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Owning the Birth Experience. 
16th-Dec-2008 11:11 am
Childbirth does tend to fascinate me sometimes. I may never experience it, but I know more than a few people who have and a couple that will. My Mum's done it, even. And yet, I don't really have a lot of knowledge about what it entails.

I think there's been a massive - I'm torn between using the term patriarchal conspiracy and thinking of a term that's less likely to get me laughed of the internet - about education and conversation regarding childbirth. Only women* do it, women traditionally have been told we all have to do it and want to do it, and also that it's the most horrible and traumatic experience we will ever endure. Because it's a medical procedure, it's recently been placed in the realms of men in white coats. There's a taboo about talking about it in public, and all I was taught about it in school was watching a video of a woman on her back screaming a lot.

Now, obviously, information barriers are breaking down. We're better educated, doctors talk to patients more, and it's no longer considered dangerous or taboo to opt for an 'alternative' birth. With home births and specialised 'birthing centres', the hospital is becoming a place for emergencies, not the only option for the experience. There's increased acknowledgement that traditional 'folk' methods might have more merit than the accepted 'medical' ways.

I don't really want to get too far into the feminist issues surrounding 'folk' vs. 'scientific' medicine. I'm not in any way anti-medical science, obviously. I'm a scientist myself, and usually am in line to decry all sorts of 'alternative medicine' quackery and chicanery. On the other hand, as my sister's consultant told her:
All those old-wives tales about natural induction? Sex, cumin tea, foot rubs, chilli? They all work.
Well of course, said I. If there's one thing old wives have more experience in than the educated male-dominated history of medical science, it's giving birth. Science is wonderful and great and fantastic, but historically has failed women on occasion - look at the hysteria myth. Meanwhile, in European cultures, women tend to be the guardians of oral tradition regarding medicine and drugs.Not all of these traditions provide anything more than a placebo effect; some might be inadvertently harmful, but some are almost certainly of value, and that the scientific community is now more ready to acknowledge, appreciated, and where necessarily, debunk folk remedies, that's a good thing for everyone affected. It's a feminist issue for me, but it's also a scientific one, and thus one that I'm particularly interested in.

So I think talking about childbirth openly and frankly, and re-assessing the way we've been told to view it is a worthwhile activity for society to engage in. We're told it's traumatic and painful, and I don't for an instant doubt that - but we've also been told that the best place to do it is on our backs in a hospital. Since then, I've been informed that on one's back is considered one of the worse possible positions, second only to standing on your head; and that perhaps bringing a probably-healthy person with little to no immune system into an environment loaded with all of the germs that sick people bring to hospital with them isn't the greatest idea for that little person's health. We've been fed preconceptions, and they should be challenged. It was only recently that I was even aware the body produces oxytocin during labour, for crying out loud.

Orgasmic Birth is a new movie that's going to be aired next month on TV in the USA, suggesting that perhaps there's a way of experiencing childbirth that can be sensual and pleasurable. It confronts the potential problems in viewing it as a negative, surgical experience, and presents case studies of women taking control of the situation and having it their way. There are comment threads about it on the New York Times website and on Feministing, and while there are some delightfully obtuse comments such as women aren't allowed to enjoy childbirth! It says so in the Bible! and having an orgasm while giving birth is child abuse; there are one or two valid concerns being raised.

The concern I relate to most is the concern that saying 'birth can be pleasurable' can so easily be misconstrued to mean 'if you don't enjoy it you're doing it wrong!', like so many statements about the female experience have been. We've seen this with sex: first women weren't supposed to enjoy it, and then we decided that women who don't have multiples with every encounter are dysfunctional. Not to discount or belittle actual sexual problems encountered by women - that would be kind of shooting myself in the foot - but there's this either/or thing going on. People don't like to admit that experiences vary from woman to woman. So if we start saying "you can enjoy childbirth", are we going to ostracise every woman in the world who doesn't?

Well, I think that's worth the risk, frankly. We can't not talk about something just because someone might get the wrong idea. We can be careful how we talk, of course, but I'd like to hear more about individual experiences and personal testimonies so we can further our understanding of each other.

The important thing here, as with everything regarding women's health, is to give women the ownership of our own bodies, so we can make an informed, conscious decision about what's best for us and our children; and the first and best way to be informed is to openly talk about the subject.

And no, as of posting this, my sister has not gone through it.

*with statistically insignificant exceptions
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16th-Dec-2008 11:09 am (UTC)
I kindof misunderstood the word 'stool' there and thought - I thought all women did that.
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16th-Dec-2008 11:06 am (UTC)
I was so excited when I saw the title of your post. Still not king though!

IAWTP - I learned a hell of a lot more about childbirth from the wackier corners of the internet when researching for RP than I ever did from school or even my mum. It's just not something that's taught or discussed much. Huh.

's interesting.
16th-Dec-2008 11:10 am (UTC)
Oh, researching for RP. So very informative.

(Sometimes I'm talking to pregnant women and mothers and I almost bring up: "well, I've never been pregnant, but I've RPed a pregnancy before.")
16th-Dec-2008 11:39 am (UTC)
I didn't know they were doing a movie about the orgasmic birth thing -- I know some women who read the books about it, and went in expecting that and were, well. SORELY disappointed.

Ommm. I woke up about 5 min ago, this is something I'd like to discuss when I'm more awake. :) Needless to say, it's a Topic of mine.
16th-Dec-2008 11:44 am (UTC)
OK! I'll be around when you're more awake.

I think the expectation thing is a balance. I can't really say that just because it might set up for disappointment, we shouldn't acknowledge it can happen. The spectrum of experiences shouldbe acknowledged.
16th-Dec-2008 11:51 am (UTC)
You want to know anything specific? I can ask Mom. She was a neonatal nurse for years before the company that owns her hospital crammed its head up its ass and closed all but a couple of floors (she's working on a surgical floor now), what with being the only hospital to serve the immediate area and all. I'm not claiming to be a pregnancy expert or anything, but I grew up knowing a bit more than my peers did, just from listening to Mom talk about work. She's also a CLC and hoping to find a way to use that as a retirement career and get back into working with babies.

(I am not surprised sex works to induce labor. Orgasm is a MARVELOUS cure for period cramps, and that's the same muscles. And I didn't know what oxytocin was, but it seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to produce during childbirth. This is why current medical thinking-- at least according to Mom-- says the best thing for a brand-new baby who isn't having a medical emergency is to be given straight to his-or-her brand new mommy who isn't having a medical emergency. Skin-to-skin contact, bonding, calming down...)
16th-Dec-2008 11:55 am (UTC)
Nah, I'm just reading about experiences as I find them.

And yeah, I confirm that I think that's the best thing as well. Although it's interesting in the Feministing comments that someone was saying this made her feel like a bad mother for being unconscious after birth.

I think this might just be an issue with women (or maybe people as a whole). We listen too hard for clues on what should be we forget to experience what is.
16th-Dec-2008 12:07 pm (UTC)
>The important thing here, as with everything regarding women's health, is to give women the ownership of our own bodies, so we can make an informed, conscious decision about what's best for us and our children; and the first and best way to be informed is to openly talk about the subject.

Absolutely. I think that this is actually happening more and more these days though. I've been immersed in this for a few months now and, religious fundamentalist joyless types aside, many women in this country seem not only fully clued up about childbirth but are certainly looking at it as the wonderful and magical thing it is, rather than as an illness requiring a hospital procedure. On the whole I'm really pleased with the prevailing attitudes of women towards childbirth and with the level of information that's out there for the taking. A lot of people seem to have a balanced set of expectations and are not misled by tales of orgasmic cosmic oneness on the one hand nor tales of grim surgical seriousness on the other. They just look forward to living the experience for what it is.
16th-Dec-2008 12:14 pm (UTC)
I've been reading about all sorts of options, and the whole yoga ball, moving around, physically engage mode sounds good to me. Also, as my doula friend just told me "what puts the baby in, gets the baby out".

I think the lack of information we are given is terrible, and having the space to discuss things, to learn about peoples' good and bad experiences helps one prepare for what will be. I'm getting better now at asking for direct information. Learning about all the different induction methods was helpful for me too.

Yes, yes yes to talking about it, and talking lots. Have you read about hypnobirthing? I've heard good and bad things about it, but my lovely friend Ceci at http://www.onenightoff.com had her second daughter that way, and found it to be no worse than severe period pains, which has got to be a win.
16th-Dec-2008 12:33 pm (UTC)
I had not heard of it, but it looks very interesting! I used to be particularly doubtful about hypnosis but that was due to certain preconceptions, and it's certainly worth a try.
16th-Dec-2008 12:30 pm (UTC)
I actually journaled about my birth experience over three days around my son's fifth birthday, if you would like to read about them I can link.

You need to read the comments because hubby severus___snape had to contribute things I'd forgotten.

It was the scariest and most difficult thing I've ever done and the most rewarding and joyous at the same time.
16th-Dec-2008 12:34 pm (UTC)
Oh, that would be fantastic, thank you!
16th-Dec-2008 01:52 pm (UTC)
Great post! Pregnancy and childbirth are endlessly fascinating to me, and I'm always amazed at the spectrum of childbirth options and experiences. For instance, I had the standard hospital birth. I wanted to go natural, but I had an epidural and it worked out well for me. My neighbor, who gave birth a few months before me, had a forced natural birth and my other neighbor gave birth through cesarean section. I also have close relatives who have gone the homebirth route and I know one person who had an unassisted labor and delivery. I think a lot of women don't realize their options, but with films like The Business of Being Born and Orgasmic Birth, more women are learning about childbirth practices that are outside of the standard medical model.

I'd like to share links with you:
The Birth and Beyond boards at Mothering.com Mothering.com is THE site for natural childbirth. There you will find many birth stories as well as the opinions of those in the more extreme factions of the natural childbirth advocacy group.

And on the flipside, I'll give you a link to a blog written by the retired OB/GYN that natural birth advocates love to hate: Amy Tuteur's Homebirth Debate. Dr. Amy is frequently inflammatory and rude; as such, I actually find the comment sections more interesting than the entries themselves.

I also really enjoy reading two blogs written by experienced midwives:

http://navelgazingmidwife.squarespace.com/ WARNING: NSFW. The blog's layout features a photo of a nude woman laboring in a birthing tub.

Also, I think I'll repost an edited version of my birth story on my LJ. I've been looking for an excuse to revise and edit it anyway.

16th-Dec-2008 01:56 pm (UTC)
Fantastic! Thank you so much!
16th-Dec-2008 02:12 pm (UTC)
Hi, randomly dropping in (stuck at home rather than work today). My sister has six kids. The last two she had at home with a midwife and a birthing pool. She said that the experiences were night-and-day different. (She hated hospital birth--enough that she and her husband saved money to have the midwife, even though it cost them more than the hospital, due to insane insurance policies.)
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16th-Dec-2008 04:02 pm (UTC)
... two paracetamol.

*hollow laugh*
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16th-Dec-2008 04:51 pm (UTC)
It was only recently that I was even aware the body produces oxytocin during labour, for crying out loud.

Huh, really? I learned that stuff in Human Phys in high school, and kind of assumed it was part of the whole "learning biology" thing.

My mom made sure to have all sorts of material on hand for me to know about reproduction. Like a pop up book about the human reproductive system, which has been in my possession as long as I can remember. (Mom makes a big deal about it having a pop up penis, but the strongest impression for me was an illustration of the uterus/fallopians/ovaries, because it looked kind of like a weird alien pony. I think this explains a lot about me.)
23rd-Dec-2008 02:36 am (UTC) - orgasmic birth
I had one. Didn't plan to, didn't do anything special, it just happened. Even though I gave birth in a hospital, with my legs up in stirrups and a doctor doing an episiotomy. Weird.

Labor hurt, but not a lot except for the last bit before transition. Once I started pushing it felt wonderful. Not sex wonderful, just good. And then at the end it was this overwhelming sensation.

I think my labor was fairly mild for several reasons: I had someone working on my lower back through most of my pregnancy, so things were loosened up a bit. I walked a lot while pregnant and walked while in labor. I went to the hospital fairly late in labor. That was over 40 years ago and some stuff has gotten worse (the bills, for example) but hospitals just seem to be unpleasant places to be a lot of the time. I was young and healthy.

My daughter had both of her babies at home, the first one on a stool, the second one in a hot tub. Things went better with the tub.

I did ask a neo-natal nurse about epidurals once: Are they okay for babies? She sort of glared at me and said, "no, of course they aren't okay for babies!" Off the top of her head she recited 4 things they do to babies...which I can't remember of course.

But I'm sort of irritated by a medical approach that sees painkilling drugs as the first line of defense in childbirth and claims that women who want a better experience are risking their babies. Oh well, what do I know...
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