Sunday, December 07, 2008

Perceived vs. actual pain

Every once in a while in one of the myraid pregnancy/childbirth books I read, a woman or expert is interviewed who claims that childbirth is actually not painful. It's just that we, as women, are conditioned to believe it's painful, and the prophecy self-fulfills.

Anyone who has actually given birth knows that this is a lie. But I do wonder about the underlying principle there. Especially since my recent experience taking Miriam in to get some blood drawn.

I've never met a bloodwork lab in Tucson that I liked. I hadn't been to this particular one before, but true to form, it was vaguely grimy, staffed by smoky-voiced technicians in scrubs, and plastered with signs about drug test policies.

Still, it had to be done, so I decided to just get it over with. Before we were called in, I explained to Miriam what was going to happen. One of her favorite books these days is all about the various systems in the human body (cardiovascular, reproductive, digestive, etc.), so I used that as a background to describe the blood-drawing process. After I was done explaining, I hesitated to tell her that it was going to hurt. I knew it would, but I didn't want to freak her out ahead of time and cause a scene in the waiting room. Instead, I told her it "might" hurt "a little bit." She was OK with that and when it was her turn, she walked with me back to the room without a fight.

We got situated in the chair (she was on my lap) and I held her arm down as the technician got ready for the first poke. Miriam was watching her the whole time. I tensed for her to flinch or squirm once the needle actually entered her skin, but to my surprise, she didn't even blink. She observed calmly as the technician put the needle in her arm, wiggled it around to find a vein, and then she saw how the blood slowly traveled through the tube into the container.

I couldn't believe it. She wasn't even tearing up. But the blood wasn't coming fast enough so they had to poke her again in the other arm. Still no fussing. The blood still wasn't coming out.

Then another technician came in and tried again on the first arm. Miriam was still fascinated by the whole process. She wasn't smiling or laughing or anything, but she still didn't seem to be upset or in pain at all.

On the third poke, they were able to get the blood they needed. If I hadn't been so amazed by Miriam's coping skills, I think I would have complained about them giving us the less experienced (or just less talented) technician first. On myself, I don't care if they have to poke me multiple times to get blood - and they almost always do - but it seems like with kids, they should get out their best blood-drawer right away.

When she was all done, Miriam got two stickers and walked out of there happy and smiling.

Later, I asked her if it hurt. She said it did, but she didn't seem too concerned about it. I don't know if her calm reaction was necessarily because of how I described the process to her ahead of time, but I have to wonder. The other possibility is that she was so excited to see her own blood come out of her vein - just like we'd read about in her book - that she didn't worry about it hurting.

Either way is fine with me.


Liz Johnson said...

You know, I wonder about that too. I have a couple of friends who SWEAR up and down that they had a pain-free birth. I can't wrap my head around it, but they are adamant about it. I have had headaches and other pains that I've been able to talk myself out of with breathing and relaxation and such. I can't imagine it during labor, since my body is playing so much more of an active role in the pain than it would normally, but I always wonder about that.

GOOD FOR MIRIAM! I am way impressed. And what book is it that teaches her physiology?? I want one. :)

Suzanne Bubnash said...

Wow, I'm so pleased Meme isn't like me as a child. I would scream & fuss & nearly faint at bloodletting sessions. One day a nurse talked me into pretending I was a jellyfish, which helped me learn to relax, lessening the discomfort. Meme will probably grow up to be an MD.

Amanda said...

Just from my own anecdotal experience, I think kids are much better with distraction or relaxation. Working in the hospital, most adults were very good at telling me when they required pain medicine and knowing when they could have their next dose. During the time I spent in pediatrics, I took care of a little boy who'd had an appendectomy. I brought in a game cube and he was pretty much good to go for the rest of the day without pain meds.

But I don't believe for one minute that childbirth doesn't hurt. Whoever said that is out of their mind.

Bridget said...

I've never had someone actually tell me to my face that they had a painless childbirth, so I'm just going off of what I've read in books. And I just can't believe it. "Painful, but I was able to almost completely sublimate the pain through whatever method." THAT, I could believe. Pain-free, not so much.

Susanne said...

Yippee for Miriam! I can picture her being fascinated at that process, and the fascination outweighing the little bit of hurt. Good for her!

Kristen said...

What a good girl! That is really exciting, you must be such a proud mom!


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