Health & Fitness

Parents in pain: Hide it or reveal it?

A friend gave birth last week to a healthy, 9-pound baby boy. In the process of getting an epidural to numb the pain of labor, she ended up with such excruciating spinal headaches, she was unable to rise from her bed to care for her newborn.

The chances of leakage of spinal fluid from the dura surrounding the spinal cord resulting in severe headaches is only about 1 out of 200.

She said she cried, she prayed, she bargained with God to relieve the blinding headaches. She had moments when she wondered if she would survive if the pain continued.

Certainly, intermittent pain is unavoidable in our lives. It comes in a rainbow of forms: emotional, like the anguish accompanying grief or the ache of loss and sadness, and physical pain, which can be latent and chronic or acute and debilitating.

The worst pain can render us helpless. At its height, it forces us into submission. And millions of parents struggle to deal with serious pain while trying to care for their children.

There is competing advice on how parents should navigate these waters. Some pain management sites say that while our instinct is to shelter our children from it, we should communicate, as honestly as possible, when we are hurting. Use simple language. Reassure children that it isn't their fault. Relate it to something in their own experience, such as falling off a bike. Speak calmly and quietly. Tell them you will get better, even if you're not sure when or how.

Most important, you have to be able to reach out for help. Let someone else take over the duties when you can't.

Needing help does not make us bad parents. Being able to accept an outstretched hand helps us recognize the value of our relationships.

From a different approach, suggests finding ways to distract yourself from chronic pain:

"When you focus on pain, it makes it worse rather than better. Instead, find something you like doing — an activity that keeps you busy and thinking about things besides your pain."

Some parents in pain often wear a disguise. They manage to go through the necessary motions, without losing their temper, and the child may be clueless to the lengths taken to create such an artificial peace. A part of us whispers that we should keep our lonely sacrifice secret because it teaches us how to be strong.

But what is it teaching our children?

Inevitably, they will experience their own hurts. Watching us deal with ours shows them how to handle their own.

Humans need their pain to be recognized, ideally by someone who cares about the suffering.