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Barbara Harper’s Ecstatic-Orgasmic Birth Story

Barbara Harper, well known for her amazing work with waterbirth and her book, “Gentle Birth Choices,” gave a candid interview in 2005 with Danielle Harel, while she was working on her PhD dissertation (2007) “Sexual Experiences of Women During Childbirth.”  The original interview was done when Barbara was 54 years old, single and the mother of three.  She was told that her story was confidential, but when she read it in an email that was sent out, she decided to go “public” and own her sexual experience with her second birth. She gave birth at home 25 years ago in 1984. The experience changed her life:

Here are some excerpts from the original interview:
It changed my life and I wouldn’t be doing the work that I am doing if I didn’t have this experience. Because I remember just a few minutes after he was born saying to my midwife “Oh my God, I have to tell women they can have orgasms during birth!” 

It was an incredible experience of oneness with my baby. It was a feeling of transcendence, a spiritual transcendence. My yoga guru used to say: “A woman that prepares and gives birth with consciousness experiences the same enlightenment as spending twenty years on the top of the mountain meditating.” You can experience oneness and transcendence with God. It is an incredibly spiritual experience. It is as if you have the ability to cross over to the other side and then come back and be completely in love with this angel being.

Sexual messages in childhood:

As a child I got the messages that sex is forbidden, dirty, hidden and not to be discussed. My mother deliberately went through art books and tore out all the famous paintings of naked women, yet my father kept Playboys under his side of the mattress.  Talk about mixed messages! I was probably around 16 or 17 when I experienced my first orgasm through masturbation. It just felt different. Like… oh!  But that was around the same time as having been raped by an older relative. Something that could never have been discussed or shared with my family. So, it was locked away in my psyche.

What was your conception like:
I had a conception orgasm. I knew that I was conceiving. I felt the moment of conception, and that was an incredible feeling, and I felt the communication of the spirit – everything. Had a vision of the baby talking to me at the same moment of conception. His conception orgasm was probably the most powerful orgasm in my life except the orgasm I had when he was born.

Childbirth preparation:

I believe my tantric practices influenced my second birth, one of the other things that influenced my second birth experience is rebirthing. I worked closely with, Binnie Dansby, a rebirther who was then from southern California. I worked closely with her from the beginning of my second trimester all the way to the end of my pregnancy. We would do rebirthing on the bed and in warm water rebirthing sessions. We used an isolation tank – it is a completely enclosed capsule that is filled with shallow water containing Epsom salts.  That was a way to be in touch or access your origins and feelings at surround your source experience – birth – bonding and all of those issues. It was a delightfully incredible experience.  I took the time to focus and concentrate. The focus was to get me into my body, to be physically present, to “feel” my feelings and experience them in my body. With that
pregnancy I was probably more body focused then anytime in my life. It brought me in touch with what I needed emotionally and mentally. It was more right brain work than I had ever previously done and as a result it gave me this emotional connection with my body and with my sexuality, not to mention this amazing being growing inside of me. I felt connected to the baby’s thoughts, especially when I was in the deprivation tank.  You float and completely relax and when the baby moves, your entire body moves in the water.  It is like the baby takes over your body.  Just amazing.

I wasn’t a midwife at the time, but had previously worked as a labor and delivery nurse and knew a lot.  I was working as a holistic nurse in a doctor’s office, but I decided to totally prepare for a waterbirth. I got on a plane and actually went to France to seek out the one doctor that I knew was doing waterbirth in Pithiviers, France.  I wanted to find Michel Odent2, and called the hospital once I got to Paris, only to find that he wasn’t there. He was on his first lecture trip to the US, and was actually in my home town of Santa Barbara, when I was in Pithiviers.  But I glad he was gone because it gave me a chance to observe the midwives and experience natural birth first hand.  I’ll always remember the first woman that I witnessed have a completely natural birth standing up over a sheet spread on the floor.  The look on that young woman’s face as her eyes met her baby’s eyes for the first time is etched in my brain forever. I stayed there for a week and took childbirth classes both in Pithiviers and Lelila, outside of Paris. I was directed to the hospital where Fredrick Leboyer3 had worked and met with the midwives and a wonderful woman who taught childbirth classes there. I was able to meet with Leboyer for a quick interview. In both places I was shown a large round blue built-in bath in the labor ward, in which hundreds of women had already given birth. I was on a mission to find out the most I could about water labor and waterbirth. I was already about six months pregnant and was fortunate to stay in France for a couple of weeks and soak up this environment and knowledge. I had a very young man who was my driver and translator and when we parted at the airport on my way home, he confiding in me that his mother was going to be very proud of him. When I inquired why, he said, “because after attending all those childbirth classes with you and translating, I now have a different view of women and would never think of having sex before I was married!!”  I laughed and got on my plane to return to Santa Barbara and prepare for a waterbirth. 

The birth story:

I had planned a home birth, and I had planned for a lot of people to be there, all together there were supposed to be twelve people. My massage therapist, a harpist with a big concert harp playing live music, my acupuncturist in case I needed pain management, my housekeeper, my cook, my best friend, my rebirther, my partner, of course, and I can’t remember who everyone else was.  I had constructed my own pool with Binnie’s help, and put it together at the end of my bed. It was a lovely house with a big bay window in the bedroom overlooking the garden.  When the contractions began I was on my hands and knees planting an herb garden with my friend, Michael.  I was very happy that I was having contractions, and I was very comfortable. Being on my hands and knees felt sexy to me, it just felt wow… my lower chakra was kind of buzzing. I went in to take a shower in the late afternoon after about two hours of mild contractions.  I remember standing with the warm water flowing down on me, pulling on my nipples and stimulating myself to the point of having an orgasm. I kept thinking ‘It can’t hurt,’ feeling really good about it and the contractions were really strong right after that orgasm. I repeated that in the shower another time and then laid on the bed and did it again, kind of experimenting to see how it affected the intensity of my contractions. I started calling people just to let them know that I was in labor, but didn’t reach one single person, so I got in the car and went to the grocery store, thinking that I had to feed all those guests.  I also stopped at the florist and ordered about $900 worth of floral bouquets and live plants to be delivered.  I remember wanting flowers in every room in the house.  While I was in the grocery store, the contractions got very intense and I remember leaning over the cart and breathing through them. The cashier at that store was worried because I could not carry on a conversation without stopping to breathe.  She wanted to call an ambulance and I told her proudly that I was going home to have a waterbirth.  She at least got someone to carry out my groceries!!  When I got home I tried calling people, again, and still couldn’t find any one. So I left messages on answering machines. I tried paging my midwife and even she didn’t answer. I didn’t panic; I was ready to do this birth by myself if I had to. My partner finally came home, and he got excited and we filled the tub and we got in bed and made love while I was in labor. I just had him doing clitoral stimulation, and he loved to suck on my nipples, and I had orgasm after orgasm. I was so happy that nobody was around; otherwise I wouldn’t be doing this. Then it got really intense and I was walking around, but never, not even once did I not enjoy the power and the intensity of it and to me it all felt very sexual. My belly and my groin were lit up, on fire, I was always touching myself, enjoying the juices that were coming out of me. I got back in the shower and I was chanting, “opppen” and “OM” when my midwife finally arrived. She asked me to get on the bed and she checked me. I was eight centimeters. I asked her if I could get in the pool and she said “Use your own judgment,” so I got in. The minute I got in, the minute I sank into the water, it was as if a super charged lightening bolt went through me. I experienced some very intense – perhaps five to six contractions. I turned to my midwife and said that my body was pushing, and she couldn’t believe me since I was just eight a few minutes ago.  But my body was vibrating and I was OMMMING loudly.  She then asked me to come out so she could check me again and when I stood up I had another contraction and said “No.. no.. no I am getting back in the water, I can’t get out.” My partner got behind me and very soon after that I vocalized while my body was pushing. Oming… I was making sounds as if I was being made love to… really letting that sound out enjoying every single movement… I could feel the micromovement of his head right through me, I could feel everything intensely. As he was coming through me, there was this incredible orgasmic tantric relief, and my body just went with it, I shuddered from head to toe. When I have an orgasm my toes always curl up and the soles of my feet burn with heat and I remember my toes curling at the bottom of the birthing pool. It was as if every fiber of my being was having an orgasm and then suddenly the midwife lifted him right up onto my chest. He didn’t cry, but simply breathed in the dark quiet candle-lit room.

I got out of the tub, leaving my son with his father cradling him in the water, and got into the bed to check for tears.  All of a sudden I heard a dripping sound …and in few minutes the whole tub collapsed… 300 gallons of water on the bedroom floor, blood clots, placenta and more, all over. I was high from the birth and I didn’t care… “It will get cleaned up.” They put him back on my chest naked and he stayed there just like that for two days. It was amazing.

 

When I think about the birth I feel pure and absolute joy, remarkable, wonderful happiness. I still feel the fire in my belly, just a warm sensation. It is not an orgasm. When I tell my birth story I can feel myself relaxing, it just feels pleasant in my body.
I wasn’t prepared for this kind of sexual experience, my rebirthing coach talked a lot about moving from pain to pleasure. She worked with me about experiencing pleasure but never put it in sexual or orgasmic terms. Binnie always talked about choosing… that we can choose in every moment to experience pain or pleasure, and I was choosing pleasure. It changed me in the sense that I felt very powerful afterwards and I felt empowered to be his mother. I fell in love with him
so completely, so amazingly, I would do anything to protect him and take care of him. Now that I know what I know about these powerful love hormones… if I am having the most powerful orgasm of my life I am soaked with oxytocin and betaendorphins. I was changed enormously. I tell everybody that my 22 year old son and I have never had one single argument between us. I look at the picture of him and my chest just expands, and it started with his birth.

 

 

 

 

What do you think allowed this experience to happen?

I had prepared myself physically, spiritually and mentally for a pleasurable experience in labor. I was surprised by the intensity of orgasm at birth but welcomed it at the same time.

In what way did it feel sexual or orgasmic?

In every way! It was a total body-mind-spirit. With my first birth I left my body. It was so incredibly painful and so humiliating I felt that I was raped. As I mentioned, I was raped when I was 17, so I knew how it feels to be raped and the feelings of humiliation and discomfort that go along with that –the powerlessness. My first birth was in the hospital; I was tied to the bed and couldn’t move or protect myself. It was so incredibly emotionally painful that I left my body. I remember having the feeling of sitting on top of the curtain rod on the window and watching them cut the episiotomy and force drugs into the IV and tighten the wrist restraints.  Therefore, when I was working with rebirthing Binnie helped me be aware of when I was “leaving” my body and she worked with me on staying in my body and feeling the feelings no matter how scary or painful or conversely, pleasurable.  So much was tied into my personal sexuality of a mixture of pain and pleasure of love and rejection of being pleasing or being pleased.  During that birth and even now, my mantra is: “My body is safe no matter how much energy moves through it.” I remember this mantra and I have used it with hundreds of women. It really helped me move into experiencing pleasure.
How does this experience compare to masturbation or partner sex?

It is completely different – a hundred times more intense. I would say it is a similar body feeling and mind exploding, being able to open your chest and expand, all of that – hundred times more intense then orgasm through either masturbation, penetration or Tantra. It was an explosion from every fiber of my being. I was surprised by the intensity. When my sexuality arose I accepted it as a benefit and a reward for doing homework and being clear that my body had the incredible ability of doing this. I used a lot of imagery in my head. I used the candle imagery and the flower imagery, but not so much sexual imagery. Flowers tend to represent sexual imagery for me – a yoni opening – the tender blossoming of the petals of the rose. That is one reason I stopped at the florist to have roses and beautiful flowers all around me.

Did you share it with someone?

I tried to explain it to people 20 years ago and I had people say that I was doing a disservice to women. I was ridiculed and yelled at so I stopped talking about it… and I realized too that you really have to prepare your mind to have an orgasmic, ecstatic birth. You have to be in a place of being able to transcend and move from pain to pleasure. I have written things about it, but I stopped yelling it from the roof top and realized that we have so much work to do… that is why I rolled up my sleeves and began this work.

Did you experience pain?

I never felt pain. The sexual stimulation, making love in labor, and stimulating myself with my fingers and with my husband’s tongue opened me more. It just added to the pleasure and I never felt pain.

Did you feel sexual during breastfeeding?
 

Well, that is a topic that is not talked about much.
I found nursing in general very pleasurable, not exactly arousing but pleasant enough to know that it was juicy.

How did your sexuality compare before and after childbirth?

I feel like for a little while it was harder for me to have an orgasm, just for a little while, and maybe it was my mothering hormones that took over. I would say it was almost the same for me; because our sex life was always very open and passionate. We still had amazing sex.
My sexuality is very much connected to my body image; I remember an intentional thought that I had around 1992-3 that if I get fat I won’t have to deal with my sexuality. My body image was very much wrapped around my sexuality. I was a child of the sixties, before AIDS came into play, so there was a lot of experimentation. At some point I made the intention that I didn’t want to be in relationship and I just drew a line and said that was enough, and my body changed and I allowed myself to gain a lot of weight and get out of shape, so in my mind if I wasn’t appealing, looking sexy I wouldn’t have to think about my sexuality.

How did you feel about yourself as a woman after the sexual birth?

I did not stay with that partner.  We had another child two years after that, but the relationship was fraught with so much angst and difficulty that it was impossible to stay together. I made the conscious choice to be celibate after parting from him in 1989.  And now, even though I have not had sex for 15 years, I love my body. I love the feelings in my body and I test it out every now and then with masturbation.  Love my hand held shower!! I can still get orgasms from kissing – there was this one very attractive seat partner on a long overseas flight – it still works! I know it works, so I am not worried at all about that.  And when I am blessed to have the love of my life find me, I know that I will be very grateful, excited and very gifted in that department.  I will enjoy my sexuality to its fullest. Sexuality is more about how you think and how you respond than what you actually do to physically produce an orgasm. I live an ecstatic life and expect an ecstatic partnership some day.  I have spent these past 15 years growing and learning about who I am and what it all means to be a woman without limitations and my birth experiences helped mold me into the woman that I have become.