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March 2008
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May 2008

Home Birth Activism Hits UK

According to the Guardian, Rikki Lake's film, "The Business of Being Born," is helping to fire up a movement to provide greater access to home birth, as well as midwife-assisted birth in-hospital.

One really great quote from Angela Horn, who set up to debunk the myths about how unsafe home birth was:

"It's incredible how a good birth can change a woman. You've brought new life into the world, and you've done it yourself rather than, as happens to so many women, finding yourself at the heart of a crisis that you need to be rescued from."

Read the article: Birth of a Revolution.

Tend and Befriend during Hurricane Katrina

  Reunion Arena Relief Efforts 
  Originally uploaded by tonguetyed.

You were more likely to survive Hurricane Katrina if you had the benefit of a social network with other women, according to researchers at the University of Missouri.

According to the article,

Jacqueline Litt, associate professor and chair of the Department of Women's and Gender Studies at MU, found that informal family and community networks coordinated by women are vital in emergency situations. More than 50 people were evacuated from New Orleans, La., through the efforts of two "core anchors," a 58-year-old woman and her daughter, who initiated communication and organization using established familial and social relationships.

Litt found that warnings from the government didn't carry as much weight with people as word of mouth from people they already knew and trusted. And women, who tend to be better at communicating and keeping in touch, were better at getting the word out and getting people to act in time.

This finding reflects a reaction to danger or stress that UCLA psychologist Shelley Taylor dubbed "tend and befriend." According to Taylor, while men often go into fight-or-flight mode, women have evolved the tend and befriend strategy because it was more likely to ensure that the children would be safe or at least survive. If a mother stood up and fought -- and lost -- her child might be killed too. If the child wasn't killed, it could only survive if her kin or friend were willing to foster it.

Taylor thinks that oxytocin, the neurochemical of calm and bonding, might be at work in the tend-and-befriend survival strategy. Oxytocin is also the chemical of social connection, helping women to create and maintain the social networks that can help them and their children survive.

The example of these women during the hurricane is an excellent example of this survival mechanism in action.

Oxytocin and the Male Monkey

42108sqmonkeys Much research has been done on the role of oxytocin in behaviors related to bonding and parenting in prairie voles, a socially monogamous species. Karen Bales at UC Davis is looking at oxytocin and vasopressin in titi monkeys, a socially monogamous primate.  Working up the evolutionary chain makes it more likely that changes in behavior caused by manipulating oxytocin could give us insights into human behavior.

Adam Smith, a graduate student at the University of Nebraska, just got a National Science Foundation to continue his work on oxytocin and male marmosets -- still another socially monogamous primate.

And, gotta love whoever wrote the headline:

Monkey Love May Be in the Air

Smith is looking to determine whether elevating or suppressing the oxytocin in marmoset monkeys will affect the social behavior that influences the monogamous relationships of adult male and female monkeys.

Oxytocin Withdrawal a Problem after Weaning

  the breastfeeding Lady 2 
  Originally uploaded by Raphael Goetter.

To post-partum depression, add another neurochemical pitfall of mothering: post-weaning depression. Blogger Jen Eyer examines her experience of "breastfeeding withdrawal" on Neurotic Mom.

She writes,

    Now that I think about it, it really isn't surprising that even a decrease in nursing would cause my mood to drop. Less nursing = less oxytocin, aka the "love hormone." It's going to take time to adjust to the withdrawal.

It sounds like Jen has a wonderful and supportive husband. But she's forgetting a possible replacement for the oxytocin she's missing: sex and orgasm.

Orgasmic Birth Movie to Premiere

I'm excited that the wonderful film by Debra Pascali-Bonaro is finished. I can't wait to see it. Meanwhile, I'm publishing Debra's entire press release. I think this film could do much to change our understanding of what birth could be. Go to the site immediately to see astonishing video. This is world-changing!


The Best-Kept Secret--Unveiled

“Orgasmic Birth,” a new documentary film by internationally renowned childbirth educator, doula, and birth activist Debra Pascali-Bonaro, challenges cultural myths by revealing the emotional, spiritual, and physical heights attainable through birth. Viewers witness the passion of birth as an integral part of women’s sexuality and a neglected human right.

Five years in the making, “Orgasmic Birth” will have its world premiere on May 12 at the fifth annual World Respected Childbirth Week conference in Prague, Czech Republic. Subsequent screenings will be held in London on May 29; in Paris on May 30; and in Glasgow on June 4 at the 28th Triennial Congress of the International Confederation of Midwives.

On May 16, “Orgasmic Birth” will be featured on a segment of “20/20,” the acclaimed ABC-TV news show, as part of its Mother’s Day program. The reporters will interview Debra, who produced and directed the film; women’s health advocate Christiane Northrup, MD, who appears in it; and several of the 11 couples who courageously permitted their birthing experiences to be shown. Dr. Northrup, the author of “Mother-Daughter Wisdom” (Bantam, 2005) and “Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom” (Bantam, revised 2006), appears frequently on PBS.

Among other well-known health professionals who present their views in the film and discuss evidence-based support of its claims:

 o Ina May Gaskin, MA, CPM, world-renowned midwife, author, and founder/director of the Farm Midwifery Center in Summertown, Tennessee

 o Maureen Corry, MPH, executive director, Childbirth Connection, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of maternity care

 o Sarah J Buckley, MD, a general practitioner/family physician with qualifications in obstetrics; author of “Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering”

 o Marsden Wagner, MD, former director of Women’s and Children’s Health, World Health Organization

You too can be a part of this exciting project! Go to and:

 o Share your birth experience and read about the birth experiences of others.

 o Sign up to host a local screening of this important documentary. It’s easy with the comprehensive Community Screening Packet developed for the film. Download these materials at the website, where you can register your screening dates (which we will post online), watch a trailer of the film, find a Birth Planning Q&A section by our birth experts, and much more.

Joyous, sensuous, and revolutionary, this pioneering film will compel many to reexamine their perceptions about childbirth. Viewers will understand that the use of normal, undisturbed birthing methods can aid the health and well-being of future generations.

The DVD is available with subtitles in French, German, Spanish, and Portuguese and has a remarkable score by John McDowell, composer of the Oscar-winning documentary “Born Into Brothels.”

Questions? Please use the “Contact us” e-mail tab on the home page of



Men, Stay Out of the Labor Room

Should men -- that logical, charge-taking, squeamish half of the human race -- be present when their mates give birth to their children?

This opinion piece flies in the face of modern thinking and all the work women and men have done in the past 50 years to move toward equality not only in the workplace, but at home. If it were written by anyone else, I'd sniff at it and leave it.

But "A top obstetrician on why men should NEVER be at the birth of their child" was written by Michel Odent, who was one of the first people to begin speaking out against the way medical birthing practices can break the bond between mother and baby -- and therefore someone I respect immensely.

Odent makes some very good points about how the presence of the father-to-be can keep a woman from going into that oxytocin-driven state where her body "knows" how to give birth.

First, a labouring woman needs to be protected against any stimulation of the thinking part of her brain - the neocortex - for labour to proceed with any degree of ease.

This part of the brain needs to take a back seat and allow the primal "unthinking" part of the brain connected to basic vital functions to take over.

A woman in labour needs to be in a private world where she doesn't have to think or talk.

Yet, motivated by a desire to "share the experience", the man asks questions and offers words of reassurance and advice.

In doing so, he denies his partner the quiet mind that she needs.

The second reason is that the father's release of the stress hormone adrenaline as he watches his partner labour causes her anxiety, and prevents her from relaxing.
This needs to be said. I can certainly see how feeling she needs to share the experience with her partner could distract a woman.

But Odent ignores another option: What about teaching the father ways to behave that don't activate the laboring woman's neocortex? A man can share the experience just by being there, as well as by offering loving touch in the form of massage, caresses and even sexual stimulation, which can help bring on labor.

Odent seems to feel that men are incapable of this, as well as often too put off by the messiness and blood. I'd like to think that the majority of men, if it were explained to them, would be willing and able to enter with their women into that primal, sensual state that can make birth an oceanic experience.

Should we deny them that opportunity?

Touch Therapy Helps Both People

  Originally uploaded by annamatic3000.

Massage therapists and aestheticians are encouraged to offer their clients an oxytocin release along with their treatments in this article from Skin, Inc. This seems to be a very good trade magazine for spa professionals. Writer Irina Brown points out that it's as good for the giver as for the receiver:

The good news is that it is not only the person on the receiving end of “touch therapy” that benefits from oxytocin release. Studies show that the person administering “touch” also experiences heightened levels of oxytocin. Massage therapists exhibit the typical effects of high levels of oxytocin, such as lower levels of stress hormones and lowered blood pressure, according to Kerstin Uvnas Moberg, MD, author of The Oxytocin Factor (Da Cappo Press, 2003).

In fact, I don't believe there are any studies at all showing that a person being massaged has higher oxytocin levels, although it seems intuitively correct. But there are studies showing the masseur or masseuse has higher levels post-massage.

Chocolate, Sex and Love

When we're lonely, depressed or bummed out, we reach for the chocolate. Especially for women, the liquor of this magic bean seems to spell relief from the blues.

Science hasn't figured out why, although, intriguingly, chocolate contains phenylethylamine, a substance that seems to be produced in the brain when we're in the throes of romance.

Personally, I think it's simply because chocolate provides sensual pleasure, while its fat stimulates a release of oxytocin into the gut and bloodstream via the vagus nerve. That oxytocin feels just like the oxytocin we'd get from making love or being close to someone we love.

At any rate, has a fun analysis of the satisfactions of chocolate, as well as a list of reasons why it's actually better than sex:

Chocolate will never ask you to wear a wig and scream "Who's your Daddy?"

BTW, I am experimenting with adding some affiliate marketing links to this site. If you clicked on chocolate here or above, you would be taken to If you bought something, I would get some money. No obligation, of course!

Paul Zak Video

Getting Clever Together posted a link to a video of Paul Zak speaking at a bioethics conference on trust in business and society.  Worth watching!