I still remember the first time I heard someone talking about birth in a positive light.
I was living in Mexico City at the time and I went to visit a friend’s country house over the weekend. My friend's sister was there with her kids. She had a very friendly and smart three-year-old son and a sweet little baby girl around 2 months old.
I had just graduated college a few months earlier. Having babies was the last thing in my mind at that point, so I’m not sure how we even got started on the conversation about labor. I think I mentioned something about how painful I imagined birth to be, based on all the stories I have heard. She shook her head gently and told me about her experience. “It was a unique sensation,” she said, “but I wouldn’t call it pain.” She went ahead and told me about giving birth in a big tub of water and how lovely it was. She said she had been so relaxed that she had often fallen asleep in between contractions.
Well, she definitely blew my mind a little bit. First, I didn’t have idea that babies could be born underwater and second, painless birth? You gotta be kidding me!
THE ORGASMIC BIRTH TALE
Years later, when I found out I was pregnant for the first time, I didn’t remember much of that conversation. I had gone to a 10-day-long silent meditation course just a few days after discovering I was expecting, so when I was finally able to talk again I found myself talking to complete strangers about the news. On the way out of the meditation center we got a rideshare with two other people. One of them was an extravagant looking young blond girl who got so excited to hear I was pregnant that she pretty much jumped of joy. She started talking very fast, telling me she dreamt of becoming a midwife some day (I didn’t even know what a midwife was).
She looked at me in the eye very seriously and told me: “I just want you to know that it is completely possible and almost probable for you to have an orgasmic birth.”
She had definitely awakened my curiosity.
As my pregnancy progressed, I started finding more and more information about this orgasmic birth phenomenon. I was surprised to see there was a book written about it and even a movie made. I researched, I read, I talked to people who told me unbelievable stories.
I was intrigued and although I didn’t necessarily aspired to have an orgasmic birth, I found myself very interested on changing the mental conditioning that had me thinking of birth as the most painful thing that a human could even experience.
I thought maybe, just maybe, it didn’t have to be that way.
“I found myself very interested on changing the mental conditioning that had me thinking of birth as the most painful thing that a human could even experience.
I thought maybe, just maybe, it didn’t have to be that way.”
I spent my pregnancy going back a forth between Mexico and the States. After watching the movie Orgasmic Birth and starting my research about the subject, I could hardly talk about anything else. When I was visiting Mexico City at the end of my first trimester, I ran into an old friend who recommended a booklet called “Pariremos con Placer,” which translates into “We will Birth with Pleasure.” You can download it for free, but unfortunately I still haven’t been able to find a good English translation. The author, Casilda Rodrigañez, quotes books like Childbirth Without Fear and The Human Sexual Response amongst others, and takes a historical look at female sexuality to explain how patriarchy has affected our experiences and perceptions of childbirth.
There is a LOT to this booklet, but the most important stuff I got from it was the understanding that:
1. The uterus is an amazing organ. It moves, beats and changes in incredible ways. Many women feel it gently and pleasurably beating during pregnancy without knowing that’s what they are feeling. It’s made out of muscles that need to be exercised. Female traditional dances from all around the world emphasize the movement of the hips that increases blood circulation to the uterus, causing a completely different experience of both childbirth and menstruation. Fear, shame and stress make the uterus tense, causing its movement to feel painful.
The movement of the uterus during a contraction is the same than during orgasm!
(Illustration from The Sexual Human Response)
“Pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding are all hormonally and physiologically related to female sexuality, all heavily influenced by oxytocin, the hormone of love.”
So, armed with all this amazing information, did I have an orgasmic birth?
No. I wouldn’t describe it as orgasmic.
When I first started labor I was actually very scared. The first few contractions took me straight into my rational mind because OW! They hurt! They felt like sharp rays of pain shooting from the center of my womb towards the rest of my uterus. I remember thinking “This is only the beginning! It’s going to get much worse! How will I be able to do this?”
At this point, I could have easily fallen into the Fear-Tension-Pain cycle. I probably did for a few contractions, but I found a way to break away from by letting go of the tension. I relaxed my lips and swayed my hips during contractions and all of the sudden it didn’t hurt so much, which made the fear melt away. I found my rhythm and continued through labor for a few hours feeling safe and loved, surrounded by friends, moving freely. I don’t remember pain being part of the experience at that point. I went into some sort of trance, which I definitely remember being pleasurable.
I don’t trust my memory of birth too much though. Everything is kind of blurry.
I later learned in the book The Botany of Desire, that studies have found cannabinoid receptors in the uterus. Apparently, it’s speculated that an endocannabinoid produced in the brain, called anandamide and known as “the bliss molecule” may not only dull the pain of childbirth but help women forget it later. (The sensation of pain is, curiously, one of the hardest to remember.)
When I reached transition it was becoming a lot harder to cope and I think it was then that I screamed a couple of times. I also remember the ring of fire clearly, and I would definitely describe that as painful. But overall, my birth experience was very positive. I was high from it for days and I’m one of those women who annoyingly stated: “I want to do that again!”
Do I still think that orgasmic births or painless births are possible?
I do! Even if I haven’t experienced it myself!
I also think that you can have an orgasmic birth even if some parts of labor are painful. I was recently talking to a woman who has six children. She has experienced many different things in birth: inductions, epidurals, all natural, long labors, super fast labors. When we were talking about her memories of birth, she shyly told me that during one of her natural births, which was fast and painful, she felt like she was having an orgasm when the baby was coming out. “Have you ever heard of that?” she asked. “I was very embarrassed, since I was surrounded by doctors and nurses! I never told anyone about it before.”
“I think that you can have an orgasmic birth even if some parts of labor are painful.”
SO WHAT CAN YOU DO TO REDUCE PAIN DURING LABOR?
No one can warranty you a pain-free birth. The truth is that birth is completely unpredictable and we never really know how it will unfold. Even if you have your mind 100% set on an epidural, you won't know you're in labor until you feel contractions. Many times you have to wait for the anesthesiologist and in rare cases the epidural won't provide the expected pain relief (it happened to my mom). That being said, there are certain things that you can do to increase your confidence, reduce your fear, and experience a less painful (maybe painless?) birth
- Get educated. Take a good childbirth education class if possible. Read empowering books: Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, Birthing from Within and Orgasmic Birth are some of my favorites.
- Read and listen to the positive birth stories. There are many great birth stories in the Internet, but there are also many scary ones. Of course it’s important to be realistic, but you don’t want to condition your mind by reading the scary stuff. Get inspired by other women’s stories and try to stay positive. Most of the times birth happens without complications. Otherwise we wouldn’t be so many in this planet.
- Exercise and connect with your uterus. How much do you know about your uterus? Do you know how it looks? How it works? What has your relationship been with menstruation so far? Pregnancy is a good time to ask yourself these questions. To exercise and tone the uterus you can check out Dancing For Birth™ classes near you, or if there are none available, you can always join a belly dancing class. It’s safe!
- Try hypnosis. Hypnosis is a wonderful way to reach a deep state of relaxation and break away from the Fear-Tension-Pain cycle. I’m currently taking a Blissborn course with my friend and fellow doula Rebecca Elissor from Born in Ecstasy. I’m still not done, but so far I’m loving it. It includes self-hypnosis, exploration of fears, understanding of birth’s anatomy and much more. It has definitely helped me relax during pregnancy, which I have been needing a lot. I’m excited to see how I can use these tools during labor.
- Utilize movement and gravity. Contractions hurt a lot more when you can’t move, and you won’t be having great mobility if you’re lying on bed. This is a great time to own your body and follow its cues to move with the sensations of labor.
- Hire a doula! Doulas are professional support people equipped with many tools to help you get comfortable. We can suggest different positions, aid with rebozo, counter pressure, massage, heat or cold compresses and contribute to creating a safe, relaxing environment. If you want to learn more about doula services or schedule a consultation with me, send me an email!
“The truth is, pain is part of life and more often than not, it’s also part of birth. This is not your fault.”