Saturday, February 9, 2008

Childbirth and sexuality

I came across this link through a posting on my German friends blog . This article is not for the faint hearted, it is a very honest account or a womans experience of increased sexuality and libido during pregnancy and birth. She states that she feels most women feel the way she does, I am not so sure about that. However I do believe some women do. I remember a woman I cared for several years ago. She had a lovely labour and a nice progressive second stage with a lovely normal birth. It was a very normal birth, not particularly quick but not particularly slow. When the birth was complete and she had the baby in her arms she looked up, flushed and smiling and said I really enjoyed that.

I wonder if women were aware of the possibility of birth actually being enjoyable in this way if it might lessen the fear we have of birth. Of course if we are afraid or even just apprehensive we will never be able to 'let go' enough to have this type of experience.

Image: Candy stipe corset belly cast. from allycatson's photostream at


Sarah Stewart said...

Gosh, it is in your face, isn;t it! But even so, I think its a valuable reminder that every woman feels differently about their sexuality in pregnancy and it is something that midwives shouldn't be too shy or prudish to address.

Carolyn said...

Yes that is pretty much how I felt too.

Carolyn said...

How can we help to facilitate a space where women are able to let go like this if they want or need to?

Anonymous said...

As midwives isn't there an acknowledgment of diversity and individuality - within which this can occur? Individual women are the individual authority on their own experiences. As women I think the awareness we have of sexuality during pregnancy is as individual and specific to us as it is at other times. I also think the relevance, priority or importance we attach to it will be an individual reflection of us. How we interpret sexuality in pregnancy is likely a reflection of our experiences and whatever we are exposed to (personally and more broadly in society) or expose ourselves to.
I don't know if I think it is a medical conversation - so I'm not sure I expect doctors to extend an opinion or knowledge on this particular topic. Maybe an expectation that a doctor has something to contribute to a pregnant woman on the topic of sexuality at this time just demonstrates the amount of power and control some women are willing to hand over to medical experts - without question, rhyme or reason. My question is...Why would you need a doctors input here? Do you really need your normality confirmed? affirmed? do you think you have a problem?
I guess the conversation could easily unfold in a midwifery setting or context as we work with supporting normality.

I was interested to see that the author of this article viewed birth as a sexual act - yet she took herself off to the hospital for this act of intimacy and sexuality.

I agree with your comments sarah and carolyn.

infomidwife said...

Hi carolyn,
Yes it is nice to see that we can talk about our sexuality - and we need to encourage this type of discussion. I have had the honour to guide / share the birth of several women who have had quite a sexual/intimate birthing experience with their partners. Sexuality is still quite a taboo subject and some people & midwives find it difficult to address. I think it is important to be able to talk openly about sexuality and be guided by the non verbal ques we are given, which then open the door for a discussion on the subject.
On a personal note, I do remember that I found breastfeeding to be a most pleasurable time, and also quite a sexually stimulating experience. I remember feeling quite guilty about it as I was not a midwife back then and did not understand the issues of hormones and their effect on your body. So I do think that we as midwives need to talk more freely about sexuality and the possiblity of different women having different levels of sexual feelings.

Carolyn said...

Thanks for your comment Pauline. Yes I think it is important to talk to women about how hormones can influence our emotions but also help us to do these amazing things that women can do. Although labour and birth are undoubtedly hard work and definitely painful the rush that comes with a contraction can also be quite stimulating and pleasurable if you put yourself in the sort of place where you can experience that. As you mention here is also a hormonal rush with breast feeding that some women find quite disturbing. It can be pleasurable but is different to sexual arousal with a sexual partner. It does however induce feelings of love for your baby and there is nothing wrong with that. Sarah Buckley has written extensively on the ecstatic hormones of birth.

rae said...

I think we need to take care with statements like "and is definitely painful" - it actually isn't always. I definitely had one birth that I have never described as painful and thats because it just wasn't. i have told lots of people about this experience of a non painful birth and the response is really fascinating - either my experience of this is diminished or disregarded - or disbelieved - or resented. If i experienced this i know others will have too. i have worked with women who have also had this experience so i know i am not some freak. i just careful with statements that imply some fact or truth but which in reality are only a reflection of your own experience or what you haver heard told most often or the loudest.
I have always been amazed at how quick people are (even midwives) to disregard my knowledge of non painful birth - even though when you think about it - given the apparently widespread expectation of this as an exclusively painful thing - my experience and the insight it affords me should be BIG news. i guess we have to be open to new knowledge first.

Carolyn said...

I do know that birth is not always so painful. Maybe we do overplay that and women therefore expect that it is always painful. This may well increase fear and anxiety. None of us want to experience pain. However our bodies have amazing ability to help us cope with this experience of birth. We have these lovely things called endorphins which help to make the experience bearable and even enjoyable. Endorphins will not be released if we are fearful and anxious, then we have the opposite hormonal response where catecholamines are released which can make the labour more painful. So the more fearful and anxious we are the more likely it is that labour will be painful, a self fulfilling prophecy.

So yes labour does not need to be painful but most women would describe most labours as having an element of pain involved. This will vary from woman to woman and from birth to birth. I think to deny that is also to do an injustice to women and also creates false expectations.

Most women do have the ability to birth without pain being overwhelming or the need for any interference or intervention in the process of birth. This type of birth is best for the baby and best for the mother also. Women can experience birth as an enjoyable experience.

The best way for women to prepare for this type of birth is first of all for women to have faith in themselves that they can do this. Secondly to be in a place where they can feel comfortable and secure, most often this would be at the womans own home. A hospital atmosphere is not usually relaxing which is necessary for your body to respond and cope with labour. Thirdly choose your care giver and support people wisely. Surround yourself with people who share your belief in yourself, who will help you to relax and 'go with' the experience. Your care giver should be able to maintain a watchful eye on the progress of your labour without interfering. Your care giver should be able to reassure you that your labour is progressing at a pace that is fine for you and your baby. Your care giver should also be able to identify if you do need extra help or support and help you to get that when and where you need it. Very occasionally this might mean transferring to a hospital.

Most women will manage birth just fine on their own. Treating every birth as a medical event only increases intervention and problems for both the mother and they child.

rae said...

I will never accept that sharing my lived personal experience of a non painful birth does an injustice to women - actually I find that idea quite disrespectful....I have every right to share my experience of birthing as do all women - it was not painful and I make no excuse for that nor do i feel your attempt at silencing my knowledge and experience is appropriate. love you dearly carolyn but can I ask you to read your sentence again and have a think....
How can verbalising my (very real)experience be creating false expectations? Unless you are implying my personal experience is false? Well it is as valid as anyones - I guess.
I am not saying all women will necessarily experience this - I am just challenging the assertion that you made that pain at birth is a given. I always challenge this when i hear or see it as I know it is not the case - and i don't believe it is appropriate not to give voice to this - or that you or anyone should misuse their power by claiming they have some knowledge about how birth will feel to all women. It is tyhe overarching (and yes untrue) statement that birth is one way or feels one way that I object to and in claiming that as fact I think it is you who is doing women and injustice by building a particular expectation. In my communication around birth I steer clear of any words that suggest how it will be - leaving the pathway open for the individual women to verbalise their own experience.

Carolyn said...

Ok peace please.
I did start off this by stating birth is not alway painful.I have also said another time in my comment above. I am sorry I have offended you. It is not my intention to deny your experience of a painless birth I did not intend to do that. This whole post is about the fact that birth is different for everyone and some might even find it a pleasurable experience. I do believe that women need to be aware of the variety of experience that other women have including painless birth and I talk with women about the individuality of experience and not knowing what how it will be for them until they are there.

I am sorry but I still cannot see that what I said was being disrespectful to you as I was not referring to your personal experience of painless birth which I agree women do experience. I am sorry that this is how you have interpreted this and it was never what I intended.

rae said...

actually you said that birth is definitely painful and it is this that I have challenged - I don't like this authoritative linguistic approach to birthing discussions - as i think it is grounded in a medicalised approach to birth and women. As for the personalisation of this issue - I think all women have the freedom to express their experience of birth - and it was the closing down of that avenue in your conversation that I was pointing out.

Carolyn said...

You do challenge me Rae and I do appreciate that. You are right language is very important and I am pretty poor with its use at times. I have come from a very different place to you in life as well as midwifery practice. I came to the profession through the nursing/medical route. I have travelled a very long way from all of that but I am undoubtedly influenced and challenged by it. I wish we did not have to disagree over something that I think we are really in complete agreement on. Yes I did use the words "definitely painful", yes you are correct to draw my attention to it.

I completely agree that everyone should feel able to share their experience of birth whatever it is. I love the youtube videos we have access to now and I hope that they help to demystify the experience for many women. I do not believe I personalised this issue to your experience. I have acknowledged from the start of this post that women have varied experience and the experience you have shared of painless birth does happen. However I did state in one comment that "birth is undoubtedly painful" and I do acknowledge that this is an unwise and untrue statement which you are correct to point out and bring me to account on.

rae said...

I do know we are in agreement on the major level - and I was probably being overly reactionary - but that pain thing bugs is my pet gripe because I do think it is over emphasized by many- so I probably get over emphatic in my input on any discussion on it.
It has led me to think tho - there is a very widespread acceptance of this idea of pain - but when we say - "most women say..." this and that...we should probably acknowledge we mean most western women - or is it most women in the western world who choose (or use) medicalised birthing options - that we are talking about and are these women as representative as we assume? What evidence have we actually got that this is the case for most women anyway? When did we ask women in the developing world about their experiences of this for eg? Or women in primary (rural) areas vs women in urban areas? Coming from a line of rural women birthing in primary settings - where women talked about their births frequently - the pain idea was not a main feature of these discussions or stories. (and yes that is just my personal story -other women will have other stories...). In my recollections the women spoke about the inconvenience and embarrassment of the hospital experience - if they went there - but not pain. Pain was not handed down to me - until I gained an awareness of media and medicalisation. I wonder if it is a self perpetuating thing?

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