The Importance of Excluding Onlookers From Freebirths

13 12 2013

If you’re going to be of service to women and want to be taken seriously, having a well-rounded education is important. There are many things you’ll want to know before you can safely feel adequate to provide “care”. One important thing to know on laboring women is, when it comes to witnessing their homebirth, UC (unassisted childbirth) is not a spectator sport.

ImageEven if you allege to be hands off, the problem of the observer is one hopefully known to all UCers and would-be UCers. It is one of the reasons (maybe even a main reason) why many women decide on freebirth at all. One of my favorite writers on natural birth, Michel Odent, talks frequently of the mammalian needs in birth. Of our four basic needs, privacy is one of them. Without it, the mother senses danger and this complicates the labor.

‘To give birth to her baby, the mother needs privacy. She needs to feel unobserved.” –Birth and Breastfeeding, Michel Odent. Any doula, midwife, or doctor should read this book. 

You can read more here: Do Not Disturb: The Importance of Privacy in Labor, Judith A. Lothian, RN, PhD, LCCE, FACCE, The Journal of Perinatal Education- Advancing Normal Birth, from the US National Library of Medicine- National Institutes of Health (PubMed Central). Sidenote: This link also discusses the fetal ejection reflex, for the interested.

Now some may argue that it is possible to give a woman a feeling (or an illusion) of privacy and still have onlookers or caregivers. I will not debate that at this time, but I will state that if one is trying to observe a birth to determine their own readiness to venture into the fields of midwifery and the like, this learning experience is a detriment to the mother.

“There is no privacy without a feeling of security.” –Birth and Breastfeeding, Odent.

Anything you bring into the birthing space, the mother can sense. Any fears, hesitations, reservations, doubts, lack of confidence, lack of understanding of anything, lack of skill, lack of intuition, she spots like a dog smells fear. She taps into her primal state and the neocortex (rational, human, intellectual thought) attempts to disengage. If she has the awareness in any aspect of her consciousness that you are here to test yourself, this can generate feelings of insecurity in the mother. This is particularly true if you are not in an intimate relationship with her. Feelings of insecurity and lack of privacy will, again, complicate labor.

“Most women who understand what is going on are keen observers not only of their own actions, but of the reactions of those about them to every fresh event or incident. I have laid stress upon the sensitiveness of the mind of a parturient woman; if you wish to deceive them, you will fail.”

Confidence rests upon the knowledge of perfect preparation.”

“During labor, women spot doubt in a doctor’s mind as quickly as a kestrel sees a rat in the stubble… However good an actor or however suave a humbug, confidence has no counterfeit.” – these quotes from Childbirth Without Fear, Grantly Dick-Read.

The woman in labor, sensing any lack or fear on the part of anyone present, is hormonally receptive to those suggestions. This initiates the Fear-Tension-Pain cycle. Labor becomes hard or even dangerous for woman and child.

It is more important that we honor and respect the birthing space of the laboring woman and her most basic, primal needs as a mammal than to use her as a test subject for our own reassurance and education.

There are other ways we will be able to give ourselves a proper education on birth and physiology in order to ascertain in what capacity we may be of assistance to birthing women. Like the saying goes, “reading is fundamental”. I urge people to read, read, read, and learn everything they possibly can about true physiological, natural birth and the actual needs of a birthing woman in labor.

Privacy is one very basic and simple method of providing safety in the birth space of a well-prepared woman. We live in a culture, though, where the most basic methods of prevention are overlooked in favor of the most technical hands-on repairs we can put our logical minds to. But, what if we could avoid those dilemmas?

For example– Instead of relying on knowledge of which massage, drug, or herb will treat a post partum hemorrhage, what about understanding the seemingly invisible causes? The brain-body connection has a lot to do with our most commonly feared childbirth complications, and yet our culture does precious little to recognize and avoid creating the issues to begin with. We must look to the interconnectedness of our systems, hormonal responses to environment and stimuli, etc. If we were to know the birth process from an unhindered, natural, physiological perspective, know the stages of labor through all non-intrusive signs, and respect the mother’s primal birth space needs, our shopping lists and interference levels would dramatically decrease. Healthy, normal births would be the result.

I have noticed that there are many UCers or those researching UC are preoccupied with the fix-it methods, though. They read almost exclusively midwifery and obstetrics texts (if they read at all), they focus on which tools or drugs or herbs can be used in a pinch to solve a dilemma or crisis. In the process, we are neglecting the very root of why freebirth is so important– the undisturbed aspect of birth only it can provide. When we more fully grasp what is primal and physiological, our tools and medicines become more and more useless and unnecessary. This is  such a worthy goal! To lose sight of that and to attempt to mimic health care professionals in all regards in many ways defeats the purpose. We aren’t trying to take over their work, we are trying to transcend their methods.

In other words… If I wanted a medical approach to my care, I would hire a medical professional. But, I digress. Because I associate onlooking with interference, I have touched upon the issue of hands-on as relating to eyes-on. Getting back on track–

For anyone questioning if they could handle the pressure of attending births for a living, I would strongly advise they find their confidence elsewhere than at a woman’s freebirth. I would suggest educating oneself to the utmost of one’s abilities, reading books like the ones quoted here (as opposed to a lot of the more mainstream, feel-good, interference-happy “natural birth” literature). I would recommend reading things which are very pro-unassisted childbirth, where lack of attendants is understood and encouraged on a scientific level, because this will provide technical and biological knowledge and a foundation for what makes this birth safe. That is knowledge that would become confidence-instilling for anyone of the right composition to attend women.

Even starting as a trusted doula for attended births of people you are personally close with (at home or in hospital) can give one an idea of their own abilities. Anything… anything to avoid adding hindrance to what could otherwise be an undisturbed birth. This would be one of the gravest insults to natural birth and the natural birthing woman. The needs of a woman in birth are more important than any education we hope to glean from their experience for our own gain.

In order to properly care for a woman, we must first be able to put her needs above our own wants. Anyone unwilling to do that already has the answer to their own question– they are not prepared to attend her. Let us not behave the way that doctors have which caused us to leave the hospital environment in the first place.

“Every woman is different, and so are her needs in childbirth,” you might say. Yes and no. Psychologically every woman is different. The complex thought processes that make up our personalities and make us especially human varies. On the primal level, however, all of our needs are the same.

We are all mammals, we have built-in instincts designed to protect ourselves and the species. We do not deny our other needs as “individual”– whether a woman needs food, water, oxygen, sleep, and shelter is not up for debate based on her individuality. We all require these things as our physiology dictates. As mammals, we have physiological and hormonal reactions to childbirth events and our environment– even over the subtlest of things– that may go unrecognized or misunderstood to the untrained eye. Since it is the primal nature which gives birth, not who we are psychologically, it is the primal which we should be careful to honor!

What a woman chooses is her right, but it sometimes becomes a battle of what she is willing to partake in on the psychological level versus her most primitive instincts. I would not want to battle with the instincts, personally. You cannot reason with them.

So, even if a woman planning a homebirth or freebirth is gracious enough to invite someone to her birth as an observer or onlooker, this does not mean it will not in some way have a negative impact on her birth. A woman would be unfair to herself to promise someone that she would be comfortable with their presence (and it would be unfair for the onlooker to accept, with that knowledge). The primal need for privacy and the intuition of the laboring woman will strongly overtake most conscious psychological desires she has to be sharing, educational, brave, outgoing, or accommodating. Even a peaceful, knowledgeable, and experienced freebirther may find such an invitation to be a naive and inhibiting undertaking in hindsight. Whether it becomes merely a nuisance or precipitates a crisis, the would-be birth attendant must ask themselves, “is it worth it?”

Anyone considering UC for themselves should likewise acknowledge and honor their deepest needs in childbirth and respect the science of the process. This is the way you give yourself the best, safest chance at the healthiest birth.

The Difference Between You & Me Is…

24 09 2012

The difference between you and me is this:

You’re busy telling women to soak up being told they are beautiful by their doctor while their asshole gets pushed out.

I’m busy telling women how to avoid getting their assholes pushed out.

Several weeks back I wrote a status post where I declared that I want women to be liberated from the feeling that they could not have done it (given birth, or survived birth) without their health care provider. My point is that, truly for most of us, we could do more than just survive birth– we could thrive in birth.

A new “fan”, who said she joined because she liked “all my beautiful birth stories I shared” (obviously didn’t know me very well!), told me that she wouldn’t have changed a thing (sound familiar?), and that her doctor assisting her birth is exactly what she needed. I told her that my message was simply that most women don’t need medical assistance or interference to deliver a baby, but she kept nominating her doc for the sainthood, letting me know that he was right there holding her hand, telling her how beautiful she looked “while her asshole was being pushed inside out”, or something to that effect.

I informed her that if she truly had an emergency then I’m glad her doc was there, but that birth is not an automatic emergency, and that her position was pretty much contrary to the beliefs of this page. We are about getting women to understand their power, not believe completely in the power of the docs. I told her that blind reliance is scary, and she contended that it was “not scary at all”.

This woman gave birth in a hospital and didn’t question our system, only had praise for it, and she wasn’t at all getting the point of the message I was trying to get across. It got more heated with our back and forths and she ended up calling me a psycho bitch, so I deleted/banned her. I don’t ban everyone, and I don’t ban people just for disagreeing like some pages do, but if you come to the “wrong page” (for you) and keep arguing the core beliefs of that page, and ultimately resort to calling me names over it, well… you need help towards the exit.

So classically, I was able to boil down all the gist of what was going on between us (and what I should have said) well after the fact of her leaving. There you have it, in the intro. And may it stand as a testament to what so many of us have come to understand about walking away from medically managed birth.

Getting High Off of Birth

28 09 2011

My birth is not your party.

Talking to one of my Twitter friends, a fellow unassisted birther (we actually had our UCs on the same day!), I heard her say that she would love to attend a homebirth but sadly, does not know anyone right now who she could tend. She had said things here and there which had shown me we weren’t exactly the same in our philosophies, but my automatic reaction to the want to attend a homebirth is “WHY?” Of course, instead of saying that, I just sort of posed to her my feelings, such as “maybe it’s a good thing” (that she doesn’t have anyone to tend right now). Naturally this started some brief discussion about birth physiology. She did seem to disagree with me on being observed vs. feeling observed.

As you may already know about me, I feel that the primal instincts of a woman and her conscious mind do not always agree on how labor should be approached. When your body and brain are tapped into that state of being, I don’t care how much you love, trust, or respect people… having people present can create a feeling of being observed, which is detrimental to your peaceful labor. Even video cameras can produce this effect. It’s about stimulating the neocortex. If you have to kick your husband out, it doesn’t make you subconsciously distrustful of him, or any less of a woman, or cast doubt on your overall confidence in self or relationship. It’s just a part of nature. Yet, many unsuspecting women think it’ll be all hunky-dory (ew, hate that phrase) having people there. The surprise that this is not the case usually comes too damaging, too late. You can’t turn back time, you can’t take it back. The badness has begun. It changes an entire labor rather easily. The tension starts. The domino effect gets into full swing. Good luck coming back down from that, even with the power of your glorious mind.

Of course, there are those who are social butterflies who adjust better. People who are very uninhibited, performers of drama and theater, people who feel a “need” to be told they are doing well– these are the sorts that seem to do well having onlookers.  Sometimes their primal mind still reacts and this creates friction, but they don’t connect A to B. Sometimes they still feel good, seemingly unaffected by the environment, but I feel these are more rare. Question if any pain you felt in labor, any tension, may have been relieved on the physiologic level if your attendees had been simplified, reduced, absent? We would have to admit and assume that this is possible, if we are being honest with ourselves.

I’m a private person and a little inhibited. I would say I’ve always known and sensed my need for modesty or privacy in labor. I’m also strong and self-assured, and although I love flattery and encouragement, I believe in myself enough to go on by myself.

These are not intended to be judgments on others, but truthful observation of personalities, perceptions, and the science of how birth works with brain/body.

The primal rejection of others is GOOD. It’s survival and preservation instinct. But you have to heed it, or labor could turn ugly.

I understand this is probably offending people. People who like to be tended to, thought it was necessary or enjoyable, and those who have previously tended people may feel defensive over this, or discount what I’m saying as all wrong. Wait, I’m not done!

People love birth. People learn about birth. People start worshiping strong women, and beautiful newborns.  It has a magical, romantic feeling, does it not? People like to soak in that vibe, be part of the moment, “capture” the moment.  But at what cost? At what cost are people trying to get high off of births? If you don’t yet know what I’m referring to, read this to start you off.

This is why I hesitate to lovingly use phrases like “birth junkie” or call myself one.  “Birth nerd” is probably more appropriate for me. Unfortunately, I think there is a climate of true “birth junkies”– people who truly and nearly indiscriminately feel the desire to experience that birth high off of other people. I love and respect birth and the birthing space, want women to feel strong and babies to be born peacefully. I learn all I can to know about how to achieve this for myself and others. In having this knowledge, I am not so selfish that I would have to make myself a part of your magic moment and intrude on that to possibly ruin that.

“Did she just call me selfish?”

Well, maybe, but don’t get mad yet. It’s not what you think. I don’t think everyone is knowingly selfish, so because of this, maybe selfish doesn’t even apply. I, however, feel that because I understand what a mammal needs to feel safe in labor– I could not in good conscience violate that. It would be selfish of me, knowing and believing these things.

My midwives asked me to leave them when I confessed my need to UC. They said they “didn’t see the point” in continuing prenatal care with me. They also said they really “wanted to be part of my special moment”, wanted to “be part of my healing and empowerment”. It’s true, these women are enthusiastic about and love babies. Love to hold them, brag on them, meet up with moms and babies they served later… very kind, warm, maternal stuff. But, what I needed, what I knew I needed, was not being respected or adhered to. That right there dis-empowers me. You’ve automatically reduced me, and disregarded my and baby’s needs.

Midwives have this feature a lot. I think they are birth junkies, a lot of them. They soak up all the good vibes of the birth and bask in the glow. They love it. It’s a beautiful moment, and provides a high. Life, creation! And they, at the helm! The exchange of chemicals in the room seems palpable. But, this is not your high. This is not your moment. It is the laboring woman’s, based on her needs, what her baby needs. I desired prenatal care– that was the point of continuing to see midwives, for me. But, if they couldn’t be there for the magic hour, they wanted out.

Sometimes it’s a liability issue. Sometimes it’s a money issue.  Sometimes it’s about missing that high. Sometimes it’s a combination of these. But the problem is, my Oxytocin and my private moment to adjust and transform isn’t to be shared around. We aren’t passing the blunt. And, if you keep it from me– MY birth high, my very needed chemical reaction for my good feelings and overall safety– that is extraordinarily hurtful. This has a devastating impact on the woman, the baby, and the collective female psyche, if you ask me.

In a moment of anger I equated these feelings which midwives have to a sense of psychological vampirism. It’s a strong analogy but even while calm now, I feel it makes sense. My critics, however, instantly latched on to that. “Oh, she doesn’t want the midwives stealing her precious birth vibes!” Yeah, well, these same critics would easily admit on any separate occasion where my words were not involved that midwives are birth junkies, AND it would be said with disdain, so I give those hens no credit for pecking at the first and slightest chance. One thing we could actually be in agreement on, but instead opposition is chosen. Please, let’s give credit where credit is due. Let’s admit that many midwives are indeed birth junkies and in fact, it is what drives most to that profession.

Recently I read how one of my favorite singers, Erykah Badu, plans on trying to become a midwife. She’s always been a spiritual person, one who understands and believes in energy, female power, etc. I have a lot of respect for her. But this is what I am working with:

She talked about coaching a friend through a 52-hour labor and realized, “When I saw the baby, I cried. I knew what I was supposed to do with my life.”“Nothing gives me more pleasure than being the welcoming committee for a mother’s new joy,” she said.

A benign statement, right? I mean, just what is my problem? But, read the words again, carefully.  It is pleasurable. They feel in awe of the experience, they feel powerful in your power, they feel like gods watching over creation– especially when put in a position to be encouraging and coaching you. They are the ones helping you get through this. They are in control. They are the sanity amidst possible tumult. If not, voyeurs. It’s a birth high. You’ve entered someone’s magic.

Again, I don’t think these people have bad intentions. I think they see something beautiful and want to help, and to experience. I don’t think they mean to be “vampires”. It’s all that good, maternal earth mother sweetness. BUT, what I am trying to relay is, there is an exchange of energy happening here that whether you realize or acknowledge it or not, it may be having a negative impact on the birth you are attending.

One of my friends who is pregnant recently joked (I think it was a joke!) that she would love to have me come and be her doula. I said I would agree, but warned her that this would entail me telling her she could do it without me and leaving her alone (unless an emergency arose).

I would be honored for anyone who wanted me at their birth, much in the way midwives and doulas feel honored in serving, and I would do my best to be good to them. It would also entail pretty much the above. I am knowledgeable enough to lend a helping hand, but I would not dare intervene unless you absolutely needed me to.

I don’t think doulas and midwives are necessary at a birth. I think we just lean on them for lack of confidence.

On Twitter, I of course told Erykah that if she is becoming a midwife, to please pick up some Odent. I haven’t heard back (lawl).

But, please, can we stop getting high off of other peoples births?  Birth junkies get hooked on that feeling and they need to let it go. Being an advocate for women means putting her first, and not bumming off of her. Her birth high may come once in a lifetime. It is the greatest of all highs she will ever receive in life. How many birth highs do birth attendants get? How many get them (unbeknownst to all present, themselves included) at the expense of the mother’s birth high? Break the habit.

Tackling the Newbie Q: “COULD You Freebirth?”

18 07 2011

Allow me to be blunt. Of course you could. Anybody could. Let’s be clear– birth isn’t something that requires permission of a man in a white coat. Birth just happens. If you relax your body and mind, it can happen quite gracefully. Most women try desperately to stave off birth until Mr. Dr. White Coat can green-light them, but he is not the magical birth fairy,  his presence does not automatically sanction your labor or save the day, and in fact may be detrimental. (In general:) You were never in any danger, but you increase your risk of this when you add more dimensions, more complications, to the essentially simplistic birth process. This is a mental and physical panic you will cause yourself (perhaps without knowing), and the surgeon will be happy to make himself useful and do what surgeons do best– medically manipulate using drugs and instruments.

Don’t need that? Not an emergency? Welcome to Freebirth.

It’s called “free” not because it doesn’t cost you anything (which is nice, too), but because you are doing it on your own. It’s a liberation. Liberation from a system. A system which is fairly new in our society, is founded on misogyny and business acumen (#1 reason to go to hospitals today in the US), and does not have your best interests at heart.

The very position they have you deliver in is an illustration of this. They aren’t doing these things for you, they are doing it for them. And, it is hurting women and babies every day.

Need examples? Here are a few from one of my favorite sites ( I want you to keep in mind that this is common stuff happening to women every day.

In fact, you probably have your own examples, if you’ve ever been pregnant. (Feel free to share them if you like.)

Unless you are having an honest to God emergency (which are rare, mind you), ask yourself– do you really need a hospital or a doctor? Or will childbirth happen with or without their say so? Hospitals and doctors are for sick people. Obstetricians are surgeons; surgeons perform surgery. Pregnancy is not an illness, and labor is not a complex procedure. It is an act of nature, or God, if you will.

I know a lot of women feel strongly that they need to deliver in a hospital “just in case”, but how much of that is conditioning? The conditioning being, that is, that it is almost inevitable that we will need outside help from some authority figure. Are we experiencing our own form of being “institutionalized”? I urge women to start seriously considering if this is our reality today.

It’s a false sense of security, seeing as how most interventions and just medical presence in general is a hindrance on normal physiological birth. It interferes with your primal state and puts your body in a panic mode, stalling or prolonging labor and creating more pain. That’s just the way of childbirth, naturally. We never get taught this, however. We only get taught to walk into the hospital and put it all in someone else’s hands. Then if something goes wrong, we don’t have to be held responsible. Seldom do we know that walking in the door was the first thing to cause a series of bad events, and the catalyst for possible crisis in any birth situation. Losing your responsibility is an illusion, and a doctor being your savior is an illusion and a false sense of security, in an environment that your primal and birthing mind feels more endangered within.

We stay at home because we want to play it safe. Know where the real dangers lie. De-condition your mind. Free birth from a freed mind.

We turn to UC, many of us, after learning the hard way. I myself have had 2 managed births, and 1 freebirth. We wish you could learn from our experiences. We honor our knowing. We have awakened. Honor your knowing.

How Music Can Hinder, Not Help, Your Labor

5 07 2011

Dr. Michel Odent talks a lot about the primal labor state and the neo-cortex. When giving birth naturally, the laboring woman enters a different state of consciousness. It is essential for us to allow ourselves to become immersed in this state in order to have a fearless, unhindered, natural labor with as little pain as possible (in some cases, none at all, and entering the realm of orgasmic).

Stimulation of the neo-cortex is then, in the case of a natural labor, the enemy.

The neo-cortex is the center for what we commonly consider our intellect. It is the part that allows us to be logical and also creates our sense of inhibition, giving us our civility and our modesty. When we are being stimulated intellectually or feel we are being watched, the neocortex is active. This is not conducive to a laboring woman getting in her right birth state. This leads to birth tensions and complications.

It is inadvisable to engage in discussion with the birthing woman. Mammals and females in labor need no distractions. They naturally focus inward and shut out the outside world. Dark, warm, quiet surroundings are critical for her to maintain this space of consciousness safely and have the best possible labor and birth experience/outcome. This is the physiology of birth that I am keen on referencing often. To not heed this would trigger her adrenaline, fight/flight, and lead to unnecessary complications and interventions.

Whether she intends to be stimulated or not, whether she consciously feels threatened or not, the presence of certain stimuli will trigger the woman to refrain from fully engaging in the appropriate state as a means of instinctive protection of her vulnerability in the primal physiological birth state. What this means is that even too brightly lit of an environment can hinder her from birthing naturally in a peaceful way.

If discussion stimulates the neo-cortex, what other things will? Television, where there will be narration and dialogue and perhaps jarring noises and rhythms. Light, as we’ve already discussed. Feeling cold. Feeling observed, so onlookers or even the presence of video cameras.

What else? Music.

Is music required during labor? Many women prefer it. When planning for our natural births, the question comes up all the time. “What do you listen to during labor?” We like to set the mood, feel we are creating a personalized soothing birth experience for ourselves. People exchange ideas on what to listen to ranging from religious music to nature sounds, world music, yoga CDs to tribal drumming, etc. And then there are people like me, who dared to merely place their iPod on shuffle. [If you want to know how that turns out, it’s in the book!]

Certain beats and lyrics, however, may cause– without the woman’s total awareness— a stimulation of the neocortex. The effects can sometimes be felt violently. If beats are too aggressive or up-tempo, the neocortex is activated. If lyrics are sung, a woman in labor may unwittingly be drawn into listening to them or giving them even the slightest attention, keeping her from the true meditative nothingness of the primal consciousness her birthing body seeks.

Odent states:

Our neocortex is originally a tool that serves the old brain structures as a means of supporting our survival instinct. The point is that its activity tends to control more primitive brain structures and to inhibit the birth process (and any sort of sexual experience as well).

The neocortex is supposed to be at rest so that primitive brain structures can more easily release the necessary hormones. That is why women who give birth tend to cut themselves off from our world, to forget what they read or what they have been taught;  they can find themselves in the most unexpected, often primitive quadrupedal posture; I heard women saying afterwards: ‘I was on another planet’. When a labouring woman is ‘on another planet’, this means that the activity of her neocortex is reduced. This reduction of the activity of the neocortex is an essential aspect of birth physiology among humans.

This aspect of human birth physiology implies that one of the basic needs of labouring women is to be protected against any sort of neocortical stimulation. From a practical point of view it is useful to explain what this means and to review the well-known factors that can stimulate the human neocortex.

Language, particularly rational language is one such factor. When we communicate with language we process what we perceive with our neocortex. This implies, for example, that if there is a birth attendant, one of her main qualities is her capacity to keep a low profile and to remain silent, to avoid in particular asking precise questions.

via WombEcology by Michel Odent – In-labour physiological reference.


Odent is clearly saying that we need to drastically cut out neocortex stimuli; yet music, one of the favored relaxation tools of birth, is a such a stimulus.

If you absolutely insist on having or trying music during your labor, the best kinds which will be far less likely to provoke thought and cause inadvertent stimulation of your neocortex would include anything down-tempo, without lyrics, and with relaxed, unobtrusive rhythms. Yoga CDs, nature sounds, and mild tribal drumming will probably be the most likely to do the trick. Avoid anything that may surprise you, trigger memories, or cause you to think. Static and calm from the external are the keys to entering your best physiological state. The external needs to be able to fade into nonexistence, for you. You need to be able to tap in to your more instinctive self, so give yourself the best tools you can to achieve this. Like most things in birth, less is more.

If you think your body will know what it is doing and birth this baby no matter what music you have on, you’re right… but having the wrong music versus having no music could be the difference between pain and pleasure in childbirth.