Andrea works for an HMO, teaching childbirth preparation classes for expectant parents, as well as a class for other childbirth teachers.
In addition, for 23 years, she's had a private practice as a spiritual midwife. I'd read about ecstatic birth and orgasmic birth, and I realized that the experience of birth for both baby and mother had the potential to be very different from what most of us experience. I wanted to talk to someone who's witnessed thousands of births about what happens between mother and baby in the first moments.
Specifically, I was looking for the connection between ecstatic birth and oxytocin.
Certainly the flood of oxytocin that stimulates contraction of the uterus -- and also produces the intense rush of love a mother feels for the newborn, and the experience of fulfillment and connection that the baby ideally experiences as it enters the world -- is central to the ecstatic emotion.
Moreover, many scientists and practitioners believe that the jolt of pitocin, artificial oxytocin, often administered to speed hospital births can short-circuit the attachment reflex in the first few moments of a baby's life.
Andrea wanted to speak anonymously, because she wanted to speak freely. Every birth is unique, because of circumstances and because of the woman's choices. Andrea wanted to make sure none of her clients read this interview and felt criticized.
Hug: First, tell us about your work.
Andrea: Over the past 23 years, I've gone through all sorts of phases with my relationship to attending birth. I've done formal apprenticeships and attended births, largely illegally, for long time as a lay midwife or as a direct-entry midwife. I stopped doing that about eight years ago; another way I attend birth is sometimes as a doula for people who birth in the hospital.
Hug: What does it mean to be a spiritual midwife?
Andrea: I attend to women and their families during the prenatal phase, where they're opening their life to the transformation that's happening. I'm guiding that -- not necessarily the typical "eat right" kind of thing, although that's involved. It's more about addressing the emotional and mental changes, the energetic and spiritual changes that happen during pregnancy.
Another way to say "spiritual midwife" would be, "I attend to the emotional, mental and spiritual wellbeing of women during pregnancy, birth and postpartum."
Hug: When did begin to practice this way?
Andrea: My son's birth is what opened my interest and passion for that. It was an ecstatic birth and an orgasmic birth. A lot of women birth and have largely ecstatic experience. Maybe they recognize it as orgasmic or maybe they don't. I definitely had an orgasmic birth.
There were no drugs. I was frightened of taking anything medical, I didn't want anything like that. I managed to be in this room that just had a queen-sized bed, with my husband and a nurse.
I didn't have any clue as to what was going to happen. I knew my body would open and I'd push the baby out. He came out, and he came right to me. I did not let anybody take him. I didn't want him bathed, I just wanted him and had him with me. I fell asleep for a few hours and went home.
Hug: What would you advise a woman who wants to have an ecstatic and/or orgasmic birth?
Andrea: Birth at home would be the first thing: Seek midwifery care. Trust the process. Totally trust your body, let go to your body, tell the truth. "I'm fearful," "I'm in pain," whatever the truth is, be with the truth. When all is said and done, when the baby is emerging, the truth will be ecstatic.
Hug: What does your experience tell you about the typical, modern birth?
Andrea: When women started birthing in hospitals with anesthesia, we created a society where there was no bonding. The bonding was off. And some of us saw it and said, "I'm having something else." And others just went even further away.
At the most stressful part of the baby emerging, we're disconnected. And we recapitulate that over and over. It's a terrible situation that got created.
Then you have something even more disconcerting: As things start getting more intense physically and emotionally in all the realms, there's an encouragement for women to separate completely from this experience. I can't imagine the long-term result of this.
Hug: Do you see more danger in the rise in elective C-sections?
Andrea: When you've had in-vitro fertilization and then a C-section, it's the mothering that's interfered with. We just cut the woman off from what would eventually support her, which is her own body. Everything in the body is made to respond.
The pain gets more and more intense, but you can bear it. And then the baby comes, and the pain ends. Your body is in bliss. If you had an orgasm, you are beyond, you're in light, in phase with your body and the baby. And the bond. And the love. My god. I have never gotten over that. Then, naturally, you put the baby to the breast, and naturally, you get up every two hours. For me, it was a breeze to wake up every two hours. It was what I wanted to do, to be with my baby.
Women with epidurals end up exhausted in body because the psyche hasn't met the challenge. They have no physiological responses, and then they have a baby to take care of. It's 2 a.m., and you've got a crying child, but you have no wherewithal to respond.