Empowering the woman through the integration of her biological and social competencies
Whoever is interested in offering good quality obstetric assistance today, need to free themselves from both obstetric and psychological indoctrination. In order to do that, a conscientious study of the basis of human biology needs to be done. This should never cease to recognise the symbiosis between body and soul, and should aim at investigating the psychosomatic synthesis of nature.
Obstetrics at the moment find themselves at a dead end as far as the obstetric-medical experiment is concerned, since this does not have any prospective from a conceptual point of view.
All physiological adaptation systems are subconscious and instinctive, and are regulated by the primary brain. Such systems are genetically programmed and ensure our survival by receiving internal messages and messages from the environment and inducing biological and physiological reactions in our body and in our behaviour to help us interact with the environment appropriately. These systems are formed during the perinatal period, which extends from conception to the end of (esogestazione). These systems are also particularly active during all phases of reproduction, as well as in moments when we feel our survival is threatened or we are going through significant changes.
When assisting a gravid woman, whether she is expecting, giving birth or puerperal, we have to pay attention to two systems: the mother’s adaptation system, which is already more or less formed, and the baby’s, which is still forming and is still very sensitive to external and internal influences.
Evaluation of physiological and behavioural manifestations of adaptation systems can be a useful tool both for obstetric assistance and for an increased understanding of the requirements and possibilities of conservative interventions. By modifying behavioural reactions in the woman, in fact, biological and physiological reactions can also be altered.
Adaptation systems and physiological reactions
The “Steady state”
The human body is a closed system, which is, however, constantly interacting with its environment. The countless stimuli it constantly receives keep it active and alert. External stimuli destabilise the body’s equilibrium, but adaptation systems bring it closer again to homeostasis, only for it to be then altered once more by external stimuli. The body system’s equilibrium, therefore, is not static, but a constant oscillation between two polarities. The reactive capacity of the human body takes the name of steady state, or homeostasis.
Primal systems of adaptation
Already in the 1970’s, Michel Odent introduced the concept of what he called primal adaptation system, which, he argued, constitutes the basic matrix of our health system. Odent found that such a system develops during the first eighteen months of life, starting from the moment of conception, and is completed towards the end of the first year of life. Today we talk about these concepts in terms of (neuroimmunoendicronologia) or (psiconeuroendicronologia).
The definition of primal systems of adaptation is based on two fundamental concepts: the first is a view of the body distanced from the segmented look of the specialist, and closer to an ecologic approach. This implies the recognition of the interdependency of functions of different groups of systems within the body, and of the superior function these systems carry out when, as well as carrying out their specific tasks, they are working in coordination.
Primal adaptation systems are an ecosystem composed by the immune, autonomic nervous, and endocrinal systems. Each of these systems carries out specific functions, but can also substitute the other systems to a certain extent. These systems communicate through a complex system of feedback. It has been proved, for example, that endorphins stimulate the immune system, in particular the T lymphocytes, while catecholamine inhibits it. Nervous terminations can in turn produce lymphocytes and adrenaline, as well as receptors for some other hormones. The three systems working together have a superior function: the main purpose of the primal adaptation system is to maintain health through instinctive reactions aimed at internal (i.e. the body) and external (i.e. the environment) states. This is the main program regulating health. Once it is terminated, at the end of (esogestazione), it remains unchanged for the entire duration of an individual’s life. When the primal system of adaptation has suffered from perinatal stress during the evolutional period, its tolerance to stress tends to be regulated on a low level. In this case, stimuli that are experienced as (eustress) by healthier people, are experienced by such subjects as distress. Their organisms will also tend to produce more cortisol than that of a more stable person.
Emotional states and instinctive behaviours directly influence the primal system of adaptation and through it the endocrinal, immune and autonomic nervous systems. Any direct intervention on one of the three systems will generate some form of feedback to the other two. The contraceptive pill, for example, inhibits the hormonal system, and as a side effect, it also affects the immune system, the libido, and it induces symptomatologies of the autonomic nervous system.
Excessive stress increases hormonal rates of catecholamine, and inhibits the production of many other hormones, such as estrogens, progesterone, and (somatotropina). At the same time, stress stimulates the (system simpatico) and lowers immune reactions.
A well functioning and balanced primal system guarantees the reactive capacity of the newborn and future adult, and regulates their reactions to stress. Distress during all phases of giving birth; an operative birth; the lack of maternal breastfeeding; the administration of drugs and vaccines and too early weaning can compromise some or even all of the primal system’s functions, determinate its balance or unbalance, and can compromise the baby’s future health for the rest of his life. In the woman, physiological responses to “hormonal crisis”, and particularly to maternity, are more or less balanced according to the quality of her primal adaptation system. Unstable systems tolerate stress less well, including the stress of reproduction, and generate more reactions of the immune and autonomic nervous systems. It is important, therefore, to try to reveal during the anamnesis process if the woman has suffered any episodes of stress during the perinatal period.
The “hit and run” reaction:
When someone finds themselves in danger, their reactions is elicited by an instinct called “hit and run”. Such instinct is enabled by the hypothalamic-pituitary system and the (surrene), in an integrated action between the hormonal and nervous systems. If the person feeling in danger feels they possess valid means of defence, they will attack without fear. If, however, they feel they do not have these means, they will flee from that situation, either by physically moving away, or through their behaviour (for example, by fainting).
The hypothalamus immediately starts producing adrenocorticotropic hormones, while the (surrene) responds with the production of cortisol, the adaptation hormone. Cortisol stimulates the production of adrenaline and noradrenaline, which are the emergency hormones. The latter can also be produced independently by the sympathetic nervous system. These hormones quickly instigate a first reaction of adaptation to the new situation, but it is the hormones transmitted more slowly, through the blood stream, that instigate a full reaction and enable the body to find the energy necessary to face danger. This system, vitally important for our survival, can only function in a state of homeostasis. In the presence of chronic distress it is not capable of acute reactions, or of alerting the individual of danger, therefore increasing the risk. During birth an emergency alert is induced in the organism by the perceived aggression of the foetus to the maternal integrity. The appropriate reaction to such a situation, perceived like danger, is attack (while flee would entail retaliation). The “hit and run” system has been studied predominantly in men; for this reason, reactions of “attack” are often perceived as aggressive. For women, the “attack” reaction is lived as “opening”. “Attack”, in fact, can take the meaning of assuming an appropriate behaviour to deal with a potentially dangerous situation. During birth this behaviour is identified by the woman as abandoning herself. In order to “attack”, however, she has to be confident in her means of defence and free from fear.
Distress can last for a long time or be very short lived. It creates a state of tension, which needs to be resolved through a process of adaptation. If the distress situation is not resolved appropriately, it can affect homeostasis and change reactive patterns. The maintenance of homeostasis requires increased amounts of energy, which in turn entails an increased production of cortisol and metabolycal mobilisation. If the state of distress is prolonged, the body gets used to the overload. In the long term, however, overload can drain the woman’s energetic resources and can bring to exhaustion, manifested through illness, depression and psycho-physical consumption. Furthermore, high levels of cortisol inhibit the immune system, creating a sense of inadequacy in the woman. The person going through chronic adaptation usually feels hopeless and powerless. Vitality, however, requires that we shift from a situation of distress to an active reaction, in order to rest and to recharge ourselves. Health is cyclic.
The foetal systems of adaptation:
During the formation of its primal adaptation system, the foetus is fully able to protect itself from stress which could endanger it. The placenta deactivates most of the catecholamine in the maternal bloodstream. On the other hand, the umbilical cord contains a high concentration of (MSH), endorphins and vasopressin, protecting the foetus from uterine contractions and possible lack of oxygen. The placenta and the foetal membranes create a local endocrinal system, working through (trasmissione paracrina), which responds to the foetus’s short term needs by adapting the metabolycal and hormonal stimuli coming from the environment. In the event of acute stress, the first foetal organ to be protected, though the production of noradrenaline, is the (surrene). This demonstrates the vital importance of this organ for our survival. The foetal (surrene) produces mainly noradrenaline, and cortisol in smaller quantity. During birth, while preparing to the biggest change in adaptation processes of its life, the foetus produces extremely high levels of adrenaline and noradrenaline, stimulated by the pressure on the foetus’s head created by the birth channel. The most important function of foetal adrenaline is to protect the child from hypoxia. For this reason, in fact, newborns are much more resistant to hypoxia than adults. Adrenaline allows the newborn to orientate himself through his senses, and promotes the process of attachment. Furthermore, foetal adrenaline carries out the following functions:
– It absorbs liquids from the lungs, enabling them to function properly
– It protects the baby’s heart, brain and kidneys, by concentrating the flux of blood in these organs
– It accelerates metabolism and increases the production of crucial energetic substances, such as fats and sugars
– It stimulates the (grasso bruno) lying under the shoulder blades and around the adrenal steroids (?), in order to produce heath
– It enhances the sensory capacity of the child, facilitating his orientation in the outside world
– It stimulates the suction reflex, the baby’s ability to sustain his head and the (strisciamento) motor skill, which are crucial skills to breastfeed
– It gives the baby an intense, lucid gaze, that stimulates both maternal and paternal attachment
– Through the consequent production of endorphins, it sooths the newborn with a feeling of joy and gratification
Thanks to these high levels of adrenaline, therefore, the baby can start adapting to extra-uterine life and to living without the placenta, which up until now had regulated his systems of adaptation. In the following months, the baby will refine his systems, still protected and guided by the mother’s organism.
Adaptation systems and behavioural reactions:
Adaptation behaviours are instinctive. They are as autonomous and involuntary as physiological reactions. Our instinctive behaviour is directly activated by the primary brain through hormonal and neural messages. When instinctive behaviour kicks in, the brain elicits in the body the necessary reactions to follow this behaviour through. If for example, the behaviour requires physical strength, the brain provided our muscles are by with more blood and glucose. To guarantee its survival and well functioning, the body has to react and adapt to different circumstances. This entails being active, mobile and flexible, and acting instinctively. Reproduction and growth strongly depend on the mother’s adequate responses.
“Naturally, motherhood should be an instinctive process, rather than a conscious one” –Jowitt-
This concept might look in contradiction with the idea that we, as humans, are able to rise above instinct through our rationality, culture and analytical skills. But let’s consider for a moment one of our strongest instincts, the instinct of belonging.
The need for belonging:
Humans are social animals: they are programmed for living in a group. We have, therefore, a strong instinctual need for belonging. When this instinct is satisfied, we are in equilibrium; when it is not, we enter a state of distress. One of the greatest pressures that we can endure as humans is peer pressure. Even when our intelligence convinces us of the validity of a certain behaviour, we seldom can hold it for long if the group does not approve of it. When a person is alone, isolated with their opinions, however valid these may be, they often feel stupid. In this case, our instinct of belonging prevails on reason. As Jowitt argues, this instinct also provides the base for some forms of social behaviour:
“The psychological need for approval from others is the biological base for altruism”-Jowitt-
All behaviours are innate, instinctive, and can be learned. (questa mi sembra una contraddizione: o sono innati o sono appresi!). All behaviours activate the hormonal, neural and immune systems, or are triggered by them. Ideally, (educazione alla nascita: birth education?) should teach women to get in touch with their instincts, in order for them to integrate them in their consciousness, and find again an appropriate model of behaviour for reproduction.
The physiological function of following instincts:
The body is a tyrant, but the body is also a master. With its biochemical reactions it forces us into appropriate behaviours. The hormonal system regulating stress is highly complex: the mechanisms regulating its equilibrium are very fine and sophisticated. The shift from (eustress) to distress can happen very quickly and depends in great part from the constitution of the primal adaptation system. The main hormones regulating stress are adrenocorticotropic hormones, catecholamine, cortisol, beta-endorphins and (MHS). Their emission can be cyclical, circadian or ultra circadian, or in reaction to acute stimuli. At around nine o’clock in the morning, stress hormone levels are normally higher; they usually start decreasing around four o’clock in the evening, reaching minimal levels during the night. This is the reason why spontaneous labour rarely starts between 09:00 am and 16:00 pm. Labour, in fact, cannot start when high levels of stress are present.
Physiological stress (whether it is eustress or normostress) is what our interaction with the world is based on. The presence of beta-endorphins compensates the strain the stress causes, and gratificates us. The state of homeostasis can be altered in two ways: we either go into distress because of excessive or sudden traumatic stimuli; or we are unable to enact our instinctive behaviours, which would be the appropriate response to the stressful situation. This usually happens when we cannot longer interact actively with our environment because of personal or social reasons.
Each time the physiological systems of adaptation try to impose an instinctive adaptation behaviour pattern and this is not carried through by the individual, cortisol levels increase, with subsequent inhibition or hyper stimulation of endorphins. The delicate equilibrium of homeostasis is then broken. The inhibition of endorphins comports the depression of the immune system and the over-stimulation of the (sistema simpatico), while an excess of endorphins can cause nausea, passivity, itchiness and inhibition of the sexual organs. The body enters a state of ailment. Such a state has the function of stimulating us to change our behaviour and start actively interacting with the environment again. This will help us re-enter a state of homeostasis.
When we are in a state of submission, passivity, resignation and depression, (sono tanti aggettivi:io li ridurrei a 2) levels of cortisol are sky high, while the systems of adaptation are inhibited. In this situation, the adaptation systems are no longer able to alert the body of danger; this puts the individual in a potentially very dangerous position.
During reproduction, the risks for mother and baby increase. For example, a woman in labour who, under the stimulation of pain, instinctively looks for a better position, and is stopped from doing so, or forced in an inadequate (non-instinctive) position; or a woman who for fear, resignation or submission to someone else’s authority does not enact behaviours appropriate to pain, and instead freezes; will increase her stress hormones, which are quickly translated into distress, with inhibiting effects on the whole physiology of labour. Furthermore, in this situation the woman is no longer capable of receiving alarm signals from her organism.
Endogenous safety, spontaneous during pregnancy and birth, is given by an instinctive behaviour, active and flexible, that adapts to the foetus’s biological and emotional rhythms and to the signals he sends out. The baby, at the moment of birth and in the first months of life, carries out one of the most difficult adaptation processes of his whole life. For this reason, it is of vital importance that he is allowed to follow through his instinctive behaviours.
Is nature our friend or our enemy? J. Baker argued that nature is perceived by society in the same way women are perceived. A society that fears women and femininity, therefore, will experience nature as an enemy; societies that, on the other hand, respect women, will perceive nature as a friend and an ally. In our society, hospitalised birth is still considered safer, even for women having a healthy pregnancy. This contradicts what scientific research has now been telling us for some years. In this instance, instinct once more seems to prevail on reason: what are the mechanisms that keep us in such an irrational belief?
The answer is fear. Technology creates fear. With its machines, it tells the woman: “You are not good enough to give birth on your own; the machine is superior to you and your instincts. Instincts are unpredictable, the machine is not.” Fear and the strange environment of the hospital create stress in the woman, while the authority of technology creates submission. In this situation, cortisol levels immediately soar. Hospital environments first inhibit the natural adaptation systems, creating a situation of danger; only to then substitute themselves to some of the women’s inhibited physiological dynamics, and act like protectors from the dangers of birth.
The idea that danger can be prevented by not interfering with the physical and behavioural functions of our adaptation systems, has been lost in a world poor in natural instincts and reason, and rich in technology and power.
The endogenous resources:
Our biology can constitute a great endogenous resource. By respecting our body and taking advantage of, and empowering, its protective mechanisms through their conscious activation, we will be able to find in it a powerful ally that helps us protect our health and our welfare. To actually do this, however, we need to share this knowledge with a group which we feel we belong to. The bigger the group, the easier it will become for the individual to access their endogenous resources.
THE WOMAN’S ENDOGENOUS COMPETENCIES:
Women possess endogenous resources, that is, aspects deriving from their biology, their behaviour, their emotional world, that all together determine the healthy dynamics of pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding.
-The ability to adapt their behaviour and life rhythms to the new needs of pregnancy
-Physical and mental mobility and flexibility
-The will to maintain pleasurable and gratifying situations
-Sharing their experiences with people in similar situations or people that have had positive experiences of childbirth
-Avoiding being alone; choosing supportive people on the basis of their positivity and creativity
-Listening to the unborn baby and being his allied
-Maintaining an active relationship with the baby while in utero and during (esogestazione)
-Listening to themselves, prioritising one’s own needs and welfare, which are also the baby’s
-Fluidity and openness
-Awareness and knowledge
Knowledge and practice of these resources by the woman during pregnancy will bring her empowerment and will allow her to place herself at the centre of her experience.
THE BABY’S ENDOGENOUS COMPETENCIES:
-Motor skills: the baby actively pushes himself towards the outside world
-The baby’s senses, which the foetus develops in the first weeks of pregnancy; senses are his first learning tool, and allow him to orientate himself
-Endocrine competency: during birth, the baby is strongly protected by foetal adrenaline, which also promotes attachment
– The autonomic nervous system: the baby’s behaviour is a result of (integrazione neurovegetativa)
-Temperament: this is recognisable from the beginning of pregnancy and sets the ground for relational dynamics between the baby and the parents
– Emotional qualities: each baby elicits specific emotional reactions in his parents, which are linked to his own emotional characteristics
Respecting the baby’s needs at the moment of birth and welcoming them as people in their own right, is an important objective in a care model focussed on the mother and the baby.
The environmental conditions for birth must not interfere too much on the prevalence of the primary brain, for example through excessive cortical stimulation. The environment should be intimate, known and free of danger, both real and perceived as such.
The woman’s empowerment and disempowerment:
Women’s lives are characterised by “hormonal crisis” such as menarca, menstruations, sexuality, maternity, (climaterio). In this context, the concepts of crisis and opportunity can be used interchangeably. Women’s adaptation systems are spontaneously trained through her biology.
Modern women tend to undervalue these characteristics, experiencing them more as limitations than as opportunities for empowerment, in accordance with a male-orientated social model.
Women’s history, however, has been written on their bodies; through their bodies women have experienced repression, and through their bodies they can now regain freedom. Our rational self can today choose to take awareness of our amazing biology, following its lead and empowering it for our welfare and satisfaction. In other words, we can today choose to live our biology actively rather than passively. This will allow us to get out of our centennial depression, given by the prohibition to experience and express our instinctive behaviours, through which society controlled our lives, our environments and our own hormones.
Life events characterised by “hormonal crisis” are impressed in our memory for the rest of our lives and influence our unconscious behaviour. They may have been very stressful events, lived as negative, painful or traumatic; or they may have been a source of great strength and joy, and represented an expression of our most authentic part.
Distress or (eustress)? Empowerment or disempowerment? Our thinking and awareness is the key to these questions. In conclusion, they are what guide our physiological systems, our hormones. Our intelligence goes beyond biochemistry, unless we choose to go against our own safety. When this happens, our body takes the lead once again, to force us towards change and a more “intelligent” way of life.
ORGIASTIC POWER AND POWER IN CHILDBIRTH:
Wilhelm Reich defined orgiastic power in the following way:
Orgiastic power is the ability to abandon without inhibitions to the flux of biological energy; the ability to unload the sexual excitement accumulated through the body’s pleasurable, involuntary contractions. The reflux of energy concentrated in the genitalia to the rest of the body is perceived as satisfaction, with sensations of gratification and tenderness.
Translated in terms of power in childbirth, this quote could sound like this:
Power in childbirth is the ability to abandon without inhibition to the flux of biological energy, the ability to unload the tension of the pain and fatigue accumulated through the body’s involuntary contractions, welcoming the baby with gratification and tenderness.