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Here's What I Learned When I Gave Birth Without Meds, Twice

A Lesson on Happiness.

Rachel Liu Photography
Source: Rachel Liu Photography

My first experience giving birth without meds was crazy. I cried, I swore, I yelled, I called for my mom. The second time, thanks to a hypnosis training, I went into a deep relaxation between contractions. To the point that my midwife thought I was sleeping and decided to take a nap while I was on the verge of delivery.

While I experienced as much pain the second time as the first, my experience was very different. Instead of anxiously panicking (and wallowing in self-pity) at the thought of the next contraction, I completely stopped resisting. I rested instead of wasting my energy being anxious. It went by easier, smoother and much faster.

This isn’t an article about physical pain, though. I’m not saying you too should go au naturel when you give birth or shouldn’t get shots at the dentist (I definitely get numbed up at the dentist). The problem I’m addressing is that we freak out about our emotional pain the way we do about our physical pain and it’s stopping us from being happy.

The cliché "no pain no gain" we think applies only to exercise and diet. It couldn’t possibly be true about our emotional pain: our anxiety, our fear, our insecurity, our anger, our frustration, our loneliness, our general malaise, our midlife crisis, our darkest thoughts. Nope. In those moments, we do everything possible not to feel any emotional pain. We shop or gamble, drink or binge, watch movies or porn, scroll or smoke, overwork or overexercise… pick your poison, there are so many ways to numb.your.pain. (What's your favorite? Mine was always chocolate.)

Yet tragically, by numbing ourselves from emotional pain in every way possible, we ironically and unwittingly pull the brakes on our own happiness.

First, when you numb yourself from negative emotions, you necessarily do the same to the positive. We know, for example, that in some pathologies like post traumatic stress—when people are unable to feel negative emotions—they also cannot feel the pleasant ones. With no valleys, there are no peaks. If you can’t feel bad, you also won’t feel it’s opposite: good. The positive defines the negative, you can’t have one without the other. They depend on one another.

Second, what we’ve failed to realize is that pain is an essential part of our growth. Think about it, what life experiences have brought forth your greatest lessons—the easy times or the tough ones? Inevitably it’s the divorces, the deaths, the sudden unemployment, the health issues, the cheating partner, the abusive relationship, the financial difficulties—it is those hard, painful, heart-breaking and excruciating times that have also brought forth your best self. They have invoked resilience in you because you had no choice. They brought forth courage in you because you somehow had to make it through. They invoked forbearance and steadfastness in you because you felt like you were dying but you had to keep going. There were tears and moments spend writhing on the floor, but you got up, had breakfast, got in your car and went to work anyway. You witnessed the warrior within yourself. You cultivated valor. And you carried on. Your hair greyed but you grew.

Your pain taught you compassion. By hurting so deeply, you understood that others hurt too. You became a little gentler, a little more considerate, a little more accepting.

The pain made you wiser—you learned to see beyond yourself and the smallness of your daily concerns. You saw things from a broader perspective and became a little less opinionated and judgmental. Mostly you understood that it’s not all about you anymore. You stopped being a child.

What if pain were not just useless suffering. What if growing pains didn’t end in your teens. What if they just kept going so you could keep growing.

What if pain were your friend. The one friend who can truly help you become more mature, stronger, fiercer, wiser. The friend that loves you so much she will break your heart so it can grow larger. The friend you hate because she takes you to the harshest depths so that you can grow deeper. The friend that makes you feel so small so you can become so big. The friend that lures you into the darkest places so you can see your own light shine. The only friend that truly sees the beauty, strength and magnificence that you are and who will go to any length to help you birth that—your truest, bravest, boldest self.

What if pain were a gift? Would you keep numbing yourself?

Read more in my book The Happiness Track. Follow me on Twitter @emmaseppala

Copyright Emma Seppala Ph.D. 2018 (c)