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Women's bodies aren't designed for birth...or are they?

by lizzi (follow)
Helping plant the seeds of positive birth. www.sproutbirthing.com.au
Birth (105)     
“But I’m just not designed to birth!”

I hear this comment a lot. About how some women just “can’t” give birth no matter how hard they try. But when you delve a little further into their birth stories you hear things like:

“I just never went into labour so they had to induce me” At 41 weeks, which isn’t even considered post term.

“My labour just stopped” at 2cms…which isn’t actually considered active labour yet anyway.

“I just couldn’t cope with the pain, so I needed an epidural” But was stuck on the bed for hours beforehand unable to use any natural pain coping techniques and likely in a fear – pain – tension cycle.

“I needed a caesarean because my huge baby just got stuck” After being stuck on my back on the bed for hours compressing the pelvis and reducing the size of the exit.

Sarah Buckley
Dr Sarah Buckley - my new hero! Author's own image.

Interventions like induction, epidurals and caesareans can be really important and useful. They can save the lives of mums and babies and make for safer birth. What they don’t actually do is “help” physiological labour. All these women who “couldn’t give birth even with all that help” don’t realise that the help wasn’t actually there to help their physiology, it was there to help the doctors manage the environment and the birth. You can’t make physiology happen – Birth either happens physiologically or it happens via interventions.

BACKGROUND: I attended a lecture by Sarah Buckley as part of the Hypnobirthing Australia conference. I’ll be honest and admit that I hadn’t really read a huge amount of Dr Buckley’s work prior. I had a working knowledge of her philosophy and work but that was it. These two short lectures on the physiology of the birthing hormones and the effects of interventions though have totally rocked my world and I will be spending a bit of time getting better acquainted with Dr Buckley’s work! This article is based on my learnings from the lecture I attended.

Here’s the 60 million dollar question that I came away with:

How can you know that your physiology is deficient when you have never attempted a physiological birth?

Let’s think on that for a moment. The majority of women who are being told that they “just can’t give birth” are being subject to a huge number of interventions, all of which disrupt the physiology at a hormonal level in some way. Even just moving from home to hospital can disrupt the hormonal physiology by exposing the mother to bright lights, harsh sounds and forcing her to use her neo-cortex - the "thinking" part of her brain. Perhaps what we should be assessing isn’t why these women couldn’t give birth but whether their care providers were actually making birth safer for them? If so many women “just can’t birth” in our current maternity care system perhaps the issue is not with our physiology (which managed to get us to a point of over- population) but with our system of care?

With so many women receiving an epidural in labour can we really blame physiology for our high caesarean rate? Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

So many women are being told that these interventions are what make birth safe – and for a number of women and babies this is true. But for the vast majority of women our HORMONAL PHYSIOLOGY IS WHAT MAKES BIRTH SAFE. Yes…we all know that Mother Nature can be a bitch, some women and babies will die if they are left just to her mercy. But evolution is not stupid. It’s designed to ensure that our species continues and our physiology has evolved over millennia to ensure our survival.

Sarah Buckley
Oxytocin is so beautiful! Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

So just what are these hormones of birth and how do they make birth safer for mothers and babies?

Oxytocin, Beta endorphins, adrenaline and prolactin are considered by Dr Buckley to be the 4 “ecstatic hormones” of birth. When drafting this article I included a paragraph on each of the hormones but felt that it moved me from “blog” to “academic essay”. So if you’d like to read more in depth about these hormones I highly recommend checking out Dr Buckley’s work HERE. Michel Odent has also done quite a bit of writing about hormones and I recommend that you look him up!

The important information for women is that the hormones all work together to make birth happen. They are all at different levels at different stages of pregnancy, labour, birth and post partum and when physiological birth is achieved they are also found in breastmilk and the baby. By altering the hormonal physiology of the mum and the birth we also alter the physiology of the baby and the breastmilk. And there’s really no way of knowing just what impact that will have on the future of babies and human kind. But that’s moving into a whole different conversation that is way over my head!!

I’d like to finish up with a story – because I love story telling. When I was signing the papers for my second unplanned caesarean the OB told me “no more trying for vaginal birth for you. Some women just aren’t designed to birth their babies.” That always felt like a really horrible thing to say to a woman who is visibly upset at the prospect of unplanned and unwanted surgery but I’m left with a few other thoughts. What I’d like to go back and say is this: Maybe my body is PERFECTLY designed to labour with and birth my long baked, posterior babies. But maybe my creator didn’t think that I would be subject to so much bullying at the end of my pregnancy that the thought of going to hospital terrified me. Or that my waters would be artificially ruptured, before labour, without my consent leaving me feeling so trapped and betrayed. Maybe He didn’t understand that my perfectly designed body would be poked and prodded and interfered with by several and doubted by almost all. Or that it would be tied up in a mix of cords leaving me feeling strangled and tortured. Perhaps He thought that my body would be treated like a perfectly designed temple rather than a disaster just looking for an opportunity to cause death and destruction.

I believe that my body is perfectly designed. And even if I never birth a baby out of my vagina I will continue to believe that it is the system, not my body and not my creator that is faulty.

I am designed to birth my babies. Supported, loved, nurtured and protected.

Further reading:

Dealing with adrenalin gremlins - birthing in an unsupportive environment

Why Australia NEEDS a maternity care revolution

Why I'm joining the birthing revolution

Why I hate the term natural childbirth

But I don't want to birth in a hospital!

How to have a natural birth...or not

How the hospital environment hinders physiological birth

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I recommend Dr. Sarah Buckley's book/lecturers to all and sundry, including other doctors. The most important 'birth book' you could ever read imo. Pity I didnt know of Sarah prior to my disastrous non-physiological birth experience. I had no idea that that is not the aim of maternity wards, many midwives and OB's. Silly me.

The other issue is the concept that 'we are just not designed right' !! I only heard this recently and it came from a forum on birth trauma where a few 'medical students' were chipping in. What sickened me is this appears to be what they are being taught!.. The fault is not the medical system or doctors but womens bodies! No wonder women have to fight up hill the whole way when this is what future OB/GYN's are being taught and believe and presumably most OB's.

Great article Lizzi.
I truly believe that all women and their partners should read Sarah's book "Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering" and understand just what you have recently learnt Lizzie. It just makes so much sense.

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