The Hindbrain, Key to Getting into the “Birth Zone”
When the Midwives of New Jersey teach our Birth Classes every Wednesday afternoon, we discuss the importance of turning off your fore-brain, or neo-cortex. We understand that this is easier said than done but all Midwives have seen women fully in their “zone” (aka Hindbrain) and this is a BEAUTIFUL thing! They are glassy-eyed, non-verbal and instinctive. Once we see that, we know we are home-free! Our job as Midwives is to create a safe, private space for a woman to labor. That is why attempting natural childbirth in a hospital is so difficult. Hospital routines are seemingly INTENDED to pull a woman “out” of her zone. Bright lights, pointed questions, signing papers, and unfamiliar people all serve to create a “hostile” labor environment. Michel Odent, one of the founders of the current natural childbirth movement, says, “One cannot actively help a woman give birth. The goal is to avoid disturbing her unnecessarily.”
Michel Odent, a Founder of the Natural Childbirth Movement
Born in a French village in 1930, Michel Odent studied medicine in Paris and was educated as a surgeon in the 1950s. In charge of the surgical and maternity units of the Pithiviers hospital (France) from 1962 to 1985, Odent noticed that laboring women are affected by environmental factors like the people and physical environment around them.
He introduced home-like birthing rooms, birthing pools and singing sessions for pregnant women. In his clinic, beds were put close to the ground because he noticed that laboring women did not like being up in the air. He would squat in the corner of the labor room observing but not interfering because he could see that his “help” was pulling the woman out of her hindbrain making her behave less instinctively. Barbara Harper of Waterbirth International, went to Dr. Odent’s clinic in Pithiviers to observe waterbirth while she was pregnant with her first child. Waterbirth came to America after that visit!
After his hospital career, Michel became involved in home birth, founded the Primal Health Research Centre in London, and designed a database in order to compile epidemiological studies exploring correlations between what happens during the “Primal period” and health later on.
According to Odent, There are 4 Things That Turn on the Neo-Cortex and Make Birth Difficult:
All words require a woman to enter her neo-cortex, to bring her brain wave activity up a notch or two. This is one reason a lot of women in advanced labor, when asked questions, will just repeat “I don’t know” or not answer at all. It’s too much work to process a question and certainly to come up with the words to answer it. A woman with good oxytocin production, in progressing labor, is in her own world. She doesn’t care about any of the things in our perceived reality, anyway. Few things need words–a woman’s experience of birth is all about feeling and being.
All light, but especially fake light, turns on the neo-cortex. It wakes us up. Birth requires us to be in a dream-like state. Our brain waves need to slow down, our primitive brains need to take over. Light makes us cast our eyes about and then our neo-cortex wants to get in on whatever is going on. Maybe analyze a few things, processes some possible threats, try to recall what it is we’re ‘supposed’ to do if we have back labor, and compile a list of reasons why that nurse might have given us the side-eye. All this is just a big ‘ol wet blanket to a mammalian body trying to birth a baby.
Anything that “makes you look” or requires attention is distracting to a woman in labor. Things should be as familiar and predictable as possible. Anything new or that requires attention slows a woman down. Attention-requiring things are especially inhibiting when they signify danger, possible danger, threat of danger, or appearance of danger.
The better term for this is ‘observers,’ but I wanted a bunch of <l> alliteration. So anyone or anything that is observing you give birth is going to inhibit your birth by stimulating your neo-cortex. When we are observed, we observe ourselves. People or machines, in the room or without, it doesn’t matter. All the waiting and watching makes birth hard.
So, Best Case Scenario:
You aren’t afraid and sneak off to your birth cave. Turn off your human mind and think very, very carefully (beforehand!!) about who you invite into this space.
Michel Odent says for the safest birth you need, “One experienced and silent midwife sitting in a corner.”
Sometimes He adds that the midwife should be knitting and smiling.
Choose Your Birth Provider and Place of Birth Carefully
Consider carefully your place of birth and birth attendant. Clearly, a woman and baby will experience a healthier and more satisfying birth experience if both the provider and facility acknowledge the normal physiologic process of childbirth when caring for a pregnant woman.