Childbirth without Fear!
“The Joy of Life must be the vision of motherhood, instead of the fear of death that has clouded it since civilisation developed”
Childbirth without Fear: what does that look like?
Most mothers approach birth with anything from a phobic stir to debilitating, paralysing fear. This fear can either be instinctual or learned through popular beliefs and expectations or a combination of both.
We live in a culture that teaches women to FEAR what is essentially a natural, physiological function. A function that a woman’s body is perfectly designed to do, if it is left undisturbed and allowed to unfold in its own way into the birth process. Women are not taught the physiology of natural birth and often are offered the medical model of birth as the only viable option available to them.
I believe there was a time in history when women approached childbirth without fear. They revered and trusted their bodies and they accepted that sometimes death is part of birth, each reflecting a transition from one state to another. Birth was women’s business and men did not interfere with this sacred process.
Man has been tampering with the birth process for thousands of years. Lack of understanding of the natural physiology of birth, the Christian notion that suffering in childbirth was retribution for the sins of Eve, the adoption of the lithotomy (on back) position all contributed to higher pain levels, increased mortality rates and escalating fear. This has led to the highly medicalised, interventionist style of birth that most of the developed world practices today.
In 1945, an obstetrician called Grantly Dick-Read wrote a book titled as above, Childbirth without Fear. It is a remarkable tome of wisdom for which he received little credit and was quickly marginalised by the money making obstetric machine. It came about when his notion of childbirth was challenged in 1920, by a young, working class girl, who, when he asked her if it was too painful, she replied, “It didn’t hurt doctor, it wasn’t supposed to was it?”
Her question shocked him and made him reconsider everything he had ever believed about childbirth. He realised that there is no other physiological function of the human body that is painful under normal conditions. Pain always communicates that something is wrong. It is the body’s ultimate protection against damage. He was now puzzled, why then did birth create so much pain and why did it create different levels of pain for every woman?
He studied the anatomy and physiology of birth and concluded that in fact, birth should not be painful under normal conditions. He deduced that the pain, perceived or real, was caused by excessive tension in the body. The tension was created by the expectation of PAIN through the emotion of FEAR. He called this the FEAR-TENSION-PAIN syndrome.
“The most important contributory cause of pain in otherwise normal childbirth is FEAR”
He realised that the presence of fear and the physiology that it creates was contraindicated to natural, painless childbirth. Fear puts the body into a state of extreme alert, the ‘fight or flight’ syndrome, whereby adrenaline is released into the bloodstream causing blood to be diverted from the major organs to the extremities, tension in the muscles to increase strength and speed and inhibition of all the ‘birthing’ hormones; oxytocin, beta endorphins and prolactin. In the mammalian brain, survival takes precedence over everything else, including birth.
He started to test his theory on his patients and he quickly discovered that if he reduced the levels of fear in the women that he assisted, he reduced the levels of pain and the birth proceeded far more quickly and effectively. After over 20 years of seeing the positive benefits his approach to childbirth was creating, he wrote the book.
Initially his book had an impact, however in the post war capitalist expansion period it was soon swallowed up by the power, money hungry machine that is modern medicine.
The etymology of fear in childbirth is well explored and explained in his five Sources of fear in childbirth.
- Judgements of others about our ability (mothers, husbands, friends)
- Anecdotal evidence from relatives and friends
- Public opinion
- Past Evidence from own experience
- Experts opinion (medical, usually male)
You only need examine the actions of other mammals to see where humans are going wrong. Birth is not a learned response; it is a primal, instinctual, physiological response that is in place to ensure the successful propagation of the species. The lack of trust in the ability of a woman’s body has led to the development of all manner of interventions in a misguided view that they are helping the birth process.
Humans require the same conditions to be in place, as do our furry friends. The primary and most important condition is the perception of safety. The notion of safety is being in a familiar, secluded space where birth can proceed undisturbed and unobserved. I don’t know about you, however, my understanding of the hospital environment does not fulfil those requirements.
The medical, pharmaceutical, insurance and legal industries thrive on creating FEAR amongst individuals, governments and corporations. Fear drives profits as their products and services are consumed just in case something goes wrong. We are disconnected from our own inner wisdom and power for, healing, birthing and taking responsibility for our own actions.
We need to get back to the understanding that doctors and equipment do NOT birth babies, women do! Therefore women need to be in control of their own choices and their own bodies. The Fear machine, driven by legal liability has created the situation where a woman cannot choose how, where and with whom she gives birth without being subject to legal and social ramifications.
I have had three empowered, drug free, stitches free homebirths and in each one, I can see where my own instinctual and learned fears played a part during the labour and birth, causing discomfit and longer labours than necessary. Although my children’s births were amazing, empowering and ecstatic, I did not achieve what I now believe is every woman’s right, a pain-free, sensual, orgasmic birth. Why?
- I had NO notion that it was possible!
- EVERYONE had told me that birth was painful!
- I was unaware that past negative sexual experiences and “Victorian” inhibitions about natural bodily processes could adversely effect the birth process
- I had NO knowledge about the exquisitely balanced ‘cocktail of hormones’ that are released during natural birth that once surrendered to will create higher levels of ecstasy. Resistance is what causes pain!
I only had my gut instinct and my intense dislike of doctors and hospitals leading me to birth in this non-medical, non-interventionist way. I triumphed over a system that has gone wrong, however I know that if I was to birth another baby now, I could take it all the way and achieve the type of birth nature intended, calm, joyful, sensual and orgasmic. In an ideal world the holy triad of my husband, my baby and myself would be the only ones present during the birth with a midwife standing by in case of the need for assistance. This new being would be welcomed in the same way that he/she was created, in love and ecstasy!
I am telling YOU that it is possible! This is the natural birth right of every woman!
Together we can shift the consciousness around birth, we can demand autonomy over the birth process and we can create ‘Childbirth without Fear’ for the generations to come!
It might just change how we live and relate on this earth?