Birth Photography: The Elephant in the Room

5 09 2016

elephantI’m about to liken birth photography to pornography.

Now if you haven’t already accepted certain basic principles of birth physiology, you’re probably not going to appreciate this post. More details on what those are can be found here, and here.

If you’re still with me, you may be one of those who this is best geared for:  a very specific kind of freebirther, the fringe of the fringe, the most primitive. Hello sister.

I know it seems like I’m once again here to rain on your parades, but as we acknowledge that birth is part of the sexual continuum, and that birth has been hijacked by people who pretend to be helpers who don’t belong there and endanger us, it would behoove us to acknowledge that we are not fully unindoctrinated while we are still allowing outsiders into that sacred, private space out of a fear that we would miss out on something desirable as influenced by current social norms. What we end up really missing out on is a whole lot more.

After all, many people still birth in hospitals partly out of a fear of missing out on some things, certain things they have come to expect. Certain indignations normalized.

A small example:  I remember one of the things I believed I would “miss” was feeling like I was on vacation. Staying in a bed in a room, having food brought to me, being expected to rest, taking a break from the normal routines… That gets easier to break up with when you face that this kind of “vacation” is really a recovery from trauma the likes of which you won’t experience if you stay home and do it yourself. Most of us don’t chop off our arms to get a vacation, either. Well, not if we’re healthy of mind, anyway. Not to mention the fact that you can rest and be waited on at home, too; even though it doesn’t feel like “going away”, your baby belongs at home and your nest is the most appropriate place to nestle.

We’re so used to expecting certain things and having certain norms that we hesitate to part with them or we want to incorporate them into experience, like a tradition. But how many traditions are actually fads? This era holds that birth pictures and video are not to be missed out on, like wedding video and pictures. Only the photographer usually doesn’t stay to capture the wedding night, which birth is honestly much more like. And that’s the (big) difference.

When I say birth is part of the sexual continuum, I’m pointing out something that most natural birthers already acknowledge. That is that the life cycle starts with sex, ideally preceded by two people with excellent chemistry falling in love and having lots of trust (maximum oxytocin overload, pleasurable life, healthy setup for the future). And that is an act that is carried on by two people and two people only. For the act of creation and furthering of the species, this example takes a man and a woman. For them to feel fully secure and give in to the moment and all the beautiful chemical reactions awaiting them, they need to feel privacy.

(Voyeurism is not a part of this chain; it is a socially developed kink. I’m trying to get back to our roots, not away from.)

The people– but I’m going to focus specifically on the woman– need to feel that their guard can be completely let down in order to fully give in to feeling the way they are feeling with each other. That is the only way they can really be free. Part of this primal act being so guarded could be partly due to our instinct to be aware of predators. We would be especially vulnerable to an outside attack in these sensitive moments. It also may have to do with bonding, as anything that would interfere with or leech off of man-to-woman bonding in intercourse threatens the future of the family. The oxytocin in that moment is the seed, spark, foundation of deep trust and sense of love, that promises a strong attachment and furthers the survival and protection of any offspring yet to come. The more solidified and respected that bond, the higher the chances of success for our species on the whole.

(On a spiritual and romantic level, I also feel the privacy is extremely validated, but I will return to focus on the physical to be basic, fundamental, and not digress. I don’t have time to explain my philosophy to you right now, nor do I think everyone might care.)

What naturally follows, if impregnated, is birth. The emergence of the new life from the same portal through which the possibility of life had to enter. And the state of mind of the woman laboring or birthing is similar in that the thinking mind is shut off, giving way to the primitive mind and instinct and body taking over, and that any outsiders to this event are viewed as intruders– which will either hinder her response, endanger it/her, or temporarily stop the process altogether. Birth involves an altered state of consciousness, when allowed to proceed naturally. Birth is perhaps the most vulnerable naturally occurring moment to a human life and we are wired to be aware of the presence of those who do not belong in order to protect ourselves and our young. The same people at the sexual union are the people who are good candidates to be present at the birth. No more, and maybe less. To violate that puts the woman in fight-or-flight mode. There are plenty of references in literature to just how this is harmful to labor and you can read more about it and the Fear Tension Pain Cycle in books like Childbirth Without Fear, and Unassisted Childbirth.

As an aside, Michel Odent has given some great notes on how a man should behave *if* he is invited into the birth space, even if a woman trusts and loves him. Read any of his works and especially Birth and Breastfeeding for more information.

When the primitive, physiological self is allowed to take over for the thinking mind, without fear, in the absence of any intrusion, in sex and in childbirth, the result is ease, satisfaction, proper release of oxytocin for bonding and love and pleasure with whomever the deserving and receiving partner or life mate is, if around. This works for woman to man in intercourse, and man and woman and baby in childbirth, as the culmination of their act of love and the solidifying of the family unit. This was nature’s plan for human longevity, and it’s the brilliance of its design. It is built into us. A strong unit is formed, and strong tribes may form.

A woman needs to be able to tap into that deep place within herself that without societally-based fears and expectations, the likes of which are imposed on all of us regarding birth from a very young age. And she can’t do that as long as you are selling her products. She can’t do that when you’re telling her there is still something modern she will need, something extra and more than what she is that she should want, something she will regret not adding in because other mothers have it and it’s so important, and keep her further and further away from her original design and function. You’re keeping her from her purest and truest self and essence, and if you succeed, she will never know it in this life. Her body is an astounding work of creation, moreso than any camera ever could be. And we hinder that. Because we are delighted by the modern marvel more than the organic miracle. We keep reaching for shiny distractions and no longer respect when it is time to put those away.

In some parallel universe somewhere, there is orgasm/conception photography, for the same reasons as we do birth photographs now.

I look at birth video and photography much in the same way I would look at the concept of artistic orgasm photography. I appreciate the interest in capturing a moment. I appreciate the reverence for the look on the woman’s face, the awe in her rawness. And if I were watching someone have actual sex on video, even if “tastefully done”, I would have to admit it is really pushing it in terms of being a form of pornography.

Because… I’m not supposed to be there. This is private. I may be interested, I may be intrigued, but this is not for me to watch. Those are not my moments, those are not my chemicals. I’m an intruder, and this belongs to someone else. This is sacred.

And you can photograph sex and birth all you like, but you will never truly capture the reality of what the moment would look like if you were not there at all.

Imagine if the things people say about birth photography were said about intercourse photography?

“They’re a real pro, you won’t even know they’re there.”

“They silently stay out of the way and blend in with the background.”

“We have a mutual acquaintance that can really vouch for them, so I trust them.”

“The photographer is my sister.”

“You will be so lost in the moment, you will have no awareness that they’re even in the room. And you’ll be so ‘busy’ you won’t even care at that point.”

What about this is not creepy?

I know birth and sex are not perfectly synonymous, but that’s not the point. The point is that the woman is tapped into the same states of being with her body producing some of the same hormones, functions and effects, having the same physiological needs to make the effort a success. You can spoil one just as easily as you can spoil the other, with these wrong attitudes towards the acts.

And if you honestly believe when looking at any birth photos or vids (or ones of sex….) that what you are viewing would be exactly the same without the extra people and the cameras, you’re lying to yourself. Men who watch porn also think they are watching reality. Granted, pornography is often consciously a performance, while being taped in birth becomes more of subconsciously performing. You are not seeing an unhindered woman. The camera will always add the element of observation or performance, however subtle or inconspicuous it seems to the observer/observed. You are not getting the fullest, unbridled, wild, natural person who is free from being studied, judged, or captured. (Even just think about the language… she is “captured” on film. She is subdued, watched, controlled.) The woman will always be aware somewhere in her consciousness of your presence, because her primitive mind is keen and sharp to detect this as a rule, as a defense mechanism innate to her, and it *will* have an impact on her. And that impact is restraint and tension.

Here is the part where someone chimes in, “You don’t know me. Not all women are the same. Everyone has different needs.” Wrong. All women *are* the same. Let’s look at the hierarchy of needs.

Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needs

I imagine the resulting photograph keepsakes contribute to the tier entitled “Esteem”.



First we acknowledge that birth is a physiological, physical event. You don’t birth with your personality or your brain, you birth with your body. You are an animal. Then let’s address that the primal body is the one tasked with giving birth as it does instinctively, when not held back or restrained. Then let’s observe that stimulation of the thinking mind, or neocortex, keeps one from dropping deep into primal brain activity, and that the neocortex is stimulated by having company. In this we must admit that the presence of others serves functionally to restrain the primal woman, keeping her in the worst state of consciousness for an easy birth.

Now tell me you deny this and that you’re built differently from other women.

“But humans are social animals! I am a very social person!”

Your baby whom you are giving birth to is a person. This is an interaction between you and they. And sometimes, your partner, if invited to the birth space. These are all people.

What more in the way of social do you require?

You may be a social butterfly, but please note this is a psychological trait and not a primal one. Your primal self is the one giving birth, the one you need to honor, the one for whom all obstacles must get out of the way. If you glance again at the hierarchy of needs, you will note that physiology and safety are first, they are the foundation, and they are of utmost importance. Love and belonging to which I’ll assume the psychological wish to be surrounded by people owes itself, is secondary to those things. (Ironically, if you honor the physiological foundation first, you will find a deepening and intensifying of love due to all the oxytocin shared in earnest between you.)

Our physiology as women is the same. Our needs for safety as laboring mammals are the same: quiet, darkness, solitude, warmth. You can’t claim a psychological preference supersedes these. It is akin to saying, “But I really like the water!” to explain that you can be submerged and don’t need to breathe. You are not superhuman, your body is not made differently. We have basic needs. We need to breathe, we need to eat, we need to sleep, we need to not be obstructed or injured. Once those basic needs are covered, then we are able to move up to other less pressing wants, frequently formed by the thinking mind and not the primal one, such as being social.

If a woman’s psychological urges are so strong that she must obey those first, due to trauma, conditioning, or lack of awareness of the severity of these issues on our bodies, she will choose to be surrounded at birth. This is why I advise anyone trying to freebirth to conquer your psychological issues before birth, and ideally, before pregnancy.

I excuse these the same way I excuse elective Cesareans. Our trauma and where we are at in dealing with it will determine which choices we feel ready to make. For that I have sympathy, but with strong preference to trying to get women helped before their inclinations lead to more physical harm. In short, we all work with what we’ve got.

Your rational mind wants to be in control and will always find a way, always find fear and excuses. You cannot bargain with instinct, though. Instinct will be there whether you like it or not and you will not be able to rationalize with it. I recommend getting out of its way.

And not denying it.

To me birth vids and photography are like the big, voyeuristic, creepy, pervy, obstructing, restraining, intrusive elephant in the room. And elephants are apparently midwives, so that’s fitting.

When most natural birthers are looking at birth photos and vids and picking on things like,

“Oh, that baby is wearing a hat! Poor thing!”

“Look, they cut the cord right away.”

“OMG, how many hands are on that mama? And take off those gloves!”

Or even positive things like,

“Oh look, daddy caught!”

“What a fierce, strong mama in that birth pool.”

“I love your faces! You did it!”

“This is what birth is supposed to look like.”

No it’s not. You weren’t supposed to be there. You are getting a happy, joyous, or victorious fragment of her at best. You are viewing a fraction of her depth and what she would normally be capable of. And yes, even that fraction is beautiful to us, but our pleasure through her is ill-gained and of no importance. What she really deserved matters more. So I wince, like some of you wince and feel triggered when you see unnecessary Cesarean photos.

What repeats in my mind while even agreeing with their comments is, “have you noticed yet there was a camera/photographer there?” How much better might it have been for the mother and her baby if they weren’t some kind of show on display for us? As nice as it may be to have keepsake photos your baby’s delivery, might you be cheating yourselves when it comes to feeling something much more pure and unfiltered? Something potentially pain-free, non-injurious, untraumatized, and even ecstatic? Do you want to be one of those women who says immediately after, “I want to do it again”?

Another way birth is like sex.

The continuum of life, of sex, wants us to be rewarded. Our brains are supposed to feel good about these activities because this supports continuation of the species. Birth, like sex, is not “supposed” to be painful and we should stop promoting that it inherently is. Our pain is frequently connected to fear and control. We and our process and how we perceive it has been controlled and ideas fed to us and we are ruled and overcome by fear. I can only assume that, removing all this, our births would be mostly pleasurable. We will never know because even modern empowered women do not live in a vacuum. All of us are overcoming hostile influences. I want us to keep breaking away from these conventions so that one day our daughters might know this answer.

“And what about you, Elizabeth? Are you so perfect? You didn’t want photos and videos of your births?”

No, I fucked up, too. That’s why I’m here. My whole story is one of fucking it up, then getting it right, and then getting it a little bit more right, some more. If I can keep you from doing what I did and having to learn the hard way, that’s my dream.

My first birth in the hospital I videotaped and there were pictures. All kinds of people were in the room, strange men saw my ass, I vomited on people and cried. Bright lights and hooked up to machines, opiates and vaginal trauma… and I’m sure the recordings were negligible in influence after all that. But I’ve got it on record.

Birth 2 was too traumatic to have any recording devices out. I spent part of it in an ambulance, hoping to lose consciousness. Strange men saw my ass again.

My third birth when I was way more awakened, I went solo. I attempted to record video because I didn’t yet know any better, and the device failed to record, but it still acted as an “observing eye”. I was photographed in early labor which I suppose isn’t that bad while contractions are light. (In the sex analogy, this might be being photographed in a kiss.) I wanted to be alone through most of labor and only allowed pictures after the baby emerged in the pool. (Yes, I do think after-birth pictures in limitation are okay, and in the sex analogy, may be akin to an after-orgasm photo. Risque, a peek into something private, but still discrete. The body has done the hardest work after the moment of birth but you still want to be mindful not to disturb the mother in the third stage because she is still affected by needless interference and chatter.) This was an amazing birth and I do not doubt it could have been even more amazing without mechanical watching eyes. But the picture of me lifting my son out of the water of the birth pool and having achieved this triumph myself is one of the most beautiful images I’ve ever seen and may be my favorite picture of all time. You can see it on the back of my book, In Search of the Perfect Birth.

Birth 4 I knew better and we attempted no recording device and saved pictures for after baby was born. I cherish these because for the first time ever, the reveal of the sex was a complete shock and surprise (literally the opposite of what I thought I knew), and this moment and reaction was caught in a photo. Up until the pushing, this was also my absolute easiest and most manageable birth yet. Dark, solitude, warmth, relative quiet… it was downright blissful during most of it.

I wish you all the same successes and even beyond. We’re all waking up from the trappings of this machine.





Taking the Woman Out of Childbirth

16 09 2015

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For those of us who have been fighting for women’s liberation and autonomy, in and out of the maternity field, Woman is a powerful word. It’s something we fought to feel good about, as we reclaimed our bodies and our freedom. But the world is changing. Politics are changing. Before women have fully finished liberating themselves, the definition of their selves has changed. But I ask you this– how do you liberate a people who were oppressed specifically for their reproductive power  (which is what sexism is) if you cloud the language of who exactly they are trying to liberate and from what/whom?

Vagina. Uterus. Menstruation. Goddess. Women. These were our power cries. Now, we are told, they are offensive and exclusive. Well, yes, the oppression of females has been a pretty exclusive club for eons. That’s kind of the point. We weren’t oppressed when we stated we were women, nor were we left alone if we chose to state we were men. We were oppressed whether pretty or ugly, fat or thin, able or disabled, white or black, straight or lesbian. Reclaiming the goddess and being proud to be a woman and all that comes with it– including growing and nourishing a child from our own bodies, was and continues to be an uphill battle and pride movement (like all other pride movements, including black pride and gay pride). But now it’s time to throw that all away, because there’s a new sheriff in town. And it’s finally made it to the frontier of the birth world, the last place we would ever expect or hope woman-talk to be scrubbed from the pages of history.

Here is an interaction I had on a birth page on facebook that has in the past supported feminist, woman-based, radical birth autonomy.

one2    two2Now I’ll expand those replies for you.

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They said it was trans erasure while literally erasing women.

Is it time to have a literary cleansing, or maybe burn a few books? We want to make sure the populace feels nice and safe and cozy. I know how traumatic “she” and “woman” can be… !

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The birth page said the above, sorry I forgot to mark it in editing.

99.9% of the time childbirth literature does mention women and mothers, because it’s you know… sane. And for as much as many trying to be good trans activists argue that defining a woman by their genitals is wrong, we have now effectively reduced women to their parts in literature. “Uterus-haver”. “Vagina owner”.

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The above quote begins me again. ^

For the uninitiated, TERF is a word used now that is supposed to mean “Trans exclusionary radical feminist”. However, it is always applied to women who don’t feel they exclude trans people and even fight for their rights. What they don’t do is throw women or any other minorities under the bus in the process, and that’s a problem for some people. The slur is placed on people who acknowledge that biological women and trans women (or biological men and trans men, less frequently) are different groups with their own unique needs. All are oppressed under patriarchy.

Basically, people who stand up for women and don’t erase them. And this doesn’t even mention how so many TERFs are also trans people, gay, lesbian, and otherwise “queer”. TERFs are your most radical feminists. Other “feminists” are very liberal, fun, party time, choosy choice, patriarchy-catering. College professor approved postmodern manfeminism. You know, bullshit. Playboy and blow jobs for everyone.

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COGNITIVE DISSONANCE: psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously.

Like when you say you love women, but you actually don’t, and are complicit in making them disappear.

“My reality is not the same as other’s reality”. My reality is that women are oppressed and need to name themselves and wield the language to empower themselves. My reality says we shouldn’t take that away. Is this not reality to you? Women are used to hearing that their realities are super unique or fantasy (“imagined”), and that they have no shared interest together as a class, or that there are more important people to consider. That’s called gaslighting.

Transphobic? I’m not transphobic. I’m not afraid of trans people nor am I pro discrimination against them. I am just not for discriminating against women. If that makes me transphobic, that is repulsive. I shouldn’t have to choose between if I love women or trans people. If you are going to force my hand, I’m going to continue to prioritize women. Misogynists will hate that. But I believe we don’t have to have contests. Call me crazy, but I think we can stand up for many groups at once, without acting like one is not oppressed or one is so much more oppressed than the other.

No one is going to argue that trans people are oppressed. I care about their oppression and recognize that they are in an oppressed minority. In fact, they are very much a minority– a small sampling of the population, while females themselves make up over half the world’s population while still being oppressed!

My feminism is about female-bodied people and the fact that having a female body is the defining factor in why women have had it so hard historically. A woman until fairly recently was “an adult, female bodied human”. Now we are supposed to toss that out. Don’t even say the word. Don’t talk about genitals in relation to oppression. Huh?

That’s like saying “stop bringing race into racism”. And I know people like that, you know, the ones who “don’t see color”– they think the people who recognize racism are the real bigots.

“People are whatever they say they are”– fine with me socially (more or less), but medically? This means you might have a vagina and uterus and might be capable of giving birth, choose to use these functions of your body, live as a man at the same time… and yet be mad that the books describing this say “woman”? Was this news to you? I ask you, what is so important about rejecting a female identity, only to grow a fetus in the womb you know you have? How much more female does it get? Is “woman” such an ugly thing that pretty much THE defining quality of womanhood– the capacity to give birth— is still okay as long as you don’t call it anything “girly” like “woman”? Like they’d assume the walls of your womb, when they say (retch) “woman”, are pink and frilly? In other words, if you adhere to gender norms like pregnancy, what exactly do you find so offensive about being referred to as a “woman”? I thought you wanted to reject the norms and roles of womanhood in the first place? And if you want to be really forward or progressive in carrying and birthing a child while not having a womanly gender, shouldn’t you also be mentally sharp enough to know that you are the exception and not the rule, and all of society isn’t going to stop and change their lingo just for you? While bucking the system, are your feelings actually that fragile that the majority of human female existence offends you on a personal level? I want to know who is more triggered by the word woman than the undeniable, active reality of giving birth out of your uterus and vagina after your egg received sperm? Has anyone ever heard the sticks and stones adage? When labels are more meaningful than reality! My god. We can cope with actual, lived events– we’ll just call ’em something different! That ought to do it! There, safe and sound, no triggers. Phew! Thank god we took care of THAT!

I fully support gender nonconformity, but not fantasy as the forced reality, and not woman hate. To act as though men or males give birth too is fantasy– it can only be true on a very unique socially-designated technicality. To be opposed to the word “she” while doing what all mammal “she’s” do is woman-hate. This whole thing is an exercise in heavy denial, not inclusion.

You see, there are 2 definitions of woman. The first is the traditional one that makes sense for most of us which I mentioned before– an adult human female. The second one is mostly new and refers only to the gender role of “woman”, and not the sex. The gender role, however, is the superficial surface one created by patriarchy. It’s everything we’re supposed to be (because of our sex). The one that says looking pretty, being fragile, wearing dresses, cooking meals, and sucking dick are womanly things to do. Therefore, if you like those and the color pink too, you are a woman. (Radical feminists reject that– as if being a woman were that simplistic and offensive.)

I personally believe either woman definition is fine when it comes to how a person chooses to self-identify. I believe you can refer to grown adult female humans as women in a generalized manner and it shouldn’t hurt any feelings. (Do you know how many lesbians get referred to as “sir”? Life goes on for them as usual, and surprisingly few suicides over it.) And, also, you can refer to people who assume the societal role of woman as “women” and “she”. To me, a trans woman can easily be she, her, woman, and Sally. So what exactly is the fucking problem?

The problem is that some folks want it to be only definition 2, not the other, and your lack of submission to these new terms means you are being an offensive bigot.

Trans men and non binaries and women give birth. Mostly it is women, if woman is merely some role people do or don’t take on. If we mean woman in the biological sense it has meant throughout history, it is only women who give birth– identity politics and hurt feelings aside. And mature pregnant persons already know this.

I would never call a trans man a woman, even while they are giving birth. I would never want to disrespect them. There’s no point to it. But, I also don’t expect all of our childbirth literature to refer to social constructs (gender) instead of biological realities (sex) to appease feelings of a really minute part of the birthing population. Birth is about biology, not personality! And I don’t feel that we are leaving trans people out when we say women give birth any more than we leave out amputees when we admit that human beings are bipedal.

MANA, Midwives Alliance of North America, started replacing their language, erasing woman and she for pregnant persons. But any organizations under the thumb of The Man, Medicine Inc., as they are– can kiss my ass. Your NAME is fucking MIDWIVES. Just as the old tradition. Midwife means “with woman”. Change your fucking name if you’re only “with person”, you wolves in sheeps’ clothing.

So you see, even the supposed naturalistic and woman loving traditions are giving the big “fuck you” to womankind. I say supposed because they’re still very medicalized and not traditionalists and don’t advocate actual and total birth freedom, but I digress.

I used to think “wombyn” was silly, new agey (even if I am a little myself), and pretentious. Now I see it as a radical protest and I may use it a little more, just to see how it feels. Just to piss these misogynists and men’s rights activists off. Because that’s what they are. I AM a goddess, and goddesses give birth. It was birth goddesses we talked about throughout time and in recent birth movements, not birth gods. Those are the people who prefer the label “obstetrician”.

Do you have any doubt this is The Man’s Patriarchy? And you call this the right side of history?

Here are some more examples from their page, their double standards, their hypocrisy, where they did not scream “transphobia” at every pro-woman reference, they did not scrub all the she’s out of existence. But like she said, she’s only human– just give her time and maybe we won’t have to hear the goddess celebrations in relation to female bodily functions anymore. Women aren’t taboo or oppressed, they just need to shut the fuck up because trans.

How absurd it all is. One thing is for sure– no one knows just what woman is any more, but we know we need to be really careful how we use that word, lest we offend. We need to keep our big mouths shut and stop asking questions, stop asserting girl power and our authority, and just do what we’re told. “Feminism”.

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What about black men? Why are we talking about breastfeeding, it’s so cissexist! Men nurse too! What about fatherhood! Etc.

Jesus, Honore de Balzac sounds like a real transphobic prick. He and all of civilization.

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Breast milk? Fathers give birth, too. This is a hate crime. “Natural” news? I’m triggered.  WHERE was the trigger warning?

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Taking the women out of birth is a political issue.

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Women’s rights as female rights in an ongoing, crucial battle are so obvious when we talk about the misogyny they face in the patriarchal institution of medicine. All of their abuse, the abuse and trauma done to their female bodies, arguably happening for all of recorded memory as rulers and leaders advocated ownership and taming of our bodies, is about to have its language of protest dismantled. This is what they call “cis privilege”. As a woman who knows she’s a woman and has been treated as a female her entire life, I apparently have it. Our rape, molestation, kidnapping, murder, domestic violence, lack of rights in education and to our own bodies is now privilege. Think about that. Think about everything females go through in and out of birth. How you will dare to call the sexism we face privilege, I will never know. That any woman or female bodied person or female born person would ever want to deny us this power speaks loudly of internalized misogyny, perhaps even more acutely among those who “do not identify as women”, as if any of the rest of us are perfectly happy with that designation in this fucked up society. So ladies, hand birth back. It isn’t ours anymore. We had a nice run, sort of. Almost.

I love everyone and I don’t care what you wear or who you fuck.  But stop trying to keep me in my place. The time for women being polite and quiet is done. We can all be free; stop being against my empowerment and undoing the things which attempted to give it back to me. That was my progress. You’re taking away the keys to women’s progress.

A child builds a sand castle.  A second child who didn’t have a chance to make one for themselves yet arrives and knocks the first one’s down and starts building on top of the same site. On a beach full of sand. And they call it that first child’s sand castle too. They try to call that sharing. It isn’t my sand castle. It’s yours. Well I worked hard building that castle and I didn’t build mine on your heartache, so why do you hate it so much? Don’t smash everything I’ve done and call that equality.

Stop erasing women from the books. It’s unnecessary and it’s erasure. YOU WILL STOP TAKING ME OUT OF HISTORY. I am saying “no”. No means no. Listen to women when they say no. Do you get it yet? Do you know whose “side” you’re on?





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.





How Prevalent is Childbirth Trauma?

13 05 2013

Trauma in childbirth doesn’t necessarily have to be felt psychologically. It can be something the body experiences physically. When it’s classified as “normal”, it is not accepted as “trauma”, but it still is. This is how someone could feel totally satisfied mentally about their birth, but still undergo a level of trauma.

Obviously, the reverse is true too. You could feel trauma on a psychological or other level, even though it may not be apparent physically to some.

Now, because the brain and body work closely together (wink), where there is one type of trauma, there is often the other. If your body feels traumatized on a level you are not conscious of, you may still feel unexplainable psychological effects. When you confuse the body, the brain may follow. And vice versa.

The mammalian needs in labor/birth to have a true safe, physiological experience (as described by people such as Michel Odent) requires an undisturbed birth that honors darkness, silence, warmth, and (relative) solitude (or non-observation/interference).  Human beings are mammals, but we tend to give other animals more respect in birth than we give to ourselves and each other.

Plenty of women who have become mothers have unresolved issues or feel a level of imbalance and cannot trace the source. Trauma in childbirth is one reasonable leap regarding most. Most human beings have a plethora of “issues”, but childbirth and the ramifications of being traumatized during or as a result of is a colossal one– unmatched and practically universal amongst modern mothers. Not only can manifestations from trauma be traced to this one life-altering experience, but we also use motherhood as a way of identifying and defining ourselves. All of these provide for the perfect opportunity and cocktail for depression, emotional breakdown, mommy wars (reasons why women can’t just understand each other and be friends, constant comparison and cattiness), etc. If we felt no level of violence or trauma, and if we felt psychologically sound (in terms of being at peace with our choices, less defensiveness), we wouldn’t feel so threatened by others and so much of a need to fight against people who choose (non-abusive) different birth or parenting paths. Secure, well people do not fly off the handle in order to compete or attack with no provocation. Those who suffer from this would do well to receive assistance and support for healthy management of whatever issues or imbalances lie beneath the surface.

And this is just surmised through the observation of people who can articulate their thoughts. This says nothing for what the babies of traumatic birth feel and carry with them. Their first moments have lasting physical and psychological impacts, it would be logical to assume. Of course sometimes it manifests in an obvious physical way, but even more often it does not.

Looking around at the landscape in the parenting in birth worlds, I can answer my own question– it’s pretty damn prevalent. Looking around at the decay of society, which is the result in part to disconnect between women and children, overwhelming depression, economic and educational lapses, unwanted pregnancies, etc. … is it any wonder we see craziness everywhere we look? Healing the world is awfully hard when we’ve done all that we can to disrupt the natural hormonal and physiological beginnings of almost every new life entering this world.

Modern life and modern conveniences are not foolproof. We’ve made a trade-off when we’ve attempted to mechanize birth in lieu of comprehending birth mechanics.

There’s a reason for the phrase “peace on Earth begins with birth”. I take it quite literally. Helping others to understand it from this angle is my little part in trying to illuminate a pathway to more healing on this planet.





A Woman MD/OB Who Believes in Odent, Oxytocin, & Physiology?

25 10 2011

My previous post drew controversy that I would dare contradict Dr. Amy in insisting that Dr. Odent was right about birth physiology, namely that mammalian birth involved the BONDING hormone Oxytocin, which is in fact different from the synthetic variety, best known as Pitocin.  The issue was basically that Odent was supposedly an out-of-touch misogynist for tricking women into believing they were birthing goddesses when they really aren’t, guilting women into undergoing the pain of childbirth. And oh, btw, Oxytocin doesn’t actually bond people and Pitocin does exactly the same things for the body. Right.

Enter “troll” (not my label) Marlo. She is vocal in the anti-NCB community and feels that pain-free childbirth is a lie, Michel Odent is an unapologetic sexist and not a man of science nor a respected doctor. We did a back and forth in comments in my previous post, and she had this to say:

“Find me some women OBGYNs who are down with it & have them guest post.”

Ask and ye shall receive… I may not have a guest post from Dr. Buckley (yet?!), but I do have her response to the topic, as it is easily available. Enjoy!

Sarah J Buckley is a trained GP/family physician with qualifications in GP-obstetrics and family planning. Dr Buckley has presented at numerous conferences in Australia, New Zealand, the US and Canada, lecturing to midwives, nurses, physicians, obstetricians, doulas, and childbirth educators…

And of course, our man Odent has a fabulous endorsement of the respected Doctor:

“Sarah Buckley is precious, because she is bilingual. She can speak the language of a mother who gave birth to her four children at home. She can also speak like a medical doctor. By intermingling the language of the heart and the scientific language she is driving the history of childbirth towards a radical and inspiring new direction.”

Michel Odent MD, author and natural birth pioneer

Already we have TWO respected doctors who believe natural birth, oxytocin, and mammalian physiology are not just myths. Odent was discredited for his age, for his beliefs, and even for having a penis (“men will never understand“, Marlo holds). He was accused of being a general surgeon, and not an OB, even though Odent did his initial training in general surgery and was in charge of the surgical unit and the maternity unit at the Pithiviers state hospital (1962–1985). Now, Dr. Buckley is a woman, has had home births, and is qualified in the field of obstetrics. Let’s hear more of what Dr. Buckley has to say:

Perhaps the best-known birth hormone is oxytocin, the hormone of love, which is secreted during sexual activity, male and female orgasm, birth, and breastfeeding. Oxytocin engenders feelings of love and altruism; as Michel Odent says, “Whatever the facet of Love we consider, oxytocin is involved.”(1)For the baby also, birth is an exciting and stressful event, reflected in high CA levels (27). These assist the baby during birth by protecting against the effects of hypoxia (lack of oxygen) and subsequent acidosis.

UNDISTURBED BIRTH
Undisturbed birth is exceedingly rare in our culture, even in birth centers and home births.

Two factors that disturb birth in all mammals are firstly being in an unfamiliar place and secondly the presence of an observer. Feelings of safety and privacy thus seem to be fundamental. Yet the entire system of Western obstetrics is devoted to observing pregnant and birthing women, by both people and machines, and when birth isn’t going smoothly, obstetricians respond with yet more intense observation. It is indeed amazing that any woman can give birth under such conditions.

Synthetic oxytocin [AKA PITOCIN] administered in labor does not act like the body’s own oxytocin. First, syntocinon-induced contractions are different from natural contractions, and these differences can cause a reduced blood flow to the baby. For example, waves can occur almost on top of each other when too high a dose of synthetic oxytocin is given, and it also causes the resting tone of the uterus to increase (33).

Second, oxytocin, synthetic or not, cannot cross from the body to the brain through the blood-brain barrier. This means that syntocinon, introduced into the body by injection or drip, does not act as the hormone of love. However, it does provide the hormonal system with negative feedback—that is, oxytocin receptors in the laboring woman’s body detect high levels of oxytocin and signal the brain to reduce production. We know that women with syntocinon infusions are at higher risk of bleeding after the birth, because their own oxytocin production has been shut down. But we do not know the psychological effects of giving birth without the peak levels of oxytocin that nature prescribes for all mammalian species.

For more from the very esteemed Dr. Buckley, read her article on Ecstatic Birth. Or is she just a misogynist idiot, too?






Misconstruing a Genius

20 10 2011

I was alerted that one of THE best minds in childbirth, Dr. Michel Odent, was being challenged by a certain infamous anti-homebirth doctor. Self-assured was I that she could not possibly intelligently refute Odent, I was shocked to see how right I was. When one cannot debunk someone properly, one must resort to smear! Also, use the word “smear”, because if you say it first, it cannot be used on you. Here’s a sampling of what was said:

Dr. Michel Odent’s claim that childbirth pain is necessary for mother-infant bonding.

Only Odent never says that. What he says is this:

The French expert said: “Oxytocin is the hormone of love, and to give birth without releasing this complex cocktail of love chemicals disturbs the first contact between the mother and the baby…

“It is this hormone flood that enables a woman to fall in love with her newborn and forget the pain of birth.”

And, nowhere does he say pain is necessary for bonding. In fact, he says with the help of Oxytocin, pain is greatly diminished for the mother. Not only does his work and literature include info on Birth and Breastfeeding in relation to Oxytocin, but he also speaks very much on the topic of orgasms. No, indeed, Odent is an Oxytocin champion– he believes in all it does for us. He warns us not to give it up so lightly when biologically, it is there to help us. He is a protector of the process, a facilitator of our easy and best births, and now he is being ridiculed by the type of people who drone on about the nastiness of birthing pools. Yes, Odent is credited with introducing these to the modern laboring woman.

Naturally, tons of idiotic commentators arrived to call him everything from a sexist to a liar. Honey, you don’t know Odent! I think he is far less sexist than the medical professionals telling empowered women they are nothing special for having a natural birth. Michel is not a misogynist– he is a feminist!  So anyway, I had to give my two cents:

You are completely misconstruing what DR. Odent is saying.  

First of all, nothing you have quoted in your attempt to paint him as this lying misogynist states that he feels that PAIN is necessary for bonding. In fact, Odent believes that the “pain” will be eased by the natural release of the Oxytocin, which is part of the function of the hormone.  

Can Pitocin do that? No. Pitocin attempts to mimic Oxytocin, but those with experience can tell you that Pit makes contractions worse, harder, less bearable. Being under the influence of Oxytocin, however, leaves many women feeling almost pain-free, some orgasmic. It IS the love hormone, the relaxation and orgasm hormone. Pitocin and Oxytocin are NOT the same thing, anymore than powdered milk or formula is the same thing as breastmilk.  

Furthermore, as someone who has experienced labor THREE different ways, I can tell you from experience that Odent DID do his wife a favor. I love and trust my husband immensely but felt the need to ask him to leave the room during my last labor. It’s not because he has a penis, but because I desired solitude. AND, I had to wake him, because the poor man was asleep. The woman needs what she needs. The intellect doesn’t have to agree with it, the body DOES. It doesn’t mean anything bad about the husband, or the marital relationship, just as you giving birth via C-section does not mean you don’t love your baby.  

That’s right– neither Odent nor I are saying that artificially-had births equate to parents NOT loving their children. There are many factors to bonding. Oxytocin is ONE, and it’s a very primal and primary one. If you think we are saying adoptive parents do not love or bond, or C section moms do not love or bond, you are hearing what you want to hear.  

What we ARE saying is that Oxytocin has an amazing, multi-purpose effect– on labor, the birth, mother, baby, and breastfeeding– and women who choose not to reap its benefits are missing out on something special. Those who have experienced it have described it as THE greatest natural high a woman will experience in her lifetime.  

You can call Dr. Odent’s theories ridiculous and false, if you feel so defensive about them in your personal lives. Maybe his “theories” (based on mammalian science, accepted and understood as TRUE) offend you because they didn’t play a part in your stories and this threatens you somehow as a woman. But, for me? I didn’t understand what had happened to me and my other labors until I started reading geniuses like Odent.Then it all made sense to me. I finally “got it”. Before, maybe I would have blown it off like you and said it was not true. But yeah, he’s just totally in a fantasy world?  

Whatever. He’s one of the only true scientists in the world of childbirth. So many others, indoctrinated by their education, worship at the altar of technology and drugs as though they can do no wrong. At least Odent honors the woman and her needs above any touting of “advancement” our backwards society makes. He truly wants what is best for us, and he doesn’t have an agenda. There are no lobbyists, no drug companies, no ego-driven wars he is in bed with. It is just a man and the science he has observed. He is a great mind… so naturally, he is met with aggressive opposition.  

The only smearing I see is people here of Odent. I can’t figure out if you simply do not understand him, or if you are intentionally trying to miscategorize him to the masses.

… which, of course, immediately fell on deaf ears, as he was called not only totally wrong but a “classy” guy for leaving his wife alone during her labor. Before you judge this guy, random RNs, birthy mom types, and other MDs, please read more about this man and his career, works, and genius. He IS a classy guy. For starters, he doesn’t own any hate sites to tell non-Oxytocin-enjoying moms where to go and attack those who have experienced this amazing part of the circle of life. He isn’t part of the REAL smear campaign, to undermine the real wants and real experiences of real women, and reduce common sense, observations, and real life events to mere mythology.

Nope. He’s one of the good guys.

PS– By popular demand, here are some links worth checking out on the idiosyncrasies and differences between Oxytocin and Pitocin (besides just “brand name”).

Pit of Despair — The difference has to do with the blood-brain barrier. Oxytocin is produced by the brain and has a direct effect on brain function. But when Pitocin is introduced into the bloodstream, it does not affect the brain.

Oxytocin: The Great Facilitator of Life — In light of the prominent role in parturition and essential role in lactation, we are drawn to the view that Oxt serves the continued propagation of a species.

Thanks, Mom!— Time Magazine article:  It also helps facilitate bonding between mothers and newborns.

A relationship between oxytocin and anxiety of romatic attachment –That oxytocin and anxiety may be linked in some way in the modulation of social bonding is supported also by scattered data showing that a moderate level of stress seems to promote pair bonding in different species, including human beings [40].

“Love Hormone” Promotes Bonding — Obviously we think we know a lot about it, but should hesitate to flat out reject what little we already know (that oxytocin correlates with bonding). We are only just starting to learn how it affects us, and to blanketed deny a connection seems arrogant.

“The hormone, also known by its trade name, Pitocin, has been used for years to induce labor and promote lactation in women.  But its effects on the brain are just beginning to be understood.”

Oxytocin is a brain chemical associated with pair bonding, including mother-infant and male-female bonds, increased paternal involvement with children, and monogamy in certain rodents, according to Kai MacDonald, M.D., assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at UCSD.”





Books for Bith Canceled

19 09 2011

Due to zero recipient interest, we are unfortunately unable to carry on with the program Books For Birth, which donates literature and materials for an empowering birth to women.

While we did seem to have several people express excitement over the program, there were no official nominees. To nominate yourself or others, people had to send an e-mail to info@theperfectbirth.com.

It saddens me to announce this, as I thought this was a very good idea, a noble cause, and a great way to do something charitable and giving that would have an awesome impact on people. It seems as though the need wasn’t great enough, or perhaps I was not being connected to the people in the most need. In any event, this news has been disheartening to say the least, and I had had high hopes for the future of it. I had imagined giving away not only great books, but great materials; I had dreamed of giving a birthing pool in December for the holiday season. In light of the failure of the program to take off (or the lack of need for the program), I will be taking somewhat of a hiatus from birth issues to focus on other projects of mine that have been vying for my attention, including another book I’m writing.

We had just recently procured a sponsor, Love Lives Here, and had also chosen the selection for the month of October, Birth and Breastfeeding, by Dr. Michel Odent.