Meditations on Oxytocin – Part III

Imagine a natural birth, how it always happened most likely since the Stone Age (or even before that, even mammals do it that way): a woman expecting a baby is at home. A place she feels safe, protected, welcome, at ease, comfortable, everything is familiar, the smell, sounds, sights etc. Everything is prepared for the child, a mood of happy expectation hangs around, and supportive friends and family are close by. This way, a woman is relaxed.

When will she be even more relaxed? Most relaxed possible? At night! Daytime with day-to-day life, even when at home, demands a certain amount of focusing on things. She will be quite awake and oxytocin not at its heights. At night, when tired, sleeping for some hours she’ll be really relaxed- and that is when oxytocin levels rise to their maximum. Maybe her partner cuddles her. She’s happy and protected. She knows and trusts, everything is going to be well. No worries at all: that’s the moment when contractions start and when most babies (naturally) are born: when oxytocin is naturally available. Usually this is in the very early morning hours…

But now, what happens next?

If she remains calm and easy, contraction will become stronger, longer and the intervals between them will get shorter. Everything is on a good way. It’s still dark outside. She will move freely to take any possible position that feels good, relieves the pain and help the birth process going, she can take a bath or shower, go to the toilet, listen to music, have candle light, drink a tea or her favourite drink that she need just now. At home, in a save and familiar environment she can have, help herself or be helped to whatever she needs or enjoys and what helps her to stay calm and relaxed.

Now she’ll start dilating. The midwife arrives. Very good. The midwife is pleased with the progress and all looks as if birth is starting. And then: “Off to hospital”- the baby is on its way. That what happens nowadays for the vast majority of births in western countries.

So, how does woman/oxytocin react to that?

Suddenly the relaxed woman is forced to think about things (“do I have my emergency suitcase with me”, “do I need a passport?”, “will I reach hospital in time?”, “why is the husband so sleepy, can he really drive?”...). A woman in labour should not need to think about such things. And a woman in labour should be able move freely around. But in a car? Even 20 Minutes can seem ages. She is in pain, forced to sit still in a (in such a situation) very uncomfortable position. This is stress. Stress is the opposite to oxytocin. The more stress, i.e. daytime consciousness, focussing on things, thinking rational things, managing things the less oxytocin, relaxation, being able to let go of control.

She will notice all the potholes and curves on the road. Outch! She’ll now get a little frightened, start to reflect (“was this the right decision?”, “should I have waited longer, am I too late”?) and suddenly a though appears, “what if the baby comes right now in the car”? Panic, oxytocin disappears just like that. Once in the hospital, she is exposed, noise, sterile smells, aggressive bright lights, being questioned (“when did contractions start?”, “did the water break? Etc), having to answer many things (and think about it, concentrate, focus), being directed here and there, being confronted with uncertainties, nor knowing what’s going to happen, needing to wait, being put out of the position to just do what intuition tells her… next door people are chatting, talking, laughing, doors slamming, machines rattle and beep, WIFI everywhere, people touching her with cold hands, some just come in and don’t even introducing themselves… so, where are we? Ah- Contractions! what? No, contractions stopped, dilation stopper, oxytocin disappeared….

Either she would be sent back home (which would be the best, but this cycle will just repeat itself) or she stays in hospital (“now `m here I don’t want to go back”), but the contractions don’t really want to come back. Birth then takes ages. That when doctors get really happy: She will get artificial oxytocin injected! Now aggressive strong contractions start. The woman will have strong pains because of the non-human oxytocin (not the same molecule, similar, but not self produced): Now the doctors get really, really happy, they can give her pain killers, in most cases a spinal sedative (narcosis), so that the woman will not feel the contraptions or anything lover then her waist. The woman now is completely cut of from her intuition, from her (own) oxytocin, from the flow, from being the master. She now takes a passive role, which is a terrible experience for woman (in most cases), since they are not really doing it themselves, birth is being done with them. The doctors take over, if its not going smoothly or if there is any hit of a complication, they just do a caesarean section. Al this quite often is the reason for post natal depression…

This above drawn out scenario is not an exception, unfortunately it is the average experience of a woman giving birth.

What could be done differently?

The answer is quite easy: work with and not against oxytocin (which is yourself, your nature, your biology, your ancestral cultural past, your womanhood). Create condition for oxytocin to be able to be part in the process and let it “do” the job.

What are those conditions?

- a safe, familiar, dark surrounding

- people who are very good friends, the partner or family to support and to be around (not necessarily holding hands but being within reach).

- Calmness and quiet

- Natural, dimmable light (flickering of a fire stove!), beeswax candles, maybe a nice smell (aroma therapy with good natural essences like lavender to support the letting go process)

- Relaxation: like the possibility to have a warm bath or shower, have a massage at painful paces like the lover back, a nap, to take comfortable positions to hang, kneel, bend, stretch, sit, stand, lean, crawl, lay, float…

I need not to mention, that none of the above is part in a hospital (though some places try to make the best of it, have a bathing pool etc.).

What’s the essence of that story? Hospitals are the contra-intuitive places for oxytocin to be able to work. We invented a “health” system that systematically makes an easy uncomplicated, natural birth impossible. We are totally alienated from our nature.

Statistically home birth at safer than a birth in hospital!

So my question is- how come we prefer hospitals?

When night comes, we are able to connect with our "oxytocin" part in our souls. The dark is the key, the unknown the door to the new.

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