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The Truth About Birth

by Laura Shanley

Laurie I enjoy giving birth. I find it exhilarating and exciting, sexual and spiritual, magical and miraculous! It is POWER in its purest form, and for me, it is the ultimate creative act.

I prefer to give birth either alone, or with my husband and children. All four of our children have been born this way. David caught the first one, and I caught the other three. To those who have been raised in a culture that views birth as inherently dangerous and painful, this may sound like absolute insanity. There was a time when I would have agreed, but that was before I knew the truth about birth.

It was English physician and writer, Grantly Dick-Read, who first opened my eyes to the safety and beauty of birth. Dick-Read, who wrote and practiced in the first half of the twentieth century, is widely credited with being one of the fathers of natural childbirth. Simply stated, Dick-Read believed there is a loving, intelligent consciousness that is behind and within all life. This consciousness knows how to grow a baby inside of us. We don't have to consciously "assist" it, figuring out how to grow fingers and toes, eyes and ears. We simply have to trust that as long as we get fresh air and exercise, shelter and food, the fertilized egg within us will grow into a human being. And because nature or God is efficient - it completes what it starts - that same reasoning can be applied to the act of birth.

In other words, we are not suddenly abandoned at the end of our pregnancy. There is literally a birth "response" that propels our babies from womb to world with very little conscious effort on our part. The problem is, there is something even more powerful than the birth response, something that can override it entirely. That something is known as the fight/flight response.

Dick-Read explained it in this way: when a woman is in a state of fear, messages are sent to the body telling it there is a danger out there that must be fought or run away from. Blood and oxygen are instantly sent into the arms and legs enabling the frightened woman to fight the danger or run away. In order for this to happen, however, blood and oxygen must be drained from other organs which the body considers nonessential for fight or flight. This is why we turn white when we're afraid. The body assumes that our leg muscles need blood and oxygen more than our face does.

Unfortunately, when it comes to fight or flight, the uterus is considered a nonessential organ. According to Dick-Read, the uterus of a frightened woman in labor is literally white. Because it is deprived of "fuel" - blood and oxygen - it cannot function correctly, nor can waste products be properly carried away. Hence, the laboring woman experiences not only pain, but a multitude of problems. The solution, he believed, was twofold: not only do women need to stop being afraid, but doctors need to stop interfering in the process. Laboring women do not need to be poked, prodded, and drugged. Instead, they need to be calmly encouraged, or simply left alone so their bodies may work unhindered.

Animals intuitively understand this concept. This is why they seek seclusion in labor. They "know" that when a birth is interfered with, the labor may stop or the baby may die. This is as true for domesticated animals as it is for animals in the wild. Purina's Handbook of Cat Care advises owners to pet the laboring cat

reassuringly and leave her on her own. She may stay in the box; on the other hand, don't be surprised if she doesn't. The best thing to do at this point is to do nothing. Keep quiet and do not attempt to help her - it's her problem. Mother nature usually takes over at this point and it is amazing to see how she goes about doing what comes naturally.

Unfortunately, this book is not on the required reading list in most medical schools! Doctors are taught to intervene in birth, and intervene they do.

Click here to read Part 2.

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The Mother Magazine.
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