Birth, The 'I'll Have What She's Having' Way
I have to admit: when I first saw that 20/20 is going to feature a documentary on orgasm during childbirth, I rolled my eyes. Waaaay back in my head. I mean, really: women face enough pressure to 'do birth right' - it's supposed to be a magical, life-affirming experience wherein any discomfort is offset by the sheer joy of bringing new life into the world, and wherein that thin sheen of sweat across the new mama's brow (duly being dabbed away by attentive partner and/or sweet, grandmotherly midwife) casts an angelic glow over her earnest face, which is never, ever contorted in pain - without adding the expectation that they should find the physical experience pleasurable. You know, in a get-your-groove-on kinda way.
My own birth stories are entirely anti-orgasmic. My first labor was 36 hours long, 24 of which hard labor; the second was a terrifying precipitous labor that very nearly ended in disaster and which ripped me stem to stern. Orgasm? Not unless I was starring in some variation of labor-snuff porn, which is to say, not bloody likely (pun intended.) Both labors, for me, were mind-bogglingly painful. If my husband had attempted to caress me - as one of the women in the film invites her husband to do during her labor - I would broken his hand, and very possibly other parts of his body. Granted, not every woman has this kind of experience, but I've yet to hear from a woman who didn't experience significant pain during labor. So my reaction to this story was oh, great. Another reason for women to feel as though they weren't good enough, that they didn't 'do' labor right, that they got it wrong somehow. And, also: what's an orgasm again?
Lisa Belkin of the NY Times parenting blog 'The Motherlode' says about “Orgasmic Birth” by Debra Pascali-Bonaro, that "some women will see this film as a declaration of emancipation from the medicalization of childbirth. Others will see it as yet one more way to raise expectations and make new mothers feel inadequate if they do not experience the “ideal” birth."
You can place me firmly in the latter camp. I'm all for women turning away from 'medicalized' childbirth (having undergone two labors that required medical intervention, I'm not one of them, but I do support any woman who prefers to keep the doctors away when giving birth), but by extolling childbirth as an experience that, if done correctly (and make no mistake, childbirth has to be 'done' a certain way in order to get that big O), can be pleasurable, it potentially sets women up for, at best, disappointment or, at worst, a rude and painful shock. (It's of a piece - not a perfectly comparable piece, but still - in my mind, with the issue of discomfort during breastfeeding - for some women (myself included), nursing is, at least initially, brutally painful, and the expectation fostered by well-meaning breastfeeding supporters that it should be pleasurable, and that if it hurts you are necessarily doing it wrong, can be profoundly discouraging and demoralizing.)
That said, Crunchy Domestic Goddess made me think twice when she said, at her blog, that she thought that the point of the documentary (and the ecstatic birth movement more generally) was to underscore the idea that "birth can be a good experience."
If that's the case, then I can support the idea, at least in principle. We should want to have 'good' birth experiences. Just so long as we understand that 'good' isn't necessarily going to look a certain way. So long as the baby comes out safely - and mom is healthy and happy at the end of it all - then it's a good birth, regardless of whether there was an orgasm or a tearing of the orgasm-experiencing parts.
Me, personally, though? I think that I'll stick to getting my orgasms the old-fashioned way.
Catherine, aka Her Bad Mother, blogs at - wait for it! - Her Bad Mother.