Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The original sin

I've sort of lived with a certain regret that I was unable to have a normal delivery, not because of medical reasons, but somehow because I was not strong enough to bear the pain, to let my body 'open' for Nino. Even though this may not technically be true, the mutterings of the elderly in my family has seeped into my sub-consciousness. I am suddenly this low-pain-threshold person, this softie, you know what I mean?

Almost everybody I know has had a normal delivery, with and without pain medication, and I've listened in detail to the different types of contractions, the focal points of pain and the sudden plop of relief or lack-of-pain, kind of like blank sound, when the baby eases out. But I've never heard of an orgasmic birth, having an orgasm or a series of orgasms while giving birth. It's a theory that 'natural birth proponents' talk about: a birthing process that has no pain medication, little or not grunting or screaming, lots of breathing and physical touch with the partner/father, and where contractions are acutally orgasms.

Amber Hartnell did not intend to have an orgasmic birth - it just happened. "Trying to have an orgasmic birth defeats the object," she says, "I just got into this ecstatic state where I had these peaks of orgasm. There were these rolling waves coming through me where I was laughing and crying. I didn't feel like I was having contractions. They were more like rushes. I did not actually experience pain, I experienced intense sensations."
"It was the most overwhelming pleasure I have ever felt in my life," Hartnell says.

First up, let me be honest that the idea is mildly offensive to me. Maybe I'm being a prude, but while sex can be and should be recreational, the process of pregnancy and creating a life and a soul transcends mere procreational needs. An orgasm seems so, trifle, considering what it is being associated with, somehow. One of my concerns during pregnancy was related to breastfeeding: how would it feel considering I'm very sensitive in that part of my anatomy? Breastfeeding was a delight: and I actually felt 'useful': if you can understand that. It was as if discovering the real purpose to having a particularly shaped body. It was in no way titillating, and the pleasure I derived from it was emotional, rather than physical, given how painful it can be sometimes.

That's why this whole theory about orgasmic birth is intriguing, for the lack of another word. It's not sado-masochistic as it seems - believers say this is not an instance of deriving pain through pleasure. Maybe what bothers me is that it sounds like there is an underlying expectation that birth should be pleasurable, that it is a choice between pain and pleasure. It questions my needs to screech, to feel fear, to rant about my gender and it's afflictions, to given in to my limitations as a human being: it lays yet another brick of guilt on top the many that entomb mothers.

But is it really such a loony thing? The Bhagwad Gita's Sundar Kand describes Devaki's labour in synonyms with nature, and her relief in Krishna's birth also, with similar simile that could be construed to mean that she felt absolute pleasure when he was born. There are many, including Osho, who believe there is a thin line between spiritual pleasure and sexual pleasure, and that an orgasm is close to meditation: its a split second where the mind is completely blank, devoid of any negative thoughts, immersed in pure pleasure that by its lack of negativity, becomes a positive source of energy. Several streams of medicine including Acupressure and Homeopathy believe that a child experiences physical, medical and spiritual side effects of his/her birthing: there are afflictions associated with how long the labour lasted, how the head was positioned, was it an easy plop or a major push-and-grunt affair. Does this then mean that having a pleasurable birth affects the child too?

What do you think: Before you classify this as a loony new trend that's taken Western imagination by storm, read the article and try and watch the video (it's a bit graphic for office/kid viewing). Have you experienced an orgasmic birth? Or a feeling similar to pleasure, that you're unable to tag as an orgasm? Does this disgust you, like it did me, when I first read it? Or is it one of those metaphysical cum spiritual things about motherhood and the gift of creating life that we're only meant understand when we are ready?


Sujatha said...

NM, life is difficult enough as it is. I believe that each of us tries to live it the best way we can. Since we are all so different, we find different ways to cope with it. If someone has an orgasmic birth, more power to them! Haven't they just found a fantastic way to cope with a potentially traumatic life event?

And I have a feeling that before long, you will reach a stage in your life, in your thinking, when what others say will not bother you. Because you will see it for what it is - a way of dealing with their own personal issues. Because you know yourself best and you do what you need to do given your particular frame of mind. If you are not already there, that is! :) Hugs.

girlonthebridge said...

Hi NM – no, it doesn’t disgust me on first or second read. I didn’t watch the video however (you did say not for kid viewing). Here’s how I feel about what is and isn’t natural. In this age of modern medicine, the definitions are not as clear cut anymore. I might simply say natural birth is not a c-sec, without any painkillers. Some one else who is a follower of the Bradley method may be much more stringent and say I don’t want a fetal heart monitoring machine, I don’t want any IV drip until I’m almost unconscious and I want to be in labour for 24 hours if I wish to. And then someone else will say a natural birth is all of the above but at home with no doctor or medical help present. The truth is the as humans we adjust and cope with our situations including the ones nature throws us into and I believe that that is a necessary aspect of our evolution. We have been conditioned to accept that “pain” is natural during birthing. I don’t contest this but just as there are techniques that reduce risk, if there are techniques as natural as a partner’s touch that change that feeling from pain to pleasure, it doesn’t disgust me as unnatural or selfish. The worry for me personally would be that I would want to focus on what it is I’m doing – i.e. giving birth. So whether it be pain or pleasure if I’m unable to focus on that or convert the experience to solely being about my bodily pleasure, that would make me uncomfortable. Similarly women can say that’s the reason I use painkillers – because the pain is robbing me of the moment of giving birth and revelling in it. So I went for a c-section. I think the idea of what’s natural or not can easily be turned on its head given who is arguing. So no, especially since you say she didn’t intend on having an orgasmic birth, I don’t feel disgusted at all.
About orgasms – sex is of course for procreation but also for your pleasure. Does that mean that once I know that my partner and I have decided to conceive the sexual act shouldn’t be about my pleasure? Should I go as far as to feeling guilty about having an orgasm during the very act that decided to bring my progeny into the world? Should I have now compartmentalized sex without birth control as purely for the reproductive process?
This is a lot from a woman who has no experience whatsoever, I know. But I also know feel birthing while natural is also a personal thing. My personal feelings are I am dead-set on a natural birth. I have visions of no epidural, a long, even painful labour. I believe that the human body has been crafted for natural birth. It recovers best from a natural birth. It is the default for me, not an option. The options exist only if this is not medically possible. But insisting that only that type of experience is a valid one for all women doesn’t sit well with me. We women are hard enough on ourselves but throw in labour and childbirth and it’s a whole new dimension.
Don’t ask me hypothetical questions from here on!

Nino's Mum said...

Suj - I'm not there at that stage yet: but I hope I get there with enough sanity to enjoy it.
I din't mean to say that I'm in anyway against the orgasmic birth philosophy, I merely attempted to capture my initial and later reactions to it.

GonTB - I meant natural delivery purely in the context of the article itself - not my definition of it, heck I consider my c-section completely natural for me. I have mentioned that sex is recreational: its the 'giving birth' circumstance that I'm uncomfortable attaching sexual connotations to. I'm no where saying sex is only procreational or that is should be done keeping child-bearing in mind. What I am saying is that once the act is done, and here I mean the act of conception and carrying the pregnancy to full term, I believe, as I myself did and like you said, want to really really experience this life-altering experience of labour/birthing. This was an almost spiritual experience for me: and I couldn't bring an orgasm into the picture, hence my self-analysis at this feeling of prudishness. And where did you get the idea that I was propagating a certain type of delivery/birthing?
And finally, phew, being part of the clan does not take away from you opinions about motherhood one bit.

nitya said...

Ah NM - Be it an epidural or a natural birth or an orgasmic one... whatever suits you at that moment is perfect.
Because a child is forever.. pregnancy and delivery isn't. So me, I did rather focus on the happy, healthy child. Just my two cents!

Nino's Mum said...

GonTB - In the last para in the above comment, I meant 'not being part of the clan'. Also, Nino walking around with a spoon in his mouth, thanks to his first introduction to the spoonbills of Costa Rica.

Rashmi said...

After reading this i felt as if you wrote my feelings in first para..somehow i m too scared of normal delivery and want to opt for c-sec....
i havent seen video as i m in office now...
I agree with nitya...pregancy and associated problems is for few months..but child will be with us for ever...if we have option to get it with bit easy ...why to undergo so much pain of normal delivery....

girlonthebridge said...

Hi girl, not sure where and how you got the sense that i said "you" were propagating or not propagating any type of birth. The only time I referred to you directly was in the first line in answering your question - was I disgusted. The rest of the comment is a summary of what I've read and how I feel, that's all. I'm reading back and I feel like I was pretty careful throughout the comment to generically say "some women say" to give a sense for the arguments that I have heard relating to this. I also know that you aren't debating natural vs. c-sec birth but this is my context (since I don't have first-hand experience) as to why the orgasmic delivery doesn't bother me. Because from what I've read the feelings on what's considered an "ideal" birth are endless and orgasmic, while unheard of (until now, thank you!) is not disgusting to me.
Also, I compared conception to sex because i can imagine someone having that same feeling as you are about orgasmic sex vs. birth. I know there are people who think of conception the same way - as spiritual and unrelated to the pleasurable sexual aspects of it, thus I brought it up. Those questions I asked about pleasurable sex versus conception were to bring up that comparison and genuinely say that the dichotomy can enter your mind long before the actual birth itself - and you are entitled to that too. I wasn't mocking that feeling - I was saying that just as I respect your feeling of orgasms being trifle compared to the birth itself, while I cannot relate to it I can easily see how someone cannot relate orgasms to conception either. And lastly, I certainly don't think you are "prudish" for feeling the way you do. I'd frankly be embarrassed surrounded by doctors and family, having orgasms in full public view and that emotion would cloud everything else!
A sort of personal qn you can choose to ignore: did you choose to not have pain killers or were they plain candy when confronted with your pain? I am not much for pain despite all my grandiose visions, so just curious.

ra said...

I did read about this in the Times yesterday. And my overwhelming thought one thought was one of envy-because I would never be able to "let go" enough to have that sort of an experience, at least not in a hospital environment.

As Suj says, close your ears to the mutterings of others.

In love with my life said...

I'd rather go through the process of labour as it is and feel the esctasy of delivering the baby. I would.not.have any other emotion take over at that point. I had a natural delivery which lasted about 12 hours and can still vividly remember every moment..that experience is mine to savour and relive.

Delivering a baby does not happen often..why trade that experience for orgasm-which happens more often?

Understandable it is ultimately a personal choice, this is just my take on it.

Nino's Mum said...

GonTB - :) Painkillers. I'd rather live with the good memories.

Ra - true! I never thought about that part of it!

Rashmi - Don't worry: that's what I did, and it's of no help, really, you do need to take it as it comes.

Nitya, In love with my life - exactly.

choxbox said...

hey i had typed about a long comment right after you posted it, where did that one go?!

wanted to say several things which i cant remember any more or have been said (mostly better) by others.

will just say one thing that i often tell the kid sis - elderly folks are be respected most of the times but sometimes, just sometimes, you have ask them to take a long walk.

preetischronicle said...

On the lighter side, I am enjoying the comments and your replies and I am just hoping your url doesnt top the list of searches for se* and orgasms on google today ;)

As for me, I had a csec and my doc didn't even consider a normal one for me. I will chuck the reasons for now. I had never heard of orgasmic births until now. It doesnt disgust me as such, but yes at some level it may have a spiritual aspect to it and we lesser mortals fail to fathom it!

Nino's Mum said...

choxbox - not fair. I wanted to read the whole long comment. Write, write, write.

Preeti - *grinning* I din't think of that.

Swati said...

Well, well, well. Pandora's box, isn't it? And why should it not be possible that some alteration in the wiring 'up there' leads to such sensations during labour? Nothing to do with who you are, but who your brain is, if you get what I mean. Anyway, regarding the first thought of yours, banish the thought. Some people have six fingers, some can wiggle their ears, some can't whistle - doesn't mean everyone has to be like them. Sometimes there is a difficulty, and that is that. Just forget it. 'big hug'