“I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant!”: For Dummies?

8 08 2011

Everyone’s pregnancy is different, and we each feel “symptoms” in different ways. But, how could you not know you are pregnant? Well, apparently it happens a lot since there is even a TV show dedicated to the subject. To our amusement, we watch at home while ladies recount their sudden realizations that a baby is coming out of them!

I actually knew a woman that this happened to, and I heard the story while pregnant with my first. It baffled me. The one symptom I can’t reconcile is… how did you not feel the baby move?  Other women’s babies keep them up at night, furiously kicking their rib cage. Not an easy sign to miss.

The answer is usually that they thought it was gas. I’m thinking… that’s some gas! My baby’s movements, to me, were unmistakably different from anything else I had ever felt. There was obviously some “foreign” entity inhabiting my body. 🙂

Another factor is weight. Apparently heavier ladies have a harder time recognizing the movements happening inside. Okay, I can see that.

Is everything so subjective when it comes to touch that it is really hard for us to judge others?

Just today at The Birthing Site (FB) we were discussing pain. So many women said childbirth was pain free, or “good pain”, or forgettable pain. Not for me. Early labor was pretty nice, “good pain”… the productive stuff was far from it. And I have a nice tolerance. I’ve pierced myself a handful of times, I’ve gotten my foot sliced open without crying (okay, I cried when I noticed blood, and then when they stitched me, but I was 12 or 13), and I believe in meditation and mind over matter abilities. My pain was still the maddening sort, so I had to politely add my two cents to their discussion. I felt like to not would give people false hope of a totally good-feeling birth experience (and thus induce panic if things did not unfold as such); or, it could place judgment that those who did feel pain were “doing it wrong”.  I am happy for women who go pain free, though! It’s obviously a reality for some people. I still consider that it could even be a future possibility for me.

I guess you just never know.

Another example of differences in sensation between us as individuals is when people describe their labors, women referring to feeling something with their cervix (“the baby coming out really hurt my cervix”, “I could tell without touching that my cervix felt fully dilated/ripe”, etc. ).  I am always thinking… “really?” Because personally, I don’t think I can recognize with sensation that something is occurring to my cervix. Not in those terms, with that specificity, anyway. Am I broken? :/

So when it comes to these “didn’t know they were pregnant”, “I thought it was gas” ladies… maybe it’s something similar. Maybe all sensation truly is relative. Maybe usual pain threshold is no indication of what we will feel in our births. Maybe it’s all apples and oranges, always. Maybe a love tap to one person feels like a punch to the next. It all seems very subjective.

How can we really ever judge what another person is feeling, physically, unless we are in their body? So, amused as we may be… (I mean, did you see the woman who had surprise TWINS?!?!?!), we can never really know unless we’ve been there. Slight giggles, but no real judgments, from me.

Transforming Horror Into Survival

26 07 2011

Bad experiences happen for a reason, but we don’t have to like them. If we cannot change the past, but we must admit that the past shapes us, we can at least learn from it. Let it shape you into the best person you can be and make stronger choices in the future.

I’ve said before that I wouldn’t wish my 2nd labor on my worst enemy. If I could go back and save myself, I would. Yet I must acknowledge that if I changed that part of myself, I would probably not be talking to you now. Therefore, my suffering serves a purpose.

But, was my suffering deserved? Does anyone deserve to suffer? Who may judge this? What consolation is it?


An unfortunate one is a rootless ghost,
His walk a mad angel’s gait.
Insolent steps of one thrown from heaven
To toil in red dust,
As if he had not had enough
In a thousand previous lifetimes.
Where is his heart? Where is his soul?
To call this heaven’s will
Is a cheap answer.

There was once a god who committed a crime. His punishment was to be thrown back to earth to suffer the misfortunes of being human.

When you see those less fortunate than yourself, whether they are the homeless on the streets or simply the ugly and unpopular, can you be sure that they are not like that god flung back to this mad planet?

Is their misfortune their own fault? Or do you explain with references to morality, destiny, reincarnation, and cosmic justice? Even the words of saints offer no relief for their suffering, so it hardly seems fair to blame them.

Let us not hold ourselves above our fellow human beings, no matter how great the disparity. To withhold your scorn is already beautiful. To see how we are all of one family is compassion.

-365 Tao

Withhold your scorn. Wow. Could we? Could we try?

When I think of this, I think of it in its purest form:  survivalist training. Respect is deserved, because when we are trying to survive, we are trying to be strong and make the best out of horrific situations. This is a worthy cause. So many of us learn from our pain, or take good out of bad situations. We have to. We extract it and compartmentalize it, even if we wish would could discard the rest. In so many ways, in and out of childbirth, we transform the horrors we have faced into a new awakening geared at survival.

How many of us have learned from the cruelest people or experiences what it means to survive? Maybe some of us had parents who taught the virtues of self-sufficiency, but hurt us in other ways. Or maybe you were in a relationship that taught you a lot but also caused you pain.

In that sense, the very things that harm you now may later save your life. Why it ever had to hurt, I don’t know. But, blaming each other we must not do. We must try not to judge and instead, reach out a hand, offer strength if we can, and try to be strong ourselves. This is what healing people of their past births is all about. This is what preventing people from suffering through horrific birth ordeals is about.

I see a lot of women turn their suffering and pain into more pain. They use their losses and grief and horror against other women. They do like the 365 Tao describes, and they look down on others, or even act against them with contempt or ridicule. They have lost their compassion.

I see other women judge the pain of others, calling it the will of God, or chastising them for not coping better with their pain, and for not rising up and battling it with better ease when they themselves did not know such suffering.

What will you do with your pain? What will you do with the pain of others? Who will you let it make you become?

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.