Posted by: gaylejervis | January 27, 2011


Can some findings about child birthing help those of us who are  chronically ill better deal with our pain? I have been reading the book Birth by Tina Cassidy who narrates the history of what women have endured as they brought new life into the world. As I read about the popular Twilight Sleep that first became popular in the 1920s, I wondered if both of my Grandmas had received this injection.  Thankfully both of them had their babies in a country hospital so that they may have been spared this torture and not had the injection that was given  when the contractions became less than four minutes apart.  After the injection, the woman’s eyes were bandaged with gauze and oil-soaked wads of cotton were stuffed in her ears so that “her own screaming would not wake her up.  Her arms would be strapped down with leather thongs.”  Apparently, its popularity grew and was even still practiced in some hospitals in the 1970’s because the women didn’t remember the pain after the baby was born!

I wonder if my my maternal grandma had a better experience when she  delivered one of her babies by herself at the farm!  However, evidence seems to indicate that women who are surrounded by other women deliver their babies the easiest. In fact, a study in 1992 revealed that the presence of women in the birthing room had greater positive impact than the presence of the woman’s husband!  Cesareans rates were even significantly lower!

So here is the question:  Could the presence of women in the same room as the chronically ill woman elicit such a favorable response? It would mean that the chronically ill would need to be honest about their pain.  Too often we put up a façade of better health than what we possess since we want to make our visitor feel comfortable and we don’t want to bore our visitor!  Or even more common, when the chronically ill is going through a particular difficult time with pain, she isolates herself from others.  Perhaps we could take our lead from the woman who is in labor:  she is not expected to be “good company”.  The people in that room look to her for what she needs.  Sometimes she wants to talk, sometimes she just wants to be quiet, sometimes she wants to be touched, and other times she just wants to rock.   There are times when the caring person says nothing and does nothing, yet her presence alone helps the person in pain.  The chronically ill person would need to develop that receptive attitude before anyone could help her manage her pain.

The author Tina Cassidy writes, “Before midwives fell out of favor, women had the support of other women who knew how and where to touch a laboring woman to ease her pain.  They knew what to say.  But as women began laboring alone in the hospital, birth seemed to get more complicated, requiring more drugs and more interventions.”  Currently, there seems to be less stress on the importance of female support and more stress on just alleviating the pain by  choosing epidurals and even C-Sections.  I am definitely not opposed to avoiding pain, but this current practice has great implications for all people who suffer pain.  Women may believe more and more that their caring word or gentle touch is not that effective and that their presence is not necessary as long as the sick person is being given an appropriate painkiller.

It would be an interesting study to determine if the presence of other  compassionate women in the room with the chronically ill woman could help alleviate her pain. Of course, what makes this practice more difficult than  supporting  the woman in labor is that the pain is ongoing.  People couldn’t be expected to stay around the clock with the chronically ill.  However, it would be still interesting  to compare results for various lengths of time that people support a chronically ill person.    Sadly, the main limitation for this study is that both the chronically ill and the support network would most likely need to be taught skills that  our grandmothers probably  knew intuitively.   The chronically ill would need to learn  how to receive help and not avoid people when the pain gets out of control, and the supportive women would need to learn   how to impart appropriate physical and verbal and emotional support.

In the meantime, we who are chronically ill need to acknowledge that painkillers are important, but we also need to acknowledge that the support of others is also important and we need to begin asking for it.



  1. This posting really strikes a chord with me. I gave birth three times all by c-section and yet I did have extensive lamaze and bradley method of training before the first birth. That training has become incredibly helpful to the pain I have had to endure in chronic illness. I can go “to the place” of focusing on my breathing, not the pain, relaxing on purpose, working through the pain as if it were a contraction. Oh, and I did have many, many contractions and labor even with C-sections, one pre-term labor at 20 weeks which gave hard contractions for the duration of the pregnancy. I mean to say I had a lot of time to practice my breathing ~ which has served me well in life actually.

    So I completely agree with the bonding and support that a “midwife” offers and wholly agree with your point. I personally have seen many people melt at the love and kindness of another and slowly a serene calm comes upon the person and they even begin to think of other things and smile.

    My dilemna is how to learn to receive this for myself, ask for help, and find others willing to provide that for me. Perhaps I need to look around with different eyes and not be afraid to accept help, it is not a sign of weakness. Which of course means it is not a sign of strength to suck it up and “hop back on the horse” as I was taught in my youth from my father (he having been raised on a farm).

    You really got my wheels turning with this one and I appreciate your insight and wisdom!!! Thank you and may you have a beautiful day ~

    • Thank you for your comments. You have helped confirm my decision to pursue the exercises in breathing to help manage pain. I too took LaMaze classes but I definitely need a refresher. When I took it, we were told to pant and I read in this book Birth that that is no longer taught since often people got weak and dizzy or started hyperventilating!!

      I too have difficulty accepting help and I have been fortunate that I have been asked. It’s rather sad that many of us ill are too proud??? to ask for help or we just don’t understand ourselves the power of that kind of support. We also worry that we are imposing on people. Yet, I think many people are only too willing to give that support if they know what that entails. Today, I received that kind of support but what was profound – I learned that I could also give her support!

      • Wow, what a cool thing! Thank you for these great ideas….now my wheels are turning, too! I know blogging might not be “back and forth” communication but I do have one other idea and I do not currently have a blog, so please bear with me while I think out loud (so to speak….or is that called “think out type?”) ;) …… My doctor’s office has an infusion center where I am wondering if it might be a place to implement a little case study of this sort to coincide with the healing happening through the medicine. So, the idea being breathing classes to manage pain, options of having warm neck rolls, heating throw blankets, foot rubs, and calming music, candles, etc…..with some trained Stephen’s Minster type women to offer comfort, a listening ear, and encouragement. I was caregiving for a woman last year and we would frequently take “5 min. rest breaks” where we would stop conversation, close our eyes, focus on our breathing, and relax. It brought energy and relaxing to sore, tired muscles and made a huge difference in the brain fog that happens from energy-draining visits with one another. And we didn’t take it personal when the other would say, “time for a rest break!” Thanks for listening to me here, I am gonna try and pursue this little idea which you helped formulate, and that is very calming to me ~ see, your great idea of midwiving has already taken fruit. Bore fruit. However you say that!
        love & blessings, ruthieann

  2. Our daughter had a midwife on all four deliveries. She still had her hubby (in the background) with her but the midwife was the one who gave comfort, support and instruction too. She would definitely stand up and shout for the woman-to-woman help and encouragement. The Dr. comes and goes and sometimes isn’t even there. The midwife IS!!
    On a totally different level, I spent a number of days with my mother-in-law while she was in hospital supposedly dying. I massaged her hands, filed her nails, cleaned her cuticles, and simply was touching and feeling her for hours at a time. She does not remember much of her circumstances there (and she survived in spite of the Doctors prediction) but she DOES remember me holding her hands and doing her nails.
    TOUCH can by life-saving!

    • What a beautiful illustration of how we can be “midwives” to each other. And I believe with all my heart that you played an important role in nursing her back to health.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: