“Over and over again, I’ve seen that the best way to get a baby out is by getting it on with your old man. That loving, sexy vibe is what puts the baby in there, and it’s what gets it out too.” –Cora from Spiritual Midwifery
I find there is a great divide in our culture between sexuality, pregnancy and birth. Sex is so often fetishized, commodified and stripped of its connection to life. It’s all about pleasure, and it is, but sometimes it is also the start of a new being. There’s something to honor there, something about that for me. Don’t get me wrong, I totally honor non-procreative sex as well, its vast iterations, but what I wish to bridge is the connection sex and sexuality have to birth and the pregnant woman. Pregnancy and childbirth are very individualized experiences, so I acknowledge that this approach to birth may not resonate with all readers, but I do hope it expands your thinking on the role a woman’s sexuality plays in this moment of her life.
Theorist Iris Young, in her essay, “Pregnant Embodiment: Subjectivity and Alienation,” pointedly asserts how society has worked hard to sever the ties between the sexualized woman and the pregnant woman, even thought the pregnant woman often feels more sexually engaged than ever before in her life. Society assigns the pregnant woman the role of “respected member of the community” because she has chosen motherhood. But this disavows her sexuality by placing her on a motherhood pedestal, and marking her as no longer a sexual being, because, apparently, being a nurturer and having sexuality is impossible? Or is it? I think it’s important that a woman feel desired in her changing, growing pregnant body. Humans crave touch, and in pregnancy connecting with our partner in a loving way is so important. Our partners are on the journey with us, and keeping closely connected to them through lovemaking is just as important as choosing baby’s name or nesting.
There are a lot of pregnancy “fairy tales,” as I like to call them, that Young speaks about in her essay. One example is the “aura” surrounding the pregnant woman and society’s habit of seeing pregnancy as a time of waiting. Think of the language we use about pregnancy. “She’s got a bun in the oven.” Storks dropping babies off. You know them well. Pregnancy does involve a feeling of waiting, but it also involves much undulation and change. Young states, “ pregnancy has a temporality of movement, growth and change.” These sorts of myths and language around pregnancy reinforce or work to enforce the lack of subjectivity the pregnant woman is given by her placement in this static waiting zone.
Then there is the birth itself. Historically men have been kept out of the birthing room. I’m encouraged that partners are often choosing to take a more active role in birth these days, but many still have reservations. That’s totally fine. Some partners enjoy observing, others holding mom’s hand through contractions and pushing. But it’s no big shock, or I don’t think it should be, that kissing, making love (in early labor), caressing and nipple stimulation aid in the birthing process. Physiologically birth is not dissimilar to sex. The same hormones and body chemicals are released, the same erectile tissue in the vulva and vagina are stimulated and the rush of a contraction is not that different from an orgasm. Think of how much more enjoyable sex is when you are really turned on. You’re well lubricated, your cervix pulls up inside and the vagina expands. The same thing can happen in birth, if you’re in the right headspace for it. If you’re scared and tense, you will hold that tension in your pelvis, and it will be harder for the baby to come down. Being turned on during birth allows you to open, stretch and bring the baby down with more ease. You may be thinking, “ick,” you may be thinking, “hmm that makes a lot of sense.” Either way, I hope that, as a society, we can start to acknowledge sexuality in pregnancy and birth. We can empower women and couples to use biological methods to ease birth, and break down old-fashioned views of pregnancy and motherhood.
Let’s shift birth away from fear and towards love!
Zoe Etkin is a Los Angeles based birth & postpartum doula, poet and teacher. Check her out at http://www.doulazoe.com.