Oxytocin is one of the most important hormones in birth, it regulates contractions, helps women manage the intensity, keeps us feeling calm, it plays a vital role in bonding and breastfeeding, and even helps prevent haemorrhage by contracting the uterus after the baby and placenta have both emerged. It does lots more too but this is just the readers digest abridged version.
Time and time again women with hostile care providers, and poor support teams (uninformed husbands usually top this list but they could be mothers, sisters or the local barkeep) plan to “go in and fight for the birth I want”.
You can not fight for birth. That’s not how birth works. In her article Pain In Labour: Your Hormones Are Your Helpers, Dr.Sarah Buckley writes
”If the fight-or-flight hormones are activated by feelings of fear or danger, contractions will slow down. Our mammalian bodies are designed to give birth in the wilds, where it is an advantage to postpone labour when there is danger, and to seek safety.”
Your primal, mammalian brain does not understand that you need to give birth NOW or you will be forced to undergo a caesarean, your mammalian brain recognises hostility as danger and shuts down labour to allow you to escape to a more suitable environment.
Often when labour stalls it is seen as a problem and one of two things occur. Either a caesarean is performed or synthetic oxytocin is given. Synthetic oxytocin is known as pitocin, or syntocinon. The synthetic version is quite risky, and it doesn’t come with any of the marvellous benefits that its natural counterpart is lauded for. It’s also well known for increasing the risk of uterine rupture.
However we need to review our tightly held beliefs about stalled labour. Where women and babies are healthy the only course of action should be to create the optimal conditions for oxytocin production and wait for birth.
Optimal output of oxytocin requires some very basic conditions. They are warmth (or comfort), darkness, and privacy. Hospitals do not provide the first two conditions in the best of circumstances and when we add hostility into the mix the privacy part is completely obliterated. Thus, the plan to fight for birth is extremely problematic.
Imagine your dog was giving birth and you believed that she was in danger and required a caesarean, how would you manage that situation? You would – as gently as possible – scoop her up in your arms, wrap her in her very own smelly doggie blankie, place her in a box and transport her to the nearest vet.
You would not think of shouting at her to stop pushing or moving or anything else. Hospitals manage situations they perceive as dangerous differently. Sometimes rush and bustles is necessary because an emergency caesarean is the only way and the woman is consenting, but sometimes they PERCEIVE danger, or they prefer surgery to birth because of their protocol (with VBAC for instance) and so they create hostility.
Your dog would be in greater danger if you were to yell and shout at her, shine bright lights on her, and touch her roughly, and YOU will be in great danger in a hostile hospital environment, trying to find your voice in between contractions, trying to go into yourself to manage their intensity, trying to stay on track for your VBAC.
When a woman is in the thick of labour she needs to go deep within herself to manage the intensity, this is often referred to as labour land. It’s a trance like, meditative state.
If someone were to enter your bedroom when you were making love (another event which requires oxytocin) and start poking the you in their ribs and telling knock knock jokes, could you finish?
Maintaining labour land state while people are coming and going, crashing and banging, talking to you, arguing with you, while you can hear other people in the corridors, machinery buzzing and beeping ….. well it’s not going to be much more successful than your love making was with the knock knock jokes.
Love is a balance, it’s not something that can be created artificially. Love and birth go hand in hand, they are scientifically proven to be inseparable without compromising safety. It’s true that women do successfully VBAC in hospitals, but those are the few that are not actively opposing VBAC. Succeeding in hostile conditions is extremely unlikely, planning to fight in labour is counterproductive, not to mention that it underestimates the intensity of birth as an experience. Hospitals were not created for their ambience, they were created for efficiency.