The Normal Birth Process
During my first pregnancy, like most women, I anticipated childbirth with excitement, apprehension, and fear. I wondered what it would feel like, and questioned whether I could handle the pain.
I would remind myself that birth is not an illness or a disease, and rarely is it an emergency. Birth is a perfectly natural experience. In fact, most births, if allowed to progress free from intervention, are absolutely normal. I thought of our maternal heritage, generation upon generation of expectant mothers, just like me.
Realizing that every human being is born from a mother, my confidence began to grow. So many women experience childbirth, and so can I. In fact, women are exquisitely designed for pregnancy, and our bodies know how to birth!
In order for humans to walk upright with two limbs (bipedalism) the pelvis is narrower compared to other mammals. Yet the pelvis is also the passageway during birth, and must be able to accommodate the baby— head, shoulders, and all.
Doctors are taught that human birth is more difficult compared to other mammals, due to the large brain size of the baby and the narrow pelvis of the mother. However, homo sapiens have adapted to allow for normal birth; otherwise the species would not have survived.
For delivery, several mechanisms occur which allow for flexibility from both mother and baby. Before birth, the hormone relaxin softens the pelvic ligaments, allowing the mother’s pelvis to wide even 4 mm can make a big difference! With changes in blood flow and nutrients to the baby, a pregnant mother’s body can also adapt to the size of the fetus.
The baby’s head is comprised of skull bone plates which move and slide over each other, allowing the baby to descend through the pelvis. This is accomplished through a mastery of twists and rotations during delivery.
It helps that human infants are also born smaller than other mammalian newborns; they are also more immature and helpless.
For natural birth pioneer Dr. Michel Odent, the normal birth process is about “not thinking too much.” In fact, the primary obstacle that human beings must overcome is not the fact that the homo sapiens’ pelvis is small or the baby’s head too large, but the hindrance of the intellectual brain (neocortex) in the mother (and in her support team).
Birth is a primal experience; it demands a woman’s intuition and instinct. It is not meant to be a logical or rational event. Yet, we live in a culture that is intellectually predominant. Yes, we can engage our intellect in preparation, for example through reading, discussions, and birth classes. But on the birth day, the requisite for a normal birth to proceed is when the laboring woman is given the permission to be herself, undisturbed.
Her thinking, worrying brain—the neocortex—is at rest, allowing the birthing hormones to be released uninhibited. She is able to behave and move instinctively without reserve.
The decreased activity of the brain also allows her to more easily work through the contractions, enabling her to tolerate and surrender to the pain and discomfort.
A woman who feels comfortable in her birthing space feels free to grunt, yell, scream, and move freely from all-fours to circular rocking motions—all of which she would not do in her civilized life.
When asked for advice in helping give birth, midwife Ina May Gaskin says, “Let your monkey do it!” This means letting the animal primate within each of us do the work of labor because monkeys are not self-conscious; they are not concerned with what they look like, how they act, or how they move.
They embrace the ancient wisdom of a woman’s body, an essential part of childbirth, while avoiding neocortex activity which halts and inhibits labor.
In other words, do not do anything during labor that stimulates the brain; for example, avoid bright lights, noise, everyday conversation, and frequent interruptions. Also, turn off cell phone ringers and remove all clocks and watches.
When our ancestors lived in villages, many women would have been at births, or at least have been familiar with the process.
As the birth world became more medicalized and less familial (and less familiar), for many women the only exposure to childbirth are those portrayed by the media which consists of a caricature of a laboring woman out of control, tethered to the bed in stirrups, screaming in agony. However, for many natural birth experts, an undisturbed birth is viewed as an ecstatic experience, where pleasure and pain are but two sides of the same coin.
There are various adjectives to describe childbirth, but the word ecstatic is a far cry from the television version.
We have been brainwashed into believing that birth is a horribly painful experience which needs to be treated as a medical emergency waiting to happen rather than as a normal process.
According to many natural birth experts, birth can be a pleasurable experience. When a woman is allowed the opportunity to birth in a secure and uninterrupted place, the possibility for transforming a painful experience into a euphoric one can unfold.
According to Dr. Sarah Buckley, “Giving birth in ecstasy: this is our birthright and our body’s intent. Mother Nature, in her wisdom, prescribes birthing hormones that take us outside our usual state so that we can be transformed on every level as we enter motherhood.
This exquisite hormonal orchestration unfolds optimally when birth is undisturbed, enhancing safety for both mother and baby.” For many people, ecstasy conjures up references to sexuality or a higher state from drugs or the spiritual realm—an out of this world feeling.
These comments are not unusual following an undisturbed labor as many women report a feeling that is indescribable.
Known to be one of the best kept secrets about birth, up to 21 percent of women surveyed had experienced an orgasm during childbirth. It is not uncommon to witness caresses, kisses, and deep affection between partners during labor.
According to Dr. Christiane Northrup, birth is a sensual experience and the same organs and intricate hormonal system responsible for delivery of the baby were the ones present at conception nine months earlier. Because of the parallels, when possible, the birthing space should be similar to the lovemaking one: intimate, private, sacred, and serene.