Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Orgasmic Bullshit

(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".)


TS said...

High-laire; I've never heard of birthing being compared to orgasm and despite having not experienced the former I find your thoughts extremely persuasive. The word "tearing" is always cringe-inducing when juxtaposed with body.

Of all the pains in the world it's interesting that childbirth gets a prime-time mention in Scripture:

"I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children."

We're not sola scriptura folk, but note the lack of a "but it's sort of like orgasm" clause.

I think that your thesis borne out (pun intended) by experience.

Word Verification: birter

mrsdarwin said...

I've never heard of birthing being compared to orgasm

And that's because they're nothing alike! I have heard it compared to passing kidney stones (no personal experience here), which I believe no man would describe as "orgasmic".

Jamie said...

Does Dr. Bradley talk about birth as orgasmic? I thought he just said we should lie still and be quiet and it wouldn't hurt.

For me there is nothing that makes labor hurt more than lying still.

Have you read Ina May's Guide to Childbirth? She's got a chapter on the orgasmic birth thing.

Curious about whether you found it to be different when you stayed at home. My three homebirths were way, way less painful and more fun than the two hospital births. Orgasmic is the wrong word, but we had a great time. I remember laughing a lot even in the hardest spots, and only a few minutes of real pain for two out of the three. (The other involved a cervical lip and an unpleasant 45 minutes, but the rest of that one was great too.)

CMinor said...

I've heard similar sentiments expressed, mostly by those whose philosophy of childbirth is out on the farther reaches of reason.

I'd call the comparison analagous to comparing the experience of a 300-lb NFL linebacker running over one's back in cleats to a shiatsu.

CMinor said...

Just so there's no room for doubt, my remarks were directed at the general concept of orgasmic birth and not Jamie's observations.

Don't get me wrong--all but my first kid were born absolutely naturally, and the only thing I'd change if I had to do it over would be having the first one naturally as well. Birth can be fun, and I'm sure there's an associated high, of sorts--just as with a marathon or a two-day tennis match if you enjoy those things. But in my experience at least, it's a very different kind of fun!

Anonymous said...

The Blackadder Says:

I suppose a nice kick to the groin would also be orgasmic, as the same area is being stimulated.

mrsdarwin said...

Blackadder, you are a man of rare perception.

Jamie, I guess I would say that my homebirths (2 and counting) were more "fun" than my hospital births (2), though fun isn't really the word that comes to mind when I think of birth. I didn't have a problem with my hospital times, except that people bothered me when I didn't want to bothered -- something that hasn't happened at home. The pain is the same -- I knew how to manage it then and now, but I have more freedom to move around at home, and the midwife is more willing to try different stuff to make sure I don't need stitches. One very good difference: the homebirths have been much quicker, though that could be the result of multiple labors.

I have read Ina May's book -- in fact, that was the one I was referring to in the post. I guess you can't argue with someone else's perception, but I just can't get into this "orgasmic" blissful thing. Maybe that's because I like having people give me the bad news straight, so I'm the kind of person who needs to know that birth will hurt so I can be prepared to deal with it.

Jamie said...

I know-- fun is a weird word to use about birth. Being at home was a real game-changer for me, because there was nothing fun about my hospital births. The same physical events were a very different physical experience when I was in a place I loved with people I knew well and trusted. I wonder if that's what was going on with some of the women Ina May surveyed.

Whenever your labor happens, I hope it is the least anti-orgasmic experience that it can be. ;-)

Kate said...

I've never had an 'orgasmic birth' but I'm not quite ready to say that no woman can or ever has had one.

I understand your preference for wanting to straightforwardly address pain and coping techniques though. I think a lot of women probably feel that way.

Personally, I prefer to read lovely peaceful idealized birth stories when pregnant, since the only thing discussions of pain has ever done for me is scare me. (And when I'm scared/tense, EVERYTHING hurts more). When I am in labor, everything I've read about techniques etcetera goes right out of my head anyway. So I guess it's a good thing there are a lot of philosophies of child birth out there, since there are a lot of different kinds of women out there!

Kristen said...

Weirdly enough, the doula present at my daughter's birth insisted that I had an orgasmic birth. I insisted that she was mistaken. Though like Jaime, I'd say I did have fun.

I'm pretty sure it was just that one woman on that news special (the one in the outdoor tub in the jungle in Hawaii? Remember her? that has ever actually had an orgasm during childbirth.

entropy said...

Everyone seems to focus on the pushing the baby out part which for me was not the worst part of labor. It's all the pain of contractions just before the pushing, aka transition. Makes me almost lose my mind every time.

Anonymous said...

Being at home was a real game-changer for me.

I suspect that dying and giving birth are best done at home. It's too bad we've given professionals control of our most personal of experiences.

Meredith said...

I remember when I read the Ina May book with my first pregnancy, the orgasmic birth chapter made me question the whole book. I do agree that there is a valid parallel with the whole building-up-of-tension and an explosive release, though. Even an epidural gave me that similar sensation, far from the communal birthing huts of the Farm.

Bob the Ape said...

Said a lady, "I've felt both sensations:
The beginning and end of gestations;
And between an orgasm
And labor, a chasm
Is fixed; so please don't try my patience!"

mrsdarwin said...

Bob the Ape is the only living poet who can move me to tears of delight.

Shannon said...

As a Bradley teacher, I wouldn't say Dr. Bradley instructs women to lay still and be quiet. Relaxation is the key and if it is more relaxing for you to be up swaying your hips in labor, then Dr. Bradley would encourage you to do that. The infamous side-lying position is mostly for the parts in labor when you need to rest and relax and conserve your energy. I am a very vocal laborer (i.e. labor moans), so I would not be teaching the class if he advocated for women being quiet! ;)

Lastly, I am glad to see that you had a second post on the subject. Orgasmic birth is rare, I think, but I would not go so far as to say it is impossible. Many women do not tear when birthing (I am not lucky enough to be one of them) and if you think of someone having a longer, slow second stage with slow crowning, it is possible that a woman could be stimulated in a similar manner to experience pleasure. Again, just saying it's possible.