Orgasmic Birth: A new documentary insists birth can be, believe it or not, pleasurable. Babble.com's Five Minute Time Out.Madeline Holler
One thing you should know about the movie Orgasmic Birth is that only one woman actually climaxes on-screen. (Oh, but it’s a doozy – her eyes cross and everything!) You should also know the film is not a how-to guide. Instead, Orgasmic Birth shows some of the little-talked-about possibilities in labor and birth: that women can enjoy it, that it’s neither arrogant nor absurd to come away with a story of pleasure rather than survival. Sure, birth is painful. But it can also be ecstatic, joyful, and, yes, physiologically orgasmic.
Still, reaction to previews that have made their way around the Internet range from uncomfortable laughter (guilty!) to total disbelief to, surprisingly, rage. Isn’t a healthy baby enough? people ask. I abstained from sushi for nine months, did countless Kegel reps, and shelled out big bucks for a hypno-birthing DVD . . . and now I’m expected to do this? (Well, no, not exactly.) Babble talked to three of the women who gave birth in the film about their surprisingly pleasurable experience. – Madeline Holler
Piper, 28, Georgia
What do you think of the title Orgasmic Birth?
I think it’s a great title. It’s attention-getting, which was definitely the purpose. Birth in general is an experience full of heightened sensitivities and emotions and sensations. And when it’s a positive experience it really can be orgasmic in that it’s really satisfying – the culmination of a high-impact physical experience. When you take it literally from the bio-chemical process, the birth experience very closely mirrors orgasm. But I also like the term ecstatic birth – it refers more to the spiritual and mental aspect.
Your first birth, the one in the film, was in a hospital. Was that an orgasmic birth?
Well, it was certainly an ecstatic experience the first time around, but having other people there was distracting, I guess.
Right, your father was in the room, your mom . . .
My cousin . . . my partner . . .
Well, how was that for you? So many people present?
We wanted to invite even more people to our son’s birth to be honest. But some people responded, “No way! Why would you want to have us at your birth?” Anyway, we had a great time, I wasn’t really aware of their presence, except for their support, and that was great for me.
But it’s true, I enjoyed having a more intimate experience with my partner here [for her second birth, at home, unassisted]. We had invited a lot of people to my daughter’s birth too, but it went so fast.
So you were closer to an ecstatic experience in your second birth?
My partner and I – since we had been through this once before – were more relaxed. There was less apprehension. I was laboring on my own in the bathroom and he came in. He saw me furrowing my brow and he just started kissing me, which was perfect. It was a nonverbal signal to just relax. When we came into the bedroom, he intuitively knew to massage my perineum. And then, [the baby] just came out. It was definitely closer to that orgasmic experience, because we were able to flow with the birth a little better.
What do you think about how the movie has been received?
I have seen some negative stuff about it, as if this has created a new expectation women are forced to achieve. I think people who feel that way are actually missing the point. I think that it’s really not out there to make women feel negative.
But it’s true, I find myself dumbing it down when I talk about my births. Even during the interview for the movie, after the birth, I look back on what I said and I feel like I took a very benign approach in describing it, because I didn’t want anybody else to feel bad.
I knew that there were other birth experiences and I didn’t want to create a negative expectation. But as it’s said in the film, it is realistic to expect birth to be wonderful. I think that we are doing women a disservice to downplay how amazing birth can be. The film is more about claiming responsibility for your experience and not just turning it over to a health professional who doesn’t necessarily (a) have the best information and (b) have your best interest in mind. I don’t think anybody in the film is trying to set the expectations for anyone else.
Since the movie, Piper left law school and New Jersey , trained as a doula and had a second baby. She is an aspiring midwife.
Tamra, 38, New Jersey
Tell me about your second birth, the one we see part of in the film.
Early labor was awesome and very sensuous and, yes, good and even wonderful. I was in the birth tub for a few hours . . . I was in transition and didn’t even know it, the birth tub just felt so, so good. At one point, my daughter descended, like, three times. I could feel her with my hands. I was so excited. I thought, Oh my God! This is it, I’m going to push you out here in the tub! But she slipped back up each time.
By the third time she slipped back up I thought, “Okay, I surrender!” I started thinking – and thinking is where you get in trouble when you’re in labor – and I thought, What am I not doing? What have I done wrong? I started questioning . . . I definitely had a moment where I was feeling pain. You know, people say, “Wow, orgasmic birth. You mean you didn’t feel pain?” No, it’s not about NOT feeling pain. It’s that pain is a small portion of the overall experience.
Anyway, I got out of the tub, and I ran to the bathroom. For me, that bathroom was an invisible line. I had been told so many times about women giving birth in the bathroom and I really didn’t want to. I went pee and then I got back in the tub. I asked about breaking my waters. We talked about the pros and the cons and that gave me some perspective. So I got out of the tub again. They told me to try going to the bathroom again – and our bathroom is the smallest, brightest, pinkest room in our house. But it’s also private. There was no one else in there. And so my husband and I went into the bathroom.
I remember saying, “Why isn’t the baby here yet?” and we kissed. And right then, the waters released, they broke. Immediately, she came down, the baby, and the force of her coming down was so powerful. And there was the ring of fire and I shouted, “Burning! Burning, burning, burning!” to the midwives in the other room. I remember also calming down and saying to myself, “Just let it burn, it’s okay to burn.” So I came off the toilet and got on my hands and knees on the floor.
By now, everyone’s crammed in your tiny pink bathroom?
Exactly. And as her head was being born, I would say I experienced what could be called a birth orgasm. The only thing that came out of my mouth was, “Oh, that feels good.”
Oh! We don’t see that in the movie. What was it like?
It was like being lit up from the inside, like a shudder – an earthquake from deep, deep within – shooting through every nerve pathway out the top of my head. It was very unexpected. As much as I believe in orgasmic birth, having heard lots of stories and accounts of orgasmic birth, I did not have orgasmic birth on my mind. All I wanted was for my baby to be there.
So her head was born . . . and that felt really good. It was overwhelming and wonderful.
“It was like being lit up from the inside.” Just to be clear: you’re saying that your birth orgasm happened from within. No external stimulation?
Some women feel the urge, without even knowing it . . . they feel the urge to have someone touch them. If they have a spouse, a partner, who they feel really safe with, they’ll even say, “Rub me! Rub me there!” I’ve heard stories going to all these screenings – a midwife told me she had a client who wanted the midwife to rub her pubic bone. And the woman kept saying, “Oh, lower! Lower!” So this midwife was pretty much rubbing back and forth on the clitoris. And the other midwife came in and asked, “What are you doing?” and the first midwife said, “I”m helping the mother!”
I would not judge someone for using it to get into labor or to ease the pain. I would suggest to anybody that if that’s something they’re open to and something they’re comfortable doing – if there was no rupture of membranes – then to just go for it.
We did stuff in early labor for the first few hours to get contractions more regular. We went for walks, we’d kiss, do nipple stim[ulation]. We’d rock and dance and lunge and different things, and really make out. If [the midwives] hadn’t come in, we might have gone for it, we might have kept moving on.
Still, readers – and, okay, I – want to know, technically speaking, during the orgasmic part of your birth, it was all just from inside?
There was no clitoral stimulation, just a pulsing, throbbing sensation. It is a more transcendent feeling of orgasm, because it is so much higher, I think, than orgasm. It’s internal, an internal type shudder – or, or a spasm. It was higher up inside the vaginal canal. I don’t know if I can say this? That my baby was hitting my G spot?
Right, Child Protective Services will come after you …
Exactly. [Laughs.] I certainly wasn’t going for her to hit my G spot. I’m sure there’s someone out there that can distort it to make it something perverted. But it’s really not. It’s really wholesome and joyous. So yes, it felt like it was deeper inside. Like a release. And I guess, chemically speaking, hormonally speaking, it was oxytocin. It’s like everything relaxed for a second! My belly, my insides, my gut, my core just relaxed and had this quaking floating feeling – good pleasure.
Is that what you were hoping for?
The point isn’t to necessarily have a pain-free birth and the point isn’t also to make the goal having an orgasm. The point is to empower yourself, believe in yourself, your own experience, all the work you’ve done to prepare yourself for birth and then just let it happen.
Tamra is a certified doula and birth advocate/activist.
Alex, 39, New York
Your labor was a really long.
Yes, thirty-six hours. It was basically a two-day journey. After the first day, my labor had basically stopped and my daughter turned posterior. I was in a lot of pain that first night.
How did you get through it?
The thought of pain medication or something to speed up or get labor going again – anything besides homeopathic remedies – the thought didn’t even cross my mind. I didn’t even once wish I would have put that in my birth plan. The following morning, we tried everything to get her turned around and to get labor going again – I was fully dilated. We broke my water. We went for walks. Then, my midwife decided to get the baby turned by reaching into me. Now, that . . . was . . . intense. I was on my knees, my shoulders down and my butt up in the air and [the midwife] kind of pushed in. That was the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced in my life. I was just biting into something. It was like jungle surgery without the brandy. After that I was really, really wiped out. People were spinning in front of me. But I still didn’t think of medication or anything like that.
So people are going to read that and say, “What’s she trying to prove?” Why didn’t you start thinking about the hospital and pain meds?
For me, it never occurred to me to go to the hospital in the first place. I’m not trying to prove anything to anybody. I just think that it’s part of it. I thought, This is my body. This is what it needs to do. My feeling was just to step back and not judge and not think, Oh, you poor thing, you’re in so much pain. It was more like, Okay, I’m going to support my body in this process.
“I’m not trying to prove anything to anybody.” When you look back on your birth story, what are some of the big moments that stand out?
Well, I would say the big moment was after [the midwife] tried to turn [the baby] around and they asked how I felt and I said, “I feel like shit.” And then I fell asleep for two hours. When I woke up, my midwife said she wasn’t sure I had the strength to go through another night and that we needed to consider going to the hospital. I nodded my head, kind of acknowledging what she said.
I got up and went to the bathroom. That’s when I had a major, major contraction. The baby was still posterior. But I came out of the bathroom and I asked, “Okay, how are we going to swing this baby around?” She said, “Get on your knees.” And then, labor just picked up. Boom, boom, boom. I was howling like a wolf. And it all just clicked and we started working together, my daughter and I. And that was incredible. Of course, finally starting to push. That totally didn’t hurt at all. The stretching of my vagina and everything, how that just kind of happens and the body opens, what my body was able to do.
Was it an orgasmic birth?
Well, I think orgasmic really means, like, ecstatic. Birth can be an orgasm in a different way. Like for me, I did not have an orgasm in my birth. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t have an ecstatic experience. For me, my birth was very challenging at times. But in that moment, when my child really pushed through, everything was so awake and so alive. A child coming through is a climax.
You know, I was proud, but I don’t want to say I was proud of myself. I was just giving birth, like millions and billions of other women have done. When you think of it, it is a huge deal, birth. Yet, it’s not that unusual.
Alex is a eurythmist. She and her musician husband have recently gone into organic farming.
To learn more about the film Orgasmic Birth, visit the website.