About the Author
DEBRA PASCALI-BONARO is a Lamaze-certified childbirth expert and award-winning documentarian. She lives in NJ.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Orgasmic birth is powerful, juicy, spiritual, and unforgettable--an endless moment beyond words. It is more than lovemaking because it is about being stimulated by and loving the passion of life itself. It is a gift to humankind to discover divine pleasure in birthing.
--Marina A., Summerland Key, Florida
Welcome to Orgasmic Birth! Perhaps this topic appeals to you because you have already had an orgasmic birth and want to learn about others with similar experiences. Or perhaps you gave birth with difficulty and are either seeking healing or are hoping for something better next time. For those of you who have not yet had a baby, the concept of orgasmic birth may seem both intriguing and a bit outlandish. After all, most of us have heard stories from our mothers, sisters, and friends portraying birth as a painful, even agonizing event to be suffered through at best.
Rest assured: Orgasmic birth is very real, with a sound basis in physiology. But our culture has veered away from understanding and supporting the physiology of birth that quite naturally leads to ecstasy.
To understand how this has happened, we need only look at the core values that characterize modern society. Few of us would say that we live through our bodies; rather, we tend to push our bodies to work long hours or perform strenuous workouts, and then, when we find ourselves exhausted but unable to rest, we self-medicate with sleep aids, alcohol, etc. Our lives are thoroughly and often rigorously planned: Booked with obligations, we have little time for deep relaxation or spontaneous self-expression. If this results in physical pain, stress, or illness, there are plenty of pharmaceuticals to let us get on with our work or back to the workout.
The practice of listening to body wisdom as a guide to good health and fruitful living that characterized agrarian societies fell by the wayside as the pace of our lives accelerated with industrialization. Now, we seem to be entering a new era--one where more of us will work from home and set our own schedules, opening the possibility of living a more balanced lifestyle. But how well will we take advantage of this opportunity? When I am hard at work writing and notice that I am getting stressed, holding my breath, tightening my hips, or tensing my shoulders, I could go out to the garden and breathe, engage my senses, and be refreshed. But the habit of pushing myself is so ingrained that I often choose to ignore my body messages or, at best, promise myself I'll relax later, "when I have time."
The first time I gave birth, I was fresh from 2 years in Mexico, where I learned that if you are going somewhere, getting there is just as important as being there. Preparations for leaving, climbing into the car, being on the road--all of these were events of intrinsic worth, to be lived, played with, enjoyed. Nobody rushed as I had been raised to rush, tense up when things weren't moving fast enough, lose my temper if those around me moved too slowly, "get there on time" even if I was miserable trying to do it. And the amazing thing was that whenever we arrived always seemed to be the perfect time. Time and again I saw that my worries were a useless waste of energy. I wish I'd known this Mexican lesson was my best preparation for giving birth.
--Robbie Davis-Floyd, Austin, Texas,from Knowing: A Story of Two Births
If I have trouble listening to my body, imagine how difficult it is for someone without the time or means to do so. And yet, ecstatic pregnancy and birth experiences go a long way toward resolving this disconnect, literally bringing us back to our senses.
Another factor in our dissociation from our bodies is "hurry-up parenting." We want to be patient with our children, we really do, but we inadvertently pass our stress along to them, telling them to hurry up and get their shoes on, pick a toy, or finish their vegetables. Perhaps the most potent way that body wisdom has been preserved through the ages is through child- friendly mothering or grandmothering, in which we slow down and follow the child's pace--one that is nonlinear and fantastically creative precisely because the child has no obligation but to be in the moment. As more of us have chosen or been forced to work long hours and care for children in our spare time, we no longer receive our daily lessons from them--reminders on how to be creative, intuitive, and, ultimately, healthier and happier.
Modern culture is based on productivity; we are what we do. Mothering has consistently lost stature as income and social status have become the primary means for assessing success. But again, positive birth experiences can turn this around.
There are deeper layers to be explored here. For example, religious traditions that consider the body to be a danger zone just waiting to lead us astray can cause trouble with the birth process. When we separate body and mind (or consider the mind superior), we are hardly likely to listen to what the body has to tell us! Place childbirth in this context, and we can begin to see why women have disavowed natural birth for the seeming convenience of the hospital and pain relief, breastfeeding for the bottle, and so on.
It is a myth that giving birth has to involve pain. The idea that God cursed women with pain in childbirth is slander--it is a calumny against God. Presuming that God hates women and so cursed them to suffer because Eve bit the apple offered by the serpent is nonsense (and I say this as a committed Christian).
--Maria A., Berkeley, California
Whatever we may wish to believe, changes to personality that occur during pregnancy are incontrovertible precisely because they are born of the body. For example, there is the disruption of linear thinking due to hormones that begins in the first few months and carries well into breastfeeding. (I watched my newly pregnant aerobics instructor struggle with this over the last few days--ordinarily right on the mark, she forgot more than a few familiar routines!) I believe the reason our hormones slow us down and make us forgetful during pregnancy is to encourage the cultivation of "mother- mind," a highly intuitive and relaxed way of thinking and being. Mother- mind tunes us in to the body so we may be in optimal health when labor begins, ready to surrender to the challenges of giving birth and the tasks of caring for a newborn without lasting stress or fear.
Specifically, preparation for letting go rests in the hormones estrogen, progesterone, relaxin, and oxytocin. In order to understand birth, we must first appreciate the basic role each of these plays during pregnancy.
Estrogen is the hormone of ovulation, prompting the sweet and passionate sexual drives many women notice midcycle. In pregnancy, increased levels of estrogen accomplish wonderful things, not the least of which is heightened sensitivity and flexibility in the vagina, along with increased sensitivity of the breasts. Estrogen promotes growth, while progesterone promotes maintenance--particularly of the uterine lining, which helps keep the pregnancy secure.
Progesterone also teams up with relaxin to soften the body, causing greater flexibility in the joints and tendons, as well as in the blood vessels. Dilation of the vessels allows for a 50 percent increase in blood volume, which serves the baby's needs for nourishment and elimination and the mother's need for a cushion to mediate blood loss immediately after birth. Although vasodilation offers the additional benefits of reduced blood pressure and slower digestion (to increase absorption of nutrients), it can also cause varicose veins, hemorrhoids, heartburn, and dizziness upon rising suddenly. These effects could easily be interpreted as signs of weakness, were it not for the brilliant design underpinning them--one that promotes fetal growth and maternal well-being.
Over the years, I have done a good bit of research into the nature and cultivation of intuition, particularly as applied to women and birth, and have found it a fascinating and rich area of exploration. Intuition can be defined as knowing directly, characterized by perceptions that are clean and unexpected in their arrival. In contrast to fears or projections, intuition is seldom engendered while in a frazzled or agitated state but comes through best when we are relaxed and receptive. It has been shown that intuition correlates to brain wave frequency: In beta (stressor anxietybased thinking), our brain waves are rapid and jagged, whereas in alpha (a state of mind induced by meditation or rhythmic activities), our brain waves slow down, becoming higher in amplitude and more synchronous with those around us--we literally tune in to the bigger picture.
I was a terrible control freak during my first pregnancy, and I have no doubt that had an impact on my labor. Being a mother has mostly cured that tendency, and I believe that the long process of letting go of tight control over everything (which is really an illusion anyway) prepared me emotionally for my last birth like nothing else could have. I was much more able to just let labor have me than I was the first time, and I believe that's why this labor was so much shorter.
--Laura F., Powder Springs, Georgia
My spiritual awareness changed during pregnancy. I suddenly knew things I did not know before. My dreams were clear lessons. I think my baby's soul prepared me through dreams and meditations.
--Saskia S., Oak Grove, Kentucky
Why should pregnancy prompt the development of intuition? One reason is that intuition helps us to perceive and respond to our babies' needs before they can verbalize them. Knowing directly is undeniably time-saving, and time is at a premium when caring for a newborn. Intuition also supports mothers in self-care during the demanding years of growing a family. In fact, here is where the cultural formula of "do more, be more successful" begins to unravel: With intuition in the equation, doing less actually leads to being and knowing more.
Oxytocin is yet another element in the hormonal mix. Produced by the pituitary gland, it is otherwise known as the love hormone because it is released not only with sexual activity but also with arousal (even at the mere thought of a lover). This vital hormone is never at higher levels in a woman's life than when she is pregnant, reaching a peak at the moment she gives birth. In fact, oxytocin is the key to both heightened desire in pregnancy and orgasmic birth!
Oxytocin is also known as the bonding hormone, making it an important consideration not only in terms of who attends us when we give birth but also as regards our need for uninterrupted time with our newborn.
Returning to our discussion of intuition, there is a critical link between oxytocin and brain waves that are even deeper and more synchronous than alpha. When not altered by Pitcin or other interventions, the brain waves of laboring women are in theta frequency. This is the deepest level we can experience in a waking state. (We move into delta with sleep.) Theta is associated with extrasensory perception, creative inspiration, and spontaneous problem solving. In theta, time becomes relative and elastic. Anyone who has given birth (or attended a birth) can attest to points in the process when minutes seemed like hours and vice versa. Notice the correlation to the way our perception of time shifts with passionate lovemaking.
More than that, oxytocin facilitates bonding through entrainment. In this physiological process, the heartbeats and breathing rhythms of lovers become synchronized, and intimate partners in birth show synchronized brain wave frequencies. The slower the brain wave, the greater the potential for entrainment. Thus a woman laboring in theta can entrain attendants to her frequency, as long as they are loving, open, and unafraid.
On the other hand, what happens when there is fear in the mother or her attendants during labor? Quite literally, the doors to ecstasy close and pain increases. This is due to the release of catecholamines, or stress hormones, the most common of which is adrenaline. Adrenaline contracts the circular muscles of the uterus--including the cervical opening, which must be relaxed to dilate. This constriction results in pain and impaired circulation, often causing fetal distress.
I connected with my baby throughout my pregnancy. I searched for her and felt she was responding. In some strange way, not talking to her exactly, I was in communication. This gave me confidence that she was strong and everything would be fine.
After this birth, I am much more confident with other tasks in life. I know I have strong will and amazing intuition. I feel more connected to this baby than to either of the other two born in the hospital. I understand her without her saying anything, and I want to be close to her as much as possible.
--Michael R., Norwich, Connecticut
In contrast, oxytocin contracts the long uterine fibers attached to the cervix--which, if relaxed, opens easily. The long fibers also retract to form a thickened mass at the top (or fundus) of the uterus. It is this thickened muscle mass that pushes the baby out.
Thus the key to a spontaneous, ecstatic labor is simply to avoid whatever interferes with oxytocin production. Although adrenaline is the primary culprit, fear is not the only trigger: Stress, worry, or anything that causes beta brain waves will stimulate the release of adrenaline. If we feel our safety is in question or that we are being watched, we move into beta. As mentioned earlier, virtually all mammals slow or stop labor if observed. In hospital births, women are observed not only by medical personnel but also by technology (fetal monitoring, frequent internal exams, etc.). Even a mother's observations of her own behavior ("Am I doing it right?") dramatically reduce oxytocin release. Again, note the parallel to sexual activity: To whatever extent we are self-conscious or worried about our performance, the potential for (and magnitude of ) orgasm decreases exponentially. In fact, anything that stimulates the neocortex (such as exposure to bright light, people asking questions or conversing within earshot, or any sensory stimulation requiring linear thought) interferes with oxytocin production. In birthing, as in making love, privacy is crucial.
We held one another in our candlelit lounge and swayed back and forth. Our hips danced together. My face buried into his body during the rushes, and when they subsided we embraced, foreheads touching . . . the only two in the world.
Earlier, when I wanted to rest, lying down was painful unless he lay by my side. Whenever he touched me, my discomfort eased. He was better than any heat pack.
The line between pleasure and pain is very fine indeed. I sang my birth song, a low moan, and he sang with me. I was surprised by how much birth sounded like sex! But birth is part of the lovemaking continuum.