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Simulated childbirth
October 13, 2009 1:50 PM   Subscribe

Experiencing the pain of labor...when you're male[slyt]
posted by gaspode (153 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
My wife is about to have our first child...I'm definitely learning to show more sympathy already.
posted by jaybol at 1:58 PM on October 13, 2009


Uh, can someone explain what they actually did to the guy? I don't really feel like sitting through that whole video to find out.
posted by delmoi at 2:00 PM on October 13, 2009


"There's no worse pain than childbirth."

"Yes, there is. One time in summer camp, I got hit in the balls with a frozen Snickers bar."

"No, having a baby hurts more."

"Well, let me put it to you this way -- do you want to have more than one child?"

"Yes."

"See, I would never, ever, EVER willingly allow myself to be hit in the balls with a frozen Snickers bar a second time."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:03 PM on October 13, 2009 [40 favorites]


Familiar to the men of Ulster since the curse of Macha.
posted by Abiezer at 2:03 PM on October 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


Uh, can someone explain what they actually did to the guy?

They wired his abdominal muscles up with electrical stimulators, which were calibrated to produce a level of pain comparable to the uterine contractions of childbirth. Then, they ran the guy through a full course of contractions, increasing in intensity and frequency.
posted by jedicus at 2:03 PM on October 13, 2009


I've been getting cluster headaches on a regular basis for basically my entire life. They run in the family. My mom, who has given birth twice without painkillers, gets them too. She says childbirth was not nearly as bad, and given how getting nailed in the balls pales in comparison to my headaches, I'm inclined to believe her.
posted by kafziel at 2:08 PM on October 13, 2009 [6 favorites]


I'm amused that he was whining about the pain when the contractions were still 7 minutes apart. Having only gone through labor once, I'm wondering if this is normal? I didn't even notice I was in labor until my contractions were closer to 3 minutes apart, and it didn't get really painful for several more hours. Either my experience is really not typical, or that guy is a sissy.
posted by lexicakes at 2:10 PM on October 13, 2009


The electrical stimulators are a start, but you also need the add-on kit that tears your perineum and makes you crap yourself.
posted by brain_drain at 2:12 PM on October 13, 2009 [41 favorites]


I have no idea about childbirth, so I'm going to leave that alone, but I can guarantee that cluster headaches or any other kind of chronic headaches are far more miserable than getting hit in the balls.
posted by blucevalo at 2:13 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Lexicakes: actually, that may be a function of every human having different pain threshholds. Your experience is typical for you, but may not be for me -- and that's not a function of me being a wimp or you being a superwoman, and it certainly isn't a function of either of our genders. It's just a function of me being me instead of you.

So I don't think it's quite fair to call this guy a "sissy". His pain threshhold is just different from yours, is all.

(Sorry if I lept on this so quickly, but after the discussions we've been having about how "sexism hurts men too" over in a couple threads, I am more acutely aware of unconscious examples of same.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:14 PM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


I had my gallbladder removed about three years ago. After I went into the ER with a gallstone 'attack' I was told by many women who had experienced childbirth and gallstones that they woiuld choose natural childbirth, sans painkillers, over gallstones. Every injury since (crushed rib cage, lacerations involving permanent nerve damage, etc.) absolutely pales in comparison. I'm sure having a baby isn't fun, but there's worse that both men and women can go through.
posted by efalk at 2:15 PM on October 13, 2009 [12 favorites]


I think the idea of ranking and comparing pain on any kind of a scale is a little dicey on any but an unofficial, anecdotal score. We don't really know what each others' threshholds are, right?

...Although, personally, all y'all women don't want to go through ovarian torsion. Trust me on that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:18 PM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


don't forget the whole business of your skin stretching and tearing, did they put him through that as well?
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 2:18 PM on October 13, 2009


Male, never given birth. It seems to me that women's bodies have probably evolved to be able to deal with the pain of childbirth in a way that men's have not. This is not not not NOT to say that I doubt that childbirth is extraordinarily painful. But I think any attempt to simulate the pain is going to get it wrong - men simply don't have the equipment, both in terms of the actual birth mechanisms and in terms of the millions of years of software patches that make it all work, to be able to do this with any accuracy.

Never been hit in the Reese's Pieces by frozen Snickers, either.
posted by dirtdirt at 2:19 PM on October 13, 2009


Pain is relative - when we were in the maternity ward, there was a woman screaming so loudly and for so long that she lost her voice. Quietly, my wife went through the whole thing in 2.5 hours. After which we raised the baby on a diet of nails and broken glass.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 2:19 PM on October 13, 2009 [12 favorites]


what a jessie.

trigeminal neuralgia would kill him.
posted by the cuban at 2:19 PM on October 13, 2009


I sort of object to the framing of this as a "who has a higher pain threshold" question, partially because he has the choice just to stop which means that of course his pain threshold seems lower because knowing that you can stop means you almost definitely will. If he weren't able to stop, then what? If you don't have a choice in terms of an experience it's really not a matter of "threshold", it's just something that happens and there's nothing you can do about it. He also doesn't have the idea of a baby keeping him going which may or may not be a factor (I myself do not have any children). I think the idea is an interesting one as it's just not an experience that's easy to recreate but I think it's cheapened by being made into a competition.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 2:21 PM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: I guess calling him a sissy was a bad choice of words. I do wonder how close this simulation was to the real thing, though. It seems like he shouldn't be writhing in pain when they're simulating very early labor. It seems like they may have had the intensity of the contractions messed up.
posted by lexicakes at 2:22 PM on October 13, 2009


metafilter: you also need the add-on kit that tears your perineum and makes you crap yourself.
posted by cjorgensen at 2:26 PM on October 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


No thanks, I've eaten Taco Bell before.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 2:28 PM on October 13, 2009 [15 favorites]


I am just gonna chime in here as the sissy who flinched while high-fiving a colleague today, due to a high risk of static electricity. Hi!
posted by everichon at 2:29 PM on October 13, 2009 [6 favorites]


Lexicakes, you may have had what they call "silent labour" for the first part of your childbirth - the scope measures contractions, but you really don't feel them. I had these for my first child. I don't think they could reliably simulate that.

As for the simulation shown, it needs a bit of work, ie., the guy should have had an extra 20 lb weight strapped onto his tummy at the very least, and reduced mobility generally due to things like IV lines, monitors and so on. He was able to roll around an awful lot more than you generally get to do in labour. He should also have been made to run several miles a day for at least a week and had his sleep interrupted for bathroom breaks for at least that long as well. Its one thing to face that kind of thing when well-rested, quite another to go into it after several months of pregnancy.

That said, I think this should be a *required* experience for:

1. Any obstetrician who has not given birth (men and women).

2. Anyone who has ever scoffed at the idea of c-sections and/or used the phrase "too posh to push"

3. Any male who has been a jerk about motherhood and women in general. (And probably some women who have been jerks about motherhood too)
posted by Zinger at 2:30 PM on October 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I'll pass on the whole causing myself pain to see what it feel like, since that's not my kink, and I've had enough pain of my own to not need going borrowing.
posted by cjorgensen at 2:30 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've heard from multiple sources that passing a kidney stone can be much worse than labor also. ymmv I am sure...
posted by supermedusa at 2:30 PM on October 13, 2009


Your gallstones, if presented to you by your doctor, would be unlikely to have the same pain-erasing effects as your baby....
posted by pick_the_flowers at 2:30 PM on October 13, 2009 [5 favorites]


Is this the part where I share an anecdote about how a woman has told me that the pain I'm experiencing right now is soo much worse than childbirth? 'Cause I want to look really tough and make sure I'm doing it right.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 2:31 PM on October 13, 2009 [5 favorites]


Pain comparisons have always seemed pretty suspect to me. When I had a month-long battle with kidney stones last spring, I had several women tell me that their kidney stone experiences had been worse than childbirth. I was surprised, because that was far from the worst pain I've ever felt. The worst pain I've ever felt was when my eardrum ruptured and about a half pint or so of thick, infected fluid forced itself slooooowly through the ever-widening tear over a period of about 30 minutes. If I had to choose between a month of kidney stones or 30 minutes of eardrum tearing, I'd probably go with the kidney stones.

On the other hand, none of these problems produce babies, which are probably sometimes worth the effort.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:31 PM on October 13, 2009


Regardless of the relative accuracy of this experiment, I am left with the following impression: DO. NOT. WANT.
posted by JeffK at 2:34 PM on October 13, 2009


they forgot the part where they shoved a bowling ball up his ass and he had to push it out ...
posted by pyramid termite at 2:35 PM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Who hasn't taken their bottom lip and forced it over their own head?
posted by gman at 2:39 PM on October 13, 2009


Yeah, obviously the whole "who has the highest pain threshold" is unanswerable, and frankly who cares.

I've given birth and hell, for me it only just made it onto the top five of painful things that I have brought upon myself in my life (number one will always be snorting gin - oh to be 18 again).

But you know, it's still kind of interesting. I found the contractions to be way worse when I wasn't able to push (for me that was a relief and not painful at all in comparison) so my personal experience is that he got the worst of it. Other people of course will have completely different experiences.
posted by gaspode at 2:40 PM on October 13, 2009


Did they say "Mackers" in the clip from the commercial? As in, "I'm going to buy a Big Mac at Mackers"? Amazing.
posted by pick_the_flowers at 2:41 PM on October 13, 2009


Coincidentally, a Big Mac causes the same level of abdominal pain.
posted by JeffK at 2:44 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Having a high pain threshold isn't always a good thing, either. It can get pretty easy to brush off something requiring medical attention because it just doesn't feel that bad.
posted by adipocere at 2:46 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


At the start of the video, he says "all the research shows that men can withstand a whole lot more [pain] than women."
I could have sworn that it was the other way around?
posted by lucidium at 2:47 PM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


if post in 2778472 = "yes"

{

echo "Oh yeah, well $MYPAIN is much worse than $YOURPAIN which proves that $MYTOLERANCE is higher than $YOURTOLERANCE so you cant comment on $MYPAIN because you don't understand."

}

fi

I'm not a good coder, but you get my point.
posted by Antidisestablishmentarianist at 2:49 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I stopped watching at the episiotomy.
posted by hermitosis at 2:49 PM on October 13, 2009


At the start of the video, he says "all the research shows that men can withstand a whole lot more [pain] than women."
I could have sworn that it was the other way around?


Actually, no. Men have higher numbers of endogenous opioid receptors than women; women require higher doses of opioid drugs (per body weight) to get the same subjective amount of pain relief and women repeatedly, in tests of pain threshold, have lower ones than men. (note that the first two points are opioid-related and don't address pain relief through other mechanisms) I'm a neuroscientist, and spent a few days at a symposium on gender and pain a few years ago (although it wasn't my field), and that was one of the fallacies that researchers and clinicians who paid attention to the research evidence kept having to fight against with most other clinicians.

People think that women have higher pain thresholds because it feels like that should be the case. Because of childbirth.

(and here is where I make my egregious swipe at intelligent design.)
posted by gaspode at 2:52 PM on October 13, 2009 [20 favorites]


I'm too nervous to click on that.
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 2:56 PM on October 13, 2009


Orgasm During Childbirth of the Day

The Fun Doesn't End at Conception!
posted by KokuRyu at 3:04 PM on October 13, 2009


Oh yeah, well $MYPAIN is much worse than $YOURPAIN which proves that $MYTOLERANCE is higher than $YOURTOLERANCE so you cant comment on $MYPAIN because you don't understand

I haven't noticed anybody here equate living through painful experiences with having a high tolerance for pain. A few people have said the opposite, though.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:06 PM on October 13, 2009


The Fun Doesn't End at Conception!

Well, at least not for the first few months...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:07 PM on October 13, 2009


Yeah, a few years ago when I suspected I was passing a kidney stone, I read a pamphlet that said (not very reassuringly) people who had experienced both say the pain a kidney stone can be worse than childbirth, gunshot wounds, and broken bones. Thankfully, I passed a tiny little pebble with only minor discomfort. Now I drink a lot of water.
posted by The Tensor at 3:07 PM on October 13, 2009


I don't like babies.
posted by ZaneJ. at 3:10 PM on October 13, 2009


i wrote up a comment in askme about giving birth when someone asked, but the gist of the actual birth was the progression went from bad menstrual cramps to the worst menstrual cramps I ever had, and then to the worst menstrual cramps ever had by anyone without actually dying. Then it moved onto the blinding pain that whited out all thought so that I screamed until my throat was sore and vomited on myself, then passed out in exhaustion until the next contraction. When I finally got the epidermal, I conked out and slept like a dead thing until the end.

And that doesn't even cover the emotional whirlwind happening where excitement and dread about the birth mixed with the humiliation of a room full of people checking out my vagina and commenting on the fluids dripping out of me onto the floor.

So you hooked a guy up to a battery and shocked him or suffered a head-splitting headache (I have migraines). I don't care. Until your body tries turning itself inside out to disgorge another human being while a room full of people treat you like the cardboard box around a diamond ring, you can't compare the experience or hope to really understand.
posted by FunkyHelix at 3:11 PM on October 13, 2009 [30 favorites]


I've had kidney stones, gallbladder attacks, a pulmonary embolism, an episode of dry socket after a tooth extraction, back spasms so bad I had to be hauled out of bed and to the waiting ambulance on a stretcher...and I once rappelled into a wasp's nest with unfortunate results. Lucky me! The only thing I can say for sure is that the kidney stones were the worst (the only time I've ever vomited from shear pain). It gets a bit hazy after that, but I think I'd put my two 100% unmedicated deliveries second on the list.

The thing is, though, if you've got one of those other horrible pain-inducing episode going on, no one guilts you out for trying to get some sort of relief through drugs. Kidney stones are a whole lot more manageable after they put you on a demerol drip.
posted by drlith at 3:14 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


gaspode, that mirrors what I've heard, though I've also heard that while men have a higher threshold for registering pain, they have a lower threshold for being incapacitated by pain. I'd be interested if there is any research supporting that intuition.

(And as the above illustrates, I think the problem with ID has more to do with the assumption that we'd be able to discern design--maybe the designer is motivated by aesthetics rather than functionality, or has a bad sense of humor--than the assumption of a designer. Whether or not you perceive design has far more to do with the story you tell about it than the presence or absence of a designer. /derail)
posted by valkyryn at 3:15 PM on October 13, 2009


One of the complications that followed my appendectomy was an intestinal blockage. The natural peristaltic action of the intestines would attempt to push the contents of my gut past the blockage causing me some of the worst pain I've ever experienced, even worse than the appendicitis, which was rather dull in comparison. It was similar to the pain of intestinal gas, except instead of gas I had a week's worth of food and drink in my alimentary tract trying to burst through my intestinal lining.

The thing is, intestinal peristalsis occurs periodically and once it's active for a bit it stops. So as I sat on a gurney in the UCSF ER hallway waiting to get a room, I would alternately be joking with my friend and curled up, writhing in pain. My friend, who's a doctor, remarked on how much what I was experiencing was like going through labor. It was good for a laugh at the time, I'll admit.

I ended up having the contents of my stomach pumped out over the period of three days through a tube snaked down into my gut through my nose. From what I understand, this process is very similar to childbirth.

What?
posted by ooga_booga at 3:23 PM on October 13, 2009


Wait... wait... snorting gin????

And as far as childbearing pain goes - how about that cervical manipulation? I still cross my legs thinking about it.
posted by gomichild at 3:32 PM on October 13, 2009


Snorting gin? Eyes neti pot and Hendricks.
posted by ooga_booga at 3:38 PM on October 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


kidney stones... just sayin'
posted by HuronBob at 3:40 PM on October 13, 2009


it seems to me that women's bodies have probably evolved to be able to deal with the pain of childbirth in a way that men's have not.

I know pretty much nothing about this, but isn't there supposed to be some sort of hormone that kicks in and blunts the pain memory? Maybe it causes a drop in protein synthesis in the hippocampus or something? From what I remember, the claim was that without this hormone far fewer women would consider having a second child. Is that familiar to anyone or was that just some pop SCIENCE! I'd heard as a youth...

In that vein, I wonder if the lady they tested it on in the video would remember the artificially induced electrical pain more than the actual childbirth pain. She is able to confirm that it feels the same, but if the above theory is correct, she is only adjusting it to the level that she remembers it at, and childbirth is likely far more painful.
posted by scrutiny at 3:45 PM on October 13, 2009


Is anyone else amused by the fact that this is listed as the top related video?
posted by Ndwright at 3:48 PM on October 13, 2009


The Brits have been experiencing the pain of Labour for 12 years now.
posted by gman at 3:50 PM on October 13, 2009 [4 favorites]


Huh. Thanks gaspode.
posted by lucidium at 4:00 PM on October 13, 2009


I know pretty much nothing about this, but isn't there supposed to be some sort of hormone that kicks in and blunts the pain memory? Maybe it causes a drop in protein synthesis in the hippocampus or something? From what I remember, the claim was that without this hormone far fewer women would consider having a second child. Is that familiar to anyone or was that just some pop SCIENCE! I'd heard as a youth...

I've heard some similar SCIENCE! - like others have pointed out, even if that's not the case, you at least end up with a baby at the end of the process, so that probably helps. Few people probably consider the day they passed a kidney stone one of the happiest of their lives.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 4:00 PM on October 13, 2009


The thing is, though, if you've got one of those other horrible pain-inducing episode going on, no one guilts you out for trying to get some sort of relief through drugs.

I think that's the key point that everyone here is missing. Yes, there could well be things more painful than childbirth. Yes, some people will find some experiences absolutely excruciating, while someone else finds the same experience no big deal. I, for one, wouldn't wish a bad ear infection on anyone.

But there is definitely an element of "tsk, tsk" if you even hint at wanting pain relief during childbirth. Doing it the hard way is somehow better. I distinctly heard the nurse saying "Yes, bring in the pain pump. She thinks she needs something." This after I'd gone several hours without anything. (Husband heard this too and in fact brought it up afterward before I did...)

My mother remembers being in labour for about 35 hours... she was hot and sweaty and they moved her to a cold metal trolley to transport her to ... somewhere else, I don't know ... she sucked in her breath and the doc said, "you women make such a big deal about childbirth." If she could have, she'd have hit him.

I know pretty much nothing about this, but isn't there supposed to be some sort of hormone that kicks in and blunts the pain memory? Maybe it causes a drop in protein synthesis in the hippocampus or something? From what I remember, the claim was that without this hormone far fewer women would consider having a second child.

I dunno about hormone, but I remember everything in vivid detail; just watching that video made me squirm in sympathy.

In the past, it didn't matter whether you were able to block out the memory or not - you got pregnant (usually) whether you liked it or not and endured. And quite often died.

These days women who have a choice go back for more because the risk of serious complications is greatly reduced, there is the pain relief option, and for other reasons, like the moments of great joy you get from being a parent.
posted by Zinger at 4:00 PM on October 13, 2009


I know pretty much nothing about this, but isn't there supposed to be some sort of hormone that kicks in and blunts the pain memory?

I was about to say. I honestly couldn't tell you how painful labour was, because though I remember screaming and thrashing around (as much as possible given the machines I was hooked up to) I don't remember it actually hurting at all. Not in the same visceral way that I remember gallstone pain. I think this is some clever evolutionary trick devised to get one to do it all over again.
posted by jokeefe at 4:06 PM on October 13, 2009


Note: I demanded demerol, and got it. And gas. That might have helped.
posted by jokeefe at 4:06 PM on October 13, 2009


Maybe.
posted by jokeefe at 4:07 PM on October 13, 2009


I remember in elementary school, when one of our teachers returned after having a kid, and one of the girls asked "oh my God! How much does it hurt?!" And the teacher said, "A lot, but it's the kind of pain you forget." Which always made a lot of sense to me.

I noticed something today, though. I had a migraine so bad I wasn't able to move this morning. I get these occasionally and in fact had one very similar a few weeks ago. The one three weeks ago had me sweating and shaking, though, whereas this one, equally severe, didn't. I think the difference was that a few weeks ago all I had to do was go to a single class and sit there for two hours, whereas today I had tons of important shit to get done. My point isn't that my pain was comparable to childbirth (how the hell would I know?) but just that when you've got a goal in mind, and the stakes are high, it's easier to focus away from whatever pain you're going through. "Creating a human being" is pretty high-stakes and a pretty good goal.

Also, if you have no choice but to be in pain, "threshold" doesn't come into play.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:12 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I delivered our third child in our bathroom at home. My wife didn't even wake the other two kids sleeping in the next room. Amazing. The first child (contraction times here) looks like the delivery was about as long as my first kidney stone, but then it got easier. Still, there is no way I would sign up for a simulated kidney stone either.
posted by mdoar at 4:12 PM on October 13, 2009


simulated kidney stone

OMG!!! You could make millions with this idea! How soon can you bring this to market?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:15 PM on October 13, 2009


Wife#1 says that the plugged duct was way worse than either of the natural childbirths.
posted by mikelieman at 4:20 PM on October 13, 2009


No, wait - on second thought, I don't think I'd sign up for it either. Never mind.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:20 PM on October 13, 2009


Where's the poor woman who was passing kidney stones while giving birth?
posted by june made him a gemini at 4:21 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Let me clarify what I meant by "threshhold" -- I was referring strictly to the "oh, you can't handle that kind of pain? Feh, men are wimps" reactions I thought I was starting to see. When the truth of the matter is, everyone perceives/experiences/senses pain differently, and it's not a gender thing or a sign of strength/weakness.

So yeah, I was just trying to forestall a whole "guys can't put up with labor pain, har har" thing. Although it maybe didn't come out anyway, in which case I'm dim. Sorry.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:22 PM on October 13, 2009


Gallstones vs. two babies, here. The difference? Exhaustion. Which makes it more difficult to cope with the pain. When I had the gallstone atttack, a quick ride to the ER was followed by some tests and blessed relief in about an hour. On the other hand, both of my babies took 3 days of labor followed by emergency caesarians. With the first, I soldiered on as long as possible without any pain relief because our health coverage did not pay for a spinal block. It was $500.00 extra and I really, really did not want to spend that money-- we were, after all expecting a baby. But in the end I had to ask for it and oh. mi. gawd. it was like slipping into a warm tub of water after a running a marathon. Worth every penny.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 4:29 PM on October 13, 2009


The pain from one tiny baby's head coming out of a large woman is not the same as a gigantic baby's head coming out of a tiny woman. That is, "childbirth" is not one amount of pain, nor is anything else. Yeah there's a range but it overlaps with other things. If I had an easy birth and a terrible kidney stone, I'd tell you one thing, but if I had a horrific birth and a tiny kidney stone, well, you get the idea.

And the women who have a painful childbirth and then a dead baby, my heart goes out to them. Not everyone has the consolation of a perfect healthy baby at the end of the experience. There are no guarantees.
posted by marble at 4:49 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


3 days of labor followed by emergency caesarians

holy crap

oh. mi. gawd. it was like slipping into a warm tub of water after a running a marathon. Worth every penny.

i can only begin to imagine the relative awesomeness* of slipping from the first state to the second. Seriously, that sounds like bliss. Though I probably wouldn't want to get in that first state at all. 3 days? I really feel for you.

*Where here 'relative awesomeness' means that the distance between the states was huge, so the relief was totally awesome when you compare the relative distance on a pain axis between states. Not that the pain relief was only kinda awesome
posted by scrutiny at 4:49 PM on October 13, 2009


I have experienced labor pain only up to the point where it overwhelmed my terror of someone sticking a needle in my spine. It is true, though, that at that point an epidural could have entailed a needle through my eye into my brain and it would still have been a welcome development.

It's silly when anyone says any notoriously painful thing wasn't that bad for them -- or, as a corollary, when anyone thinks they've plumbed the depths of labor pain because a mother said the pain of labor wasn't as bad as something else they've experienced. Babies come in different sizes, as do birth canals. And as Mrs. Pterodactyl noted, I could easily imagine a comparable experience of pain to the height of a contraction, but that's not what's defines the labor experience; it's the relentlessness, the frequency of the pain, the hours and hours that it lasts, and the terrible exertion and "ring of fire" at the end.

It's the labor of it, really.
posted by palliser at 5:04 PM on October 13, 2009


. . . It seems to me that women's bodies have probably evolved to be able to deal with the pain of childbirth in a way that men's have not.

My understanding is that we haven't -- or rather, that our species is not currently able to give birth with the ease and speed of other species, due to the large heads of human infants. The only sense in which we've evolved to be able to deal with it is that we have a societal structure in which other humans traditionally assist the childbearing woman.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:04 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


My mother had a horrible experience with anesthesia with my oldest brother (She was drugged to the point where she was functionally paralyzed. One of the other women in the ward lost her baby and Mom heard the nurses talking about it, but was incapable of asking if it was her.) For the next two kids, she decided she'd rather be in pain. But then, she was generally the sort to prefer control to comfort. I've known men to refuse strong anesthesia for dental work for the same (general) reason. Sometimes it's just a matter of what an individual feels strongly about.

In my case, I've had the same level of pain take me completely differently depending on whether I'd eaten that day and the behavior of people around me. In one case I just played "ok, I can make it five more minutes... ok, now I can make it through another five minutes..." until I got through it. In another I started crying and couldn't stop even after the pain got better. In fact, the surgery that started the crying jag probably even hurt a little less. (Both cases were failures of anesthesia. In the first, the doctor gave me the option of stopping and trying again another day, and I chose to keep going. In the second, the doctor kept telling me I shouldn't be feeling any pain and I was terrified because I was anyway.) So I either have a high or low pain tolerance, depending on circumstances.
posted by Karmakaze at 5:08 PM on October 13, 2009


Gout hurts like hell.
posted by Hoosier Prospector at 5:13 PM on October 13, 2009


Thanks. I needed to see this.

My wife and I are having our third baby tomorrow. I hope it's less painful than this.
posted by ColdChef at 5:23 PM on October 13, 2009 [8 favorites]


we have a societal structure in which other humans traditionally assist the childbearing woman

That leads me to an interesting question for the resident biologists: what happens with the "social" animals regarding the whole giving birth moment? How about those species where the male stays around for the rearing, what do the males do in such moments?
posted by Iosephus at 5:26 PM on October 13, 2009


Salmonella is much more painful than childbirth. I've had it and I would not wish it upon any other living being. I've met a few women who make the same claim: giving birth hurt, but salmonella was worse.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:27 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


The thing about pain thresholds is very true. The man who was the topic of the experiment may have a low pain threshold, while Random Woman X to whom he is being compared may have a higher one. The fact I have a very high pain threshold has been problematic all of my life. My appendix ruptured because nobody at my doctor's or at the ER, including me, thought I was in enough pain for appendicitis. I don't have the standard reactions for the Blumberg tap, and while in retrospect I was vomiting from pain, it wasn't pain I was experiecing the way a normal person would. Nobody knew my appendix had ruptured until the end of the next day - more then 24 hours later - when they did surgery and discovered I now had peritonitis. Death rate for delayed intervention: 40%.

So really, when you are trying to measure comparative pain, it's about as useful as asking "how long is a piece of string?" Critically, this is why the diagnostic pain scale is self-reporting.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:27 PM on October 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


all y'all women don't want to go through ovarian torsion. Trust me on that.

Holy crap! I've heard of testicular torsion, but never ovarian. How would your ovaries get twisted around? Aren't they secured in place with connective tissue?

The worst pain I've ever felt was when my eardrum ruptured and about a half pint or so of thick, infected fluid forced itself slooooowly through the ever-widening tear over a period of about 30 minutes.

Oh. Dear. God.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:39 PM on October 13, 2009


Holy crap! I've heard of testicular torsion, but never ovarian. How would your ovaries get twisted around? Aren't they secured in place with connective tissue?

Not so much, no. And as to the "how" and the "why," the jury is kind of...out. I had to get an operation to remedy things, and afterward I asked the doctor what caused it, and he said, "sometimes it just...happens." I kept saying that that was not an acceptable answer, because things like that don't just spontaneously happen. but apparently...it's rare enough that all they know is that about half the time, there's a cyst in the ovary that just makes it freak out -- and the other half the time, there....isn't.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:52 PM on October 13, 2009


We all have our crosses to bear, and I speak as a Kidney Stone Survivor (eight memorable days). I suppose there is some kind of new kinship with Mrs Jones on that side of things, but it's not as if she enjoyed that time spent together, watching me curled up on the floor unable to keep down the water I needed to move the stones because the nausea was so severe.

As to Electroboy- what kind of foolishness is this? I wouldn't expect a woman to sign up for getting kicked in the cojones just to see what it's like. Quite advise against it, really.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:59 PM on October 13, 2009


but salmonella was worse.

posted by five fresh fish
posted by Zinger at 6:04 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


(Sorry, no offense intended to Mefi's own electroboy - just grabbing a snarky name out of the air, me.)
posted by IndigoJones at 6:11 PM on October 13, 2009


The worst pain I've ever felt was when my eardrum ruptured and about a half pint or so of thick, infected fluid forced itself slooooowly through the ever-widening tear over a period of about 30 minutes.

My wife had repeated ear infections as a child. As an adult she gave birth to our son at home. She said the ear infections were much more painful than the childbirth.
posted by alms at 6:18 PM on October 13, 2009


My girlfriend is no wimp so when she says "This hurts worse than when I broke my arm" I'm like, 'yeah I can see that. You want another ice chip?'
posted by nola at 6:28 PM on October 13, 2009


OK, so we now have enough information to create a definitive RANKING OF PAIN, from most to least painful:

- snorting gin
- ruptured eardrum
- cluster headache
- salmonella
- gall/kidney stone
- ovarian torsion
- plugged duct
- ear infection
- getting hit in the nuts with a frozen snickers bar
- childbirth
posted by brain_drain at 6:30 PM on October 13, 2009 [12 favorites]


Thanks. I needed to see this.

My wife and I are having our third baby tomorrow. I hope it's less painful than this.
posted by ColdChef


Does it get any less scary the third time around?
posted by nola at 6:31 PM on October 13, 2009


lol@zinger. Nice; I've mentioned salmonella a few times over the past years, and no one else connected the dots. Kudos.

I should think testicular/ovarian torsion would easily compete with kidney stones. [knock on wood]

My wife says having her elbow crushed to pulp was unbelievably painful.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:34 PM on October 13, 2009


I know pretty much nothing about this, but isn't there supposed to be some sort of hormone that kicks in and blunts the pain memory? Maybe it causes a drop in protein synthesis in the hippocampus or something?

I can't speak to the science, but my experience matches that. I gave birth naturally* and made some serious noise. So much so that my husband remarked "I've never heard you make any noises like that before and I'm impressed." But as soon as I was done, I felt fucking fantastic. I was peeved hospital policy meant I was wheeled to my room because I wanted to walk. And now I can remember the yelling and the thrashing, but not the pain itself. If I try, I basically remember intense cramps, but it the pain was like intense cramps times a hundred. I know I was in pain, but I can't make my brain remember the sensations themselves, the same way I can call to mind the feeling of migraines or having my thumb literally locked between the door and the jam when I was 12.

*YMMV since I gave birth at 34 weeks and had a 4 lb 10 oz baby instead of a 8 lb baby. Plus, I'm a type A who decided to give birth naturally, so I was all I'M DOING THIS THING FUCK THE EPIDURAL, JACK.
posted by Never teh Bride at 6:44 PM on October 13, 2009


Salmonella had me actively wishing death. I'm pretty sure that if I had not been crippled on the toilet, I'd have jumped from the balcony.

But to my ear (eye?) the worst of the kidney stone stories sound more horrible than my salmonella. My pain couldn't have lasted more than a day or two, while my insides peeled out, but the kidney stones for eight. freakin. days. That's worse.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:45 PM on October 13, 2009


(Oh, and though I was having contractions for a week before I gave birth, hospital admittance to enjoying my preemie -- albeit in the NICU -- took a mere three hours, most of that non-yelling and chatting with the midwife. So, yeah, YMMV.)
posted by Never teh Bride at 6:48 PM on October 13, 2009


My wife had repeated ear infections as a child. As an adult she gave birth to our son at home. She said the ear infections were much more painful than the childbirth.

Okay, I'm not trying to single out the person who said this specifically, but this illustrates the point perfectly: I had repeated ear infections as a child, too. Multiple ruptures, reduced hearing in my right ear as a result. It was super-painful, no doubt.

But childbirth, for me, even though I got an epidural as soon as I felt I needed it, was much, much more painful. It was just on a level of endurance that put the ear infection pain to shame. I couldn't just rest up, you know? It was like having to do the Navy SEAL test while you had the ear infection. Or food poisoning. Or something. For me, anyway.

And that's the point: this kind of ranking is meaningless because everyone experiences these things differently: everyone's childbirth experience is different, everyone's kidney stone experience is different, everyone's salmonella experience is different.

Finally, it really does irk me that this thread, which started out about how painful the typical experience of childbirth generally is, is now about several male users determining which of their pain experiences, all of which clearly outrank childbirth because a woman said once that it did, was worst. Talk about minimizing experiences you haven't had.
posted by palliser at 6:57 PM on October 13, 2009 [9 favorites]



Does it get any less scary the third time around?

Yes. No.
posted by Zinger at 7:08 PM on October 13, 2009


Does it get any less scary the third time around?

The only real fear my wife has right now is of "back labor." That happened with our first. It's a pinched nerve. Excruciating.
posted by ColdChef at 7:29 PM on October 13, 2009


I wonder how does cancer pain compare to childbirth and other painful incidents listed above.

I have levator ani, the pain paralyzes me and sometimes I drop down and curl into fetal position. I can imagine going through pain like that for hours.
posted by Eleutherios at 7:36 PM on October 13, 2009


brain_drain, that is far from definite, let me append it:

stubbing your toe
paper cut
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
everything else
posted by ymgve at 7:40 PM on October 13, 2009


Whatever. Try taking a hammer to your own teeth and then rinsing with hydrogen peroxide.
posted by gman at 7:44 PM on October 13, 2009


The only real fear my wife has right now is of "back labor." That happened with our first. It's a pinched nerve. Excruciating.

I hope things go well for her. Good luck to both of you.
posted by nola at 7:48 PM on October 13, 2009


Try taking a hammer to your own teeth and then rinsing with hydrogen peroxide.

Is this the latest thing on BMEZine or something? Last link I followed there showed people chiseling off parts of their toes for fun. Those people scare me.
posted by marble at 7:50 PM on October 13, 2009


The abscessed wisdom tooth with the cracked temporary filling was bad enough that I still have nightmares about it.

I don't know if I'll ever be ready for childbirth.

I am a woman, by the way.
posted by thivaia at 7:54 PM on October 13, 2009


I haven't had a baby. Nor a kidney stone. I had a salivary stone, but that just made my neck swell up like a frog when I looked at food. Not painful though.

Stents out from deviated septum didn't really hurt, but it did feel like that scene from Total Recall when he pulled the golf ball out of his nose.

I split my kneecap. That kinda hurt.

I had skin grafts in my mouth though. They shaved the skin off of the roof of my mouth, shaved my gums back and stiched on the new gums. The new gums were peachy, but the no-skin roof of my mouth was immensely painful.

Also, getting lasik touchup where they have to use what amounts to a soldering iron on your eyes to clear away the scar tissue was pretty horrible. Not amount of pain, but if you ever wondered what it feels like if someone burnt your eyeballs with a soldering iron, the answer is that it feels EXACTLY LIKE YOU WOULD EXPECT.

Plus it makes your eyes water so you look like your crying.
posted by Lord_Pall at 8:01 PM on October 13, 2009


I had pain drugs during my 26 hours of labor (a pittance, compared to some) but still it was uncomfortable in a way I can't compare to any other experience I've had. Still though, it was only one day out of my life*. My husband had kidney stone pain for a week, and I can imagine that well and truly sucked.

*okay, so I then had to recover from a c-section and then take care of a newborn, which made life much more interesting, pretty much immediately.
posted by pinky at 8:03 PM on October 13, 2009


Holy crap! I've heard of testicular torsion, but never ovarian. How would your ovaries get twisted around? Aren't they secured in place with connective tissue?

Not so much, no. And as to the "how" and the "why," the jury is kind of...out. I had to get an operation to remedy things, and afterward I asked the doctor what caused it, and he said, "sometimes it just...happens." I kept saying that that was not an acceptable answer, because things like that don't just spontaneously happen. but apparently...it's rare enough that all they know is that about half the time, there's a cyst in the ovary that just makes it freak out -- and the other half the time, there....isn't.


Yeah, I was told that ovaries are designed to move around a bit, so if you have a large enough cyst, it can make the fallopian tube sort of flip over and twist.

It's about as horrifying as it sounds. Empress, if I could favorite your comment ten thousand times, I would.

I like to imagine that nothing could hurt that much ever again.
posted by corey flood at 8:12 PM on October 13, 2009


I was told that ovaries are designed to move around a bit, so if you have a large enough cyst, it can make the fallopian tube sort of flip over and twist. It's about as horrifying as it sounds.

Oh, hell, let me just go for broke with the rest of that story - the part that made it infinitely more surreal? It struck when I was smack in the middle of a date. It was my second date with the guy, who literally carried me to the ER, sat with me the whole nine hours that the doctors were trying to figure out what the holy blue hell was going on with me (they tested me for an etopic pregnancy first, and when they came to tell us I wasn't pregnant, the poor guy just blurted out, "I'm flattered you thought it WOULD be that, to be honest..."), and waited in the hospital through surgery, and then put me up in his apartment to recover a week after I was discharged.

he also was the one who called my parents to tell them what happened -- except I hadn't even told my parents I'd MET him yet (i was going to wait until after this date to call with the news). So my parents found out I had met someone when a stranger called them at 8:30 one Saturday to say, "Mr. and Mrs. Callipygos? My name is R, and...you don't know me, but I was on a date with your daughter last night, and she's about to go into surgery...."

You know, I think that all of the pain all of us have had might have paled in comparison to the heart attack my father must have tried to suppress at that precise moment.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:34 PM on October 13, 2009 [9 favorites]


> It struck when I was smack in the middle of a date.

Funny coincidence! My first boyfriend got testicular torsion on our first date, too! I hope your gonad dance of dumb love was equally auspicious.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 9:13 PM on October 13, 2009


My mother delivered me in four hours, her firstborn, and I was over 10 pounds. I don't plan to have any kids of my own, but what a shame, right? I bet I could beat her record.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 9:14 PM on October 13, 2009


Experiencing the pain of labor...when you're male

um..., no thanks. I will be happy to just continue knowing that basically women are tougher than men when it comes to stomaching pain. That's all.
posted by caddis at 9:17 PM on October 13, 2009


I have no idea what the worst pain in the universe is, but as a person who routinely inflicts pain onto people for a living, I have noticed that at least in my particular profession there are clear generalizations which can be readily observed. The older the person is, the more they tolerate pain. Fat people are more comfortable. Stressed and neurotic folks in general fly out of their minds by the mere suggestion I am about to begin the procedure. Folks who later turn out to be emotionally stable just want me to get on with it. The most interesting to me is that with all due respect to neurology research, in a practical setting it is men who cry and carry on, even though I use incredibly low amounts of pain-causing material on them. And the more muscle mass they have, the more pain they experience. With women, I just pile the pain on and most of them just lay there and chat casually. Oh, and the transgendered mtf respond like men, and the transgendered ftm respond like women. I really wasn't expecting such disparities when I first started, but after a while it was very noticeable. ymmv.
posted by bravelittletoaster at 9:47 PM on October 13, 2009 [5 favorites]


It's different for every woman. I had endometriosis from the time I was 14 until menopause. It made the pain of child birth very easy for me. Endometriosis sucks. Yay menopause.
posted by wv kay in ga at 10:12 PM on October 13, 2009


I just don't think there is a way for the pain to simulated.
posted by wv kay in ga at 10:17 PM on October 13, 2009


*to be simulated. Really, there isn't.
posted by wv kay in ga at 10:22 PM on October 13, 2009


I'm trying to figure out if bravelittletoaster is a professional dom or a doctor. It's the word 'procedure' that confuses me.
posted by jokeefe at 10:32 PM on October 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm trying to figure out if bravelittletoaster is a professional dom or a doctor.

Sounds like he's a dentist.
posted by A-Train at 10:34 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm looking at this, and thinking that some of the non-stop major toothaches and gallstones are worse.
posted by markkraft at 11:15 PM on October 13, 2009


I expect a gallstone would feel a lot like a kidney stone.

There are major facial nerves that could be impacted by a tooth ache. I imagine a deep infection would be head-smashingly painful.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:21 PM on October 13, 2009


Finally, it really does irk me that this thread, which started out about how painful the typical experience of childbirth generally is, is now about several male users determining which of their pain experiences, all of which clearly outrank childbirth because a woman said once that it did, was worst.

This thread was always about men trying to relate their experiences of pain to childbirth. The article - the link - the entire point of this thread, is about men trying to relate their experiences of pain to childbirth. There are also many women in this thread ranking their painful experiences in relation to childbirth. I'm sorry this irks you. But that's actually what this thread is about.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 11:26 PM on October 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sounds like he's a dentist.

Or a den-en-tist.
Say ahh. AHHHH! Now spit!
posted by Thin Lizzy at 11:50 PM on October 13, 2009


What about male rage? Anger is to some extent a pain-relieving measure, as anyone who has screamed in rage after, say, hitting their thumb with a hammer will attest. I suspect this is also why people in pain tend to curse and swear. Pain provokes anger, anger relieves, or at least distracts from, pain.

Men seem to act on anger more than women do. This is sufficiently cross-cultural and cross-age-group to be nature rather than nurture. The implication is that men feel anger more strongly, are more easily angered by relatively lesser provocations, have less barriers to expression of anger, and give less rational consideration to the consequences of expressing anger.

The implication of this, if it is correct, would be that men will be less impeded by pain (regardless of its intensity) where the pain provokes anger, and where action prompted by that anger is available to the sufferer of the pain.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 11:59 PM on October 13, 2009


When I had my first child, I was determined to have him all natural. I've already got scoliosis with a 30 degree curve in my lower back and a 20 degree curve in my upper back, so no, I didn't want an epidural. Then, my labor stalled (ok, it was my first time and I went in way too early, got hooked up to every monitor, etc), so they started the pitocyn drip.

Several hours later, I was begging , and I mean BEGGING for drugs, but refusing to sign off on an epidural. My OB, who was all about natural birth in the office, but more likely to schedule it to fit her own PTA meetings by recommending a c-section or other things, like pitocyn, was telling me that drugs would probably stall my labor even more. She tried to tell me that she was leaving and I'd be stuck with the doctor in her practice that I'd least liked. Whatever, I said, I could tell the kid was fine. Give me drugs. 25mg of demerol and less than an hour later, I'd relaxed enough that my labor progressed super fast. My son was born with a crazy monitor thing stuck in his scalp and he was nearly launched into the OB's face, I was pushing so hard.

My other child was super breach at the last minute. She'd been in launch position a week before, but circumstances had made her turn. No one knew. I waited at home longer. I took a shower. I didn't want all that time in the hospital again. She ended up having to be born via emergency c-section, through no fault of mine or the medical staff. I was not awake for her welcome into the world.

Both of my children turned out healthy and fine and with all the high apgar scores that anyone would want. If I'd had a chance to choose, though, I would have shoved my daughter out the old fashioned way. It's been 11 years and my scar still deeply itches sometimes. It took me years to get used to my rearranged innards. I mean, stuff just isn't where it had always been before, because they drag it all out and chuck it back in.

The recovery time from abdominal surgery is definitely more taxing than from a vaginal birth. Either way, you go through labor, most of the time. The recovery is going to suck anyway. Both of my labors took about a day and a half. Recovery from birthing a child, along with taking care of said child, takes about 20 to 30 times that. Perhaps they should have figured out some comparison for the recoveries, rather than labor pain.

On another note, my dad passed a kidney stone (one of many) that was the exact size of a 9mm bullet. My parents named it Bertha and her arrival also included The Twins, which were smaller but still of a size that made me say "Whoa." They are all now encased in clear lucite and serve as a paperweight. I wouldn't trade experiences with him.
posted by lilywing13 at 2:22 AM on October 14, 2009


Dudes, you just scared bravelittletoaster away.
posted by ooga_booga at 2:31 AM on October 14, 2009


Ooh, it's that cute tv doctor I like!

Oh, um, topic. Not much to contribute. Have never had kids, damn sure I'm never going to, and have never been hit in the groin, never had a gallbladder/kidneystone/ruptured eardrum issue, am not subject to migraines and so far my ovaries have stayed put.

Thank fuck for that, it all sounds bloody awful.
posted by harriet vane at 3:40 AM on October 14, 2009


This thread was always about men trying to relate their experiences of pain to childbirth. The article - the link - the entire point of this thread, is about men trying to relate their experiences of pain to childbirth.

I don't agree. The linked video was actually from the opposite perspective: that you can't understand the pain of labor without experiencing it. It was about setting up an experiment in which the specific pain of childbirth could be inflicted on a man, and then he could describe what it feels like, and determine where it ranks with his other experiences of pain (quite highly, it seems, from the video).

It's not about men imagining, in a vacuum, what labor is like, then deciding they've "experienced worse." I am really astonished that someone would say, "X is worse than childbirth," when they've never experienced childbirth.

But yes, if any of the men here have been wired to a labor-pain-simulation machine, I'm happy to hear their experiences of it.
posted by palliser at 5:29 AM on October 14, 2009


"There are major facial nerves that could be impacted by a tooth ache. I imagine a deep infection would be head-smashingly painful."

Had a really deep one on a wisdom tooth without dental insurance once... which started getting bad on a Saturday evening, of all days. I had to wait until Monday to get it extracted.

Head-smashingly painful is a very apt description. I'm pretty sure I tried smashing my head into things. Didn't help.

There are few things in life that make me cry, but the pain was so bad it was pretty much uncontrollable. I was stumbling around the house desperately trying anything -- alcohol, clove oil, etc. -- to get out from under it... to no avail.

The *only* thing that helped, ironically, was ice ice cold water... which is to say that it hurt like crazy. There are still plenty of dentists who use ice to encourage and detect dental pain.

The trick was getting the area so cold that it started to go numb. The problem being, I had to constantly be swishing with ice cold water. I went through so much water that I couldn't really manage swallowing it all, lest I spend all my time in the bathroom.

It was of immense relief to have the tooth extracted.
posted by markkraft at 5:47 AM on October 14, 2009


It's not about men imagining, in a vacuum, what labor is like, then deciding they've "experienced worse."

Unfair characterization. I have gotten first person accounts of kidney stones and child birth from women who have experienced both. They uniformly hold the former to be worse than the latter. I won't experience the latter. I have experienced the former. Doesn't mean I discount the latter. Not sure anyone here has.

As to the video - might as well be an episode of Jackass. There isn't enough pain in the world already?
posted by IndigoJones at 6:00 AM on October 14, 2009


Sorry for the follow-on, IRFH, but I also disagree with your characterization of what's going on in this thread as "men trying to relate their experiences of pain to childbirth." I can imagine such an attempt, and it might look something like this: "I've never given birth, but I've had X, and it sounds excruciating to imagine pain like that increasing in intensity and length over the course of a couple of days, becoming nonstop by the end, and then followed, after a couple of delirious, pain-soaked nights, with the exertion equivalent of a half-marathon and a tearing, searing crotch." That's relating, and yes, it involves actually learning something about how childbirth goes and what typical labor is like. Saying, "X is worse than childbirth," when you've experienced only one, is dismissing, not relating.
posted by palliser at 6:02 AM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have gotten first person accounts of kidney stones and child birth from women who have experienced both. They uniformly hold the former to be worse than the latter.

Well, isn't it convenient I'm here, then, because a friend of mine had kidney stones while 8 months pregnant, and said, "While they're not as bad as childbirth, at the end it's comparatively disappointing what you're left with."

There's a real memory bias at work there, in that you of course expect women to say "childbirth was the worst," so when someone says the opposite, it's remarkable and thus memorable.

My saying, "My ear infections were nowhere near as bad as childbirth" above will of course already have been forgotten, as it's unremarkable.

Again, IndigoJones, it's great for you to use your experience of kidney stones to relate to what is typically the excruciating pain of labor. Relating means not saying, "I know mine was worse," but "Experiencing mine helps me be sympathetic to yours."
posted by palliser at 6:06 AM on October 14, 2009


I've had four full-size babies at home, no drugs no tearing. I was okay (and have the videoes to prove it) and spent the labour reading or socialising except for the last which, was a fast labour immediately after a really long walk and I was tired and didn't want to socialise anymore and just wanted the baby (major anxiety over whether the baby would be born alive contributed to the stress). Oddly enough, stubbing my toe is much more painful for me than childbirth. That, and menstrual cramps; I thought I wouldn't be able to endure childbirth because cramps make me pass out but labour and childbirth are easy for me. I think part of the reason I keep getting pregnant is to avoid those horrible cramps.
posted by saucysault at 6:08 AM on October 14, 2009


We all have our crosses to bear, and I speak as a Kidney Stone Survivor (eight memorable days). I suppose there is some kind of new kinship with Mrs Jones on that side of things, but it's not as if she enjoyed that time spent together, watching me curled up on the floor unable to keep down the water I needed to move the stones because the nausea was so severe.

Interesting that you take issue with my distinction between relating and dismissing, IndigoJones, because I think what I mean by "relating" is exactly what you did with your first comment. I thought it was kind of weirdly sweet to talk about your kidney stones giving you a "new kinship" with your wife. I'll have to ask my dad about that one, although his kidney stones were back when they used to give you a speedball to numb the pain -- morphine with a dash of cocaine to take the edge off the nausea -- so his memory of the experience is rather pleasant, as he tells it.
posted by palliser at 6:18 AM on October 14, 2009


*sigh*

One more time: some people who have had both pain X and pain Y think pain X is worse, but others who have also had both pain X and pain Y think pain Y is worse. That's not because either one of them is right or wrong, it's because each perceives and rates pain differently, because we all do.

But simply stating that doesn't make it "dismissive" in either direction. It just means, THIS person thinks pain X is worse, while THAT person thinks pain Y is worse. Your own mileage may vary.

There.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:35 AM on October 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


Exactly, EmpressCallipygos.

And it's really because there are multiple facets to the pain experience, and any one or more of those are completely subjective and different from person to person. I mean even (what I think are) the two main aspects make such a difference to the experience. Just to clarify what I mean (although I know this is obvious) we have

1. Pain perception. This is the level at which we actually perceive the sensation of pain. This level is of course different for everyone. Personally, I slept through most of my labor because I just didn't feel it. My pain perception is not very sensitive.

BUT

2. Pain tolerance (not the scientific definition of tolerance). The amount of pain we are prepared to put up with once we feel it. Further anecdote: I am a ginormous wimp. Once I actually FEEL pain, I want pain relief and I want it stat. I do not like to suffer. I am not stoic. Others are very stoic: "yeah it hurts, but I can deal". So again in my personal experience, as soon as I felt a contraction I was like "I can't do this for another 16 or 24 or even 4 hours, give me drugs".

(but I didnt' get drugs and damned near gave birth in the hospital elevator because I was stayed at home too long because first labors are supposed to take a long time!!)
posted by gaspode at 7:00 AM on October 14, 2009


Back labour SUCKS!!!! I chose to be induced 8 days after my due date, and went from no labour to contractions on top of each other in 15 minutes. And the back labour....like having a sword rammed into your back the whole time, getting exponentially worse during a contraction (which brought a whole new world of pain in all different places). I screamed so loud I lost my voice. I also lost all power of rational thought. Looking back, all I remember is a haze of pain and my conviction that it would never end. The epidural was an hour of sweet blessed heaven, until I started pushing and the baby began to rip my pelvis apart. Narrow hips + big headed baby = a world of agony, over two hours of pushing, and some vacuum assistance.

Would I do it again? Yes. The relief of finally getting the kid out is nirvana, and plus there's this cute baby. All you MeFites (and MeFite spouses) about to go through it: I've got my fingers crossed that you won't have to go through back labour! They should have hooked buddy up to a bunch more electrodes on his back and seen how he did.
posted by Go Banana at 7:15 AM on October 14, 2009


But simply stating that doesn't make it "dismissive" in either direction.

Stating "everyone's experience of pain is different" is not dismissive of anyone's pain, and in fact, I've said that myself several times in this thread.

By contrast, stating "I've experienced pain worse than yours" is the opposite of "ymmv."
posted by palliser at 7:22 AM on October 14, 2009


By contrast, stating "I've experienced pain worse than yours" is the opposite of "ymmv."

No, I agree with that, totally. I'm just seeing a lot of people get confused between

"Oh, I thought my kidney stones were MUCH worse than MY labor pain"

and

"Oh, I thought my kidney stones were MUCH worse than YOUR labor pain".

One is just a personal statement, the other is a value judgement. I'm seeing people mistake the personal statement for a value judgement.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:36 AM on October 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Kidney stones vary, and childbirth varies. I know two women who've had both babies and kidney stones. One had difficult childbirth experiences and a relatively mild kidney stone, and says childbirth is much worse. The other had an easy childbirth and a worse kidney stone, and said the kidney stone was much worse.
posted by Ery at 7:37 AM on October 14, 2009


I had back labor (tilted uterus) with both my children. Both labors were natural childbirth, no drugs, 24 hours for the first and 16 for the second. Both kids were well over 9 pounds, but I am the kind of control freak who doesn't like pain drugs and refuses novocaine at the dentist so it will be over faster. (I only like recreational drugs; the prescribed ones scare me. /hippie.) On my personal pain scale, both those births were much worse than anything else, including tooth extraction and broken ribs and ovarian cysts - ovarian cysts, in case you were wondering, are really fucking painful.

ANYHOW, now that my pain cred is out of the way, I remember reading about a way of simulating labor for dad while mom is going through it. This was while I was pregnant with my second child (1991) and I probably found it in some hippie childbirth book, since I had a lot of those floating around at the time. There was an illustration of the woman in bed and above her, crouched somehow in the rafters, was the father with a rope tied around his balls. Every time the woman had a contraction, she pulled the rope. This was, I believe, purported to be a Native American ritual but given the general hippieness of my books and surroundings at the time, it could well have been completely invented. I thought at the time that it was a brilliant idea but my then husband, oddly enough, did not and so I was unable to field test the technique. Does it ring a bell with anyone?
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:41 AM on October 14, 2009


1. Pain perception. This is the level at which we actually perceive the sensation of pain....

2. Pain tolerance (not the scientific definition of tolerance). The amount of pain we are prepared to put up with once we feel it.


There is also just the problem of categorization, though. Kidney stones that two people go through aren't exactly the same. Differences in size and placement mean that if A went through B's kidney stones or vice versa, they might not disagree so vehemently about the level of pain. Likewise, with a childbirth, things like position, size, body alignment or structure, will affect how much pressure they feel. So to check perception & tolerance, everyone could have a test like the one given the man in the FPP, where the pain levels applied would be standardized. But an actual medical procedure doesn't necessarily match a standard version...
posted by mdn at 8:52 AM on October 14, 2009


Saying, "X is worse than childbirth," when you've experienced only one, is dismissing, not relating.

By contrast, stating "I've experienced pain worse than yours" is the opposite of "ymmv."


I'd agree, if any of the men here had actually said any of those things.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:04 AM on October 14, 2009


Disclosure: I had 42 hours of labor, 2 failed epidurals and a vaginal delivery resulting in a 9lb 10oz baby. I've also had broken bones and ruptured eardrums. Nothing compared to childbirth. I remember describing it at the time as feeling like a demonic creature was feeding on my viscera and that my bones were being incinerated from the inside out. Plus, I was exhausted, wasn't allowed to eat for two days, and had to labor on my left side the whole time. The experience completely reset my pain scale. Before birth, a broken bone rated a "10". Now it's a "7".
posted by echolalia67 at 9:04 AM on October 14, 2009


What do you want from us, palliser? For all the men to STFU so that only women who have birthed can talk about their experience?

The majority of us — ie. all the men, and many or most of the women — have not given birth. The only thing we can do is relate our personal pain experiences and the pain experiences others have shared with us.

But, hey, let's give your idea a shot. What's your idea for this thread? What do you want us to do?
posted by five fresh fish at 9:05 AM on October 14, 2009


I think what's interesting is the variety of labor experiences. Of course, I'm biased, as I had a horrific coerced c/section after several unwanted interventions. Before that birth I was scared of labor; now I'm much more scared of another c/section. There is in fact a significant subset of feminism that agitates for a complete change in how birth is handled..not for hippie granola back to nature reasons, but because being forced to lie on your back during labor, be induced, and using pitocin (which speeds up and intensifies labor) are all common hospital practices that not only have no evidence behind them, but lots of evidence against them as causing more pain and more complications.

Whereas use of, for example, low lights, quiet, some amount of privacy, labor tubs, and the freedom to move around and eat in labor are all effective at reducing pain and/or fear (which affects pain perception) for many women. But manifestly not what hospitals like to do.

Recommended reading: Pushed by Jennifer Block. Also, this quite horrifying examination of "Pit to Distress" according to a nurse blogger who claims to have seen it used. Or you could Google "Twilight Birth" or the history of episiotomies, which were routine until very recently, despite a complete lack of evidence for their necessity in every birth (and the injuries they caused).

All of which complicates the purity of the discussion "how much pain does birth cause" because we have at least some good evidence that common hospital practices add to that pain. And that while epidurals do reduce pain, they also take away mobility, which can lead to arrest of labor, and a c/section...which contains risk, like any surgery. In my case, the risk of the doc cutting before I was numb, and then leaving in tissue that caused me to hemorrhage 10 days later. Plus recovery pain. And therapy for my PTSD from the experience.
posted by emjaybee at 11:06 AM on October 14, 2009 [3 favorites]


And then there's that whole medical on-the-back delivery posture which runs counter to everything about the human anatomy. It's as if the health care practitioners want to maximize the pain.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:54 AM on October 14, 2009


I'd agree, if any of the men here had actually said any of those things.

Here you go: this one is literally, specifically, "X is worse than childbirth"; this one is implying same through the use of the "a woman I know said so" argument; this one is claiming the same by the use of some strange logic I don't quite understand (you give birth because you want offspring, not because you enjoy birthing them).

What do you want from us, palliser? For all the men to STFU so that only women who have birthed can talk about their experience?


Actually, I specifically gave an example of how a man could use his personal experience of pain to more easily relate to what labor and childbirth are like. As it happens, we are brethren in salmonella, and I sympathize with you and agree that the cramping is horrific. For me personally, though, it was the increasing intensity and duration of the pain, rather than generally decreasing, that made my experience of childbirth worse, plus the exertion at the end. Anyone else's mileage may vary.

But yeah, it's generally a good idea to listen a bit and ask questions in a thread about an experience you haven't had. An analogy would be to a thread about racism or sexism, where there are people whose experiences make their contributions more directly relevant, and it's considered bad form for people who haven't experienced same to come in and talk about what they've experienced that's worse. "I'm overweight, and that's worse than racism" would not be received well, for example; but "I experience bad treatment because of being overweight, and that helps me relate to what it might be like to experience bad treatment because of race" would. That's akin to the distinction I'm trying to make here.
posted by palliser at 1:23 PM on October 14, 2009


I can't favorite your comment hard enough, emjaybee, and I'm sorry you had such a bad first time. That Pit to Distress post is painfully sad.

Personally, I recommend Ina May Gaskin's Guide to Childbirth, and a childbirth class that explains all the interventions and procedures that a hospital birth may entail. Much of our fear is based on the "unknown"--the childbirth procedures at hospital are a big "unknown" to most people. (Hint: it's not like TV.)

My wife was 14 days "late" and induced with misoprostol (yes, I know, off-label, dangerous, but our midwife preferred it and we trusted her). We both knew that she did not want Pitocin, and the nurses (ok, just one in particular) kept trying to force it on us, in the middle of the night, when we were both sleeping and less likely to make a good decision, no less.

Doing it the hard way is somehow better.

Childbirth is a very complicated subject. There seem to be pros and cons to "natural" birth as well as using pain medicine.

But for starters (sorry, couldn't find a better link or think of the name of "that French guy" who did all the natural childbirth research...)

* Mothers often describe that their recovery after a natural childbirth was faster and easier since they could get right up and walk and shower. Usually they eat right away and their appetite is normal.

* Endorphins secreted during a natural childbirth have been found in the placenta and umbilical cord. This may serve a purpose to help the baby adjust to life outside as well as make the journey more comfortable for baby.

* Research has shown that in mothers who have natural childbirth, babies are more alert and show more interest in pre-breastfeeding behaviours such as sucking and massaging the mother's breasts, as well as the actual length of time they spend nursing within the first 90 minutes.


There are, of course, many reasons why using pain medicine might be better for some mothers, but I also think there are some well-researched benefits to natural childbirth. I'll try to find that French doctor (no, it's not Dr. Lamaze) ...

My wife delivered a 9.5 pound baby naturally, and while at one point, sitting in the tub, she nearly broke down and said, "Seriously. This is FUCKED UP" (which made both our midwife and hospital nurse (discreetly) chuckle), she made it fine. She would say it's the worst pain she's ever felt, but it's a different pain than say, a bad tooth infection (horrible) or shattering your pelvis (also horrible).

Personally, I'm jealous you woman get to do it. I think it would be fun, in a "This is FUCKED UP" kinda way. ;)
posted by mrgrimm at 1:56 PM on October 14, 2009


Oh, shit. Nevermind. The "french guy" is Michel Odent, and I think he was more concerned with comparing vaginal vs. caesarian births.

Still some great reading on his site, however.

posted by mrgrimm at 1:58 PM on October 14, 2009


Actually, I specifically gave an example of how a man could use his personal experience of pain to more easily relate to what labor and childbirth are like.

So in your opinion, this thread is to be about childbirth and labour exclusively, and the sharing of other pain stories is irrelevant and unwanted?

Here you go: this one is literally, specifically, "X is worse than childbirth"

Is it really necessary to couch one's sharing with plentiful words that essentially agree with what everyone else has been saying — that pain is relative? Or can you not just take it as read that we are all intelligent adults who understand such things, and let us just cut to the chase, ie. our opinions and experiences?

I know I said "Salmonella is worse than childbirth," but do you really think I meant that in strict absolutist terms, especially when so many people had already made it clear that pain is not absolute? Isn't it obvious that the five-word statement "Salmonella is worse than childbirth" is at least somewhat hyperbolic and clearly can't apply to every case of salmonella or childbirth?

I guess all I can do is apologize for preferring brevity to over-explanation.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:13 PM on October 14, 2009


I wonder if being birthed is as painful as birthing.

My guess is that newborns aren't so good at distinguishing pain from other sensations; it's probably all just a completely overwhelming experience, and there's not a lot of understanding of what various nerve signals actually mean in terms of pain and pleasure and whatnot.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:15 PM on October 14, 2009


I guess all I can do is apologize for preferring brevity to over-explanation.

Thank you for the explanation. I did interpret it literally, so I appreciate that.

I wonder if being birthed is as painful as birthing.


I wonder this, too, and I also think about the following horrible thing: you know how now and then, you have this painful breathing spot, where there's a sharp pain in a very specific place when you inhale, and it goes away after some minutes? I'm told this is when two small bits of lung happen to touch and then get stuck together for a bit.

Okay, so now imagine what it's like to take your first breath, after your lungs have been deflated in the womb until then.
posted by palliser at 2:55 PM on October 14, 2009


I suggest that instead of reading literally, as if everything anyone ever writes is meant to convey The Absolute Truth, you instead try reading things a bit more charitably.

AFAIK, pre-born lungs are inflated. Babies "breath" in the womb; it's just that they're breathing amniotic fluid, not air. Not sure when and how they empty their lungs of liquid, though.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:31 PM on October 14, 2009


saucysault I think part of the reason I keep getting pregnant is to avoid those horrible cramps.

There might be something in that. If women (and by extension all mammals) who suffer menstrual cramp are more likely to become pregnant, the trait(s) of menstrual cramping should prosper.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:08 PM on October 14, 2009


Well, palliser, I still think this has been possibly the most respectful childbirth thread I've ever read, and I certainly haven't seen anything here that read to me as being dismissive of your experiences; however, I'm not about to throw fuel on the fire and be dismissive of your feelings of being dismissed, so I will simply apologize for any misunderstandings and dismiss myself.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:50 PM on October 14, 2009


I suggest that instead of reading literally, as if everything anyone ever writes is meant to convey The Absolute Truth, you instead try reading things a bit more charitably.

You know, I was being charitable by thanking you for the explanation, but don't get patronizing with me. Your first sentence was, "Salmonella is much more painful than childbirth." You then went on to say, "I've met a few women who make the same claim: giving birth hurt, but salmonella was worse." And now you're claiming you didn't mean to rank the pain of these experiences. I mean, I can accept that's not what you meant to say -- we all say things we realize we didn't mean, on further reflection -- but I don't see claiming that wasn't right there in your comment, and I certainly don't see blaming the reader for understanding it to mean just what it said.
posted by palliser at 4:54 PM on October 14, 2009


You seem to want to make a fight. I do not.

Have fun.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:05 PM on October 14, 2009


I suggest that instead of reading literally, as if everything anyone ever writes is meant to convey The Absolute Truth, you instead try reading things a bit more charitably.

fff, you have asked someone else to read things more charitably; you may want to consider doing the same. You wrote a blanket statement without qualifiers. "This is more painful than that." I don't think you should be surprised when someone reads that at face value, as I did, to mean that you think one experience is more painful than another, by and large. I don't understand why you were angry with palliser for groking the words you wrote, instead of what you didn't write. But I don't want to fight with you or make you fight with me or anyone else, and I hope you have a pleasant day.
posted by onlyconnect at 11:57 AM on October 15, 2009


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