December 9, 2008

The Sphincter Law and Childbirth

Four years ago I was traveling through India when I came face to face (as it were) with the reality of the ‘Sphincter Law’. First allow me to describe my experience, as I think that it will illustrate why Ina May Gaskin has so termed this ‘law’.

When I arrived at Amma’s ashram, I had hitherto avoided the foot-tread toilets for the necessity of pooping. (I tried to think of a better way to say it – but couldn’t – so there it is!) So here I was, my very first experience relieving myself on anything but an English toilet, and my sphincters locked up. The area was somewhat private, but I knew there was a line waiting for my stall and just a short wall between me and everyone else. With the pressure of people waiting, my body not knowing how to handle this new experience and not wanting to spend too much time in my stall, I literally had to ‘doula’ myself through the experience. So I shut my eyes, pretended I was by myself and kept repeating a mantra, “Open! Let go!” I consciously softened my mouth and my jaw, knowing that there is a direct correlation between a tight throat and a tight bottom. Eventually, my body relaxed and I was able to go.

So what does this very personal toilet experience have to do with birthing??? Everything! Take my experience and translate that into birth. Imagine you are in a hospital, with unfamiliar people and bright lights, exposed in a revealing hospital gown, a clock ticking and people continuously checking to see if you have progressed. Does this sound like the ideal situation to allow your body to open up? Could you possibly poop in this situation? At least pooping you do on a regular basis so there is familiarity with it and very little pressure. How can we expect the laboring mother to feel comfortable enough to open her body and birth her baby in these circumstances?

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

One way we can help a mother adhere to the rules of the Sphincter Law is to allow her to have a sense of privacy with as little distraction as possible. Keep the lights low, the traffic in and out of the room to a minimum, and try not to stimulate the neocortex (the ‘thinking mind’) with unnecessary questions. Even if there is a schedule within which she needs to fit in accordance with the hospital’s protocol, do not let her know that. When the mother is feeling safe and cared for, her body will respond. The sphincters will open, and her baby will come out more easily, with less stress for all involved.

Open! Let go! And always, always obey the law! 😉

Below is a clip of Ina May Gaskin at a lecture at The Farm talking about the Sphincter Law:

Ina May Gaskin and the Sphincter Law




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