(An imminent hanging concentrates the mind wonderfully, said Dr. Johnson, and an imminent labor does the same thing. So you all will forgive me if topics related to labor are much on my mind right now -- especially the fact that in about two weeks I'm going to spend an hour or so wishing I could die now and just be out of this misery, before someone hands me a little baby.)
Someone (who shall remain nameless here, but she knows who she is) called me up to chat a while ago, and mentioned that she'd read somewhere that the experience of giving birth could sometimes be orgasmic.
"That's bullshit," I said.
"No," she insisted, "It says here that the same areas are stimulated..."
"Bullshit," I said.
"But is it even possible..."
I know whose fault this is. I read Dr. Bradley's book too, right around the birth of my second, when I was experienced enough to evaluate this claim with a jaundiced eye. Why does Dr. Bradley write his book on husband-coached childbirth? Why does he tell you how to breathe, how to relax, how to handle contractions? These are coping techniques. And what are we coping with, ladies? PAIN. You don't cope with an orgasmic experience. You let it wash over you pleasantly. You do cope with giving birth, to keep from panicking when major contractions hit less than a minute apart and you want to throw up and body feels like it's turning itself inside out.
I don't think I threw the book (it was from the library, after all), but c'mon! Let's go over a list of things that are NOT orgasmic:
1. Cramps and diarrhea.
2. Agonizing abdominal pain.
3. Your body tearing as you push out a head the size of a grapefruit.
4. A major organ (the placenta) detaching itself from your body.
Let's consider number three in particular, since this seems to be the point of contention. Let us posit that a woman's body is designed to give birth, yes, yes. Let us also be vulgar and state that no matter what kind of stimulation is going on, very very few women ever are having orgasms while engaged with something the size of a grapefruit. Again, if an experience involves bodily tissue tearing, it's probably not orgasmic. These are not generally propositions up for debate.
Dr. Bradley can be forgiven, I guess -- after all, he's a man, so it's not his party -- but I must be stern with the women who propound such nonsense. This past weekend, I was reading a book by an experienced midwife who insisted that although her own labors had not been such, that some women declare that giving birth just caused the most amazing sense of release and relief, almost like an orgasm!
Well. There certainly is a kind of relief after giving birth. It's the empty, flat relief of not being in agonizing pain anymore. (This is separate from the joy of seeing the baby, of course, which is also not orgasmic.) It's the relief you get between contractions. It's the relief of the tortured man when the torturers take a smoke break. My most dramatic experience of the relief of not being in pain anymore was after I had a miscarriage, which was about as far from orgasmic as possible.
Of course it's possible to have a calm birth with no screaming or alarming the bystanders. Of course it's possible to manage contractions effectively without resorting to painkillers -- I've done it myself, four times. (Yes, Dr. B is right that being able to relax on command is key, but I learned that in acting class, not in Lamaze.) Having good information is crucial to achieving these results. Being told that birth doesn't have to be painful is bad information. Learning ways to cope with the pain is good, if one doesn't expect that these techniques will actually make the pain go away. And no technique can lead to an orgasmic birth, which is an oxymoron of the first water.
(Insert your own pithy closing statement about "orgasmic birth" here -- at the moment I can't think of anything that doesn't cross that fine line between clever and "cancel my subscription".)
Fortnightly Book, April 26
8 hours ago