Can birth be anything, but an emergency on TV?

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Thoughts & musings on midwifery related topics for the February Education Newsletter. 

Ruth King, Midwifery Advisor, Education Unit

The other night I was flicking through the TV stations (thinking about heading to bed) when I came across Greys Anatomy (S14 E4 - Ain't That A Kick In The Head) and a birthing scene (hidden amongst all of the other high drama occurring).  I was intrigued to find that in this highly medicalised show they were looking to portray another way to birth (rather than the 2 contractions and pushing, or direct to theater option that feels standard these days) and so i stayed up to watch...

Essentially the hospital had a woman who was allergic to synthetic oxytocin and had experienced an adverse reaction to an epidural with her last birth and so the doctors were trying to manage the labour "without any intervention".  Suffice to say the doctors were struggling for options and ideas for what they could do to ‘’help the birth along’’.  In the highly sterilized ward room, on a thin hospital bed, surrounded by machines and tubes the woman was also struggling – struggling to let go of her fear and anxiety.  She was tense, in pain and her labour was, for a better word… stalled.

Along comes an Italian woman, who I believe may have been a visiting doctor, who suggested that the best way for them to assist the woman was to help her to find a natural way to release her own oxytocin (as she could not be allergic to that), by way of nipple stimulation or even better, an orgasm. The reasoning – what got baby in there can help baby come out, it feels good and can make the woman relax – and it is natural.  All pretty valid selling points to me!

Queue shock and a visible "urghh' from the actors (and yes I know they were acting, but it was so well portrayed!).  Sadly in keeping with the roles they were playing their on screen reaction was one of disbelief and discomfort (maybe they were afraid of this conversation as it was outside their comfort zone...and not medical enough).  This meant that this option (for a more natural labour progression) was at first not offered to (discussed with) the woman.

Cut to a scene of the woman saying ‘she will do anything to help her baby’ come out (whilst remaining adamant that she will not entertain use of the drugs or epidural that were being offered). 

The 1st part of this statement is a common phrase midwives might hear in birthing settings, when a woman feels she has done everything in her power to birth, but something is holding her (her baby) back.  The second part, not so much, as it is unusual to have a women who is allergic to synthetic oxytocin, although it can happen (it is estimated to affect between 1-1,000 in 10,000 women so 0.01%-0.1%) and also because we see high rates of pain relief being offered (and accepted).

Cut to new scene of the doctors (much to their apparent embarrasment) waiting outside the room whilst the woman and her partner got on with the job of having a baby (and an orgasm!).

So... they must have overcome their fear of "the conversation & topic" and offered the women information on the benefits of personal oxytocin release... wohoo what a result!  Again I know it is on tele, but every small step forward with change has to help...

Now, the concept of orgasmic birth is not new, but it is not really talked about or portrayed in the media.  Instead birth is often discussed or represented as fast, chaotic, painful, intense, out of control, medical...  I know that birth is affected by the fear-pain-tension cycle that as midwives we know all about.  So could we go further than removing the fear, releasing the tension and reducing the pain during birth?  Could we change things so that we help set women up for an endorphin rollercoaster that steers her towards an orgasm propelled birth? 

It seems that research related to orgasms in the birthing setting (and their resulting actions) has so far been limited to a few studies and so there is a lack of the ‘evidence’ our society craves to support practice.  Yet I cannot help but feel that this is an area that we don’t need research on, women could just get on and do it, as the woman and her partner did in the show..


At the very least as midwives we could talk with women about the options (risks (?) and benefits) and let her decide...but then of course we also need to make sure we provide her with a supportive and safe environment in which to try out her rediscovered personal supply of oxytocin…


So where to from here….


Why not start with REFLECTING on what you really think about orgasmic birth.  Do you think it is possible to achieve?  What might be needed (from you, for the woman)?  Have you had one or know of anyone who has? Would you be happy talking to a woman about this as she prepares for birth?  If not, what would stop you and is there anything you might do to become more comfortable with having this conversation?  Maybe also reflect on what you think about the way that birth is portrayed in the media (newspapers, television, movies...) - what could be done differently? Is there anything you can do to effect change?


Your next step might be to READ one of the many articles and blogs out there for a personal perspective on this type of birth or to brush up on the literature (do a critical review of any research you find and determine whether it is worth sharing...). 


Alternatively you could start off with WATCHING our December 2017 webinar Birth as a spiritual experience where Maha El Musa starts you off on the journey of working with women to help them tap into their spiritual and emotional needs.  As Maha identifies, the woman being in tune with herself is the 1`st step to feeling in control and at ease in birth.

You can ACCESS the webinar directly in Midwives Learn from here as long as you have the Self-enrolment access key (Members only benefit).  The access key can be found on the member benefits pages.  Remember, you no longer need to go via the shop and purchase the recording (as you used to need to), but if you do go that way, you must remember to log in to your member portal or you will only see the non member pricing. Non-members you will need to make a purchase from the shop


When you have come full circle in your enquiry, dont forget to REFLECT on what you have learnt (about yourself, your practice and the evidence (or lack of) that is out there).  You may consider just writing it for yourself, or sharing it with your peers but at the very least, when next you have a conversation with a woman about birth you might consider talking with her about the idea of some personal oxytocin release to get things going!!

We have some reflective activity templates you might like to use as a start here.

Don’t forget that ACM members can now access all webinars for free 

Potentially interesting articles to access


Let us know if you come across anything else related that we can share.  Email us at