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By Maya Richardson

A sunny afternoon in April 1994, I deposited a few drops of urine into a pregnancy test. I waited very impatiently, trying hard not to look until the full time had passed. I cheated, but the two lines were already there... I was pregnant! After the initial excitement had passed, I faced the seemingly harsh reality; "This baby is small now, but it is going to grow... and it has to come out!" All the terrible things I had heard about childbirth, and the things that I had secretly pondered flashed before me; the pain, the episiotomy, the exposure! Oh, surely, there had to be a better way.

I have since learned that there is. But it wasn't till after my second child was born that I fully understood. I have learned that there's no need of assistance from a professional birth attendant in many cases. You are your own best birth professional. You already have what you need to give birth to your little one(s). Childbirth is not a disease, and your body works best at giving birth when you are unhindered and undisturbed.(1,4)

Turning birth into a medical event is not natural for our bodies. When birth is medically managed the body does not know how to cope, and sets off a whole stream of responses which lead to pain and complications. Not to mention the complications which result from the interventions themselves(2,3,4).

Giving birth is natural. That is what your body is designed for. Nature has a grand plan to ensure success and safe outcomes for the mother and baby. The study of physical and emotional patterns in women giving birth support the idea that childbirth is indeed a private, spiritual, and empowering event by nature. There is an intricate networking of hormonal responses in the body from before the onset of labor to well after the birth, which help create a safe and empowering experience.

Some criticize mothers for putting weight on having a good birth, and come with the argument that a healthy baby is more important than a nice experience. But it has been discovered that safety and a "good birth experience" go hand in hand. The things that make a birth a good experience for the mother also make for a healthy baby.(1,3,4) Allow me to go through some of the hormones involved in childbirth. When you read on, you will see how safety and a good birth intertwine.

Oxytocin is the hormone that causes contractions. The production of this hormone is maintained throughout labor and birth when there is pressure on the cervix, stretching of the perineum, and nipple stimulation. Besides causing contractions this hormone reduces anxiety and depression, prevents hemorrhage after the birth by contracting the uterus, increases skin temperature, and increases maternal feelings.(1,5,6)

Endorphins are the body's own natural painkillers. They are reported to have an effect similar to morphine, and are produced when there is active physical stress. Apart from being painkillers endorphins create a sense of joy and relaxation, while enhancing performance. After the birth they increase feelings of achievement and satisfaction, resulting in increased confidence and self worth.(1,7)

Catecholamines: Disturbances in the natural flow of labor will cause problems during and after the birth. When a woman is disturbed, her body will instinctively release catecholamines, one of them being adrenaline. Adrenaline is the "flight hormone" and is released when there is danger or a threat. Its function in childbirth is to slow down labor so the mother can get to a safe place to birth her baby.(6,7,8)

Adrenaline "impairs" the uterus in the following ways:

  • Adrenaline slows down the release of oxytocin which causes contractions. It also decreases the production of endorphins in the body resulting in more pain.(1,5,7)
  • The uterus contains within itself two opposing muscle groups. One is responsible for opening the womb and pushing the baby out, and the other is responsible for slowing down birth by contracting the cervix. The surge of adrenaline will cause the latter to happen.(9)
  • When fear is present, the body supplies blood only to the organs which are essential for the body in order to "flee from danger". The uterus not being one of these, will not get the blood and oxygen it needs. Thus, normal function is impaired. Nikki Bradford puts it this way in her book "The Miraculous World of Your Newborn Baby";

    "Labor Pain does not come directly from your womb, but is due to ischemia, a lack of blood in the uterine muscles produced by the womb working hard.. This hurts for the same reason that a heart attack or angina hurts; lack of oxygen to the muscles, and a buildup of cellular waste products which irritate nerve tissue."

When the mother is labeled "failure to progress", and experiencing a lot of pain, you can almost always trace it to the production of stress hormones. When hormonal production is impaired; when you have two opposing muscle groups pulling in opposite directions, plus a uterus literally white from fear (all this disabling proper uterine function), there will be very real pain. The baby will in this situation also experience stress, from the lack of oxygen.(5,9) The hospital staff responds to this by giving pitocin to augement labor and an epidural for the pain. They cover up the body's natural defenses and fail to recognize the important fact that they themselves with their invasions are the root of the problem.(1)

Fear, lack of privacy, overlooking natural modesty, and interventions will likely cause the release of adrenaline and increase the mother's pain unnecessarily. (4,5,6,7,8,9) Doctors, nurses, and even many midwives with their interventions throw off balance the grand plan of reproduction and birth. Women are labeled as failures when it is the whole system of giving birth that is causing a distortion of balance.

Childbirth is best when left to nature. But without proper knowledge, the so called pain of childbirth can be frightening. Many women I have talked with go to the hospital for this reason. If they only took the time to rid themselves of this fear they would highly benefit, and would find out that childbirth is not the agonizing ordeal portrayed by the media. Some women describe their births as painless. When the mother is well nourished and uninhibited, giving birth can indeed be painless.(4,8)

Painless does not mean sensation-less, and in transition (the shortest part of labor) it is normal to feel pain. But the sensations in childbirth are like a compass. They give the mother direction and feedback. If there is strong or unbearable pain, it gives the mother incentive to make changes where she needs to.(1) Like changing positions to make room for the baby, using the restroom, or simply getting rid of intrusive birth assistants and on-watchers. If the cause pain cannot be corrected at the time of birth (malnutrition, emotional issues etc.), it gives the mother incentive to make changes before she has another baby (also ensuring healthy offspring).

Of course, the most influential, emotional, and joyous part of birth is when mother and child meet for the first time face to face. This first meeting is the consummation of the marvelous act of creation, and labor has done well to prepare both mother and child for this first union. Right after giving birth the mother has an abundance of oxytocin in her system. Oxytocin is often called the "love hormone", and it helps form a strong loving bond between mother and child from the start. It assists in bonding, breastfeeding, and gives the mother the confidence she needs in caring for her little one. Right after birth the infant is also alert and ready to interact. When the hospital whisks the baby away at this crucial moment for tests and hospital procedures, it sets the mother up for failure, and the mother suffers loss because a natural and expected part of the birth was taken from her.(1,5) This can lead to problems with bonding, breastfeeding, and in many cases postpartum depression.(1,10,11).

Today, birth is portrayed as an ordeal a woman has to get through. But I hope that one day women will take responsibility for the births of their babies, and give birth from within. They will trust that their bodies are wonderful and fully capable of this marvelous aspect of creation. Babies should be born with that same love and intimacy they were conceived in. Women will embrace the sensations of labor and birth, knowing that they are an important part of a natural continuum to help mother and baby thrive.



1. Andrea Robertson; The Pain of Labor - A Feminist Issue
2. Davis-Floyd, Robbie E., Birth As An American Rite of Passage, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1992.
3. Goer, Henci, The Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth. The Berkley Publishing Group, 375 Hudson Street, New York, New york 10014, 1999.
4. Kaplan Shanley, Laura, Unassisted Childbirth. Bergin & Garvey. 1994.
5. Odent, Michel, MD. Birth Reborn. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984.
6. Turner RA, Altemus M, Enos T, Cooper B, McGuinness T. Preliminary research on plasma oxytocin in normal cycling women: investigating emotion and interpersonal distress. Psychiatry 1999 Summer;62(2):97-1137.
7. Lieberman, Adrienne B., Easing Labor Pain. The Harvard Common Press, 1992
8. Dick-Read, Grantley, MD. Childbirth Without Fear, fifth edition. New York: Harper R Row, 1981.
9. Griffin, Nancy, M.A., AAHCC The Epidural Express: Real Reasons Not to Jump On Board
10. Liedloff, Jean, The Continuum Concept. Perseus Pr; 1986.
11. Murray AD. Dolby RM. Nation RL. Thomas DB. Title Effects of epidural anesthesia on newborns and their mothers. Source Child Development. 52(1):71-82, 1981 Mar.

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