We have long known that the same hormone behind orgasms also causes uterine contractions in labour: oxytocin. But recent studies of this fascinating hormone reveal that it is responsible for far more than has ever been suspected. The Karolinska Institute’s work suggests that oxytocin may be a major player in infant survival. During labour, oxytocin fills the mother with pleasant, dreamy sensations that shift her into a trance-like state which causes her to exist in the moment, unaware of the passing of time. The high levels of oxytocin in the mother’s brain allow her to relax and ‘space-out’ despite labour’s extreme pain. They permit her to open her body and surrender to the rhythms of labour. When the baby is born, both mother and infant are overflowing with oxytocin, which has now been shown to foster instinctive interactions between mother and baby. The oxytocin guides that overwhelming rush of love that passes between new parents and baby, the gazing into each other’s eyes, the stroking and smiling, and the proclamations of love. It prompts breastfeeding behaviours in both mother and child, it promotes affection and loyalty, it helps gastrointestinal activity, it helps with sleep, it reduces stress, it helps the cardiovascular system, it harmonizes milk supply, and generally put, it allows infants to thrive. We now know that the more oxytocin mothers and baby share, the better for both of them; for their health, their relationship, their confidence, and their sense of trust in each other. It may come as no surprise, then, that the higher the oxytocin during birth, the easier the start for mother and baby alike.
So how do we boost oxytocin production during birth? By providing empathic, caring labour support, privacy so the mother feels uninhibited to express herself, comfort measures such as massage, freedom to eat, move, and make noise, by keeping medical interventions to a minimum, and by stepping back and refraining from dampening the potential for joy in labour. Joy during labour? Yes indeed. Read on for an inspiring birth story that radiates joy, a review of a film provocatively entitled “Orgasmic Birth,” and three fascinating articles on the nature of joy during birth. This issue explores the unique contradiction of extreme physical challenge and euphoric joy that can co-exist during birth, thanks to the hormone of love: oxytocin.
It seems only appropriate to announce our new class on Natural Birth in this issue about labour hormones, since protecting the hormonal cascade is a key element of physiologic birth.
This new five-hour seminar, launching on Saturday August 12, will explore the conditions that are, and are not, conducive to physiologic birth—that is, vaginal birth with no medications, and no interventions (unless medically necessary). Participants will dissect the prevailing paradigm, and will delve deep into their own preconceptions, fears, and attitudes about birth. This seminar is an excellent complement to our regular prenatal Evening Series or Weekend Workshop. It is meant to be taken after prenatal classes, and not in lieu. You will leave equipped with research based knowledge of concrete steps to support the birth process, and with a new understanding of the subtle influences that can enhance or undermine your own birth experience.
Q: I’ve heard that the hormone oxytocin is the secret to having an easier and more manageable labour. Is there anything my partner can do to help boost my oxytocin levels when I’m giving birth?
The hormone oxytocin is essential to both effective labour contractions and to mom’s ability to tolerate them. While it causes the uterus to pulse, the cervix to yield, the baby to rotate and descend, it also infuses the mom’s brain with dreamy feelings of contentment and lethargy, so that she is unaware of time passing, and less aware of pain. Clearly, we want to encourage this magical hormone!
Although such a star player in labour, oxytocin is a shy hormone, slow to emerge, hesitant to shine. Oxytocin’s natural predator is stress (adrenaline), which sends oxytocin scurrying for cover. After a startle, oxytocin needs to be coaxed gently back out with assurances of safety and quiet.
Stress, fear, and ambient discomforts can stifle oxytocin, but so can the mom’s own logical brain. In labour, we have to let go of our ‘thinking’ brain, and let the instinctive part of the brain preside. Thinking can interfere with oxytocin production by flipping a toggle switch from the limbic system (where oxytocin is produced) over to the neo-cortex (where oxytocin is inhibited). The two don’t play well together.
Partners and support-people can endeavor to create an environment that promotes oxytocin, and to shield the mother from any conditions that are likely to scare the oxytocin away.
In short, we want to create an atmosphere in which the mom can be ‘undisturbed’. Where she has no worries, no concerns, no need to think about anything, and she can cope in whatever ways she chooses, uninhibited and unhindered. All of her immediate needs are met, and she can sink deep into the hormonal state of existing, moment to moment, allowing her body to ride the waves without resistance. No one can promise you an easy or painless birth, but I can say that the higher the oxytocin, the more enjoyable the process. So discuss with your partner in advance things that you both can do, during labour and in preparation, to gently encourage this hesitant hormone to come out and shine.
by Katy Thomson
“Orgasmic Birth” is certainly a title that grabs your attention and intrigued many as it made the rounds of screenings and film festivals throughout 2008, and is now available to purchase on DVD. Hopefully soon it will no longer be “Childbirth’s best kept secret” as it is referred to in the film by midwife Elizabeth Davis.
First time film maker Debra Pascali-Bonaro challenges our cultural myths by inviting viewers to witness the glorious emotional, spiritual, and physical heights attainable through the miracle of birth. This film reveals that childbirth is something a woman can enjoy rather than endure.
“Orgasmic Birth” is an intimate documentary capturing stunning moments of women in the ecstatic release of childbirth. A collection of emotionally evocative images of women giving birth in a caring, comfortable environment with loving touch and even a few orgasms. The message in the film is more about reframing how we view birth, not necessarily to have orgasms during birth but how one could perceive the pain/intensity. The film showed many people were afraid of the pain but how some women let go, surrendered, believed in the power of their bodies, connections with their babies and trusted in the process of labour and birth. A movie poster states, “Witness the passion as birth is revealed as an integral part of woman’s sexuality and a neglected human right.”
This film chronicles the pregnancies, labours, and births of eleven couples demonstrating how blissful birth can be when the mother is surrounded by a supportive family, a patient caregiver (midwife, doctor, or nurse) and an environment that allows her body to do whatever is needed to ensure a safe serene birth. Comparing and contrasting settings from water births, midwife assisted births in hospitals, birthing centers, to all natural, home births and families of different races, religions and customs, Debra does a great job of depicting the diversity of an empowering experience; from giving birth on a deck in your own back yard to experiencing some of the most sensual experiences between husband and wife during the labour process.
Interlaced within the film is commentary from numerous renowned experts that speak out on the topic of childbirth, the medical system, epidurals, caesarean sections, natural childbirth and much more. The experts come from a wide array of fields such as family doctors, gynaecologists, obstetricians, midwives, paediatricians, nurses and researchers in the areas of childbirth. Eloquently covering many topics that relate to birth with solid research from science and nature backing it, these experts also offer some simple truths. As obstetrician-gynaecologist Christine Northrup warns in the film, “we have been brainwashed to view birth not as a natural process, but as an emergency waiting to happen”. And Ina May Gaskin reminds the viewers that “the same hormones that got the baby there in the first place are the same hormones to get the baby out”.
Additionally the film includes the story of a mother who was sexually abused as a child and young adult, and she shares that “my birth became the most powerful thing that’s happened to my body….and I was transformed”. The couple’s stories are beautiful, captivating, sensual, natural and even humorous at times, depicting that birth can be spiritually orgasmic, emotionally orgasmic, or even physically orgasmic-point being that regardless of the orgasmic element itself, it can be orgasmic period. What a crucial message for the young women of our society. For generations we’ve been raised believing that childbirth is the most painful thing a woman will ever endure, how much healthier and more hopeful is it to instead believe that birth is something to be treasured and enjoyed.
It is not very often that a book or a movie comes out that has the potential to change peoples lives, but “Orgasmic Birth” is such a film. Orgasmic childbirth is not new idea but this film is the first truly intimate exploration of the feat. The film shows childbirth in a very positive, beautiful, achievable light. It incorporates the perfect balance of facts and inspiring real life stories that help guide women towards making educated decisions about their own childbirths. I am happy to recommend “Orgasmic Birth” as an excellent tool to expand the ideas of expectant parents so they can harness their own instincts for labour. The extras part with the numbers of maternal/ infant health is very well presented too. Just keep in mind that these figures and procedures vary from that here in Canada.
Katy Thomson has been involved with the wondrous world of birth for over fifteen years. Katy has worked, lived and volunteered with many families and organizations while travelling around the world before settling in beautiful Vancouver to further establish her career as a Doula and Childbirth Educator. Being away from her own family Katy really got to see and feel the importance of family and learn how other cultures support a new mother during the child bearing year. Drawing her closer to her doula nature Katy has been privileged to witness and participate in births within different cultures, giving her a wealth of information on pregnancy and the birthing process. Katy is a mum of three, a Breastfeeding Counsellor, Childbirth Educator, as well as a certified Birth and Postpartum Doula, who is always continuing her education and working towards a lactation consultant certification.
By Renee Taylor
When I was 9 months pregnant a dear friend of mine held a celebration to bless my journey to motherhood. As each woman present offered their blessings, one of the women said “I hear that childbirth can be orgasmic and so I wish that for you.” I thought she was crazy. I did not have an “orgasmic birth” although I hear it certainly is possible. For me, childbirth was the most extra-ordinary event in my life and I am looking forward to doing it again.
In this new era where childbirth is being brought back to women, I am very grateful to see the birthing trend moving away from the industrialization of this natural process and back to grass roots. We have choices. Today, unlike the birth stories of our mothers and grandmothers who suffered greatly, women can choose to have a midwife, we can choose to labour in water or on all fours. We can choose to have the presence and support of friends, family, a doula, even an alternative medicine practitioner present to support us and our partner on our journeys. We have the opportunity to labour in a loving and supportive environment where we are safe to make the decisions that are right for us, we are encouraged to listen to and trust our bodies’ innate knowledge and ability to birth our babies.
Childbirth is possibly the most extraordinary event in our lives. To give birth is miraculous, powerful and transformative for the woman, for the family and for the community.
I remember being so excited and impatient to meet my child. As a woman who was expecting her first child, I had read each and every book available about pregnancy and childbirth yet as every other woman expecting her first child, I really did not know what to expect, nor how I would handle labour. During my own journey with the birth of my wonderful daughter Neve, my labour did not go according to my “birthplan” yet I was so well supported by my doula, my midwife, my partner and an incredible nurse that I was able to surrender, ride that powerful force of nature and birth my child. It truly was joyful, intense and empowering. After all those months of anticipation, I rejoiced to meet my child, to see what she looked like, to hear her cry and feel her warmth. In the instant she was born, all the worries, aches of pregnancy and pains of childbirth dissipated and it was all worth it.
To bring a child into the world is a profoundly joyous time. Women’s bodies are perfectly crafted for the experience. Woman radiate during pregnancy, we love to be mothers, to nurse and nurture our precious babies. Meeting our baby for the first time is overwhelmingly joyous beyond compare. Furthermore there is a sacred communal happiness in the celebration of a new baby. For parents there is deeper connection to the community in which we live. Passers-by stop to say hello and marvel at the newest member of the community. Grandparents, aunts and uncles don’t know how to contain their excitement; new life in the family brings everyone closer again. I have not met a woman whom after becoming a mother did not feel a new respect and awe of other women, a connection to all women past and present, a new belonging to her community.
I have had the pleasure to both experience childbirth myself and have had the honour to witness and share with women and couples in their birthing experience. Simply to be present this miracle is mesmerizing each and every time. Labour is a potent time where we can manifest joy, healing, empowerment, and learn a great deal about ourselves and the power within our bodies. Labour is natural, normal and wonderful. Furthermore, the intimacy with our partner deepens in this process where we take the first step towards a new relationship as parents.
Childbirth is something deep and wild as the ocean, we cannot control it, we can simply ride the wave and surrender to the journey of birthing our children. The key is in our support network. If we are well supported we can cope one contraction at a time. If we feel safe and assured, we can let go of the fear and preconceptions about labour. If we can dispel all the untruths told about childbirth and forget the horror stories told by women before, we all have potential to have an “orgasmic birth”, or at least an unforgettable adventure.
No one can deny the intensity and pain of childbirth. I read a wonderful article that was written by Penny Simkin that hit home for me. She said in relation to childbirth that pain does not equate suffering. We have all endured physical and emotional challenges. Labour is just another challenge. As with climbing any tall mountain, it may hurt and you may sweat but once you have reached the top, the accomplishment of the feat followed by the most wonderful reward makes it all worth it. It is not something to be afraid of as your body has great capabilities and knows exactly what to do. Don’t we all feel most alive and joyful when we are pushed to the edge of our comfort zone and come though the challenge with grace? Facing the physical discomforts of labour and coming out the other side is a factor that makes birth so joyful. It is empowering because at the end of the day you can pat yourself on the back and say “Wow, I did that!”
Renee Taylor is a Registered Acupuncturist, Doula and co-founder of Acumamas wellness. She treats people in all stages of life with a special focus on pregnancy, fertility and women’s health. She has had the honour to treat thousands of pregnant women and has attended over a hundred births. For more information please visit www.acumamas.com or call Acumamas at 778-323-3973.
By Susan Woodhouse
Joyful birth, ecstatic birth, and erotic, orgasmic birth… these are some terms which you may come across as you prepare for the arrival of your baby. But orgasmic birth? What? When I mentioned to a couple of my friends that I was writing this piece, they responded with curiosity and disbelief. Birth is painful not pleasurable, they said. Isn’t it? Most of us have been imprinted with images of birth as a medical emergency, and with notions that birth can only be a painful, exhausting, dreadful ordeal. So the idea that a woman may find labour pleasurable, and that she may even find it so sexually powerful as to experience an orgasm, is….well, almost unbelievable! It turns out, though, that this may be what some are calling one of the best kept secrets of womanhood.
Truth is we are, each and every one of us birthing women, flooded with hormones that are the body’s natural birthing enhancers. Hormones are the movers and shakers of all human development, in fact, and during sex, during pregnancy, during labour and birth, during breastfeeding, we get extra shares to help us accomplish the jobs we need to do. We’ve become accustomed, through images from the media, to thinking of birth as an impending disaster. But those fictionalized versions, where labour goes from zero to sixty in just one mighty contraction, are just that – fiction! The effects of cultural views of birth and of media imprinting with over-dramatized birth depictions are profound, and have led to a cultural inferiority complex and widespread disbelief in and detachment from the innate abilities of our bodies to create, sustain and birth a new life. Think about it. If we were not meant to be reproducing creatures, we would not have the ability to conceive in the first place and we certainly couldn’t grow a baby, a complex organism, if our bodies didn’t already know how to do so. Imagine if you had to be conscious of the progress of fetal development. What would happen if you were responsible for designing your baby’s digestive or nervous system? What if you were really busy at work on the day you were supposed to grow hair, or develop fingers and toes? Luckily, we don’t need to think about managing all the complexities of human development. And thanks to the era we live in, we have lots of information available to us about how to support our bodies in this process, for example through good nutrition, exercise.
We’re lucky indeed that we don’t have to direct labour and birth either. Labour (most of the time) starts when it’s supposed to, when your body and your baby are ready, and the intricate dance of birth is choreographed for you. All you need to do to figure out the steps is let the music overtake you. Just as we know how to support a baby’s development through good prenatal care, we know lots about how to enhance the circumstances for your body to birth that baby. Sheila Kitzinger, childbirth educator, talks of making conditions in which a woman gives birth as close to possible to the ideal conditions for lovemaking – how the baby got in is how the baby will get out! So, in other words, a safe and secure environment where a woman feels no tension or fear, a private setting where intimacy allows for freedom of expression and movement – the freedom to follow her instincts – where the birthing mother can, as much as is possible, labour unobserved and undisturbed. This is the environment which allows full use of the natural resources mother nature has given us, our hormones. Dr. Sarah J. Buckley, a family physician, mother of 4 and birth activist, refers to these hormones as the “blueprint of life”. In an internet article titled “Ecstatic birth-nature’s hormonal blueprint for labour” she clearly and simply outlines the effects of hormones on a woman’s body during pregnancy and birth. [www.sarahjbuckley.com/articles/ecstatic-birth.htm] She also describes how disruptions and interferences have the effect of disturbing the birth process and reducing the body’s ability to utilize the blueprint. Here’s a brief description of the hormones you’ve got working for you during labour:
The “fight-or-flight” hormones: during the first stage of labour, if a woman is feeling anxious or afraid, these hormones can slow labour. They are nature’s mechanism for preventing birth from occurring if danger is present. At the end of undisturbed labour, however, they provide the labouring mother with a burst of energy and alertness, and cause several very powerful contractions to birth the baby.
Nature’s opiate, which contributes to a feeling of pleasure and euphoria. Another stress hormone, it appears in higher quantities in our body when we encounter situations of physical duress and pain, and it acts as a natural pain killer. During undisturbed labour, beta-endorphin contributes to a shift in consciousness similar to the “runner’s high” we know about. Beta endorphin also helps the production of prolactin.
Also called the “mothering hormone”, is the main hormone of breastmilk production. It helps us feel nurturing toward our baby.
Last on this list but by no means least, this stuff is the true “Big O”, the hormone of love. Oxytocin is present during lovemaking, orgasm, during labour, and breastfeeding – it’s even appears in higher quantities in our bodies when we share a meal with good company. It contributes to mood elevation and alleviates depression. During the final stages of labour, as the baby’s head puts pressure on stretch receptors in the vagina, oxytocin levels peak. It helps the uterus contract to push the baby out, and then to separate and birth the placenta. Both mother and baby have higher levels of oxytocin in the period immediately following birth, helping them bond.
Nature has provided us with this impressive arsenal of substances to assist us in the birth of our babies, without us even having to think about it. What if you augmented them with some lovemaking, too? Ina May Gaskin, a midwife with over 40 years and 1,000 births in her experience, talks about how the vagina is enlarged during sexual activity and foreplay, and also during birth. She says lovemaking activities during labour can enhance a woman’s feelings of pleasure, enhance her body’s natural hormone production, and facilitate her entering a state of primal awareness. These are the same hormones swirling around during sex, remember, so you can imagine how they would be enhanced during labour with some kissing, cuddling, stroking, making love (semen is high in prostaglandins, a substance which helps soften the cervix), nipple and/or clitoral stimulation.
There’s no recipe for the ideal labour, however, nor is there a fool-proof plan for achieving an orgasm during labour! The idea of joyful gestational diabetes. birth, or ecstatic, erotic, orgasmic birth as some will call it, is that we are graced with the natural means of accomplishing the task of birth, and we can complement our bodies’ natural abilities by allowing ourselves to consider a shift in our perspective and attitude toward birth; not necessarily pain free – but the perception of pain is shifted. Women will talk about the power they feel, of the pleasure they feel through and in spite of the pain, and there are some women who don’t describe their contractions as painful at all. They are experiencing an altered state, brought on by the bath of nature’s helpful hormones, in which their bodies are alive to the power of birth. Words of wisdom from Dr. Buckley: “Perhaps the best we can do is trust our instincts and vote with our birthing bodies, choosing models of care that increase our chances of undisturbed – and ecstatic – birthing.”
Susan Woodhouse, mother of two and former Childbearing instructor, lives on Vancouver Island where she now earns a living driving a taxi. She hopes one day to add “caught baby in backseat of cab” to her repertoire of interesting tales.
By Vicki Hsieh
In the 28th week of my pregnancy, a month before Christmas, and much to my annoyance, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. It aggravated me that I could no longer stuff my face with overgenerous slices of cake at the end of a long day. It irritated me even more that I was diagnosed with being only 0.1 mmol/L over the fasting value. Nevertheless, I was enlisted with the diabetes clinic at Women’s and Children’s. The nutritionist supported me in my last ditch attempt to get my fasting value down by following what seemed like an Atkins diet – lots of protein and fats, and only a very small amount of carbohydrates, but it had little effect on my fasting value, and I consistently came in 0.1-0.2 mmol/L over the cut-off most mornings. I felt defeated, but resigned to taking insulin. On the one hand, it was important for the long-term health of my baby, not to have elevated glucose levels through the nights and yet, insulin injections could mean that my placenta may start to deteriorate and I would have to have an induced labour if baby wasn’t getting enough nutrients in those last weeks. I was checking in at the diabetes clinic weekly and also attending weekly non-stress testing at the hospital. Baby appeared to be progressing normally, showed a lot of activity, and had a healthy heart rate with good accelerations. I was scheduled for an appointment with an OB in the 38th week where they would review my records and determine if induction was necessary for that day. I was petrified of the cascade effect of interventions we learned about in class, and made an effort to advocate for a natural birth as long as the baby was still thriving in my uterus and my placenta was functioning well. I didn’t want to force labour if baby wasn’t quite ready yet. I’m not sure if it was my apprehension about decision day on January 18th that baby could that she decided make her entrance into our world on the 17th!
4am on the 17th of January (two weeks before my due date) I woke up to some aches and a small gush of fluid. I had been displaying some bloody show the week before. My body and mind were hyper aware of every little ache and pain and I felt like the baby was wanting to come very soon. I got up to pee, the aching subsided, and I climbed back into bed and waited to see if the aching would return. After about 20 minutes, sure enough this dull aching crept back into my belly. At this point, I thought about how most considerate women I’ve heard about didn’t distress their husbands right away. They let them get a good night’s sleep, or even focus on those last few tasks before sounding the alarm. As I lay there in bed, I counted 5 minutes, looked at my watch and thought, this is not me – I’m all about sharing the pain and I’m sure he’ll get over it. I tapped Nik on the shoulder and said plainly “I think the baby is coming today”. In turned slightly, and in his half-asleep state he murmured “ok” and fell back asleep. Good, at least there wasn’t any panic in his voice.
6am We got up after an hour of light dozing. I got dressed, took my readings, and had my allowable half a cup of oatmeal and milk for breakfast. It was a busy morning of prescheduled appointments, starting with the diabetes clinic, non-stress testing, and the midwives. I figured, since we were seeing the whole slough of healthcare professionals that day, no need to call in about thinking baby may come. I’ll just tell them at the appointments. Besides, pre-labouring is a long, long process. Nik made arrangements with work to take the day off so that he could drive me to the appointments in case it got difficult to move around and drive for me.
7:30am By the time we got to the diabetes clinic in the morning my contractions were still mild and about 20-30 min apart – still very early stages if at all. I could be Braxton Hicks for all I knew. We were all so new to this! I was feeling great and mobility wasn’t an issue at all. The diabetes clinic was the same as it always was. The nurse grimaced, as always, when she had to review my daily values spreadsheet that I insisted on recording and printing using my phone app instead of writing out by hand.
“This might be the lucky day that you finally get rid of my me and my annoying push for technological advances in your world”, I thought as I handed in my bright red duotang. At my appointment with the specialist, I let him know that I thought I might have the baby the same day. He raised a brow “and what makes you think that?”. I told him about the fluid. I said, I wasn’t sure, but thought that might have been my water breaking and that I was having regular contractions that were about 20 min apart – in that there’s still lots of time, so not to worry. He got a little excited, maybe even a little frantic which I thought was strange – I naturally assumed that he dealt with this kind of situation all the time. He took all of my vitals, checked the position of the baby, measured me, hailed a nurse, and insisted that we register at the labouring department. He nervously recanted a story about a patient once that was 9cm dilated that had come to her appointment and nearly had her baby in his office. I assured him, that this wasn’t going to happen with me – I was far from ready to drop a baby, never mind in his office. Despite being perfectly capable of walking on my own, the nurse came back with a wheelchair and insisted that I be accompanied into registration – “probably some interdepartmental liability thing”, I bemused.
Registration was located in a bit of a grim corner of the hospital. We were signed in and placed in a bed space enclosed by out-dated dusty, rose coloured curtains. With all this kerfuffling about, we had missed the appointment for the non-stress testing, and we were clearly going to miss our appointment with the midwives across town. The hospital contacted our midwives and they agreed to come down to the hospital to have our regular appointment there and to assess how I was progressing.
As it turned out, I was 2-3 cm dilated when the midwife checked me and we decided to do a sweep to help things progress. The midwife reassured us that we didn’t need to be as excited as the doctor in the diabetes clinic just yet. We had a good laugh about it all.
I asked her if my water had broken. I wasn’t sure if the fluid earlier in the morning constituted water breaking as I had never experienced it before and I remember from class that it isn’t usually Hollywood-esque, but more of a trickle. My water hadn’t broken, we still had time, and I was fine to go home. She did say that we might be back later in the night.
We were given instructions to call when my contractions were 6 minutes apart and lasting for 1 min and for 30 min or longer. The midwife wanted to get me on Penicillin for 30 min before delivery as I tested positive for GBS. We got discharged and headed home for a bit of a nap as the morning turned out to be more eventful than I was hoping for. The contractions were becoming more achy and I was keen to curl up in bed. We stopped by Shopper’s on the way home and I picked up some Epsom salts on sale thinking I might try it out later in the bath. It was after all, a cold and dreary day, and the idea of a hot bath seemed salacious.
We got home, and I tried to get a nap in first, but my stuffy nose from my cold, and the achy feeling in my belly left me uncomfortable and restless. At this point, my contractions were around 12 minutes apart and the dull pain was becoming more prominent. I tried stretching out my back in bed, I reviewed our prenatal handbook and tried a bunch of the pre-labouring positions we learned, but still couldn’t get relaxed enough to nap. Finally around 2, I gave up on the comforts of bed, and decided to draw a bath, light a candle, and find some meditative music on my new subscription of google play. As soon as my bum hit the water, my entire body relaxed. Breathing in the Eucalyptus and Mint oils in the salts seemed to ease by congested nose. I turned off the lights in the bathroom and leaned back in the tub. I chuckled t to myself – I’ve been so busy with my life over the last few years, that I never really took the time to enjoy this tub we put in. It felt like a little slice of heaven, bathing in this Home Depot purchase. Why hadn’t I done this earlier?
The bath was so soothing and relaxing, I spent the next 4 hours in there. I’m sure I drifted off a few times in between contractions. I found it so much easier to breathe through the contractions in the dark and with the funny music for some reason. I had my fitbit on a chair by the tub so that I could keep time. The contractions were building in intensity, but I kept telling myself – there’s a point to all this – just think of all the oxytocin, endorphins, and adrenaline you’re making. I just concentrated hard on deep, controlled breathing and visualized an expanding circle. Don’t ask me how I came up with that – I think I might have watched one youtube clip about meditation and visualisation and decided that maybe I’ll give it a try.
Poor Nik was a little concerned for me, but probably felt pretty helpless about how much he could actually do to help me with the contractions. I think he spent most of the afternoon folding laundry in the other room and would periodically check up on me. I don’t remember this – but at one point he came in, maybe he told a joke to cheer me up and asked me if I needed anything. Apparently I said something to the effect of “I just need you to f**** off right now”. We both laughed and he left me to my own stubborn devices to get to hurry up and the good part!
I reached the 5 min mark, I called the midwife and told her what a great bath I was having and where my contractions were at. She said that judging by how calm I sounded and how jovial I was on the phone, there should be enough time for her to grab a bit to eat before heading over and was that ok? I said sure, why not. No point in heading into her night shift on an empty stomach.
The midwife arrived and found me shrivelled up like a prune in my glorious tub –I gave her a brief update, stopping mid sentence to breathe through each contraction. I was now averaging 2 and a half min between each contraction and just over a minute on each contraction. The midwife seemed surprised that I was able to get this far on my own just breathing. In my mind, I wondered – what else could I do but breathe, focus, and wait.
I wasn’t exactly feeling up to doing too much else that day. I told her I didn’t want to waste her time and call her in until I knew I was ready. I was frightful of going to the hospital prematurely and having to wait it out in the lobby or be stuck going back and forth between home and hospital for the next 24 hours. I would much rather tough it out at home, where it was safe and comfortable, until I was ready.
When the midwife examined me, I was 8 cm and she laughed that there shouldn’t be any problems with admittance. She started to hurry a little and said she was going to drive to the hospital ahead of us to pre-admit us, but if anything changed we could call her and she would turn around. I thought the last bit was funny and a bit strange. Maybe she was just cracking a joke, I mean – come back and what? Deliver the baby in the car? I laughed it off inside as the midwife hurried off.
I thought about getting dressed as another contraction came on and decided that my tacky plaid fleece pyjamas would be just fine for getting there. It’s not as if the nurses would judge me or that I really cared at that point. I waddled carefully over to the shoe cupboard to grab my shoes and ‘whoosh’ I felt as if a balloon had popped and all of Niagara Falls was descending down my legs and into the cupboard. Ok, so make it tacky, plaid pyjamas that were now soaked in amniotic fluid….it just keeps getting better! Another contraction – I doubled over into the cupboard from the pain and was now on all fours breathing into a pair of sweaty gym sneakers. I couldn’t find the strength to stand up and called out to Nik who was busy grabbing the hospital bag. Slightly horrified, he tried to help me up by lifting me under my arms. I had this overwhelming sensation to hang there in limbo in his arms, my legs not able to decide what to do or where to go. Should I change my pyjama pants? Another contraction – no, screw it. Having abandoned all thoughts of modesty, we stumbled down the hall to the elevator battling 2 more strong contractions along the way. We got in the elevator and I have a sudden urge to start pushing. Oh no! I turn my head around like an owl and survey the 70s fake wood panelling, and grey linoleum floors of the elevator. This is grim. No, not here, please. Breathe. Hold it in. 1 more contraction as we’re about to get out. Nik has to hold the elevator door open as I breathed through it. Ok, next hurdle – the parkade. Even more grim with the dim lighting and the cold, wet, concrete. “Also, not the most intimate setting”, I think as I lean on the bumper of our car to get through another contraction. The last thing I wanted was to give birth in the parkade as all of my neighbours show up parking their vehicles after a long day at work. I inched my way along the body of the vehicle. Nik puts down a towel for me on the seat and we drive off to the hospital. I find it much too intense to sit on anything so with my right arm holding the lever above the door frame, and my left hand pushing myself off the seat, we go. The contractions growing even stronger and it feels like we’re driving through a school zone the whole way. It doesn’t help that there’s an accident at Broadway and Main either. I close my eyes to focus on relaxing my muscles and trying my hardest not to push. Every once in a while I peek out of my right eye to see if we’re almost there. Nik makes a left on Cambie. Ugh, I’ve been hinting to him over the last month that turning left onto Oak would be much faster. I want to say something, but think – ok, now is not the time to be a backseat driver. At least he’s here to drive me. Just close my eyes and keep my mouth shut.
We get to the hospital and Nik rushes in to grab a wheelchair for me. As I hastily position myself onto the wiry, unpadded wheelchair, I think to myself – oh that’s why the wheelchairs have no cushion – because of women like me who have soaked through their pants. Makes perfect sense now! I had been wondering why the hospital was so chintzy on the wheelchairs when I saw them the weeks past.
The hospital was eerily quiet when we reached the desk. The midwife met us as promised, and wheeled me up to the 4th floor. “Is there a tub?” I ask. “I’m in love with taking baths. I think it would be very helpful”. The delivery nurse confirms that it has a tub. For some reason I feel massively relieved by this. As I get wheeled in, I feel really hot and sweaty. The nurse starts to gesture about the tub. I glanced quickly at the tub in the bathroom and then back at the bed. My mind was saying “tub” but my body was shouting “BED” so I threw my clothes down and made a concerted effort for the bed as the next contraction came on. Everything about how lying down for contractions was harder on the body and not the way our bodies were designed to give birth ran through my head, but reality was that my body was willing me to push hard and lying down felt the most powerful and least uncomfortable for me. In fact, my body yearned to push even harder! I had an overwhelming desire to pull up on something and the nurse and midwife were really quick in finding a bar and fashioning a cloth onto it. I could pull up on the cloth and really curl inward with the contractions. Nik was right by my side the whole time and was very calm through it all and his encouragement was just the right amount and at the right times. I checked with him a few times to make sure he was doing ok through this whole ordeal. For some reason, it never occurred to me that the hospital bed wasn’t actually a huge structure and that despite not wanting to be at the goal end, standing next to the bed, and looking down from overhead elicited more of a view than one may have bargained for. I was relieved that there were no signs of possible fainting from Nik. He was there, and very much into the labour as I was. Less than an hour of pushing had passed. The nurse and the midwife kept telling me that we were making great progress and baby was moving closer with every push. To me it all felt the same. I couldn’t really judge whether she was closer to coming out or not. When they said they could almost see her head, I thought they were just trying to encourage me. I asked for the time and they said it had been almost an hour. “Gosh”, I said aloud, “this hurts a lot and is pretty tiring. I know I said I wanted to try natural, but I don’t see myself being able to keep this up for 10 hours. Is it too late to ask for drugs?”
The midwife and the nurse gave each other an amused look. “Don’t think there’s enough time for that, my dear. It takes 30 min and you’re almost there.”
3 more pushes and the midwife tells me “after this push, I want you to wait for my cue to stop pushing and we’re going wait”. I finished the last push and before she could give me the cue to stop, the baby shot out – “literally torpedoed out” as Nik puts it. Both she and the nurse were caught a bit off guard. There was this feeling of calm and they placed baby on me right away. Nik announced the sex – we had a delightful baby girl! They asked if I wanted a jab to speed up the birthing of the placenta, but at that point, I figured the hard part is done, what’s a piddly placenta going to do. I declined, and the placenta came after 15 minutes or so without breaking a sweat. Nik cut the cord after it finished pulsating, noting that the consistency of the cord was chewy like calamari. Somehow Nik went from not being keen on cutting the cord when we had discussed this before, to being more than fine with it and joking about the whole situation he found himself in. So much so that the midwife sensed his fascination and followed up by giving us a biology class on the structure of my placenta afterwards. It was great! After the biology lesson, and being stitched up, it was just the three of us – tired, happy, and amazed by this surreal experience.
Ella May Burrows was born at 8:14 pm on January 17th at 6 lbs 7 oz.
Every day with our daughter has been a real blessing and we cherish every tear, smile, and bum rumble she brings us.
Vicki Hsieh is a proud graduate of the Childbearing Society’s 2016 Fall 5 Prenatal Series.
by Stephanie Ondrack
When we are pregnant, our focus often dwells on the discomforts and deprivations associated with the condition: Our aching back, our puffy ankles, our cravings for cabernet, or camembert. Sometimes we look down on our swollen belly, our stretch marks, our sore calves with bemusement or even antipathy. How did I get like this? Can this really be my body?
The pregnant body seems to have a mind and will of its own. It infuses us with a unique incursion of hormones that alters our physiology: our shape, our circulation, our very constitution. Our body expands and morphs to accommodate the pregnancy, shifting in shape and texture before our eyes and under our fingertips. No part of us is immune to alteration: our skin, our brain, our hair, our thirst, our feet, our breasts, our appetites, our energy, our libido, our joints and muscles, our moods, and of course our ever-expanding belly. Do we even recognize ourselves within this altered body? Have we been taken over, reformed, according to alien specifications?
Historically, we are told, and still in non-industrial societies, the pregnant body is revered as the most beautiful womanly shape, an ideal form of femininity radiating fertility, maternity, strength, and good health. Here, we tend to equate largeness with being overweight, even when our intellects know that pregnancy and obesity are as unrelated as apples and beach balls. Do we luxuriate in our pregnant body, admiring our new curves, and appreciating our new contours? Or do we count the days until we can fit back into our ‘normal’ clothes?
Despite our ambiguous feelings about inhabiting this temporary body, we know that it provides a medium for our growing progeny. As strange and unfamiliar as we may feel about it, our body is, quite literally, essential to our baby. The pregnant body’s changes, fluctuations, and bizarre new habits are all helping baby form and develop. It is an enormous feat, growing, cultivating, and nourishing a whole new human being; This triumph is not to be undervalued. The pregnant body is a body of transition; a miracle of nature, an achievement of evolution, a non-illusive magic trick. From one of you, to two of you: A whole new human emerges.
In this issue we look at some common pregnant body considerations. And then we indulge in an account of why we were pregnant in the first place, the fruit of the labour: a birth story in which a mother tunes into her pregnant body’s intuitions to make decisions to support her labour. So like most pregnant women, we will linger for a while in the mundane effects of pregnancy, but also acknowledge the incredible fact of the pregnant body: it grows a brand new person. From scratch. Wow.
By Ben Stanford
There are a lot of misconceptions out there about how physically active pregnant women can and should be.
As a soon-to-be mama, you might be a little worried to go full tilt on your normal fitness routine – you’re carrying precious cargo, after all!
Below, we spell it out simply, and offer some guidelines for staying fit & healthy while pregnant.
Unlike days of yore, you’re not likely to see any kind of physician who suggests that a woman stop being active simply because they’re with child. These days, unless you have a specific condition that demands bed rest, pregnant women can continue to do cardiovascular and weight training – within reason.
If you’re an active person, no need to stop your activities of choice. Just be aware that some provisions may need to be made as your pregnancy progresses, and be sure to talk to your doctor, midwife, coach, or trainer. Also, listen to your body – if something feels quite uncomfortable or painful, stop. You know better than anyone what works and what doesn’t.
If you’ve never been much of fitness person, now might be a great time to start incorporating a little more movement into your life. A healthy mother typically equals a healthy baby, so consider working a few longer walks into your week, or try a similarly low-impact kind of exercise.
All of that being said, now is NOT the time to try new, high-impact, high-intensity workouts. Never been a runner? Don’t start training for your first marathon. Afraid of the gym? Not the best time to think about getting into fitness competitions.
Anything that’s going to seriously deplete you or put stress on your little one as they grow is something you may want to avoid, particularly if you haven’t yet developed the skill or strength to do them safely.
That being said, if you are a high-intensity athlete, there are ways to continue your favorite sports safely – again, just talk to your personal trainer.
Again, if you were a fit, active person before getting pregnant, your heart rate isn’t likely to be much of an issue when pregnant.
If you’re trying to get more active because of your pregnancy, most sources agree that employing the “talk test” is the best way to ensure your heart rate stays in the optimal zone for cardiovascular health: if you can carry on a normally paced conversation while working out, your heart is likely doing just fine.
Bonus: if you’re conversing while working out, it means you’ve brought a friend along, which is an excellent tactic for motivation!
Prenatal yoga is a great way to get ready for labour, but one thing you’ll notice if you attend a dedicated prenatal class is that there’s less of an emphasis placed on stretching and lengthening your muscles.
When you’re pregnant, your body generates the hormone relaxin. Relaxin isn’t just a clever name – it relaxes the muscles, tendons and tissues in a pregnant body, preparing it to open during labour.
One side effect of relaxin production is that your body will feel much, much more flexible than it actually is. Because the relaxin is also effectively weakening your muscles, you lose the integrity you need to stretch safely – and run the risk of some seriously pulled muscles.
Keep this in mind in a yoga class, but also while at the gym, and even while running – form will be super important during this period.
We live in a wonderful modern world, where pregnant women have access to literally hundreds of options if they want to get fit or stay fit.
Check out your local rec centre or gym – chances are they have at least one or two classes tailored to prenatal fitness. These classes are great because they’ll keep you safe without making you feel weak or disempowered.
Our conclusion? Don’t be afraid to move while pregnant! It’ll keep you happy and healthy, which is a huge benefit to your wee one as they develop.
Keep this in mind in a yoga studio, but also while at the gym, and even while running – form will be super important during this period.
Growing up in Hope, BC, Ben Stanford from Physiotherapy Victoria, has been connected with Sport and Massage Therapy since his high school years. With a passion for the healing attributions of the human body and alternative medicine, he has worked his way towards a greater learning of integrated health principles.
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