When it comes to memory, no pain, only gain

A stray comment that injures our pride leaves us fuming for weeks. We sob over a broken heart for months, even years.

Published: 27th January 2018 10:00 PM  |   Last Updated: 29th January 2018 05:44 PM   |  A+A-

A stray comment that injures our pride leaves us fuming for weeks. We sob over a broken heart for months, even years. So why is that we forget physical pain so quickly? It works at all levels—it could be a stomach ache triggered by overeating a dish that we like; a bone broken by taking a toss while out riding a bike; an ankle twisted while wearing a new pair of precariously high heels. We hurt ourselves, and spend a night (or two) writhing in pain and swearing off the aforementioned food item/ biking/ riding/high heels. But the pain eases, and there we are again, back at the dining table hogging that very same dish, or speeding on the dirt track.

As for the heels? Well, we did spend a fortune on them and they make our ankles look so slim and the legs so long, it would be a shame to not wear them—very carefully, of course.And then there’s the biggie—childbirth. I can’t think of any normal, non-masochistic woman who would deliberately opt to have a second child if she remembered every excruciating detail of the painfully, bone-chilling experience the first time around. I sure don’t. What I do remember is the morning after I had my first son. I was still shell-shocked, as much by the hair-raising events of the night before as the knowledge that I had morphed from a ‘young girl’ of 23 to a mother overnight, when a colleague dropped in to see me. She had delivered her baby a year earlier. I pounced on her: “Why didn’t you tell me it was like this? It was so painful; I almost died.” She just smiled and said: “You forget.” “I will NEVER forget,” I proclaimed. And had to eat my words some years later, when my second child was born.  

I’m not complaining—I adore my boys, and would be desolate without them. But I do wonder how the memory of that agonising experience they call childbirth gets zapped out of the brains of women as they blithely set about delivering their second, third, even fourth babies.

A male friend, who has broken his leg five times (clearly a glutton for punishment), says he remembers the pain in each case very vividly. Our doctor friends scoff. They say what my accident-prone friend remembers is the mere fact that he was in pain, and not the pain itself. Much like the child who bursts into tears at the sight of a teapot because he remembers how he got burnt when he touched one. The child (and my friend) do remember the old pain, but they don’t actually experience it. It’s emotional distress at work here, not physical, say the docs.  

The explanation for the partial amnesia on the part of the mothers post-childbirth is apparently also simple—and sweet. Psychiatrists say our memories of an event are reflective of the end of the event, rather than an average of the whole thing. And no one can deny that the end of the arduous birthing process isn’t delightfully spectacular. That moment when you first catch sight of your baby? Priceless.For everything before and after that? No pain, no gain, I guess.

Shampa Dhar-Kamath


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