A few days ago I was reminded of just how much the term “orgasmic birth” induces in me an uncontrollable paroxysm – and not in a good way, either.
As Fairfax writer Amy Molloy writes, the US has a new birthing guru and undisputed queen of laidback labouring in Latham Thomas, a New Yorker.
About a decade ago, this self-styled "Mama Glowmaven" decided to swap environmental science for (and I quote) “glow piloting” mums-to-be through pregnancy to destination Orgasmic.
You can read all about it in her best-selling book Mama Glow, in which the 33-year-old mother-of-one glows . . . err . . . goes on about the importance of cleansing the “wombiverse” through a healthy lifestyle and attitude, and a raw diet of goji berries, seaweed, chia and agave syrup.
So far, so . . . well, good really, but it's Thomas's preoccupation with sex during pregnancy that has understandably chewed up most of the headline space.
Having “lots of ORGASMS” (her caps, not mine) is the secret to feeling “safe, empowered, loved, respected, and SEXY”, she says, and she doesn't much care how we “go about it” as long as we acknowledge our “primal appetite for sensual touch and the erotic”.
It's all about giving that uptight uterus of ours a cheeky slap, yes, even when that same uterus is turning itself out trying to expel a baby.
“An entire chapter of the book is dedicated to foreplay for the birthday suit,” writes Molloy, “where Thomas recommends the use of sex toys for pain relief.”
Orgasmic—or ecstatic or free—birth is hardly a new phenomenon. British academic and author of more than 30 books on pregnancy and birth, Sheila Kitzinger, has long been a proponent of natural birth and says the second stage of labour can be “the most intensely sexual feeling a woman ever experiences”.
Its proponents point out that, as a mindset and lifestyle, orgasmic birthing provides the framework for the mother to wrest back her goddess-given power. All profess to give more choices and improve childbirth practices, and Kitzinger is certainly credited with instigating a more progressive attitude to maternity services in Britain.
I'd be lying if I said that all that mood lighting, pheromones and “sexy talk” (as Thomas suggests couples engage in) didn't make me a tad uncomfortable.
Not only do I struggle to see the point of trying to raise temperatures even further during labour, it seems to me kind of dangerous and a little, well, nuts . . . and I'm not talking the raw kind, either.
And hasn't something critical been overlooked here? What about those of us for whom "sensual" touch was anathema during labour?
If my husband had tried to “lovingly and intimately” release my “feel-good endorphins to relax my cervix” as I writhed with agony, he and I both know he wouldn't have been in any condition to see out the birth.
For a doctrine based on women feeling “supported and empowered to take healthy action in their lives”, this all seems oddly counter-intuitive.
Every woman deserves to “birth in a way that preserves and protects her beliefs and values” – yes, even if that means she'd rather that sex remain outside the birthing suite. That's not the decision of a woman repressed but a woman with clear boundaries.
With two "natural" births – the first induced and cataclysmic – under my belt, I can say with some conviction that childbirth is profound, gory and sublime, sometimes in a single contraction.
It can also be highly unpredictable and downright terrifying. Suffice to say that when my first baby was finally pulled out from my quivering body, blue and non-responsive, the occasion certainly wasn't marked by an orgasmic high.
To promise or imply that a labouring woman is just one push away from a higher sexual plane is to simultaneously gloat, undermine and offend. More often than not, it also sets her up for disappointment and failure. I mean, who else is to blame if the mood's just right and she's still not howling with pleasure?
Yes, birth is an experience like no other; unique as a fingerprint. It can be blink-of-an-eye quick or lip-bitingly slow, but regardless of whether the pain relief comes from a medical cold-store room or an adult store, I think we can all agree that in that emphatic cry of a new, healthy pair of lungs lies the only birthing climax worth holding out for.