How do you get people to take seriously the importance of labor and birth? Unfortunately, in our hedonistic culture, you have to sell it with some sizzle.
Childbirth educator Debra Pascali-Bonaro aims to change the image of birth from an unpleasant chore to a profound and sensual experience.
Pascali-Bonaro is Lamaze International Development Chair, a Lamaze certified childbirth educator and teacher trainer with Passion for Birth, as well as the International co-chairperson for the Coalition for Improving Maternity Services. (The list of her accomplishments is much longer; see her complete bio here.)
She says, "Working so many years as an educator, I've seen birth getting more medicalized. But this information was not getting out in a format that the public was taking hold of. There are many films that present a wonderful look at birth and midwives. They seem to be used a lot by the 'choir,' but I didn't think a lot of these messages had successfully crossed over into the broader population. I wanted to find a way that would reach people who aren't even interested in birth."
As she traveled the world, she brought a video camera along and asked women if she could film their births, a project intended to show birth as a sensuous, powerful part of a woman's life.
She realized that a focus on orgasmic birth could fire people's imaginations. The result is a documentary film, "Orgasmic Birth," to be released next year.
Pascali-Bonaro says that this is an aspect of birth that's been almost forgotten in our day, while TV shows portray labor and birth as medical emergencies.
"It's something maybe our great-grandmothers knew," she says. "They birthed at home and felt the continuity of birth as part of their sexuality. When we medicalized birth, we took it out of that context. While the concept of orgasmic birth is not known, when people get the information about how the hormones of love and intimacy are present in elevated forms at birth and in the first moments between mother and baby, and during breastfeeding, the light bulbs go off in their heads."
Pascali-Bonaro has done focus groups as she works on the project. She finds that if she asks people if they want to look at a film about birth, they're not interested. But when she says it's about orgasmic birth, they get enthusiastic.
"The age group I'm hoping to target is young people who are not pregnant, and we hope get them hooked into watching it because it’s called 'Orgasmic Birth.' They say, 'I never thought of birth like this.'"
Sure, the project is controversial in our sex-negative culture. Pascali-Bonaro says that she's gotten very mixed reactions even from her colleagues.
But controversy can stimulate debate, and that's healthy. "I hope it might wake a lot of people up to not only think about birth in new ways but also to explore their choices in new ways. We need to gain confidence in our bodies -- and in our ability to listen to our bodies -- and move through this process in a more humanized way."
The film also will affirm the experiences of the lucky women who have had ecstatic births, whether or not they have a physiological orgasm. Women have told Pascali-Bonaro that they'd never before told anyone this had happened to them, fearing it was inappropriate or even perverted.
I think that "Orgasmic Birth" has the potential to create not only a shift in how we look at birth, but also in the ability of future generations to love completely. If we're not born into the world in love -- deep, physical love -- we have a very hard time learning to love.
When doctors interrupt the natural neurochemical processes of labor and birth with anesthetic or surgery, they can create an attachment gap, a lack of connection between mother and baby. The baby's still-developing brain doesn't learn the oxytocin response, leaving her emotionally disabled.
This disability informs today's culture and society: The violence, anger and disconnection expressed in war, crime and entertainment are, I believe, evidence of the harm done by pervasive birth trauma and painful child-rearing practices.
"Organic Birth" is about to go into post-production, with the goal of releasing it at the end of 2007. Pascali-Bonetti needs to raise funds to finish her project. If you, too, think this is important work, visit her website and make a tax-deductible contribution.