I suspect it's a little like giving birth.
I try not to think of a contraction as pain. A contraction is not like bumping your funny bone nerve or aching with appendicitis. I welcome a contraction as energy.
As early labor contractions gained strength, I put on a YouTube video of surfing. I imagined being the surfer - I'm atop a mounting wave, now it's curling over me; I'm riding through the tunnel one hand on the board, one hand skimming the wall of wave ... and I'm out.
I think: These waves of energy are bringing my baby boy to me; thank you God for the energy to birth my baby; this is too big for me to control; help me ride this wave.
Wisdom I've read says, "You can't control labor, but you can control yourself." In other words, trying to control the "pain" is as counterproductive as fearing the water. But working with the power coursing through my body is like balancing on a surf board.
A helpful way to practice anytime before hard labor but especially when braxton-hicks start working is breathing with the ocean. I watch or just listen to the ocean pressing and receding along the sand. I comfortably sit or lay on the floor, relaxing my entire body as I focus on my breath with the lull of ocean surf. I specifically open the pelvic floor.
When I don't know the first thing about surfing (or even getting a kayak out), I'm likely to experience pain. But is that why a surfer gets back on her board? Is she obsessed with pain? Does she meet the wave planning to be pummeled? Of course not! She wants to ride the energy. She's scared and she sometimes falls off her board, but she gets back on and waits anther wave. And then the thrill of water engulfing yet propelling her forward. Think about what the surfer focuses on.
I screamed. A lot. Until my third precious boy's head was almost crowned, I screamed in terror of the waves. I'm not naive here - labor is hard. It's fierce. I've been knocked down, knocked under like I was going to drown. I still hear my midwife's gentile voice, "Instead of screaming, close your mouth and let the energy push your baby down instead of it escaping." I closed my mouth. I distinctly felt his head moving down, and then he was crowning. I treasure my first experience with monstrous waves, but the flailing wore me out. Smelling salts were stuck under my nose when I fainted twice after delivery.
After my first beautiful birth, I thought I can never go through that again. Thankfully, memory faded enough to dull that determination. After both my second and third births, I thought that was amazing - I want to do that again! During my first labor, I experienced a deep terror. During this last labor, I said, "I'm scared. I'm scared," but underneath, I knew all was fine. I imagine experienced surfers still feel scared.
Don't give up, Mama. Do some research, practice relaxing - and get back on your surf board. If you're tempted to say, "I can't surf," know that God already programmed your body to give birth. The giving-birth-kind-of-surfing is about not resisting, but letting your body do what it was designed to do.
More info: Midwife Thinking is a good place for researched essays backed with experience.