I prepared extensively for my daughter’s birth two years ago–books, DVDs, classes, etc. Her birth turned out to be wonderful and empowering for me (okay, wonderful and empowering and PAINFUL for me). But now, for whatever reasons, my due date for baby #2 is inching closer and closer–less than two months–and I feel like I haven’t been giving the birth much thought at all.
Luckily, I just picked up Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, and it’s been getting me more in the mood to push a baby out. Ina May Gaskin is one of the most hard-core midwives out there. She founded The Farm Midwifery Center in Tennessee, one of the first non-hospital birthing centers in America. She is also famous for writing Spiritual Midwifery–which I haven’t read but now I think I will.
What I’ve found most amazing about Ina May’s Guide is her discussion of the mind-body connection in childbirth. She shares stories about births where labor was progressing normally, and then stalled. In one case, the laboring woman needed to work out an issue she was having in her relationship with her husband. After the couple took the time to really talk and come to a resolution, contractions resumed and the woman’s cervix went back to dilating at a remarkable rate.
In other stories, the women needed to express various fears–about the pain of childbirth, becoming a mother, etc.–in order to get their labors back on track.
She also shares stories and stats about the mind-body connection working in the opposite way: women whose cervixes were dilating at a steady rate, only to be set back after being examined by an unfamiliar (usually male) doctor.
I’ve heard about this powerful mind-body thing from my own friends too. One woman I know said she felt herself stopping her own labor when her mother-in-law showed up. While another woman said she felt herself able to pick up the pace in labor when her mother-in-law showed up.
According to Ina May, this mind-body interaction can be summarized by one rule: Sphincter Law. Women and men both have excretory sphincters–the bladder and rectum. And women are blessed with two more sphincters involved in labor and birth–the cervix and the vagina.
All these sphincters function best in an intimate, private atmosphere–when the mind is comfortable and at ease. They cannot be opened at will, they do not respond well to commands (like “push!” or “relax!”), and when a sphincter is in the process of opening it may suddenly close down if that person becomes upset, frightened, or self-conscious.
The parallels to peeing and pooping really help drive this point home (nothing like motherhood to make discussions of these bodily functions all too common). You probably know people who can only poop at home–they have a real mind-body connection going on with getting that sphincter open. And if you were asked to pee in public, in front of a bunch of strangers, you probably wouldn’t be able to. Your mind just won’t let your body do it.
Reading Ina May’s sphincter law has been helping me think about how to get my own mind and body aligned in preparation for the huge task ahead of me. It’s also given me new appreciation for Asher Yatzar–the blessing which some Jews recite every time they go to the bathroom:
“Blessed are You who creates humanity with wisdom, with many openings and perforations. It is obvious and known that if even one of these openings were to be blocked or ruptured it would be impossible to survive and stand before You.”
Our openings and perforations truly are inspiring.