I’ve often said that if you want to know where a woman’s true power lies, look to those primal experiences we’ve been taught to fear—not coincidentally the very same experiences the culture has taught us to distance ourselves from as much as possible, often by medicalizing them so that we are barely conscious of them anymore. Labor and birth rank right up there as experiences that put women in touch with their feminine power, along with the menstrual cycle and menopause. But imagine what would happen if our culture believed that we required medical help to have our monthly periods. What if all women went to medical centers for menstrual “anesthetics,” to help them avoid feeling the passage of menstrual blood, or for a procedure to extract menstrual blood quickly and painlessly, so they wouldn’t have to go through this monthly “nuisance.” If, when reading this, you notice that the idea of menstrual extraction appeals to you, you will probably also be drawn to birth interventions. This is simply a sign that you’ve been talked out of some of your feminine power.
At no other time than in the act of giving birth does your body serve so directly as a channel for the life force—if you do not interfere with that life force. And at no other time can you see Nature’s wisdom so palpably in action—if you are willing to allow Nature to do what Nature does best.
The process of birth is one of Nature’s highest achievements. Nature in all her wisdom has designed it so that the experience teaches a woman about her inner resources and how to access them. If participated in consciously and fully, labor will also cement the relationship between mother and child, and, if the mother’s mate is present, among all three of them.
The teaching is embodied in the rhythms of labor, which entrain the body and brain of the mother with strength, flexibility, and resilience. You experience contractions, which force you to find the resources to deal with the discomfort and to go deep within. And then you have a period of rest and relaxation, during which you can change positions, get more support, drink some water, and prepare yourself for the next contraction. You learn to go with a situation you cannot control, which may involve pressure and pain. And you learn to trust that the process will give you the time and strength you need to ready yourself for the next wave of contractions.
The bonding occurs thanks to the extraordinary biochemistry of labor, which primes the body and brain of both mother and child with high levels of two potent neurotransmitters, oxytocin (which causes uterine contractions as well as intense feelings of love) and beta-endorphins (the body’s natural opiates, which cause euphoria and numbing of pain). Together these hormones create a biological imprint in the bonding circuits.
All of these processes occur naturally, and most women do not need any of the numerous interventions, mechanical and drug-mediated, that make childbirth in this country resemble a medical emergency rather than a normal physiological event. But pregnant women tend to go along with this overmedicalized approach unthinkingly, assuming that their doctors know best. If, however, you understood that birth interventions such as IVs, electronic fetal monitoring, episiotomy, epidural anesthesia, labor induction, vacuum extractor and forceps deliveries, and cesarean sections might have adverse consequences for yourself and/or your baby, would you still participate in them under circumstances when they’re not medically necessary—which in most cases they aren’t? Birth interventions that bypass the normal processes of labor and birth are the equivalent of clamping the umbilical cord before the baby has had a chance to adjust to breathing on her own—another medical procedure that is all too common in the rushed environment of today’s delivery rooms.
No one speaks more clearly about the perfection of the design of the female body for giving birth naturally than Ina May Gaskin, a professional midwife who is the founder and guiding spirit of the Farm Midwifery Center and who has been delivering babies for over thirty years. From their birthing center in a rural community in Tennessee, Gaskin and the other midwives at the Farm have overseen the prenatal care and attended the births of more than 2,200 babies, most of them born in their parents’ homes or at the Farm. They have a safety record for mother and child that would be the envy of any medical center anywhere, despite (or probably because of!) the fact that fewer than 2 percent of their births were cesareans, fewer than 1 percent were assisted by forceps or vacuum extractors, and none of their births were drug assisted, except in cases of medical emergencies.
“Remember,” Ina May says, “your body is not a lemon. You are not a machine. The Creator is not a careless mechanic.”
Learn More — Additional Resources
- Ina May Gaskin is one of the best-known pioneers of midwifery. Learn more about her work at www.inamay.com.
- Mother-Daughter Wisdom, by Christiane Northrup, M.D., Chapter 4, “Pregnancy: Trusting the Process of Life” and Chapter 5, “Labor and Birth: Accessing Your Feminine Power”
- The Wisdom of Menopause, by Christiane Northrup, M.D., Chapter 12, “Pregnancy and Birthing”
- Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, by renowned midwife Ina May Gaskin