Life-Changing Pain

Pain is a funny thing. Well… not in the moment, but in concept. About two years ago, I had strep throat. It was probably the most painful thing I had ever experienced in my life up to that point. It was like taking every sore throat I’d ever had and adding them all together, then throwing a fever on top. I also decided to heal it naturally (which works, by the way) instead of using medication, so that meant rubbing cayenne pepper on my sore throat several times a day. Also wonderfully pleasant.

I was thinking the other day – which was worse? Five days of strep or two hours of giving birth? The truth is, I don’t know! I already can’t remember either of those incidents enough to tell you which one was more painful. I have the memory of being in pain of course, but I only have blurry, faded memories of the pain itself. My mind has done its job to protect me by burying the specifics of what it felt like both to push out a baby and to rub pepper on my burning esophagus. That’s kind of amazing, right?

Let’s face it: if it wasn’t for the brain’s ability to erase memories of pain, the world would not be well-populated. Not only would women be traumatized for life after giving birth once, they would also have to be masochists to allow themselves back into that situation. However, because we can’t really remember what the pain of birth was like, we find ourselves willing to do it again. I am finding myself willing to do it again.

That’s coming from a person who never wanted to do it in the first place. I expected my experience with pregnancy only to confirm my disgust for it. I was ready to say that I would never EVER do that again. Instead, I find myself more willing to consider having more children in the future. Pregnancy in general wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be. I imagine that a planned pregnancy with the constant loving support of a partner could actually be enjoyable. And giving birth… well, yeah, it sucked. But then it was over, and I healed, and my brain erased the trauma and replaced it with happier memories.

I can’t help but marvel over the mind’s ability to fade memories of physical pain (do you think emotional pain leaves a far more lasting imprint on the memory?), whether it’s the broken arm I had at eight years old or stubbing my toe yesterday. In the moment, each of these bouts of pain seems like the worst ever experienced – even if we know logically that another experience had to be worse – and that’s because of this pain eraser inside us. We are left with just enough fear to say “I shouldn’t ram my head into that wall because it will hurt,” but not so much fear that we refuse to step outside a protective bubble for the rest of our lives.

Even though I hadn’t bonded with my daughter while she was still inside me and I wasn’t eagerly looking forward to seeing my baby for the first time or getting to start our lives together, holding her in those first few moments did a lot to wash away the horror of the previous two hours. Now I understand why women are willing to go through pregnancies and have babies. I had to live it to get it.

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