When a woman is in labor, a little fight goes on in the woman's brain.
One part of here brain, the intellect, will tell her that she should do
certain things. Perhaps those are things that we learned in childbirth
classes; perhaps those are things that other people have told her that she
should do to cope with birth.
But from the other part of the brain will come an urge so deep within
her that it will compel her to move her body and to use her voice in a
completely different way.
Those are her deep instincts about childbirth, but we have buried these
for so long that most of us have forgotten that knowledge. Occasionally,
though, I see women who remember...
Very early in my practice, a young 16- or 17-year-old girl came to see
me when she was very, very pregnant. She thought that she was getting
close to give birth, so I gave her a very lengthy exam and we talked for
almost two hours. She was in good health, so I made an appointment to see
her the following week.
But the next day, she returned with her husband. She smiled and said,
"Well, here I am. I'm going to have my baby today." I looked at here face
and body for some evidence that she was in labor, but say nothing. "Well,
let's take you back to the room and we'll give you an examination," I
"Are you having contractions?" I asked here. "Oh, you bet I am," she
said. I expected to find a very closed cervix-but she was 8
She wanted to deliver in our clinic's birthroom. So we went into the
room and she jumped up on top of the bed. She began to order everyone
around. She said to her husband, "Now I would like you to sit in that
chair." And she said to me, "I would like you to sit on this bed with me."
I still saw no evidence that she was in labor.
I got our sterile bowl of instruments and put it down next to me on the
bed. And this woman sat there and continued to smile, looking like an
angel. She closed her eyes and pulled up her skirt. "Well, as I said, the
baby is coming," she said. I sat there with my silly little bowl.
She opened her legs and the bag of waters appeared at the opening of
her vagina. The water broke like a little river and the head appeared. She
took the baby's head in her hand, and when the shoulders turned she took
her baby out and put it on her tummy. Then she said, "I would like my
husband to cut the cord, please." I showed him what to do, he cut the
cord, and the family enclosed themselves. And I still sat there, and had
done nothing so far. Then she said, "Oh, excuse me, but here is my
placenta now." She pushed it out into the bed so I gathered it up, and my
little bowl, and everyone was fine so I just left the room.
I talked with her later about why birth seemed so easy for her. After
all, she was only 16. She told me that her mother, who had many children,
told her that when she was in labor, she would feel God's power coming
through her and she should do anything possible to welcome it. So that was
the attitude that this woman had about birth. There was no doubt in her
mind that she would know what to do. Her knowledge and courage impressed
Two days later, I had another young woman in labor. She, too, had never
taken childbirth classes but she was very different from the first young
She was very noisy and moved all over the room. She strutted like a big
rooster and threw herself on the bed and on the floor. She roared around
and moaned loudly. She and her young husband did "high fives" because they
were both very proud of what they were doing. Rock music played in the
She had a very fast labor, and she told me later that she just did what
she felt like doing. She did not think about it. There was nothing to
think about-she was just going to do the work and birth her baby.
Women, when they are in an environment that supports them and are with
people who trust them, will birth exactly as they need to in order to
birth their babies. We have forgotten that we remember. I have also
learned that women have a very strong desire to be among people who are
happy and who have a lot of trust in them. I live and work in a place
where women say that birth is so important they should not waste the
opportunity. And they say that birth is something that one should "get
into," and is not something that one simply must "get through." Imagine a
place where women talk about their stories over and over, because they had
such a great time, instead of a place where women fear birth.
A woman came to me to have her second baby. She had her first baby
elsewhere, using the breathing techniques the childbirth classes had
taught. She said, "I felt like I had to huff and puff and blow my baby
out." All through labor, she said she felt an urge deep within her that
was very wild, almost like an animal. But people kept telling her to be
quiet and to stay in control. Well, she said she absolutely did not want
anyone at this birth to tell her to shut up and stay in control. She said
the feeling in her was so wild-she didn't know what it was-but she wanted
to do as she pleased at this birth. And she wanted me just to be her
guardian, to watch over the safety of her and her baby as the baby was
being born. So, I agreed to her wishes.
When she went into labor, I was called to the hospital. The lights were
very low in the room, and my friend, a nurse, was sitting on the floor in
the corner, very quietly watching. The woman and her husband were dancing
cheek to cheek, with their eyes closed, all around the room. The music was
her moaning ...aah, aah, aah. I sat quietly in the room and watched them.
When my friend had to listen to the baby's heart rate, she crawled over
quietly with her little machine and listened, than crawled very quietly
back. Finally, the husband opened his eyes and looked at me for the first
time. He smiled and said, "Oh, this is just like the dance at our
The woman really didn't even notice I was there. During contractions,
she pulled away from him, threw herself on the bed, grabbed the pillow in
her mouth and rolled around. Then she came back together with him and he
held her, and they continued to dance together, everywhere, all over the
Finally, she bent over and squatted by the bed. She had a startled look
on her face and she said to me, "Oh, no!" "What's the problem?" I asked.
"Well, I'm pushing already and I was having such a good time!" She did not
want to be finished. I thought, "Every woman and her husband should have
the opportunity to birth in this way. Unlike most women, who can hardly
wait for labor to be finished, this woman was just beginning to get into
If we can understand that the best things in life do not come to us
without our effort, and if we can discover a different understanding of
childbirth pain, then we will find that we do not need to pull away and
run for it, as if we are frightened.
Only then, can we emerge from the other side of birth much bigger than
we were before we started.
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Candace Whitridge is a nurse-midwife and farmer in
Northern California. These stories are from a talk she gave in
Whitridge, C. (1994). Birth Stories: The Instinct of
Birth. The Birthkit Issue 1 (Spring): Pages 5, 8
Copyright (c) 1994
Midwifery Today, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission
from The Birthkit, Issue 1, Spring 1994.
P.O. Box 2672, Eugene, OR
97402. (541) 344-7438.
Reprinted from www.midwiferytoday.com/articles/instinct.asp
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