Pain Versus Suffering: Lessons from Pregnancy


This idea of “pain versus suffering” comes up in my weekly birth class. 

There’s a difference. This often comes up around discussions of pain medication and birth. Honestly, there’s no one right way to do all that– it depends on the situation and the mom. I do like how the birth educator points out that there’s a difference between pain and suffering and while we can experience pain, we can prevent suffering (be it through comfort positions, laboring in the shower, having narcotics, or the epidural, etc). 

This gets me to thinking about pain versus suffering in other life contexts. I am curious and wonder if there’s something culturally pervasive that encourages us to make martyrs of ourselves. 

For example, pregnancy has offered some funny sensations. Some of which are truly par for the course (like trouble breathing because your lungs are pushed up so far and compressed). But some pregnancy pains have brought me suffering that isn’t necessary. I’ve had some low back pain (probably sciatic) and at first I thought, well, I just need to deal with it. It sucked though. I could barely move and it prevented me from the summer walks I love so much with Lucy and thwarted my ability to sit and work and do chores around the house. I mentioned this to one of the OBs at my practice and she recommended Physical Therapy. 

I took her advice and a week later signed up for PT. Luckily, it’s covered by my insurance and the copay is relatively low. I realize that not everyone has the same resources, but if you have access and the resources, why the hell not? Since going to PT twice a week, I’m so much more mobile and not suffering nearly as much! We do some exercises and the therapist does some “manual work” (read: message) that feels so good. I later mentioned some rib pain that again, I thought I just had to deal with it and of course, they are able to message that part of my body and release some of that tension. 

This instance I think is teaching me that while we’re going to experience pain, suffering is always necessary. Sometimes I feel the urge to be a martyr and sacrifice my well-being, and for what? (I don’t really know- not inconveniencing people? But that doesn’t make much sense either as I write it out) . 

Another example of forgoing unnecessary suffering is my decision to treat my depression with medicine. I’m NOT saying that this is the solution for everyone, just like how epidurals arent for everyone. But for me, it’s released me from unnecessary suffering. When I’m experiencing a depressive episode, I’m in this weird spiral and I feel as if there’s no solution and that I’m so alone in my experiences. Last summer I was feeling some kind of way, and when I’ve opened up to my spouse and friends about my feelings, it became clear that the medicine I was on wasn’t working and I found a psychiatrist and we found a medicine that works really well for me (and I love it because Lucy the dog and I are on the same drug LOL). I think I bring up this other example too to highlight that despite whatever stigma for seeking treatment, we don’t always need to be martyrs and suffer unnecessarily. It’s not good for anyone really and seeking interventions aren’t burdening anyone!

Thanks for reading this musing that’s come up in my brain hole while on maternity leave (and being so pregnant- I’m writing this as the baby is punching me from my insides :)) 

Let me know if this resonates with you!



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  1. Rosebell says:

    I completely agree with you about unnecessary suffering and being martyrs for when we don’t need to be. I have also found that those people who suffer through things then expect others to do the same. In my opinion it’s an ego thing, wanting to appear like one is better because they didn’t rely on something or ask for help. It even goes as far as mothers wanting motherhood to look effortless. It isn’t, it’s hard and we need to acknowledge it so that society doesn’t continue to have unrealistic expectations of new mothers.