This week, we are proud to share our interview with Debra Pascali-Bonaro, a respected childbirth educator, expert and advocate, and filmmaker of “Orgasmic Birth,” now also a book. As Debra describes, childbirth is not only a completely natural and magnificent event, it has the potential to be pleasurable!
MA: Unnecessary birth interventions are at an all-time high. What can we attribute this to?
DPB: I think it has many, many facets. It’s hard to name only one, but a huge part of it is that we live in a society where we believe there’s an element of safety in technology. We have become comfortable with technology, and even with surgery. Thank goodness surgery and medicine have advanced and become safer, because they’re often life-saving, but society has a false reliance in technology when related to childbirth. The increase of its overuse has led the U.S. to higher maternal mortality, and perpetuates a high rate of infant mortality when compared to other developed countries. We have highly-skilled obstetricians caring for healthy, low-risk moms and babies — and their training is typically in high-risk situations. It’s like hiring a pediatrician to babysit your 2-year-old. The pediatrician will do a wonderful job, but is perhaps overqualified.
We also live in a time where our fear of birth is escalated. A lot of people have the idea that birth is an emergency waiting to happen, and media has played a role in that. We need to take a look at why we’re afraid of birth. Women need to learn to embrace and understand how their bodies work. Birth is something miraculous, and certainly not something to be feared.
MA: How can women overcome the fear surrounding labor and birth?
DPB: Women need to hear positive birth stories. Sadly, women who have positive, transformative, challenging but amazing births usually don’t tell their stories. They may think it’s not normal, or may not want to make other women feel inferior. Women need to share their birth stories, both positive and difficult, and when they’re difficult, we should examine why and what could have changed. This is why films that show birth in its fullest form (Orgasmic Birth, The Business of Being Born … ) are so important. They have the power to transform how society looks at birth, to dispel the myths and relieve the fear.
MA: What recommendations can you make to women wishing to achieve an all-natural, pleasurable birth?
DPB: First, women should really educate themselves as much as possible about all of their options. They should look at the difference between care providers, and find the provider who is best aligned with their wishes. They should look at and visit local hospitals, birth centers, and interview home birth providers — to see the difference in each setting and fully know what each choice offers. I encourage women to consider hiring a doula, who can provide valuable emotional support, physical comfort, and who is there solely to guide a woman and her partner through birth. Seeking childbirth education that covers all options, not just medical options can give women preparation for all of the choices ahead.
As women prepare for birth, I hope they also consider that it is a part of a woman’s sexual life. Oxytocin, the hormone responsible for female arousal, is needed for labor to progress and bring a woman to birth. Women should imagine the environment that provides them space for a loving, enjoyable evening — what lights, smells, sounds, level of privacy and touch would be necessary? If we can incorporate these things into labor, we will feel safe enough to naturally produce oxytocin, which will inevitably end in a more pleasurable birth. It’s also important to know that challenges will be there, and that each person will handle challenges differently, but if a woman views birth as sacred and amazing, the likelihood that it will be so is high.
MA: What role does labor support play in a healthy, fulfilling birth?
DPB: I think that has to be answered by each woman. Some women really like to go within themselves, and have a journey that’s filled with solitude, but the vast majority of women benefit from companionship during labor and birth — whether it’s their partner, husband, friend, mother or a doula. Studies show that continuous support brings huge benefits for both mom and baby, and that women using support usually have a more comfortable experience and fewer interventions — and pleasure and joy are certainly easier to obtain.
MA: What inspired “Orgasmic Birth?”
DPB: It was literally a dream. I was asleep one night and had a very vivid dream of making a film about all that’s possible in birth. I woke up feeling so strongly that I had to do it; I had to make it happen. I went on a quest, and found people who could help me, then a series of amazing events led to the film really coming together. The film is great because it not only shares that we should strive to achieve all that’s possible in birth, but also encourages women to know their options. For me, it also represents the possibility that you can follow your dreams, and they can come true (I never thought I would be a filmmaker.)!
Debra Pascali-Bonaro, mother of five, is an internationally respected childbirth expert, a 26-year speaker in childbirth education, and a Lamaze-certified veteran in maternity care with a passion for birth. A graduate of McGill University, Debra travels the world to educate and inspire women to consider options for birth, for the health and well-being of both women and babies. She teaches nursing, midwifery and medical students, serves on the Board of Directors for Childbirth Connection, and is a DONA-approved doula trainer. She coauthored “Nurturing Beginnings: Mother Love’s Guide to Postpartum Home Care for Doulas and Outreach Workers” and received Lamaze International’s Elizabeth Bing Award in 2002. For more information on Debra, please visit MotherLoveDoulas.