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I just came across several short videos of über midwife Ina May Gaskin talking about birth and what she calls, “the sphincter law.” This is basically the idea that the sphincter only opens when you feel safe and relaxed. (And this does not include the situation wherein someone is leaning over you telling you to “Relax!”.)
There’s so much going on in these videos; such a wealth of information and wisdom and warmth. Here are a few of her insights into how our bodies work in labor and then one of the videos after the jump.
Labor Can Go Backwards
Ina May talks about how “labor can go backwards in women.” She had never read this in any medical books but saw it in births she attended and started to wonder why it was happening. She’d also observed this seizing-up in laboring farm animals who felt threatened.
Soon she realized that when the human animal feels very frightened, her labor will slow down or in some more remarkable cases, reverse to the point where the cervix actually starts to close. It’s not very common but it can happen. The cure for this is helping relieve the woman’s fears. In the example she gives, Ina May encourages mom to laugh. The opening of the mouth and release of tension corresponds with her pelvis, soon the baby is born and there’s no tearing.
Labor Is Private
Part of what can make a woman frightened and seize up in labor is the anxiety of being watched. It’s kind of funny to hear about how birth is intimate and “private” from a hippie who is so into nakedness and vaginas and breasts and all that feel-good natural stuff. But she’s totally right. I’ve seen it. I’ve read about it. I’ve felt it. There’s a hormonal and evolutionary basis for it.
Sometimes women go to the bathroom in labor and don’t want to get off the toilet or come out. They like it in there because this is a private place; a place where they are accustomed to letting their pelvic floor relax. So it’s important to think about who is in the room with you when you give birth. As much as I love the idea of all your loved ones gathering around to support you… I think it’s wise to keep the group small and focused for hardest parts of labor. This is when you want to be with people you feel very comfortable with. Typically this means a labor attendant who has a deep trust in normal, physiological birth and who has seen it all before– a doula or midwife, well-trained nurse or ob/gyn and your partner.
Kissing Can Prevent Tearing
Ina May covers this in the video below, so I won’t go too far into it. But the basic idea is that the sphincter opens up– and is less likely to tear– when the mouth and throat are open. And when a woman feels relaxed and safe. It’s similar to the above concept of laughter to help with pelvic dilation. But Ina May has such a inimitable way of getting all this across I encourage you to watch.
For the full video series:
Here’s the first video.
Here’s the second.
Here’s the third.
An Ina May documentary is in the works. “Like” the facebook page for this film and receive updates. I’ve seen Ina May in person and she’s just incredible, I’m sure the film will be too!