Words easily trigger painful memories, according to this recent report in Science Daily. I read the article just before I took my 4 1/2 year old daughter to get some blood tests done yesterday, and decided to see if I could apply this with her. Last summer she had some immunizations; She screamed and cried, and for months after said “Please don’t take me to get another immunization, Mama, please promise?”
So she has a history with needles, and I was certain she’d get into histrionics with this one. When we arrived there was another little girl screaming over blood being drawn. But I spoke to Ana in positive tones, telling her and her brother that it doesn’t really hurt, it’s like a little tiny pinch that isn’t hard. I showed them both a little pinch on the arm and they agreed it didn’t really hurt. When she went in I showed her the needle. It had a little blue bow shape on top – I said, ‘look at the little blue butterfly! It’s going to kiss you now, like it’s drinking nectar from a flower’ I told the staff: ‘Ana’s not scared, she knows it’s just a pinch and doesn’t hurt.’
As the nurse took the blood, Ana watched in fascination, and didn’t cry, not even a peep. Nurses crowded around in amazement and praised Ana, amazed that a four-year old wasn’t crying. Afterwards, she reported proudly to her teacher at kindergarten that it didn’t hurt at all.
Pain IS suggestible. Changing our vocabulary, like in the Hypnobirthing method by calling contractions ‘surges’ or ‘expansions’ does make a huge difference in our perception of what we’re feeling! I’ve seen a mother coping well with labor and enjoying the strength in her body, using vocalization and making healthy noise….but the staff thought she wasn’t coping because they’re used to quiet women on epidurals. So the doctor came in and suggested that she might be needing an epidural because it sounded to him like she wasn’t coping, and he thought she might not be able to make it without pain relief. Instantly, under that barrage of unbelief and doubt, she wilted before my eyes, and the contractions got visibly much more painful. She said that an epidural hadn’t even crossed her mind before he said that, but after those words she got scared about the length of labor and couldn’t do it anymore. We had the epidural. The birth was still beautiful, with a joyous outcome, but I was left amazed at the power of those sentences spoken by one doctor. Now, I agree that there are situations where a mother does need an epidural, and for her it is a right and good choice. But in this case the possible complications were not worth it: she could have kept going as she was, NOT suffering, but experiencing the power of labor, without the risks that come with an epidural. It was not necessary. Words that made it necessary.