Just breathe

By Published On: August 26th, 2011

Written by: Suzanna August 25 2011 I’ve never thought of […]

Written by: Suzanna

I’ve never thought of breathing as a particularly difficult pursuit.

In fact, until lately, I’d never really thought of it much at all—except maybe for those days when I have a head cold or am anywhere near a source of unpleasant odors. (Don’t worry, I’m not naming any names, honey.) But, in the past week, I have thought more about breathing than in my previous 25 years. Thank you, Lamaze DVD, circa 1980.

A friend passed along the DVD to me a few weeks back, and I finally decided to give it a go. When the scene opened up on a group of couples reclining comfortably on mounds of pillows, my first thought was, “Piece of cake.”

I wish it was—figuratively and literally. (Make that white cake with chocolate icing, please!)

Turns out, retraining yourself to do something that you have done one way your entire life isn’t that simple. As I watched and re-watched the DVD, trying to pace my breathing with their patterns, I realized the whole thing was a lot like trying to remember to put the upper lid down on the toilet seat before I flush.

You see, Tom has a germ phobia, and apparently, if you don’t put the lid down before flushing, whatever particles you deposited into the porcelain throne will be, er, thrown out onto a nearby surface—i.e. your toothbrush. For the sake of our mouths (and our marriage), I try to close the lid before flushing. Unfortunately, force of habit makes it more difficult than it should be.

The same goes with Lamaze breathing. As one of the most fundamental tasks known to man, breathing isn’t rocket science, but trying to do it differently than you have always done it isn’t easy either. While “exercising” the breathing techniques, I often find myself out of breath or hyperventilating before settling into the right pattern for me.
Once I find the right pace, it’s all smooth sailing from there, but I have to push through the initial discomfort of making my body do something that doesn’t feel quite natural. (Honestly, it’s a lot like how I feel about Kegels, but that’s another topic for another day.)

Although I still can’t say I enjoy forcing out those “heeees” at two-second intervals, I am pretty thrilled about how much controlled breathing can reduce pain perception. I wouldn’t have believed how well it worked if I had experienced it first-hand. One of the DVD’s exercises involves having your “support person” apply pressure (read: pain!) to the area above your knee in a crescendoing fashion. During this time, the mothers-to-be are supposed to focus on their “special place” (for some unknown reason, mine is under an oak tree in a field) and pace their breathing with the pain, breathing quicker, more shallow breaths as the pain peaks and then tapering off as the pain subsides.

As you can imagine, Tom was pretty excited about getting a free pass to give me a horse bite, and he didn’t hold anything back during the exercise. While he squeezed and the pain intensified, I focused on breathing and relaxing. I stayed still and calm. If I didn’t know that the Lamaze techniques were responsible, I would have called it a miracle. (My usual modus operandi when Tom squeezes and prods at me is to writhe violently and yell loudly. Our neighbors really appreciate it.) I was impressed to say the least.

Since my birthing plan includes going au natural (med-free, not naked), I am thrilled to know that I’ll have some recourse against the pain once the contractions hit. Now, here’s to hoping that they don’t hurt anymore than a horse bite…