Monday, May 18, 2009

the sphincter law

After many recommendations I recently started reading Ina May Gaskin's (picture left) book, Ina May's Guide to Childbirth. It truly is a fascinating book.

For those of you who are not familiar with Ina May, I'll give a brief background....Ina May Gaskin is a midwife who, in 1971, along with her husband Stephen, founded The Farm in Lewis County, Tennessee (near the town of Summertown). Each year hundreds of women flock to The Farm to give birth.

Ina May Gaskin is one of the Founders and the current president of the Midwives' Alliance of North America. She is a powerful advocate for a woman's right to give birth without excessive and unnecessary medical intervention.

Her clinical midwifery skills have been developed entirely through independent study and apprenticeship with other midwives around the world. Ina May and fellow Farm midwives were instrumental in the development of the rigorous Certified Professional Midwife (CPM) certification process (1).

Ina May has authored two books. The first book she wrote was entitled Spiritual Midwifery, which I have not yet read. Her second book is Ina May's Guide to Childbirth (IMGC).

The first half of IMGC consists of birth stories. However, these aren't your typical birth stories. In this day and age when a pregnant women hears birth stories from her relatives or friends, they almost always start with an induction (either with cervidil or artificial rupture of membranes), followed by pitocin and eventually an epidural. Rarely do women hear stories of natural childbirth. If they do, it's most likely a horror story about a woman who was "forced" into an unmedicated birth (i.e. a woman who progressed too quickly and wasn't able to get an epidural) and hated every minute of it.

However in IMGC birth is something to be celebrated. These women go into labor believing that birth is a natural process. They aren't afraid of it, they embrace it. I have never encountered a book where every story I read was a story of a natural, unmedicated, healthy labor. When I become pregnant for the final time, I will saturate my soul with these kinds of stories.

One of the "laws" that Ina May discusses in IMGC is The Sphincter Law.

Let me play out a scenario that I'm sure some of you are familiar's mid morning, and you have just enjoyed your first (perhaps only) cup of coffee. Shortly after your bowels start hinting that it's time to visit the restroom. You eventually make your way to the bathroom and find yourself constipated. You tighten your jaw, clench your teeth, and beg for relief. Nothing happens. Perhaps you're like my husband and the only place that you can relieve yourself is in your own bathroom at home (I'm sure he'll love that I've shared that bit of information with you...LOL). And why is that? Because home is comfortable, you can relax and let nature take it's course.

The uterus, like the anus, is a sphincter muscle. It does not obey on command. It works best when the laboring mother is comfortable, and surrounded by familiarity. It can also "slam shut" if the laboring mother becomes frightened.

"Sphincters may "slam shut" without the volitional act of their owner. The sudden contraction of previously relaxes sphincter muscles is a fear-based reaction. This is part of the natural fight-or-flight response to perceived danger. Adrenaline/catecholamines rise in the bloodstream when the organism is frightened or angered. Female animals in labor in the wild, such as gazelles and wildebeest, can be on the point of giving birth and yet can reverse the process if surprised by a predator." -- Ina May Gaskin, Ina May's Guide to Childbirth
How does one relax the sphincter of the uterus? One of the suggestions that Ina May gives is laughter. Laughing opens and relaxes your mouth. Relaxation of the mouth directly correlates with the ability of the cervix, the vagina and the anus to open to full capacity. Other ways include: slow, deep breathing, and warm water. But most importantly a Ina May suggests that trust and love make relaxation possible. Because Trust is such a valuable and powerful feeling, it is important for pregnant women to be cared for by people whom they trust. (2)

Below is a video of Ina May discussing the power of the Sphincter Law at The Farm in Tennessee...

Midwife Ina May Gaskin Talks About Natural Childbirth - 2 -

Let's recap:
  • Sphincter muscles of both anus and vagina do not respond on command.
  • Sphincter muscles open more easily in a comfortable intimate atmosphere where a woman feels safe.
  • The muscles are more likely to open if the woman feels positive about herself; where she feels inspired and enjoys the birth process.
  • Sphincter muscles may suddenly close even if they have already dilated, if the woman feels threatened in any way.

2, Ina May Gaskin's Guide to Childbirth, Ina May Gaskin

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"Women's bodies have near-perfect knowledge of childbirth; it's when their brains get involved that things can go wrong." -- Peggy Vincent

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