Every now and then, Taylor and I like to feature professionals who “just get it” in our opinion. Our doula friend, Karen Sousa, is one of our favorites because she understands hormones. This article on natural birth addresses hormones our BTS team talks about quite often. Oxytocin, catecholamines, and endorphins. Also, Karen addresses your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. We have many female clients who join our systems because they want to get in shape before they get pregnant. They also get the added benefit of education around these functions in their body so they can have awareness as they enter their pregnancy and eventually the birthing process. Read below even if you aren’t pregnant. Every woman should have this knowledge. – Nikki Robbins, BTS Owner
Natural Birth Now
By Karen Sousa, CD(DONA), CLEC, CHBE
Do you want to have a natural birth? If so, that’s surprising. Most American women are believing lies that sway them far and away from that desire. Modern maternity care lie number one, “Birth is scary, and painful, and traumatic, and anything can happen.”
With 70% of us getting epidurals that is the normal attitude towards birth. A third of American women are having “Belly Births” (as I like to call them; AKA C-sections) and most are believe lie number two, “Your body is broken.”
Maybe some of us avoided these lies with our first pregnancy and so we wanted a natural birth, but what happened? We were denied food and water, we were admitted too early, we were augmented or induced, or we were told interventions were necessary when they weren’t. Without knowing to question the care we received, we resolved to throw out our ideals of natural birth in disappointment. Natural birth became an Ideal. Some of us even believed our bodies were already incapable when we were told prenatally our babies are too big and/or our pelvises are too small.
So here I am, attempting to address the secret monster hiding in our heads telling us we can’t do it. I am willing to take on such a giant. I am not willing to do this because I am a crazy hippy, although some who know me personally may find evidence as such. I am not an OBGYN who specializes in natural birth and has access to some revolutionary medical care. I am not a midwife who travels all over the city to home births where drugs aren’t offered. I am willing to do this because I have witnessed nearly fifty undedicated births with minimal to no medical intervention. I am a birth doula who quickly learned that the biggest caveat to natural birth is that we don’t leave the moms alone.
It turns out, birth IS normal and natural. It’s as natural as menstrual cycles, and it’s as natural as making babies. What’s not natural is fearing birth. Fearing birth releases catecholamines, which literally discontinues the flow of oxytocin. Oxytocin is the “love hormone” that we feel two other times in our lives as women, that is, when having an orgasm and when breastfeeding. In addition to fear slowing or stopping labor, it also puts our bodies and babies at risk for complications. When our bodies are operating in the sympathetic, (fight or flight), sphere instead of the parasympathetic, (rest and digest, as Taylor and Nikki call it), sphere, we see many problems. We have a faster heart rate, causing baby’s heart rate to rise. We have a weaker ability to release our bowels and urine, which creates less room for baby to descend. Our desire to eat and drink diminishes, making our uterus lack valuable nutrition and even causes uterine irritability. Our oxygen rich blood is rerouted to our vital organs, NOT to the placenta, which denies the baby oxygen. There’s not enough protection from these issues, in fact, there’s promotion of them.
The typical hospital experience does not promote an atmosphere that is complementary to our own body’s ability to progress safely. An example of this would be, we go to the hospital to get induced which is already intimidating. We are told to sleep while constantly having strangers do invasive vaginal exams, and then we wonder why everything is taking so long and the doubt sets in. On top of that, the interventions administered comes in the form of a snow ball of more and more interventions, and we don’t even realize we would have been better off without them in the first place. For example, epidurals diminish our body’s ability to produce its own oxytocin, so Pitocin is given. Pitocin is described as the same thing as oxytocin, yet we’re told we need to be constantly monitored on it because it poses a risk of fetal distress. The constant monitoring is proven to result in unnecessary intervention because it’s unreliable. And so we end up flat on a dissection table in an alien ship with every prod and mechanical beeping thing attached to us. It’s no wonder the next thing we hear from a white coat is so easily accepted, “It’s either the passenger, the pathway, or the power that’s the problem.” In other words, blame the baby, your pelvis, or your uterus’ strength, just pick one, anyone. As long as you don’t blame us, the hospital.
We come out of that experience and come right into the fear cycle that women are unfortunately stuck in. We go in either fearful or ignorant, we come out disappointed and blame ourselves, we share our stories of trauma and perpetuate the fear cycle over and over and over again. So if you’re pregnant, stop listening.
So, how is it that I’ve been able to witness something completely different so many times? First, I learned about how birth actually works in a physiological sense. If you’re going to be giving birth, that’s probably a good idea. Please, put “What to Expect When Expecting” down, and pick up “HypnoBirthing”. My bias is that the education “HypnoBirthing” provides does the best job of diminishing fear and taking back your power to birth. But read anything! Take any class! Whether it’s Bradley, Alpha, Birthing From Within, or Birth Boot Camp, just learn anything that promotes birth in a normal, non-medicalized, way. Learn about the magical secret of an extreme endorphin release!
I also provided these women with constant reassurance that what was happening in labor or waiting for it was perfectly acceptable. I taught these parents how to have authority in the hospital setting and how to respond to limiting policies and procedures. Some of the simplest things my natural birthing clients have done is just stay home, drink and eat, listen to calming music, and breathe slowly. As simple as these things are, because of the agenda against them, you require ongoing support. Like a doula, they’ll be your advocate.
You SHOULD be questioning every intervention apart from an emergency belly birth. Nevertheless, in some cases, it’s not the hospital, but ourselves that we need to overcome.
I can usually tell within a few minutes of speaking to a woman what kinds of mental and emotional hurdles we’ll need to address prenatally. I’ve found that some of us who are smart enough to hire a doula can also be pretty head-strong too. As much as we need to take back control from well-meaning nurses and doctors, we need to let go of control to our babies and THEIR journey. If there’s any awareness that you have an issue with patience, or you’ve been told that you tend to voluntarily carry a lot of weight on your own shoulders. Your baby will teach you how to release that if you’re listening. You can learn all the breathing techniques, visualization tools, and positions in the world; yet, if you think birth is something you have to DO, you’re wrong. It’s something you surrender to. Our bodies take us, we go for the ride.
Additionally, the number one mistake my overzealous first time parents make is staying awake when they could’ve slept. Sometimes, that even looks like sleeping on the bathroom floor if with each contraction you’re getting up to pee. Sleep is terribly underrated and the lack of it is cause for paying attention to the clock, wondering what’s taking so long, doubting your body, and then believing you have to do something to make it go faster. Do whatever it takes to sleep if it’s time to sleep. If it’s during the day, just keep ignoring the contractions until they get your attention more intensely. And for the love of babies, PUT THE CONTRACTION TIMER AWAY! You’ll know when it’s time. I’ve rarely seen someone not know they were in labor. Don’t worry about the timing, it’s all arbitrary.
In the words of one of San Diego’s most beloved experienced doulas, “Just keep doing life until you get the urge to push.” – Rosie Curtis