IV EXTERNAL INDIVIDUAL // or, the woman's body

EXTERNAL INDIVIDUAL

Birth is a gloriously physical process: mucky, primal and powerful. It is in the woman’s body that all the elements of birth come together in shaping the physical process of birthing this baby. 

The EXTERNAL INDIVIDUAL is the measureable, tangible, woman’s body, and also elements of the baby’s body in relation to its mother’s. I have separated this quadrant out further into ENDOCRINE, NERVOUS, STRUCTURAL, and METABOLIC, but of course it is in their interplay that they come together in the woman’s body. All of these systems are feedback systems, that is, they are in constant interplay with environmental factors and with one another, to regulate the human body in a healthy and dynamic equilibrium. 

Birth is the physical act of opening to move baby down and birth from its mother, and in every moment of that process, the endocrine and nervous systems are adapting their responses to feedback of perceived safety, pain, and perceived love and support. This is primal, hind-brain response, instinctive and intuitive. Over time is has been vital to our survival and these systems are USEFUL. When we understand them, we can work together with them to enhance the positive feedback loops for birth, and reassure and allay the negative.

This is where much of Western, medical-model, reactive maternity care tends to focus, erroneously downplaying the at least EQUAL POWER of the other more proactive quadrants on labour.

ENDOCRINE

The endocrine system is the hormonal system that orchestrates the process of birth. Oxytocin, the hormone of love – the warm glow we feel when we connect with others, over a meal, with a kiss, making love, shrieking with laughing together at a shared memory – that is a surge of oxytocin. The hormone of love is the hormone evolution chose to hand down to us as the driver of birth; through the process of natural selection, love won out as the supreme conductress. Oxytocin pulses through us during birth, causing the womb to contract. With each pulse of oxytocin, breast tissue is triggered to prepare for breastfeeding.

Every rising wave of contraction triggers a rising release of endorphins, the body’s own opiates. Endorphins mediate our perception of pain, and tip us over from pain into a feeling of a high in response to pain.

Relaxin – as its name suggest, this hormone softens the ligaments of the joints and most importantly the joints of the pelvis (structural) which can open by a further 23 per cent in labour.

The endocrine and nervous systems work together to orchestrate birth; they are primal, deeply evolved, deeply ancient, deeply interconnected, and they sing the song that all else dances to in this birth. 

Evolution has handed down the safety feedback loop too – a sudden adrenaline surge at the sight of an incoming sabre-toothed tiger shuts off oxytocin, which shuts down labour so we can get to safety; or, if birth is imminent, it can cause the fetal ejection reflex where baby is birthed suddenly, again, so the mother can get to safety.

NERVOUS

Like soil fungi and tree roots, the relationship between the endocrine and nervous systems is intricately interrelated. They meet together in the hypothalamus where the chemistry of the endocrine system intermingles with the electrics of the nervous.

In labour it is the primal part of the brain that enacts labour; when a woman goes deeply into her labour she avoids eye contact, gets irritable with any distraction, moves outside of an awareness of time. Her primal brain is alert to whether she is safe, ready to shut down events with adrenaline if needed.

STRUCTURAL

The structural elements are the pelvis, then baby in relation to the pelvis, the bladder, and the woman’s tissues.

Like every other body part, a woman’s pelvis is unique to her. The pelvis is not a ring of bone but but up of three parts, joined by ligament. It varies in size, shape and flexibility, but as mentioned above, in pregnancy the hormone relaxin acts on the ligaments to make the pelvis more flexible and able to open to accommodate the baby’s passage through it.

Meanwhile, the baby’s size is also negotiable in the sense that their skull is not a solid sphere of bone but several plates that can mould and override each other as the head negotiates the pelvis. The baby also spirals through the pelvis in such a way to always present the smallest diameter of their head and shoulders.

The bladder is included in structural because when it is full it can impede the descent of the baby’s head into the pelvis.

The structures of the woman’s body in relation to her baby’s body can be renegotiated by the mother moving; optimal maternal positioning is an incredible tool for midwives and women (https://ibirthprofessionals.mykajabi.com); and of course women often instinctively move in ways to open their pelvis. These positions can be practiced in pregnancy to limber up the ligaments that anchor the uterus as well as the joints of the pelvis itself.

The nature of the woman’s tissues are determined by genetics, age and nutrition; we can influence nutrition only (metabolic).  

METABOLIC

The bodily effort of birth requires sustenance. The body’s energies are concentrated away from the digestive system but require nourishment of small, regular snacks of nutrient-dense food.

In labour the body also needs to stay hydrated; if we become dehydrated labour often eases off. So we need regular fluids in, but also to regularly pass urine to keep the bladder empty (structural).

REFLECTION ON OUR BODIES

Everything we drink originated in a rain cloud. We take in the outbreath of trees. We eat into ourselves carrots, mint, rice, meat and eggs. And our incredible, beautiful bodies take these things and turn them into: energy and ideas and relationships and awe at the light of the setting sun gold over the hills. This beautiful muscle and bone and organ body that we get to experience our lives with, a direct expression of this beautiful Earth, made completely from her.