Thursday, November 13, 2008

orgasmic birth

I just came from a showing of Orgasmic Birth. The auditorium was full of midwives, doulas, mothers, and more, and Debra Pascali-Bonaro who conceived and directed the film was also there to do a Q & A. I have met her on just a few occasions but I will say without hesitation that she is one of the most wonderful, warm, genuine people I have ever met. If you ever have a chance to do a training with her or see her speak, do it!

I really enjoyed the film, although my enthusiasm did wane at a few moments. Home birth and natural birth have a very hippie-dippy, celebrate-the-moon-goddess reputation. I am not maligning people who do celebrate the moon goddess, but people who don't often do not respond well when invited into birth on those terms. For a movie that I think has such potential to help the "mainstream" see birth as something other than terrifying, there were certainly moments in the film that got into territory I think the mainstream would have a lot of trouble identifying with. That said, we have to ask if those people are going to be willing to see a movie called "Orgasmic Birth" anyway.

There were many moments in the film that I loved. The woman giving birth on her deck. The sexual abuse survivor who talked about reclaiming her body through birth. Seeing a couple who ended up going down the intervention road, which I think shows people just how profoundly different a managed hospital birth is. Not everyone had an orgasmic birth; the movie talks not about every woman having an orgasmic birth, but every woman having the space for one to occur (along with just having the space to birth normally and peacefully). The funniest, and maybe most inspiring moment, is the woman who does actually have an orgasmic birth who is literally cross-eyed with pleasure! It got a big roar from the crowd.

Just being around so many people who care about birth and are working towards the same ends was so energizing. I spent a while after the movie just talking with people, thanking Debra for coming, meeting people who are active in birth in the area. I would love to attend a home birth some day and am going to try to put out feelers for that. It's not easy to break into home birth doula-ing but I'd like to try.

The Q & A was very interesting - of course in a crowd like this, some of the Qs are more stories than questions, but they are often so interesting in their own right. One of the things that was discussed was fear. Biking home on my post-movie high, I started thinking about that. So many women enter the birthing process terrified of birth. The woman I worked with last weekend was one of them. So fearful, so upset, without any information on what was normal and healthy.

I started thinking of comparisons we could draw to the birthing process. When someone is so afraid of birth that they choose an elective c-section, what kind of analogy could we draw? How about people who are so anxious about flying that they can't fly, or have to take heavy sedatives. We don't celebrate their "choice" not to fly; we feel sorry for people who are that anxious because we realize that they're frightened of something that's really not that dangerous, and as a result they limit their life experiences. We realize that while something bad could happen, the risk is very small. As friends, we reassure them, and professionals offer therapy to help them overcome their fear. We don't say, "Well, I guess they're empowered by their choice not to fly," because it isn't a real choice - it's something driven out of fear. But we've made fear of birth so normal that we don't even notice or try to treat it, except for the rare class such as Birthing from Within or Hypnobirthing, that draw these fears out into the sunlight and give women tools to handle them with.

The saddest thing about this analogy is that while we'll do all this work to help someone overcome fear of something so banal as sitting on an airplane with not enough legroom and terrible food, we won't do it to help women experience what can be a life-changing experience. Some of the births you get to see in this movie are just that. It is incredible.

The same analogy doesn't exactly hold true for women who are so afraid of pain that they hope to get their epidural so early they don't feel a single contraction, but I think it's a symptom of the same problem. It's a big problem, a huge problem, and I don't know how to counteract it. But I do know how I'm trying to address it in my own small way, which is to show movies like Business of Being Born and Orgasmic Birth to all my friends. If fear is the disease, then knowledge is the antidote and I want to spread it around.

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