When I was pregnant with my younger son, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

I had to have surgery to remove an unknown amount of my thyroid as soon as possible after he was born. I was diagnosed too late into my pregnancy to do surgery while I was still pregnant, so I had strict instructions to schedule the surgery as soon as possible after his due date.

Luckily I had 6 weeks after having him before I had the surgery. It does seem like a short period of time, but my big concern was with breastfeeding, and 6 weeks ended up being long enough to get both of us set up.

The reason I share this pre-story part with you is because of the breastfeeding. Because he was so little, and because I was having surgery, and based on the recommendations of my doctor and the research I did, I was planning to not breastfeed him while I was using morphine.

(I realize there are different recommendations around using pain medications and breastfeeding in other departments. Lots of moms get morphine after C-sections and go on to breastfeed just fine, so I think different departments have different tolerance levels for pain use in breastfeeding moms, but I’m just sharing my experience).

After surgery, I woke up knowing that they had given me a dose of morphine in the OR, and that the clock had started – I had 24 hours to pump and toss that breastmilk.

That night I was sitting in my hospital room, and the nurse came in to check and see how I was doing, and her question has stuck with me ever since.

“Do you have any pain?”

My answer was instantly, “yes, obviously. I just had surgery on my throat. But it’s manageable and I’m not that uncomfortable right now, and I’ll let you know when I need a Tylenol. But thank you.”

She assured me that if I had any pain at all, just to let her know and she could get me a strong painkiller that would take that pain right away.

And then she left. But that conversation has stuck with me for the past 6 years.

I realized that her goal, and I think the greater goal of the medical establishment, and to be honest the greater goal of the world at large: She wanted me to be completely pain-free.

While I appreciate the sentiment, the reality is that this expectation was silly. I had just had most of my thyroid removed. And I couldn’t lift my baby on my own because he was well over the 10 lb cut off by that time (I had large babies). Of course I had pain.

But this goal, this aim for everyone around you to be pain-free is the reality that most of us exist in right now.

I would argue that the aim is actually to be free from discomfort entirely.

Why Discomfort Is Important

I am not going to tell you that you need to be in pain. Pain is a difficult phenomenon; it can be exceptionally difficult for people to manage. And it can be debilitating and life altering and all consuming.

But discomfort is actually a different experience all together.

This nurse’s question after my surgery really brought my awareness to the fact that we are extremely uncomfortable when people around us are uncomfortable.

If our children are uncomfortable, our gut reaction is to go in and fix things.

If people we love are experiencing discomfort, many people’s response is to see what we can do to help.

And while I think these are important (and very human!) responses, I think we need to watch these responses.

Because discomfort is actually what causes us to grow and change and evolve.

We do NOT grow in situations where we’re comfortable. That’s just a fact. And our kids and friends and family are the same. A little bit of discomfort is 100% necessary for us to improve.

What Kind Of Discomfort Should I Tolerate?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to tell you not to take pain medication. Or to have surgery and refuse all the drugs.

What I am going to ask you to do is reflect on the places you feel uncomfortable.

Does meeting new people make you uncomfortable?

Does speaking in front of people make you uncomfortable?

Does meal planning or cooking new recipes or trying new foods make you uncomfortable?

If you’re a regular exerciser, but your workouts aren’t making you uncomfortable or pushing you in some way, then you’re not getting stronger.

You need to do things that push you, that make you uncomfortable. Only then will you grow and improve.

Something I personally have to watch out for is jumping to help my kids avoid discomfort. Is it hard! But them experiencing discomfort is what’s going to make them strong and resilient.

How comfortable are you with discomfort in yourself?

How comfortable are you with discomfort in those around you?

What things make you uncomfortable?

I would love to hear your thoughts!

Elizabeth Brothers Health