I teach birth classes to pregnant couples. We watch videos of birth to help prepare both moms and dads for what natural birth looks and sounds like, in all its variety. One night my newlywed brother-in-law and his wife joined class because they were visiting from out of town. After the video, he admitted that it made him uncomfortable and said he’d never seen anyone act so animalistic.In his discomfort and shock, it was clearly a judgement. When we laughed about it at birth class the next week, one of the dads in the room said, “I feel him, though. That was me 3 years ago, before all this…If you would have made me watch a video then, I would have had the same reaction.”
I’m reminded then of myself. I used to think it indecent that people would breastfeed in public. It made me uncomfortable. Now I’m uncomfortable when they don’t–when they hide. As members of modern industrial society, there is this line we have to cross, at some point, to become totally comfortable in our own skin.
We are animals.
We don’t like to think about this too often, and a considerable amount of science and money and time has been directed into trying to discern just what separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. But nevertheless, we are still mammals.
Think about the human activities that we hide from each other. For many, there is an aspect of shame about them. Elimination, sex, strong emotion, feeding infants, washing ourselves, sleeping, and certainly birth. Some anthropologists suggest that some day we will be ashamed of eating.
Women’s bodies have, historically, been particularly shameful. We are leaky. We leak blood at regular intervals from an unmentionable region, our breasts leak milk, and our emotions leak all over the place in a cycle not controlled by our thinking minds.
Old Brain and Neo Cortex
The inability to control something with your thinking brain, with the neocortex, is seen as particularly shameful. It makes sense. One of the things that separates us from other animals is our gigantic neocortex (also why our babies are born so premature-so they fit out our pelvises). It allows us incredible capacity for thought. It allows us to override our primitive, animalistic, old brain.
Old Brain says, “It’s OK to steal that guy’s lunch.”
Old Brain says, “Never mind that you can’t conceive, just take that lady’s baby.”
Old Brain says, “It’s fun to screw everyone you meet!”
Old Brain says, “Their house is nicer, we have a gun.”
Old Brain says, “That guy looked at our house, get out the missile launcher.”
It’s no wonder people are afraid of the things that we do from our old brains. We live in a community. We need our neocortexes to override and survive. They are infinitely easier to train up than Old Brain.
The problem is that sometimes we have to use Old Brain to our benefit and Neo Cortex just won’t let go.
It’s impossible to have great sex without letting Old Brain take the wheel.
Some people can’t poop when they’re away from home because Neo Cortex has Old Brain thinking that any unfamiliar place is a threat.
Lots of women have trouble breastfeeding, some of them because they are uncomfortable with the act of it–Neo Cortex told them it’s not polite or that it’s too sexual.
Neo Cortex and the Incredible Laboring Woman!
The place where Neo Cortex really wreaks havoc, though, is in childbirth. It’s very difficult to give birth when Neo Cortex is hyper-activated. Too much thinking derails a good birth. Too much light, too many strangers, too many questions, too much touching, too many monitors, too much new. Mammals give birth alone in dark corners. Women are mammals, and so are you.
It’s OK to be a mammal. Because Old Brain also says, “We know how to do this.” We need to remember that. Sometimes it’s safer to just be an animal, and birth is one of those times. Let all the mama mountain lions roar their babies out…
…and feed them whenever and wherever they want.