It never ceases to amaze me that palaeontologists are constantly discovering new dinosaurs. After all this time, millions and millions of years, ‘ops here’s one we missed’, a few months ago another one reared its head. In fact it wasn’t a professional palaeontologist this time, it was one of those anorak wearing, spectacled, ‘just rummaging around in mud for fun types’, appropriately called Kevin.
The evolutionary process is no slouch, and the end product works perfectly, in the main our bodies do the job they have evolved to do over millions of years very well thank you!
Those of us men who are fathers or who are about to become fathers are no exception, an understanding of how our bodies and more specificity our hormones are working as we are with the women we love as she births, is a missing key to truly loving the experience and to us being the very best we can be in the situation.
Evolutionary biologists tell us that and evolutionary adaption takes about 5,000 generations to effect change in a biological system, that’s around 70 million years. In short we have Stone Age bodies now living in the fast lane, the responses we make physiologically are ancient and have been adapted for a different context than the one we find ourselves in.
As the birthing process starts for her the ancient parts of her brain are releasing oxytocin (and a mix of other hormones), this powerful hormone is responsible for keeping the process moving forward, climaxing in the birth of a new human being. The Neo Cortex, a relatively young structure of the brain (10,000 years old) has many jobs, the ones of interest in our discussion are those with the task of ‘thinking’, the very acts that mark us out as different from the other animals, language production, the ability to think about thinking.
These reflective skills in a woman who is birthing result in fear and self consciousness leading to the production of adrenalin, a hormone which at this stage of her birthing inhibits the work of oxytocin, labour is slowed or stopped.
This process worked perfectly, when in days gone by on the plains of Africa, attacked by a predictor she was then able to run away, but now, an understanding of what can slow labour is important for a ‘good’, fulfilling birth experiences.
We know a lot about what encourages oxytocin to be present in a woman’s body in abundance, just as we understand what can inhibit its flow.
A list of oxy-pro factors:
Feeling safe and loved
A list of oxy-antagonist:
Tense body postures
Being inhibited regarding movement
That’s right, both lists are not exhaustive, you can add to them because you get the idea. Now think about arriving at hospital, knowing that your birthing is under way……..and suddenly it becomes VERY clear why the use of ‘synthetic’ oxytocin is on the increase (more about that in a longer post later).
Knowing these basic things about how our bodies have worked for thousands of years should inform our behaviour right? Hey, like I already said, evolution is no slouch when it comes to efficacy!
Men: when the woman you love is being taken over by an oxytocin fuelled trip,you are going to become an adrenalin factory! Why? Because when we were hunter gathers she needed protecting. She still DOES!
The difference now is that ‘fighting’ or ‘fleeing’ is not an option. Being present, as a protective ‘force-field’ of lovingkindness is your job, understanding what’s going on will help. In ancient days protecting her from fear meant wrestling wild animals, now it probably means keeping her warm, turning the lights down and guarding the birth room door.