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Mindful : August 2013
“That’s it!” she said with a laugh, perhaps under- selling the intensity of those sensations but putting them in perspective nonetheless. “See ladies,” one father-to-be in the class joked, “it’s no big deal.” Next, Bardacke drew an oscillating line to repre- sent what happens during contractions. For much of labor, she said, contractions come about five minutes apa rt a nd last about 60 seconds each. “That means in one hour you will have exactly 12 minutes of pain. Can you ha ndle 12 minutes of pain? To get your baby? Of course you ca n.” Pain, she explained, isn’t only a sensation in the body. It’s also a n experience of the emotions and the mind. We anticipate the pain and worry it will never end, and that mental rehashing and rehearsing causes its own, additional suffering. Mindfulness helps you separate the experience in the body from the reaction or overreaction in the mind, Bardacke said, so pain ca n be experienced simply as intense physical sensations, arising and passing. “That cha nges the nature of the experience entirely,” she said. Mothers might even discover that between the contractions are moments of rest, even pleasure. Ba rdacke has faith that this message can pro- foundly change the way couples see childbirth, and indeed, many left that evening feeling newly Arnold and Amy Wong with their son Aidan and daughter Aila. The couple was worried about repeating the rough experience they had during the birth of their son. make this hospital birth mine.” Still, acceptance was hard for her, as she admitted in class one night. “ But I’ll get over it,” she said. “ Don’t get over it,” Bardacke advised. “Just be with it.” Just being with it can be a tall order when you’re pregnant and your whole life feels canted toward the future. As they tape the sonogram pictures to the fridge, furnish the nursery, and make lists of na mes, expectant pa rents ca n’t help but think ahead—and that includes fast-forwa rding to the in- evitable and dreaded pain of childbirth. Fear of that pain, combined with the desire to avoid painkill- ing drugs, is a major reason most had sig ned up for Ba rdacke’s class. That ’s why she urged them not to miss the class in which she dissects the physiology of labor pains. Standing before a whiteboard, Bardacke asked for words associated with pain. The expectant parents offered a veritable thesaurus of discomfort: tearing, stabbing, burning, throbbing, cramping, searing, pressure, stretching, sha rp, aching. “ How many will you feel in childbirth?” Bardacke asked. Her surprising answer: only four—cra mping in the ea rly stage, stretching and tightening in the sec- ond stage, and burning as the baby’s head emerges. 48 mindful August 2013 PHOTOGRAPHBYCHRISTINEALICINO