! This short term pain allows parents to explore their response to pain and to start learning new coping skills.
After holding the ice, I explain breath awareness, a simple yet powerful way to cope through the pain of labor. Once we’ve mastered it, we hold ice for another minute, but this time using breath awareness. Many parents find this pain coping practice so much better than just holding ice and doing nothing!
Once we’ve mastered breath awareness on our own, each person turns toward their partner to learn how to help each other through an “ice contraction” with breath awareness. What parents discover next is really fun to watch unfold.
Only If You like Each Other
Through our “ice contractions” parents discover that simply being present with their partner when they’re in pain, especially when combined with empathetic physical touch, lowers their perception of pain considerably.
What’s the catch? Well, this only works if you like each other. 😉
One fear fathers have about labor and delivery is to be in the room and not know how to help their partner when she’s in pain. Dads don’t want to feel helpless while someone they love suffers. However, after completing the above exercise, these same fathers are thrilled to find out they already know how to help.
Fathers don’t need to be this magical doula support person, they just need to be there for their woman. She needs his attention, touch, empathy, and encouragement. It’s not rocket science, and it’s extremely powerful!
“He’s My Rock”
Towards the end of my six week childbirth classes I sometimes have parents prepare a “birth bundle”. A birth bundle is a small collection of things that represent themselves, their partner, and baby. Everything is wrapped up in a bundle and presented to the group on the last night of class. It’s one of the more meaningful things we do in class.
Over the years I’ve noticed a common theme when mamas share the object that represents their partner. More often than not, the phrase “my rock” is used to describe him, and sometimes literal rocks are in the bundle.
During my last pregnancy I tried this exercise myself, but I was unable to complete it. I knew he wasn’t my rock. I, oh so much, wanted him to be. And knowing that I should have been able to rely on him to be my rock, but couldn’t, made me feel even more unsupported and alone.
I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be in a healthy relationship embodying mutual reciprocity. Now that I’m no longer married, have done a lot of internal work, and am currently in a new, healthy relationship, I think I’m starting to get it. And it’s amazing.
I’ve also wondered what it would be like to go through the pregnancy/childbirth process in a healthy relationship. It *almost* makes me want to have another. But sorry folks, that ship has sailed. I’ll leave it to you all to make that happen! 😉
When Lovers Touch, Labor Pain Wanes – It’s Remarkable
For those who become pregnant within a healthy relationship, be encouraged. When two people who are deeply connected touch empathetically, their breathing and heart rates synchronize, and pain decreases. (SOURCE) This phenomenon stays true, even in labor.
Yes, labor will still be painful. But when your partner can help decrease pain, even a little, by simply being present in body and soul, that my friend, is amazing.
CLOSING THOUGHTS: For those who are alone or in unhealthy relationships, I see you. And I understand perhaps just a little of where you’re at. I’m so sorry. You are so, so worthy of love. Please reach out to a safe person to formulate a plan to get the support you need. You and your baby are worth it. Also, check out the book The Emotionally Destructive Marriage. I wish I would have read it years ago.
Here are two bible verses I hold dear, especially considering everything I’ve been through. Perhaps they’ll be an encouragement to you, too?
“Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives. Give us gladness in proportion to our former misery! Replace the evil years with good. Let us see your miracles again; let our children see your glory at work. And may the Lord our God show us his approval and make our efforts successful. Yes, make our efforts successful!“ Psalm 90:14–17
“Yet I am confident that I will see the Lord’s goodness while I am here in the land of the living. Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.“ Psalm 27:12–14
For more bible verses for your motherhood journey, hop on over here:
Tips for Dads in the Delivery Room (Like How to Not Pass Out)
Saturday 3rd of September 2022
[…] need to do much to be helpful during labor and delivery. Sometimes, simply sitting with their wife, holding her hand empathetically, and breathing with her is all that’s required. Being fully present and aware of what their […]
Tips for Natural Birth That Will Decrease Your Pain | Mother Rising
Monday 21st of September 2020
[…] and trust, for even more pain relief. In her book, Ina May Gaskin writes about this phenomenon. When women made eye contact with their lover during contractions, their labor experience was much mo…. For more information about opening the eyes during contractions for pain relief, head on over […]
Thursday 3rd of October 2019
This is so true. I had seen a video by Ina Gaskin talking about how you get the baby out the same way you got it in. When I was pushing, I could feel how it burned so bad so I grabbed my husband and said, Kiss Me! He did: on my forehead. That didn’t work, of course! Then we kissed for real and 2 pushes later the baby came out and I had no tearing at all. What an amazing blessing! As he kissed me I could actually feel myself open up really big with almost no effort. It was like a reflexive reaction that I had no control over. Pretty amazing stuff!
Friday 13th of September 2019
I have read this and re-read this and it is so true. I love caring for a “connected “ couple and it’s amazing to see what a difference it makes. The majority of our moms however are single, and it’s usually women who show up to support them. Very little “touching” occurs. I like to touch, I like to rub backs, and provide counter pressure, stroke a shoulder to get the mom to relax. But even when I instruct the “support” person to do it, they may try it one or two times, then stop. Another thing I have noticed, more in my time in the Navy, many times when the father is there, but the relationship is not a good one – often, he’s there to support the woman but the relationship between the man and woman is not going to continue after the baby is born, the woman sometimes has a difficult time “letting go”. As long as she is pregnant, there IS a relationship, even if it’s not what the man wants. The woman knows that giving birth will end that relationship. So the woman, kind of fights the birth process...I’m sure it’s on a subconscious level. But I honestly believe it happens. Just my two cents. Love your writing. KK
Monday 16th of September 2019
Thursday 12th of September 2019
Such a vulnerable, and yet necessary post, Lindsey! Thank you so much for sharing! I definitely believe Christian was the main reason I made it through my home birth. I was so pleasantly surprised at his perseverance, presence, and care. In our relationship, I do bear most of the weight of housework and schedules, so I wasn’t sure he’d be my rock... but he was and even now he is supporting me and Leona in powerful ways.
Friday 13th of September 2019
I'm so glad to hear that. What a gift.