Sunday, February 18, 2007

Childbirth and canyons

Ms. Lemming and I spent the weekend at a Calm Birth workshop, which I am still trying to get my head around. The basic premise of the thing seemed simple to the point of being stark raving mad. So I’m kinda thinking it through on the keyboard right now. Pardon the rambling, but I’m a fairly unempathetic guy trying to a) get my head around childbirth, b) get my head around this alternate theory, and c) evaluate the two hypotheses based on data that I can never hope to acquire. So expect the most unconstrained armwaves and absurd assumptions this side of astrobiology.

The basic point of the calm birth people was that the uterus is a very large muscle with a job to do. Like all muscles, it gets distressed it if doesn’t get all the oxygen and nutrients it needs. And that hurts. Trouble is, there’s a catch. Fear and pain both tend to trigger a fight or flight mechanism, in which the blood is directed away from the internal organs and into the arms and legs. While great for fighting hyenas and running away from crocodiles, redirecting the blood supply to the limbs actually decreases the supply to the uterus. This causes more pain, which releases more adrenalin, in what can most charitably be called positive feedback, where “positive” means excruciating.

The corollary is that if pain and fear can be avoided, then birth will be pain-free, allowing the mother to enjoy what should be a special moment. So the aim of the weekend was to give us all the tools to deprogram the modern, painful birth expectation.

Sounds like typical theoretician gobbledygook, doesn’t it? To their credit, they never said it would be easy to do, and most of the weekend was focused on practical techniques and methods to deal. And since we still have a few months until the little laccolith extrudes onto the surface, there is plenty of time to learn and practice.

Of course, since I’m lousy at actually thinking about giving birth, I’ll try a metaphor instead. And since all bloke metaphors for childbirth are necessarily flawed, I’ll just pick a lousy one that gives me an excuse to post pretty pictures.

So. Childbirth is not that different to hiking into the Grand Canyon and back. Even a quick trip takes most of the day, and a long one can take several. If you’re unlucky or ill-prepared, you can die, and in any case, the trip will be tiring.

Sure, there are a few minor differences. Instead of meeting a brand new person at the end, you’re more likely to find a mule. Park rangers and midwives sometimes have minor personality differences. It isn’t your feet that get torn up in childbirth. And the bridge isn’t held up with cables.

But there is another angle to this comparison that’s worth considering. Prior to the late 19th century, the wilderness was regarded with open terror, at least by white folks. It was an empty, unforgiving desolation, where ravens and condors would gladly feed on the carcasses of anyone foolish enough to venture into the backcountry.

Back when the Grand Canyon was first explored, hiking into or out of the Grand Canyon was a desperate measure only done if fleeing Indians, rustling cattle, or escaping a boating mishap. The idea of enjoying a hike, or having a transcendental walking experience was beyond their comprehension. So maybe a positive birthing experience isn’t so mad after all.

If nineteenth century naturalists were able to change the cultural perceptions of wilderness, what is stopping the next Joan Muir from doing the same to childbirth?

In any case, Mrs. Lemming is way calmer and more positive, so even if I can’t get my head around this thing, the boost to her confidence should make it well worth the time and money.


Yami McMoots said...

The corollary is that if pain ... can be avoided, then birth will be pain-free

Now that's a catchy hypothesis!

Congratulations on the upcoming lil' lith.

ScienceWoman said...

congrats on the lacolith - wait til you give it the first bath...

C W Magee said...

Thanks guys.

YM, you forget that logic was a ploy invented by the Greeks to keep their women barefoot, uncomfortably pregnant, and in the kitchen cooking souvlaki.

SW, that'll turn it from a laccolith into a batholith!

CanuckedBrit said...

I've had two natural births. Whenever I panicked, the pain was unbearable. My husband really came through for me and calmed me down to a point where the pain was definitely manageable. Their theory doesn't sound weird to me after my experiences.
Good luck on your child's upcoming birth.