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I Love Labor (Really!)

I Expected Pain But Wasn't Intimidated By It

"Most first-time moms don't have a clue how much labor will hurt," says Robin DiMatteo, head of the psychology department at the University of California at Riverside. Women often shield pregnant friends from the sorry truth, she says. Or a fearful expectant mother may belong to the "I'll just ask them to knock me out" school, shielding herself from scary information. However, lack of knowledge about pain is precisely what ends up terrifying women most, says DiMatteo. "They're suddenly surprised by the intensity of the pain and convinced it means something's wrong, which makes them more anxious, which leads to an increased perception of pain. It's a vicious cycle."

That's why familiarity often breeds contentment for second-time mothers. "I was less frightened and a lot more fascinated by what my body was doing," recalls Darlene Rachlow of Fort Wayne, Indiana, the mother of 1- and 3-year-old boys.

We're also the victims (or beneficiaries) of our cultural expectations. Mothers' and sisters' stories, ethnic traditions, and general trends all shape our attitudes about what labor "should" be like. In a study comparing women's expectations of labor pain in the United States and Holland, for instance, American women were much more likely to anticipate a need for medication -- and, indeed, ended up being more likely to receive it.

The bottom line: Labor hurts -- maybe worse than anything else you'll ever experience in your life. But by girding yourself for this reality and coming to terms with what you expect and why, you'll be in the most receptive frame of mind to confront that pain.