The painful truth…

‘When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.’
Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

[Content warning: in this discussion on pain, I will be talking about labour and, briefly, birth trauma]

Discovering the world of sex writing has changed and improved my life in so many ways, mainly because of how much I have learned about myself and the world in general through this type of writing. Although I was initially attracted by erotica, as a way of discovering what turned me on and which fantasies I could develop and elaborate, it has been the personal writing and opinion pieces from sex bloggers that have had the biggest impact on me.

Because, as became clearer during this year’s Smut Marathon, erotica is very dependent on taste. Although good writing is always good, even the best erotica may do nothing for me if it’s not written about something that turns me on. I can appreciate the skill (and YKINMKBYKIOK, of course), but I won’t be (literally or metaphorically) gushing over it if it’s not my thing.

Real life writing, however, appeals to me almost more if it’s not about a shared kink; if it’s about something new or different. There are so many kinks that I just didn’t understand until I read about them. Examples that jump to mind immediately are posts from Bex Talks Sex on puppy play and when Honey wrote about urethral sounding. These are both kinks that, if I’m honest, I was a bit squicked out by before I read about them but such was the quality of the writing and descriptions of why they work as kinks for the writers that I got it, even if I still didn’t want it for myself.

I understood pain in the same way. BDSM and pain play is an old favourite within erotica and it would be wrong to say that I didn’t enjoy this type of story, but I knew that I wasn’t enjoying them for the masochism – I read BDSM erotica for the build-up, the focus and complexity of the scenes, the description of orgasm and subspace. The pain was somewhat incidental.

Again, it was sex writing that showed me what I might be missing and made me realise that pain could be the whole point. Reading Bibulous One’s blog, particularly the posts describing his more intense experiences and more by Honey on how beneficial she finds pain, for example, revealed depths to experiencing pain that I had never understood. It’s not just the achievement in taking the blows or the joy in compliance. Perhaps naively, I hadn’t even thought that it might be the pain itself that was the attraction. That it could be so clarifying, that the endorphins really would make the pain feel good. I know that this disbelief is likely because my personal experience of pain had never been positive. Pain is an evolutionary response to tell you to stop after all! Pain is sharp, hot, aching, but always bad.

EA and I have toyed with impact play a little but my arousal always came from surviving the pain, not enjoying it. A sharp spank takes my breath away and can push my orgasm closer to the surface; counting down the blows from a paddle when I’m cuffed to hooks on the wall is fucking hot as it appeals to my exhibitionism – I feel on display, flexing and writhing through the pain and knowing how my reddening arse will be affecting him. Like when I read BDSM erotica, the pain is somewhat incidental to why I find these experiences meltingly hot.

And then I had a baby.

As I have written before, the pain of labour had always terrified me. It almost put me off having a baby at all and I certainly spent a long time psyching myself up to it once I was pregnant. Birth is going to hurt, I told myself. It’s going to be excruciating, it’s going to be horrific, but I can survive it. And I can always have an epidural to take the pain away if I’m struggling. It’ll be awful, I thought, but it’ll be worth it for the baby.

I’d never really experienced severe pain before labour but I knew that my tolerance of more minor pains was low. During pregnancy, I took a lot of pre-emptive paracetamol for everything from back aches, pelvic pains and cramps – all pains that I didn’t want to experience. I wanted to numb everything that could be numbed! And when I passed my due date and needed to be induced, I started taking the max dose of paracetamol immediately to keep the pain as hidden as possible. And then when the contractions started, I put on the TENS machine even when they were (with hindsight) ridiculously weak to take off whatever edge that I could. I didn’t want to feel anything and found that I was quickly exhausted by the increasing pain.

I say pain…

This is when it started to become strange. What I was feeling was exhausting. It was insistent. It was repetitive and horrible and made me moan aloud in distress, but I’m not 100% certain that it was pain. It wasn’t any pain that I recognised. It wasn’t like the muscular pains I had after running or exercise. It wasn’t localised or associated with movement or stiffness. It wasn’t like the sharper pain I’d felt with cuts or stubbed toes or grazes. It wasn’t like the deep cramping abdominal pains when I’ve had an upset stomach. It wasn’t even like period pains when the hot cramps compress my abdomen and pull on my back.

And unlike what I would expect from ‘classic’ physical pain, I have no doubt that the stresses surrounding the early part of the labour made it much, much worse. We had possibly come to hospital too early as I had mistakenly thought my waters had broken and, even though contractions were occurring every 2 minutes, the midwifery team were vaguely talking about sending us home. Sadly, the maternity unit was extremely busy at that time so all decisions and interventions were taking ages. My regular paracetamol dose was delayed; we had to wait for a cubicle before other painkillers could be suggested; we weren’t given a clear management plan as the next steps weren’t obvious at that time. Frankly, I didn’t cope with it very well!

The intense, insistent pain associated with the contractions was like nothing I have ever experienced before and it was overwhelmingly exhausting. I began to think that I actually couldn’t do this after all. I began to think that I might demand an epidural so they couldn’t send me home, as I just couldn’t imagine surviving this for another few minutes, let alone the many hours being predicted.

But that wasn’t what happened. Eventually, we had a plan and our own room, and I calmed down. We had a proper discussion with the midwife about what might happen next and so could make realistic choices about pain relief options. However, we were still at a crossroads of sorts, and the next few hours would force our hand one way or the other – either labour would progress and our baby would arrive soon, or it wouldn’t and we’d need to repeat the induction, potentially extending the labour by a further 12-24 hours. In light of this, we chose a diamorphine injection (essentially heroin by a more palatable name) until we knew more and I fully intended to then have an epidural.

But already, the contractions had become more manageable. In the more relaxed surroundings of our room, I was able to absorb the pain more effectively without feeling so overwhelmed. And the diamorphine was interesting too. It didn’t really change the quality of the contraction pains at all but it did make me drowsy enough that I was able to sleep between them. My exhaustion melted away and I could just get on with it. The contractions got stronger and more intense, and I moaned louder to release the pressure. Each contraction would wash through me, but then it would be gone and I found myself to be swimming in calming endorphins that made it all feel OK. More than OK, which was confusing. The sensations certainly weren’t like any pleasure I’ve known and I’d hesitate to even call it pleasurable, but it was also not like any pain either. It just was, and when each contraction was over, I felt stronger not weaker, empowered not exhausted. Even when the analgesic effects of the diamorphine wore off. Even when the hours continued to pass and I realised that I hadn’t had any pain relief at all for over eight hours but still turned it down when it was offered…

Looking back now, my response to this deep, intense pain genuinely baffles me. I felt disconnected from it, almost disconnected from reality. Serene but somehow almost euphoric, with the midwives commenting on how much I was laughing between episodes of contractions. My memory of it all isn’t really that clear anymore. Maybe it was the drugs! But it feels like more than that, and I am reminded of the descriptions of pleasurable pain that I had read about before. Was this the subspace that I had heard so much about but never experienced?

Me sat on the edge of a hospital bed, wearing a striped night shirt and TENS machine

That’s not to say that the rest of the labour was pain-free! The actual delivery was fucking horrendous, as I’d feared. Moans that EA had earlier joked sounded similar to my orgasm noises became increasingly guttural and louder and more like, well, agony. But now the pain was very different, and was a pain that I did recognise – stretching flesh, tearing skin and muscle, and the eventual realisation that no amount of perineal massage would make me stretchy enough to let out a 9lb 9oz baby without an episiotomy. (Honestly, the local anaesthetic injection before this cut was one of the most painful parts of the whole thing!) And later, when more local anaesthetic was needed for stitching, I finally accepted gas-and-air for extra pain relief. Without the underlying warmth of contractions and the euphoria they produced, this relatively minimal agony was suddenly completely unbearable!

And now I’m back to taking frequent doses of paracetamol prophylactically to avoid all pain. Healing twinges and recovering muscle aches are unpleasant enough that I’m back to hiding! Whatever magic I’d experienced has not persisted.

I do now, however, have a new understanding of the potential of pain. It can be surprisingly amazing. It can make even the worst sensations feel better. And, wow, that endorphin thing is definitely real!

It’s too soon to know if this will make me more or less likely to experiment with pain in a sexual or masochistic context in the future. If it’s by choice rather than necessity, I don’t know that I am strong enough to push through the first part when the pain is overwhelming to reach the plateau beyond. And when the different pains created such different responses, am I even able to recreate the ‘right’ type or depth of pain in another way? Is the literal agony of experimentation kind of stupid when I normally don’t have any kind of pain tolerance??

Whatever the answers to these questions, I am fascinated! And more than a little jealous of those who have already figured out the answers that work for them…

29 thoughts on “The painful truth…

  1. Really interesting to read your experience and so glad you managed to get through it all.
    I didn’t experiment with pain till well after I’d had my kids so the link isn’t there at all mentally.
    Hope all is going well.
    Missy x

  2. My journey through labour gave me an increasing sense of the power and capacity of my body. I discovered sexual pleasure through pain later but I wasn’t surprised by my capacity to translate impact to arousal after labour It was my mental state that had to change, my ability to embrace life and not necessarily be in control of it in order to fully experience it .

    Sending best wishes to you all x

  3. I have so much to say about all this, but it’s my experience, not yours, and this is your time to process your experience. I think it’s something we don’t talk about enough, shrouded as it is in ‘as long as you have a healthy baby’ bullshit (in Ireland, at least).

    I will say that I felt absolutely traumatised by the feeling of my first child crowning (the contractions had been fine, til I had to push, without any urge to). I found that burning pain pretty awful, and a bit violating – I felt like I hadn’t asked for this! Who put that in there?? And she was only 8lbs 12. I have a midwife friend who helped birth a first time, 11lb baby with no tear or episiotomy, it can certainly be done. But yeah, I did not like that feeling. The first thing I said when she popped out was Thank God! And, I am NEVER doing that again! On my second child, it was negligible – though he was 12 oz smaller, and I guess things were pretty different, sigh. And now… well, I feel sad I’ll never feel that particular feeling again, and can see the appeal of fisting, tbh. Funny how things change 🙂

    If you have another baby, I would strongly, strongly suggest finding a place that will accomodate water birth. Hot water is the most amazing pain relief.

    I’m so happy the morphine allowed your natural endorphins to come through – a lot of chemical pain relief interferes with your own processes. I do remember about five hours of very trippy, lovely feelings that passed in the blink of an eye in my early labour. And I also remember on my second, when I was far closer to the last stage than I realise, having transition contractions and not knowing it, and being alone in my room, leaning on my mother’s chest of drawers, and thinking, god, if I was in a hospital room with noise, and strangers, I don’t think I could cope with this. But I also found the quiet and familiarity made things far more bearable – and this is why homebirth appeals to me.

    It sounds like you did an amazing job of finding yourself and your rhythms and following them. I think a lot of the fear around birth *discourages* women from doing that. I have no problem at all stating how fucking magnificent and strong we are in labour.

    If I were going to run a marathon, people would congratulate me, and tell me how great I am to go through all the training and the event. But I’d rather have a baby any day than put myself through that ordeal!

  4. Thank you for sharing your birthing story.

    I think all mums have one, and everyone is different. Some people feel water births are the least painful, I personally couldn’t stand being in water. I got in and was out within 10 minutes. I had a pethedine injection with my first which allowed me to sleep as it did you, but with my second it had no effect at all. I tore badly with my first and the stitching afterwards was worse than the whole labour and delivery (but I did have 20 layered internal and 5 external stitches)….

    I think he important thing to take away from childbirth is that your body was made to do it. You can and will endure the labour and delivery. You will also find that in time you remember very little of the actual pain or discomfort from that time (the stitches afterwards stick with you – so to speak)

    For now I hope you are following the golden rules of new motherhood (as follows)

    1. No visitor holds the baby unless they have done a household chore.
    2. When baby sleeps – mum rests or sleeps.
    3. Do what feels right to you.
    4. Listen to advice and then take only that which makes sense to you.

    Lots of love xx

  5. This is a really interesting post Livvy and, like you, the posts I enjoy the best are the ones which make me think about new things or new ideas. Like others who have commented I had children before experimenting with impact play so I am not sure if the order would have changed things or not. I know that I managed the pain of labour in a way which was a sub space of sorts. I can do this with impact too but it is a place where I am strong and surviving. It is solitary and disconnected from those around me. It is essentially my own world so doesn’t lend itself to the sorts of experience that others seem to have. I have experimented with it because what I had read from others sounded so good but for me, it pushes me from my partner rather than drawing me into him so we have found other types of play to be more effective for us. I love the way that you are processing your own experience and appreciate you sharing it in this way. This is a great post which will, I am sure, provoke much discussion and comment. You look fab in that picture by the way ?

  6. Hi Livvy. I’m touched that you refer to one of my posts in this. I’m also having imposter syndrome as I have been present at two births and I know that what I experience in a masochistic setting is very different and not in the same ball game as what you have just been through. Also I have a safe word. I have the options to say “OK, I’m fine. Let’s stop now.
    Great post though.

  7. Firstly: thank you for the mentions of my posts. I’m always a little.blown away to find that they have had an impact on someone.
    Secondly: I’m so glad that you had some ‘good’ experiences. I rarely share my birth stories because I have been shushed about them in the past. I do believe that giving birth has given me a knowledge and confidence in my body’s capacities that wouldn’t have happened any other way. It’s also given me a level of trust that allows me to explore. For me,, everything went well when I trusted my instincts and responded to my body’s needs. That is definitely something that carries into my kink life and allows me to explore some things that others shy away from.

    I hope you three are doing well. You’re awesome and powerful and are allowed to trust yourself for what you need. Only listen to advice when you want it and learn your own new rhythms as you, as you two and as you three. ?

  8. Thanks for sharing, Livvy. I found this really interesting! Partly because it’s different from what one usually hears, but also because it’s an experience that most women have but I’ve chosen not to. It’s a club I’ll never be a member of but you’ve given me a peek through the window 🙂

  9. Wow Livvy, the fact that you even managed to write this essay with a new born has blown me away!
    A fantastic account of your experience and what the body is capable of.
    Thank you x x

  10. Livvy, thank you for sharing your birthing experience the way you have shared your pregnancy with us. This post made me realize that I was far too young with both times I gave birth, and so out of touch with my own body, my own needs, my own wants, that none of these thoughts happened before, after or during giving birth. It’s only in the last ten years that I have really gotten in touch with my body. Reading your experience, made me try to remember what I went through, but it’s just too long ago, I think.

    Rebel xox

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