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The Magic of Oxytocin

I was at a birth recently where the baby was in a rotten position (it turned out he had both hands clasped under his chin, the little tinker) and so my lady couldn’t progress beyond the fabulous 7cm she had reached at home in the bath with my support. Inevitably syntometrin was required to help her along and so she had an epidural and the midwife started a drip.

What had been a perfectly natural, really lovely labour at home was suddenly transformed into a strange medical procedure in the hospital where we all waited for things to happen, feeling disconnected and slightly like observers rather than participants. My role as a doula was suddenly transformed into that of companion, her boyfriend was quietly sleeping in a corner and the midwife would come in, smile at us both and go straight to the monitor or the drip – no longer really paying attention to the person in labour.

Eventually my lovely lady managed to get to 10cm and started to push. She was instructed what to do because she had no natural urge to push. She did brilliantly and after a long hard second stage, her son was born. I remember quite clearly through a sleep deprived haze bursting into tears as he was born and her boyfriend doing the same as their son took his first breath. The midwife was efficiently kind and also obviously moved. But my lady lay on the bed watching us with what appeared to be detached confusion. My tears and those of her boyfriend seemed totally alien to her and even a little annoying. We passed her the baby but she didn’t seem to be terribly interested. She asked that I take him and so I took him for a little walk around the room as her boyfriend held her hand whilst she was being stitched. Finally, I brought him back to her side and she gestured for me to give him to her boyfriend. I left that birth wondering how she would manage.

A few days later I went to their home and met with them. We discussed the birth of their son at length and I was thrilled to see she had bonded brilliantly with her son as she breast fed him. I asked her about the moment he was born and she admitted (after a little nudging) that she had felt absolutely nothing, but was only aware of the brutality of the experience. My emotion and her boyfriend’s at the time was exactly the opposite of her feelings… she said she felt like she was observing everything and not experiencing it. I gently explained to her that oxytocin (the body’s natural expulsive hormone necessary for giving birth) is also known as the “love” hormone. She had received a synthetic form of that hormone in the drip which does everything that oxytocin does physiologically but none of the emotional things that you would expect. As a consequence, she was going through the motions of giving birth but had none of the natural endorphins nor did she experience the woosh of maternal love that she would have done had she been able to have a natural labour and birth. In breast feeding her son, she was producing the oxytocin that she had missed at birth and as such was rapidly falling in love with him.

Oxytocin plays such a vital part to bonding with your baby it is little wonder there has been a recent spate of men writing about how removed they felt from their children when they are first born. Several journalists have reported recently that they feel it is the unspoken taboo, fathers who don’t feel anything towards their newborn children. Of course (most) men learn how to love their children but sometimes it takes a little time. They don’t have that natural leg up that we women do. And nor do some women who have surgical or chemical births. It is something to consider if you feel that your birth experience was less magical than you were expecting. It is very helpful to know that with the absence of oxytocin, you can experience a more disconnected birth than if you have a totally natural experience. Don’t beat yourself up about it, but be aware that it is perfectly normal for it to take a few days of breast feeding for you to feel that deep connection with your baby, and for your partner to grow into loving his child.


Posted on Wednesday, July 15, 2009 at 03:37PM by Registered CommenterLucy Symons | CommentsPost a Comment | References1 Reference

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