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Tuesday
Sep162008

Orgasmic Birth

A local midwife showed Orgasmic Birth  at her home last Friday night. It was a great set-up, about 30 folks, mostly women, some men and a sprinkling of new babies came to see the movie on a giant flat-screen tv in her outdoor living space. It really worked well.

The movie, to me, was the second installment to The Business of Being Born (BoBB) ,  having many of the same players - from Marsden Wagner (looking especially scruffy), Robbie Davis-Floyd and Ina May Gaskin. Even Dr. Moritz, Abby’s doctor from BoBB had comments about natural birth. New to this film was the renowned Christiane Northrup, MD; she had wonderful things to say (but I adore this woman in any venue).

The term “orgasmic birth” was used broadly… and rightly so. I’m thinking the writers/directors felt “orgasmic birth” would catch the media eye as well as bring curious on-lookers to a movie that might not otherwise be seen. They are probably correct.

I’ve seen three physically/literally orgasmic births in these 25.5 years. I’ve seen many, many more births that were spiritually/emotionally orgasmic. All of them made me feel like I was a voyeur.

This, of course, is one major (and important) argument in the Unassisted Childbirth (UC) arena. Not many can be sexually/intimately entwined with on-lookers. Not having any judgment at all about it, I wonder if those that can have some exhibitionistic droplets in their personalities. (Having been to kinky parties, I am not immune to either exhibitionism or voyeurism.) Being more of an exhibitionist, the voyeuristic role embarrasses me at times; I just don’t want to interfere or get in the way.

As a midwife, I am invited into the sometimes (often?) sensual/sexual energy couples (and women) experience. It is a huge honor and one I take very seriously and respectfully.

So Orgasmic Birth demonstrated the intricate nuances birth can be if left alone… the quiet, the moaning, the swaying, the cuddling, the intimacy… one could imagine the deep and musky scents that pervaded the labor room.

Not all of the births were in the home, either. Birth center births and even hospital births were shown. As an attendant pointed out, it was refreshing to see a blissful hospital birth in a pro-natural birth movie - (something, as readers know, I have witnessed myself).

To me, BoBB was educational, explaining midwives, why someone would choose a midwife and barely disclosed the beauty of home/natural birth. Orgasmic Birth (OB – hmmm… OB? now that’s one way to re-frame what OB means to all of us!) picks up where BoBB left off, showing us labor after labor, birth after birth, all so beautiful in their normalcy. To me, it is wonderful to have others see what I get/am privileged to see (as a midwife) most of the time.

I took notes throughout the movie and I was merciless… asking questions, making comments that others in the audience didn’t address.

Firstly, not everyone is comfortable being intimate, not only in public, but even in labor. If my former husband had come to kiss me deeply while I was contracting, I believe I might have smacked him. The first two labors were as unsexy as anything I’ve ever done that isn’t sensual. My third labor, I labored alone and could describe that as solo-sensual, but certainly not sexual.

I just read an article (and can’t find it again for anything) that talked about the author despising his childbirth classes because he was encouraged to be (what he considered) intimate with his wife. The touching, soothing, rocking and swaying was far too much for the couple and they ended up standing there with the childbirth educator urging them to “imagine the contractions and how you will help her through.” Their way was not the method’s way.

Will women who see OB be expected to hang all over their spouses during labor? Be judged as a cold fish if she swats hands and kisses away? Will midwives or doulas whisper to each other that “she just isn’t in touch with her sexuality and needs to loosen up or that baby will never come out”? Or will there be allowances for the myriad of differences in relationships and women and labors. I certainly hope the latter.

I remember one Hispanic woman I helped very early in my Spanish doula days. I was still learning Spanish and I was stroking her, loving her, soothing her as she, over and over said, “No me tocas. No me tocas.” Not understanding, I did what I had always done as a doula, helping her in the way other women had always wanted to be helped (as far as I knew then). Her nurse wandered in and chuckled, watching me rubbing her arm down, down, helping the tension come out her fingers. The nurse said off-handedly, “Um, she’s telling you to quit touching her.” Startled, I stopped and she visibly relaxed and her labor was much easier after I stopped that incessant massaging! I hadn’t even thought about her perhaps needing her own space to labor.

Yet, when I am in labor, I can’t stand being touched between my shoulders and knees. It sent my skin crawling if anyone tried to touch or massage me while I was having a contraction – and even inbetween.

Every woman and every labor is individual.

So, what if dads don’t want to be that involved in labor? Every once in awhile we’ll have a dad that loves the chick energy for his partner (and, to be clear, plenty of women want the chick energy more than any masculine energy) and takes a minor role in labor. It doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with their relationship or their connection to each other, but, to me, means they are clear with their needs and desires in birth.

I think it’s going to be really important for OB converts to take these guys into account and not be distressed (or judgmental) if they don’t cuddle up to their women in labor.

One of the common images in OB was the darkness of the rooms, even in the hospital. During a question and answer panel after the movie, one of the midwives mentioned how often women want darkness in birth. There was one labor that was 38 hours long and the woman was in the dimness for (it seemed) most/all of that time.

I actually find that some women need light at times during the labor. Being in the dark is hypnotic and inspires rest. Lightness can bring energy to a sleepy labor. I love sending moms out to the yard/garden to walk around barefoot, touching the earth, feeling the sun, getting re-energized for the continued work that still needs to be done.

As birth nears, yes, lowering the lights is great. Having shadows allows the baby to open his/her eyes and look right into mom’s eyes.

I think it can be one of the midwife’s jobs, gauging whether the atmosphere requires a change in energy or not. It’s a flow, an intuition… no science about it. Of course, if mom requests one or the other, that is what should be done, but women in their labor don’t often ask for light or darkness; they simply react to the changes.

One of the curious parts in the movie showed that 38 hour labor and how important it is to allow a woman to labor as long as she needs to. As a midwife, there were too many unanswered questions to blanketly say, “Oh, sure… let women labor until they (or the baby) are exhausted!” Did they count prodromal labor in the hours? Was she 3 cm in the beginning of the film? Did she sleep at all during the 38 hours? Were they monitoring her ketones?

If she was contracting hard the whole time, I would be extremely concerned about the baby’s ability to cope. As it was, it seemed the baby had meconium at the birth, a sign s/he had stress at some time during labor. Was it the long labor that did that? Hard to know for sure. Women who labor that long can also bleed more after the placenta is born because their uterus says, “You want WHAT? You want me to contract again?!”

On the surface, it seems romantic/”obvious” that we should all encourage women to labor as long as they need to, but there are caveats to it – caveats that weren’t disclosed.

Contrast that with the hospital birth that showed a woman having a cesarean after (a mere) 10 hours of labor. Again, no background information was shared. Was she at 6 centimeters for several hours? Was her blood pressure or temperature rising? Was the mom losing steam? Was the baby showing signs of needing help? Was there meconium when there previously hadn’t been any? In fact, there was meconium at the birth because they showed him/her being suctioned and the baby fighting it.

In my experience, it’s unlikely that a doctor would do a cesarean on a progressing woman with a healthy baby just because she hadn’t delivered in 10 hours. I believe there was more to the story than was shown. The sad part is those watching will just see the juxtaposition and be very sad for the cesarean mom.

So, there was another birth shown that was a typical hospital birth. It looked much like the majority of hospital births I have witnessed over all these years. The woman pushing, on her back, slightly elevated, legs in the supports (they technically aren’t stirrups anymore) and a chorus of “Push! Push! One! Two! Three!” etc. The doctor also used a vacuum and it was phenomenal they agreed to allow a camera in there (many [most?] hospitals forbid cameras during the actual birth and I don’t know any that allow cameras during forceps or vacuums). It’s typical for the vacuum to have to be placed more than once and this showed the suction cup pulling off and having to be re-attached. Great for people to see how hard the doc has to pull to get the baby out! Still, the vacuum is a great tool when the next step is a cesarean.

One of the most touching births came when a sexual abuse survivor was transformed by her natural homebirth. (I was actually shocked that she allowed cameras to chronicle the event.) If there is any message that needs to be heard in this movie, this, to me, is the most important one (probably because it hits so close to home?):

Women who have had their power stolen from them in a million different ways can find it again during their labors and births – if it is scripted loosely and includes hand-picked, trustworthy assistants.

I don’t believe women have to have a homebirth in order to find transformation through birth; I believe women can create their empowerment through strength, safety, and allowing birth to unfold in its own way, even if that includes a cesarean for a valid (and life-saving) reason. It’s the women who (unknowingly?) give their providers carte blanche that (can) find themselves dis-empowered.

(There’s a whole thread off of this topic that would lead us to the trust-your-provider issue and how can you know except in retrospect. Many women hire their providers believing they want the best for them, but find the providers’ wants and needs overshadow the birthing moms’. We’ll have to take on this topic one day.)

Is striving for an orgasmic birth a selfish desire? Does an orgasmic birth have anything to do with safety for the baby? Is this phenomenon going to pit a mom’s hunger for a beautiful “experience” against the safety of the baby inside?

This is part of why I believe orgasmic birth doesn’t just have to include a genital orgasm at the time of birth, but can have women loving their labors and births, even if they aren’t (what many would consider) picture perfect. I could be seeing this through cynical eyes, though. Or eyes that have seen a lot. I would consider the woman at the top of my blog to be in ecstasy during her labor, but she, in the end, had a cesarean for a brow presentation baby. It would be offensive to discount her glorious labor, but many certainly would. I wonder if the makers of OB would do so. In the end, it’s the woman’s own perception that matters – and this mom loved her experience. I haven’t asked, but I suspect she would call her daughter’s birth “orgasmic.”

Dignity.

Birthing with Dignity. A phrase I had never heard before was used in this film. The word resonated so deeply within me; I cannot get the phrase/term out of my head! “Dignity” says so much! Dignity allows the birth to unfold as it is supposed to, affords the woman her own power to birth in the safest and happiest way possible, requires the providers to respect the woman and her family (including the baby) and requires providers to respect a woman’s wishes, desires and, ultimately, needs.

Dignity in Birth – I’m going to incorporate that phrase into my practice and life.

Over the years, I’ve watched an interesting phenomenon occur in birth. Birth resembles the Nautilus shell.

As the actual moment of birth approaches (even through the pregnancy), the people around the woman move closer and closer to her and the baby. During labor, people are so close, they are in the same room and as birth becomes imminent, it isn’t unusual at all to have most/all the hands in the room on or very near the woman.


This was demonstrated perfectly in the movie as a Maori woman was giving birth. As you watch the movie, watch as she is loved so tenderly, hands giving not much more than support – a sort of laying-on-of-hands. Very, very beautiful.

(This woman named her baby Juniper. I love that name!! I’ve never heard it before – all the names I hear, too… never a Juniper. Love it!)

A couple of interesting observations.

- One woman said she’d had a hard time with “contractions” and “surges,” until a midwife said to her, “Feel them as if you are embracing your baby,” and immediately, the woman knew she could have a wonderful labor and birth – and she did.

I thought “embracing your child” is a beautiful way to think of a contraction! It puts the energy into the mom’s power and instead of contractions seeming to take over her body, they become her body. I really like this image a lot.

- One of the midwives had a tee shirt that said, “Believe” with some colorful somethings around the word. Can I tell you how much I want a shirt like that?! I have got to get one made. Believe. What a fantastic word to wear in birth.

- This might seem shallow, but whatever. Ina May’s hair. Good goddess that woman has GOT to do something about her Princess Leia hair-do. How unprofessional can someone look? How are midwives going to be taken seriously unless we stop looking like hippies, using bizarre words like “yoni” instead of vagina and “clitorotomy” (a made-up word!) instead of episiotomy?! (Pet peeves, can you tell?)

The midwife who hosted the evening assembled a wonderful panel of 2 doulas/childbirth educators and 2 LMs. They were all fantastic, sharing thoughts and experiences that touched all of us.

However, one of the doulas said something so profound, I had to share it here.

You know how when someone says they want to run a marathon in a year, the people around them say, “Great!” and during the year, as the marathon date approaches, the runner practices, sweats, grunts, deals with blisters, sore feet, sore knees, sweaty clothes, changes in diet, time schedules, sleep schedules and even being obsessed with the upcoming event?

You know how during the marathon, how people stand on the sidelines, cheering, howling, offering encouragement and nourishment throughout the race?

THIS is what birth can be compared to… except within our culture, if birth were a marathon, folks, throughout the training period say things like, “Oh, c’mon… what are you thinking? Why would you want to do something so hard when you can just take a car the 26 miles? Wouldn’t you see the same sights? You’d get to the end point just the same.”

And during the race, people would say, “Oh, you look so tired. You look miserable… aren’t you ready to quit yet? Look, I have my car right here… just jump in and I’ll give you a ride. Oh, you are falling down and trying to get back up? Why are you putting yourself through all of this misery? It isn’t like you’re going to get a medal or anything.”

And I added, “Not only will I give you a ride, but I’ll give you a joint so you can feel even better!”

I think this analogy is simply inspired.

Let’s use it when people try to discourage us from attempting a natural birth. Tell them you want as much respect as if you were a triathlete. Because you are doing even more! You’re producing a human being… much better than any medal.

Orgasmic birth – a phrase that is so subjective that I hope we all can see the individuality of the definition. See the movie – and let’s all strive for an orgasmic life!

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Reader Comments (17)

I really enjoyed reading this post. Especially after being over at Dr. A's blog and reading all the negativity there surrounding this "orgasmic birth". I seriously need to stop heading over there. Sometimes it's so snobby it's like a train wreck I can't look away from.

You continue to enlighten, and educate me in a way that's equal to both "sides".

May I add that as far as my two births went, I loved being touched. Being "grounded" in a way. I never quite had the thought of being sexual, but the descent of my son's head (second birth) with each contract felt sexual, and felt good in the sort of way penetration feels. If that makes any sense at all. We did cuddle a bit, and my husband was definitely thankful for all the "chick energy" there because while he wants to be supportive, I think he feels clueless, and not confident within the "birthing" realm. Another reason home birth was a great option for us.

I agree that "orgasmic" births don't have to be sexually orgasmic. that it is a broad term, and may apply to "births enjoyed".

September 16, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermommymichael

In 40 years of midwifery as a CNM I can categorically say that ANY woman who has an orgasm during birth is nothing more than a masochist. Sheila Kitzinger started this particular kind of nonsense with her "ring of fire".
Orgasm and a certain level of intimacy between the partners is NOT the same thing.

You know, it's called "labor" for a reason. Having a baby is bloody hard work.

September 17, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAntigonos

As always Barb, I love your insights on birth!

September 17, 2008 | Unregistered Commenteratyourcervix

I totally disagree that women are masochists if they orgasm during birth. I've seen sensuality beyond words that has nothing to do with masochism. And I *know* masochism.

Birth isn't always painful for women. I thought that was a given that people would know that. I guess not.

You might have 40 years in midwifery, so I find it amazing you haven't seen an orgasm during birth. Perhaps it's the setting? And the setting them up?

September 17, 2008 | Registered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

The marathon analogy is fantastic. It's staying in my tool box.

September 17, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterchristine chapel

i loved the marathon analogy, it really hits deep with me and my family.
they are so supportive of any goal that has nothing to do with the possibility of enjoying birth or giving birth with no pain medications.

its very strange really, that they can be so supportive of everything except the one thing i need the most support on.

September 17, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJackieD

Families are weird sometimes. I'm having a HARD time with my own, so I understand. And I didn't tell them I was having a homebirth until after Meghann was already born. By the time I had Aimee, I was the certified nut and no one said a thing. What could they say? Now, nothing I do or say surprises anyone.

It'll be like that for you one day, too. I promise. Just keep doing what you know is right... and pretend you know you are when you aren't sure. You're going to do great.

September 17, 2008 | Registered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

My FIL was the only one really in our family to be full on head strong about the "issue". "Why in the world anybody would want a home birth in this day and age is beyond me..."
My dad actually wrote a letter to him "man to man" after dealing with him again and again and again. I think the fact that it came from a paramedic helped, but he basically told him to back off, let me do my thing my own way, and that he wouldn't be surprised if went out into a field and birthed him by myself perfectly fine.
He kind of backed off after that.
By my second home birth he had done a total 180 and was sending me home birth articles from magazines, newspapers, internet sites he'd come across. Sending me articles about doula's that he'd seen randomly.
He's still kind of "meh" on it all, but hell they can have their baby their own way. and interestingly enough, my MIL had my husband in the hospital (she worked as a medic in the airforce...). But when she went into labor she kept working. She didn't feel any pain, she said it was just annoying. When she got back to triage (finally) and was already 7-8 cms. They gave her an epidural. I asked her how come if she wasn't feeling any pain and she said she thought she had to have it to have the baby safely. and then she pushed out my husband. My MIL is half chinese half burmese. straight from burma. she and all her sisters (9 of them) we're born at home. i have NO idea why she thought that the epidural would make it safer.

September 18, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermommymichael

I had an unmedicated hospital birth with a midwife, and for most of my labor didn't want anyone to touch me at all. When I was pushing, my midwife started doing _something_ (rubbing, but maybe just 'supporting') around my perineum that wasn't orgasm-inducing, but definitely felt good in a sexual way. I was surprised and sort of taken aback by it and wondered at the time if she was doing it on purpose or knew what she was doing. It was not something I would normally have been okay with a relative stranger doing to me, but in that context, I figured I might as well go with it. It was an odd thing to have these very pleasurable sensations admixed with the 'ring of fire' stretching of the baby crowning, and I think perhaps it made it easier to keep pushing because my body was a little confused by the competing sensory information.

I would also say that going through labor and birth requires a similar kind of surrender to the body and strong sensations, the willingness to let your ego fall away, allowing your ordinary consciousness to be subsumed by something greater than yourself. Rarely during sex, one can be overpowered by a connection to the universe, a feeling that you are part of something awesome and far vaster than your self. That happened for me as my son passed from my body onto the planet, and it was actually a more wonderful revelation of body-wisdom than any sex I have had.

BTW, I am a generally a lurker, but really enjoy your posts and your photos. Thanks for sharing your insights on birth.

September 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKatherine

Thank you!

I doubt the midwife was purposefully stimulating you. It would be very, very odd for that to happen. I haven't had a client ever tell me perineal support or perineal massage was erotic, but I can imagine it could be.

The sensation you describe and the referral to the midwife not knowing if she was doing the stimulation or not are the EXACT reason I make SURE *all* my clients know I am lesbian before they hire me.

I know it shouldn't make any difference at all, but if *anything* ever came down or my lesbianism discovered *after* the birth, I can imagine a client becoming LIVID and negative, nasty comments being made.

My Bio is required reading before I make an appt. for a consult. Ever since I have had a Bio for people to read, coming out has become a moot point in interviews.

It's just sad, sad, sad that this even has to be an issue, but it is. Blessedly, I have had wonderful clients that couldn't have cared less. Even my born-again Christian clients are delightfully supportive of my life with Sarah.

Thanks so much for sharing your story. It's great to hear everyone's experiences.

September 18, 2008 | Registered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

Barb,
Fantastic post--as always!! I have a question for you. I am sure it is different in each situation but how do you ensure that a laboring woman doesn't feel like a "watched pot" (especially early in her labor)?

I am just wondering how you tune into this with each woman. Your process is always so great that I wanted to hear your wisdom about this.

Thanks!

September 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

I looked for your email address but couldn't find it on the site, so I'm hoping this is the best way to get this information out. I received an email from my midwife this morning, who received this information from the Association of Ontario Midwives, here in Canada.

Apparently, Dr. Phil is gathering responses for a show which will focus on negative home birth experiences. Here's the letter from the AOM:

Dear Midwifery Supporter,

Dr. Phil has a television show which reaches millions of viewers daily. We are asking for your help in responding to a planned show about negative experiences with home birth.

The show is based in the United States, but we feel strongly that the producers need to hear from women and families around the world who have had positive home birth experiences, and good midwifery experiences in general.

Here is the link to the form asking for bad experiences:

http://www.drphil.com/plugger/respond/?plugID=12524

However, you may wish to send your positive birth story to several other places at once. Feel free to bombard them with your thoughts. The thinking is that if letters go only via the form above, the producers may just say “we received thousands of responses to our request for bad stories.” (Even if your letter contains a good story!)

Below are more links to send your responses to the show:

http://www.drphil.com/plugger/respond/?plugID=12479

http://www.drphil.com/plugger/respond/?plugID=9164

http://www.drphil.com/plugger/respond/?plugID=11311
Dr. Phil show
5482 Wilshire Boulevard #1902
Los Angeles, CA 90036

If you send a note to the show, please let the AOM know: comms@aom.on.ca

Feel free to circulate this request to other home birth advocates. Thank you for your support of midwifery.

Sincerely,

Kelly Stadelbauer

As a home birth advocate yourself, I figured that you might be able to get the word out and that it may be possible to overwhelm Dr. Phil with POSITIVE home birth stories. Of course Dr. Phil will find people with negative home birth stories, but hopefully we can convince his producers to include both sides of the story :)

Thanks so much,
From one home birther with a positive experience,
Kristyn

September 19, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKristynH

Your comment about not wanting to be touched definitely rang a bell with me. I knew that my baby was back-to-back, and I'd had a lot of back pain through the labour, so I went off and packed massage oils, a tennis ball and a wooden massager into my hospital bag.

When the back labour kicked in, though, I couldn't bear to have my husband touch me. It felt like being branded. The poor chap was quite confused, I think, having dutifully done a class in massage during labour. I didn't even want to be HUGGED, which was very strange for me.

September 20, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterTam

Elizabeth: Re: the watched pot

I will check on mom earlier in labor and then leave her alone to labor until she is going along well. Even then, if the woman is doing fine with her partner, we'll hang out in another room, going in to check heart tones when appropriate.

We also let women know we will come and go without any complaint. If she wants to see us early, we go. If she wants us to go for awhile, we go if things are safe. Sometimes we just go down the street to a Starbucks! And, invariably, soon after we go, mom needs us again. Leaving women alone can be a very good thing.

September 20, 2008 | Registered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

Kristyn -

Read these that Dr. Phil is doing, too:

http://www.drphil.com/plugger/respond/?plugID=12479

That one is on choosing to have a homebirth.

http://www.drphil.com/plugger/respond/?plugID=12709

This one asks for traumatic hospital births.

http://www.drphil.com/plugger/respond/?plugID=12726

This one asks if a traumatic birth has ruined your marriage.

So, to me, asking about traumatic homebirths is balance. There *have* been traumatic homebirths and someone choosing to have a homebirth really needs to know ALL the possible scenarios.

I wrote them asking to be on the shows. :) Ages ago.

September 20, 2008 | Registered CommenterNavelgazing Midwife

Barb--
Thanks for such a thoughtful answer! I *love* that you leave "your" laboring women alone if they desire it. As always, it seems like you listen to your clients and allow them the space that they need to labor successfully! (And, I have to ask, what do you get at Starbucks? ;)

Keep the great posts coming.

September 20, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

Another late comment, but I just had to chime in!

My husband and I took on roles during labor much like we do in our everyday lives. My husband is very supportive emotionally and verbally, but we don't do a whole lot of touching, especially in public. Most of it is initiated by me, which works for both of us. He's there when and how I ask/need him to be.

During labor I needed to touch him, not the other way around. I was not a fan of people touching me. We sat on stools (sometimes a birthing ball) with him in front of me with his back to me. I leaned on him between contractions (my stomach to his back) and during contractions I ran my hands up and down his back. This helped me to focus and stay relaxed. When I was ready to get in the water (I was ready to push within a contraction of getting in, surprise to me) my husband hooked his arms under my armpits and kept me above water during the contractions, literally supporting my body. Nothing really intimate, but supportive as he is in our daily life.

May 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDanielle

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