Besides writing about all things reproductive health, I also work hands-on as a doula.
The common definition of a doula is someone who supports a birthing person through the process of labor, birth, and beyond. However as I’ve gained more experience in this field, the definition has broadened for me to “A doula is someone who supports people through life’s most intense transitions.”
There’s no way around it- birth is intense. The sensations, the unknowns, the vulnerability, all make for a transcendent experience unlike anything else.
A Different Dimension
In the birth space, there is a palpable sense of something that is otherworldly. As a birthing person progresses through labor, there is a shift, where all of a sudden, the room smells different, it feels different, the birthing person has a different look in their eyes, as they turn silent to go inwards. Any sounds that do escape from them are coming from the deepest parts of their being. Rhythmic moans, gutterall yells, and animalistic roars.
Many people not only lose track of time during labor, but feel they’re in a totally different state outside of time and space. The clock becomes irrelevant, as they go inwards, to push their baby outwards.
This is how you know they’ve shifted into a different realm, as their new baby makes their way into the world. As they go deeper into labor land, the veil between the world we know, and the unknown becomes as thin as paper.
Not only is the birthing person traversing a different realm, so is the new life that is traveling through them. During labor, a baby is working extremely hard. They are being pushed down by the uterus, squeezing through the birth canal, and moving through the warm, watery home that they’ve grown comfortable in, to a whole new world.
The baby or babies are just as much part of this experience as the person delivering them, and it’s wild to think about just what that journey feels like for them. For their skin to touch the air we know so well, as they breathe in their first breath.
On the other hand, labor is not just to birth a new baby, but a new parent(s), as well. Even if this isn’t their first birth, each one is so different. Each child demands something new from their parent. A new part of them to be revealed. A new relationship to be developed.
Birth demands transformation.
Intense experiences challenge us, making us question the core of who we are. Whether it’s through childbirth or another life transition, this traveling through the veil prepares humans for the next phase of their life.
As esoteric as this all sounds, there are physiological reasons why someone enters this transcendental state during labor.
During labor (especially if it is non medicated), the body has different hormones that pulse through it, facilitating the process. This delicate hormonal cascade allows for the softening and opening of the cervix, the contracting of the uterus to push the baby down, the separation of the placenta from the uterine wall, and so much more.
As you can imagine (or maybe you’ve experienced it), these hormones can also make you feel really high.
Oxytocin is a power player in this process, one that we have affectionately deemed “the cuddle hormone”. This love hormone helps to create feelings of euphoria, while also producing contractions.
Secreting from the pituitary gland, beta-endorphins, are the body’s natural painkillers, acting on opioid receptors. It’s no surprise that they can produce feelings of pleasure, euphoria, and transcendence.
Within the beauty of birth, lies so many metaphors for life.
The physiological process of the body making space for a baby to come through mirrors the emotional, oftentimes spiritual, experience many birthing people experience. In order for a baby to pass through the vaginal canal, the pelvis opens, along with the cervix. The birthing body softens as it transitions into a place of total surrender, so that this new being can make its way through.
Moving through this veil offers the chance to heal trauma, connect with ancestors, and come in touch with the most fundamental part of being human. The process that we all go through in one way or another to arrive on this planet.
As the late French obstetrician and author, Frédérick Leboyer said, we must “Learn to respect this sacred moment of birth, as fragile, as fleeting, as elusive as dawn.”
Note from a doula: While this article focuses mainly on non-medicated vaginal births, this symbollogy can be applied to any birth experience. One birth choice is by no means superior to another, and we have the utmost respect for what you choose to do with your body, your baby, and your birth.
Natasha (she/they) is a full spectrum doula, reproductive health content creator, and sexual wellness consultant. Her work focuses on deconstructing the shame, stigma, and barriers people carry around birth, sex, and beyond, to help people navigate through their lives with more pleasure, softness, and sensuality. You can connect with Natasha on IG @spectrumoflovedoula.