“The power and intensity of your contractions cannot be stronger than you, because it is you.” ~ Unknown
As a birth doula of 8 years, I’ve often told clients: “The power and intensity of your contractions cannot be stronger than you, because it is you.” Everything a woman has experienced throughout her life, from her relationship with her body, her sexuality, and even her own birth influences the way her body responds to labor. This is why when helping to prepare clients for birth, we don’t just talk about stages of labor, the birth plan, and what to expect in her choice of setting. We dive deep into everything that has led her to be who she is: past sexual traumas, eating disorders, achievements, what brings her joy and pleasure. These inform how she feels about birth, which determines how relaxed and confident she will be. And the body can only perform such a feat in the absence of fear and tension.
The same is true for overcoming chronic pain. Through groundbreaking research in the field of psychoneuroimmunology, we’ve discovered that thought patterns, emotional states, and somatic habits are often the root of physical experience. That doesn’t mean that chronic pain is “all in your head;” far from it. The experience of pain is as physical as it is a mental process. But by becoming conscious of our underlying patterns that contribute to our pain, we can begin to unwind these tendencies and heal from their grip.
Fortunately and unfortunately, there is no shortcut. It’s unfortunate, because we can’t just buy a pill, or even a course of therapy, that guarantees freedom from pain. But because of that, pain is a powerful opportunity to heal the underlying causes that otherwise may have gone ignored for years and even decades. So in approaching the healing process, it can be helpful to work backwards, beginning with what’s happening right now. What will support ease, joy, and relaxation in this moment? Diet, physical activity, and navigating stress are great places to start. Once a baseline of wellness is established, it becomes possible to address underlying issues, because one has gained resources to stabilize him through the intensity of emotions that may emerge during inner terrain work.
There is no substitute for emotional support. I’ve seen this first-hand with my nutrition clients, many of whom come to me with near flawless diets, but still suffer with a host of physical ailments. I explain to them that just like the body needs a certain balance of macro and micronutrients to function, as mammals we require “primary foods” to maintain optimal health. These include satisfying relationships with others, a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives, spiritual practice, and physical activity. These factors impact how our bodies digest, metabolize and assimilate “secondary foods,” or the foods we eat.
That said, healing foods can make a massive difference in healing chronic pain. Inflammation in the body contributes to chronic pain, and factors that contribute to inflammation include: 1- imbalance of the microbiome in the gut 2- eating foods that create an inflammatory response and 3- lack of antioxidants, which offset the inflammatory response. Enjoying a plant-based diet resolves all three of these issues. Plant foods support a healthy microbiome by providing nourishment for probiotics to colonize the gut, and the antioxidants abundant in plant foods create an anti-inflammatory response.
Many of us know the importance of probiotics when it comes to gut health. But taking probiotics in supplement form can’t go very far without sufficient presence of “prebiotics”- forms of fiber found in plant foods, that support the survival and proliferation of probiotics in the gut. Eating a wide variety of plant foods is important, because different species of probiotics require different kinds of prebiotics to thrive. “Lactobacillus bacteria may prefer one type of fiber, but Bacteroids may prefer fiber from a different food,” explains Shayna Morris, PhD, a molecular biologist at Systematic Formulas in Ogden, Utah. “As you diversify your diet with different plant foods, you diversify the bacteria that are now happy to stay with you.”
For a healing protocol to be effective, inflammatory foods must be reduced. Eliminating dairy often helps resolve digestive issues, chronic pain and even hormonal imbalance and infertility. Conventional dairy contains antibiotics and growth hormones that are known endocrine disruptors--- meaning they not only wreak havoc on gut health, but disturb the delicate balance of hormones we need to maintain healthy levels of neurotransmitters, a key factor in reducing pain. Even organic dairy with no synthetic hormones added, naturally contains enough hormones from the mother cow, to grow her calf into a fully grown cow! Hormonal imbalance can contribute to inflammation and the resulting chronic pain. As well, the casein in milk protein is a gut irritant, which can interfere with proper absorption of nutrients so essential to healing chronic conditions.
While eliminating inflammatory foods like dairy may be enough to resolve many conditions, to gain all the benefits of a plant-based diet, it’s helpful to consider how your food is grown. Since the rise in conventional farming practices, not all plant foods are created equal. As soil quality diminishes, so do beneficial compounds like antioxidants. A 2014 paper published in the British Journal of Nutrition compared nutritional values of organic and conventional produce. The analysis of 243 peer-reviewed publications concluded that “the concentrations of a range of antioxidants were found to be substantially higher in organic crops.” Substantially higher to the tune of “20-40 percent (and for some compounds more than 60 percent) increase in crop-based antioxidant levels” in the same amount of food.
Pain is an opportunity to birth a more powerful version of yourself by healing on the deepest level available. Mama nature provides an abundance of resources for healing, from the foods we eat, to the relaxation response the body adopts when properly cared for on all levels. Like any birth, having the right support can be an invaluable tool to guide you along the way. With lots of self love, strong support and respect for nature as your guide, you may find that your pain becomes your access to power, purpose, and giving birth to a life you love.