To imply that the best birth outcomes are a result of positive thinking—or lack of fear—may be true on some levels, but it’s also a gross oversimplification. This week, Mother’s Advocate guest Piper Lovemore discusses the important role of fear in birth.
While it would be somewhat gratifying to place the blame for our current fearful birth culture on reality television, it would also be a misnomer. Certainly popular media images of birth feed into our nation’s tokophobia (fear of childbirth or pregnancy), but they are not entirely to blame. Nor is blame entirely called for.
Fear has a physiological foundation in the body. On the most basic hormonal level, there are only two root emotions: love and fear. Love is associated with the hormone Oxytocin, known for its starring role in orgasm and uterine contractions. Fear releases the hormone Adrenaline, enhancing our speed and agility. These two hormones, followed closely by endorphins, are the most important players in physiological birth process, and their entitlement to that distinction predates even The Learning Channel and Discovery Health.
Yes, physiological fear can be traced back to a time before television, or hospitals, or even doctors for that matter. It stands to reason that a hormonal interplay so ancient is not for naught.
For our foremothers it was especially important. In times of danger, the natural hormonal response to fear impacts the body’s ability to suspend the birth process temporarily. Women of ancient civilizations faced birth in environments less stable than our own and the possibility of flight during labor necessitated a means for shutting things down in order to pick up and go.
What is concerning is that this very mechanism which served – and in some areas undoubtedly continues to serve – women has lead our culture toward ever-increasing amount of intervention, causing greater risk despite a more controlled environment.
What we may be overlooking is that the body’s built-in safety mechanisms are still functioning as effectively as ever. It’s our appreciation for these internal signals that has diminished. Women aren’t birthing less efficiently, we are losing the ability to understand the body’s signals..
Sure, there may be less perceived threat in a hospital environment. And many women who choose to birth at home do so because they feel safest there. But because labor loves surrender, because birth functions most smoothly when a woman is able to become powerfully open, any challenge to her vulnerability can trigger adrenaline release.
Sometimes its the orderly coming in to empty the trash, or an unfamiliar face in the birthing team. Often its far more subtle than that.
When we acknowledge the role that fear plays in birth without judgment or shame – or the need to abolish it – we create a space in which we can recognize the gifts that it brings. Fear has the ability to direct our attention toward a particular issue, it can be our teacher; and in a miraculous synchronicity, just as these issues emerge labor may slow to allow us to address them.
Birth has its own magic. The intoxicating hormonal cocktail it creates in the body produces a profound emotional fluidity, which in turn facilitates a unique opportunity for clearing and healing. Fear may psychologically draw out issues needing attention and physiologically create an opportunity for us to address them.
From this perspective a birthing woman who chooses to have faith in—and commitment to—her process may actually be supported in growing through some of her emotional hang ups, rather than being synthetically sped through them. In this way we create a more welcoming emotional environment for her new baby, often grounded in deeper emotional connection with her partner. It can be a truly remarkable transformation.
But you probably won’t see it on television. *
*Or maybe you can… Orgasmic Birth is currently airing on television in the Czech Republic! Could your country be next? Visit http://www.orgasmicbirth.com <http://www.orgasmicbirth.com> for listings and a plethora of inspiration. Piper Lovemore is a mother, an activist, an educator, a doula, and an aspiring midwife. Her first birth was featured in the award winning documentary film Orgasmic Birth. Her next two births took place at home, ‘unassisted’.
She lives in Hawaii with her partner in life, love and Lamaze, Chaz, and their three children, Che’, Plum and Rocket.