Sunday, April 12, 2009

Birth of a calf

[Pic: Poppy and Uncle Al check the cow and the new calf]

I had a call from our daughter Bec on Friday morning. A cow who had begun labour had bulging membranes, but nothing had happened for a while. Was it alright? Should anything be done?

My response was that I thought it was best to leave the cow to give birth in her own time. And keep the puppy away. I thought that if there was a problem something could be done later in the day, as we were heading to the farm to visit them for lunch. Noel, my husband, did his Veterinary post graduate studies with dairy cattle when I was busy bearing and nurturing our own babies.

An hour or so later, as we headed up the Calder Hwy, we received the news that a calf had been born and all was well. At the farm we saw the cow and calf, separate from the rest of the herd, and unstressed. Membranes still hung from the cow's vagina. Later we noticed that the afterbirth had been passed. All part of the normal daily occurrences on a farm. My son in law Al says his cows are not too posh to push.

Normal birth of a human baby at home is not very different from normal birth of a calf in the paddock. The oversight that a midwife provides includes keeping the space free of disturbance so that the mother is able to progress in her own time. The midwife does not try to hurry things up, or manage the birth, and would only consider interference if the natural process had in some way become unsafe.

When the labour starts the cow withdraws from the herd, and finds a safe place, such as near a big tree, or rocks. She is patient.

The labouring woman also needs to withdraw. She needs unstimulating space around her, and her own home is often the ideal place. If her children are there, she needs to know that they are being cared for well so that she can move away from them. She will not labour well until she can do this.

A cow does not need to be taught how to give birth. It happens, under instinctive hormonally mediated processes. The human mind also has strong instinct and our bodies secrete powerful hormones, but we often suppress our instinctive thinking, and take over, or interrupt, with 'higher' brain activity - the activity of the neocortex. Anything that is specifically human is neocortical activity. Artificial lighting; managing progress; calculation of times and measurements. How many women think their main job in labour is to record the frequency and length of contractions? How many women become overwhelmed by labour, as they try to intellectually integrate the information give to them by their doctor or midwife? What does 5 cm dilated really mean?

The preparation and learning that a human mother needs to do, and that a cow does not need to do, is to learn how to accept her body's work and not to interrupt it. The secret to this, in most instances, is to withdraw - emotionally and physically - from anything else that might stimulate intellectual (neocortical) thinking or in other ways cause stress.


Stitch Sista said...

So true so true. With my third's birth last year at home I was labouring all day but it was going absolutely nowhere until my older two were fast asleep. As soon as that happened everything kicked into gear and bubs was born a couple of hours later.

This aspect of our body's innate knowing when it's safe/ok etc to labour/birth just doesn't mesh with the hospital environment to me. I'm actually amazed that women can find their groove to the point where they can have a natural birth at hospital. I know several who have - so I don't dispute it is possible, but I don't think I'd be able to manage it myself. Infact it's what caused me myriad problems with my first stalled labour I'm sure.

Rachael said...

so true Joy. A evolutionary process over millions of years just doesn't create women to be 'bad' at giving birth, just a society that is 'bad' to women where the environment just does not facilitate the process, and yes many of the staff!

Joy Johnston said...

That's an interesting thought Rachel, that an "evolutionary process over millions of years just doesn't create women to be 'bad' at giving birth".

I would like to suggest that since modern medical miracles of asepsis, antibiotics, and surgery have been available, the human race has been doing its best to counter the Darwinian theories of survival of the fittest, in protecting those who under 'natural' conditions would not have survived the reproductive process.

I don't know what human reproduction looked like millions of years ago, but throughout recorded history there have been accounts and evidence of both the good (impressive population growth) and the bad (maternal and perinatal mortality and morbidity).

Our bodies are created wonderfully, and some of the aspects of that amazing creature are our ability to produce our children, and the newborn's ability to transition from the womb to the outside world. Yet our bodies and the world we live in are imperfect, and there are times when the risks of medical management are outweighed by the potential benefit.