Monday, February 01, 2010

Sour grapes?

Another article about Gisele Bundchen's birth gives a few more details. From Supermodel Gisele Bundchen claims son Benjamin's birth 'didn't hurt in the slightest':
Four months after giving birth to son Benjamin, she has opened up about the eight-hour birth - saying it 'didn't hurt in the slightest'. Gisele gave birth in her bathtub at home in Boston with no pain relief with her mother, sports star husband Tom Brady and a midwife by her side.

"My delivery was in a bath tub, in water," said the 29-year-old. "I wanted to have a home birth. I wanted to be very aware and present during the birth...I didn't want to be drugged up. So I did a lot of preparation, I did yoga and meditation, so I managed to have a very tranquil birth at home."

Speaking to Brazilian TV channel Fantastico, she said: "It didn't hurt in the slightest. The whole time my mind was focused in each contraction on the thought 'my baby is closer to coming out.' It wasn’t like 'this is so painful.' So I transformed that intense feeling into a hope of seeing him."

Bundchen says her son didn't cry after being born and rested in her lap for a long time. "It's wonderful," she said. "Never in my life I thought I could love like this. You hear people talking about it, but you don't know until it happens to you. I couldn't be happier."
Poor Gisele. She had a lovely birth, one that she planned and prepared carefully for--and she gets ripped apart for talking about it. Commenters to this article call her a liar, an android, a robot. They call her brainless and dumb, or deceitful, or selfish and shallow, or overly competitive. All because giving birth was not a painful experience for her. Sour grapes, anyone?

Now I love my birth experiences. Pain was definitely a part of the experience, although not the dominant or defining aspect. I've written earlier about how I view pain and what giving birth feels like (great stuff in the comments sections, too!). I don't at all begrudge Gisele her painless birth, nor do I doubt that she is telling the truth. I know several women who have had births where pain really wasn't present at all (I'm not talking about painless births due to early epidurals--but unmedicated or "natural" births). Often they were using some form of hypnosis, such as Hypnobirthing or Hypnobabies. Several gave birth in out-of-hospital settings, but not all. The fact that I experienced moments of pain as part of giving birth doesn't make me doubt that Gisele didn't, nor does her experience evoke feelings of hostility, defensiveness, or anger in me.

Gisele's description of focusing the power and intensity of birth--"I transformed that intense feeling into a hope of seeing him," she remarked--reminds me of the video Birth Day. Naoli Vinaver Lopez, herself a midwife and mother of three, transformed the sensation of pain into one of "love bursting out of my womb" by focusing on her husband as she labored. I also recall an essay by Ingrid Bauer about "Birth as sheer pleasure" (from Midwifery Today Issue 68). Some excerpts:
With this second birth, I went into active labour very suddenly and without warning just after 3:00 a.m. I was taken aback by the intensity of the contractions. For some bizarre reason (fear!), I decided to time the contractions even though I hadn’t planned that and had no idea what the timing actually meant! They were five minutes, five minutes, then three minutes, three minutes, then two minutes, two minutes, progressing rapidly.

I didn’t realise how fast things were going and sank into fear mode. If these first six contractions were already this intense, how would I ever stand 10 more hours? After all I was an older mom, hadn’t had a baby in 12 years, and this was going to be hard! Immediately, my abdomen was gripped with incredible pain. I couldn’t stand straight. I bent over, grasped the sink and rolled and rocked and moaned with every contraction. Despite the intense pain, I was “coping” well.

But all of a sudden, I remembered. I realised that even as I was rocking and moaning with the contractions, part of me was actively resisting and holding back against the powerful life energy that was coursing through me. I was still split, hadn’t fully embraced or committed to that energy, and was being painfully pulled between the two choices. It became crystal clear to me in that moment that the only thing that was causing pain was not the strength of the birthing energy, but my fear and resistance to it. The more I resisted, the more it hurt.

I decided to completely move into that energy, as part of it, rather than against it or bravely alongside it. I had a good look at the next contraction. The words, “This is only sensation” came very clearly, out of nowhere, into my awareness. I decided I wanted to feel this sensation, not resist it, no matter what it was, no matter what it felt like. I wanted to be and feel alive, no matter what that might mean! I consciously opened my arms, heart, sex and body to it. I was willing to experience the very centre of it, now, in this very moment. And wow!

Forget about pain-free! In that moment, literally within seconds, the overwhelming pain was transformed into the most intense orgasmic pleasure. And I mean intense. Those contractions were powerful. Contractions came one upon the other with rarely more than 5-10 seconds between, and often less (not like my first birth where I slept between contractions!). I felt sometimes close to the edge of being overwhelmed and falling back into fear (have you ever been so happy that you’re afraid you can’t take any more and it’s going to end? It’s a bit like being at that edge).

But then I opened my mouth to sing and didn’t stop. I just melted right into that life force, flowing like an open channel through my body, out my mouth, out my sex, out my heart. I wish I had a tape recording because apparently I sang some incredibly beautiful melodies (“not like any birthing sounds I’ve ever heard,” said my good friend, who caught the last bit and has been to several home/unassisted births). I don’t remember what it sounded like (except one note); I just remember the feeling of the energy.

I felt everything within my body: the cervix opening, the baby moving down, the bones cracking apart slightly, his head emerging. No pain, no burning, just oh-so luscious, sexy, sensual, wet, alive, moving fullness. There was absolutely no pushing at all. I just kept breathing and singing and wasn’t aware of any contracting or bearing down in my uterus, just smooth movement. Just before he emerged, I instinctively arched way up and then lay forward again (I was on hands and knees), as it felt almost like he was moving “around a corner.”

Exactly two hours and 10 minutes after the very first twinge, he came out to the waist into his papa’s and my hands and paused there between contractions, opened his eyes, looked around and sang “Oh” on the exact same note I was toning. Then he whooshed out on the next contraction and I took him in my arms.

That birth changed so many things in me, showed me the true beauty and pleasure of Nature and birth, cracked my heart wide open. I can hardly read a single book on birth now — even the most progressive, alternative natural birth kind — and not think that somehow, something utterly vital is missing. Something nobody ever told me about. So much emphasis is on how to handle the physical pain. Nobody ever prepared me to simply fully embrace the sheer sensual pleasure of birth.
My parting thoughts? "It is an unfortunate part of human nature to envy those who climb above us and to pull them down literally or verbally or at least within our own critical and judgmental minds," Richard and Linda Eyre commented in an essay about motivating children through praise and positive reinforcement. Let's move beyond our impulse to deny other women's experiences when they are different from our own. Let's stop tearing each other down and instead celebrate those moments of intense joy and fulfillment.


  1. Thanks so much for posting this- especially Ingrid Bauer's description. It's so nice to hear what the process CAN be like if you surrender to it, rather than try to manage it.

  2. I don't understand those hateful comments. They don't compute. Having a pain-free birth means you are stupid? Why? Because you aren't smart enough to listen to everyone around you hollering about how horrible birth is? Shouldn't it be the other way around...if you just buy into whatever anyone tells you without thinking for yourself, wouldn't that make you the dumb one?

    Jacob's birth was far from pain-free but it is a pain I WANT TO DO AGAIN. I have broken bones, and that's not a pain I want to experience again. And not just beause there's no baby at the end either. ;)

  3. I loved this post.

    I actually had someone remove me from their friends list once because I made a post about pain-free/orgasmic birth. I wasn't even saying that *I* had experienced it, just that I was interested and that I believed it was possible. She was SO outraged she utterly flipped out at me and removed me...and we'd been "friends" for two years!

    I think of that scenario every time I read a post like this and I wonder what it is that has been so deep-seeded into the women of this society to cause such a violent, knee-jerk reaction. I think I know what it is!

    My husband likes to quote: "Fear is the Mind Killer." That is so true and I believe that FEAR is what causes this reaction from people. Fear that they "did it wrong" fear that they've been lied to their whole lives, fear that they are inadequate, and of course, FEAR is a large part of the cause of the pain we experience anyway!

    I have read Ingrid Bauer's description of her birth before, but it was a couple of years ago, I think, before I had my son. I had not thought of it since then but reading it now brought back some of my most precious memories. Ethan's birth was only painful to me when I was trying to hold him back in so I could get to my friends house (or more truthfully, the pool I had waiting there, lol). Her words about complete surrender really struck a cord with me because in the moment, that's exactly what it was. I know what she means when she talks about feeling like at any moment it could be TOO overwhelming and even THAT fear creeping in making it edging on towards pain. I LOVED giving birth this last time. I've always said that I enjoyed it but that last one, where more than half of it truly was "painless" I absolutely loved. Best thing I've done to date!

    And I'm not stupid, lol, SO THERE!

  4. There are a few folks out there who do not experience a lot of pain with labor. They are the lucky ones. Many labor nurses and obs will tell you that tall women often have easier labors too.

    I find our culture has so many preconceived notions about birth and pain that are just not helpful. I am hoping that will change.

  5. Gisele's comment that, "I transformed that intense feeling into a hope of seeing him" is exactly how I felt with my last birth. When I had a twinge of the bearing down feeling before some more opening contractions started again I was giggling with excitement because I knew I'd be meeting my baby soon. My contractions were painful, but nothing I couldn't handle, and I was so positive about each one bringing baby closer to me that it was easy to stay positive and motivated during the whole labour (and it did lessen the pain to surrender!). It is like a marathon runner dealing with the pain and exhaustion of all the exertion of her sport because she is focused on the finish line. Fabulous that Gisele had such a great birth!

  6. Poor, Giselle. She opens up about a very intimate experence and gets flamed for it because it's the "wrong" way to feel.

    The tendency for people to project their own feelings onto everyone around them has been on my mind lately. I don't know if it's more common now, or I'm just noticing it, but I see it all the time when people are being interviewed. Lots of "you" language, i.e. "You feel, you think, you go through..." instead of "I feel, I think".

    Giselle did not say anything about how other women (you) should have the same experience as she did. She clearly said "I managed..." People need to not personally. If it's not about you don't make it about you.

  7. Love this. I'm not even going to venture into the "stupid" comments, but it makes me sad that such a beautiful thing can polarize women and pit them against each other. So sad.

  8. I knew it was only a matter of time before the "haters" and the critics weighed in. People simply cannot wrap their heads around how women can willingly give birth without pain meds, because it's "supposed" to be painful. I tested positive for GBS with my second and had to have antibiotics during labor - THAT bothered me more than the contractions, and honestly, I think it was like having a TENS machine - it distracted me from the "real pain" of labor because it was such a PITA having that IV.

    Honestly, I think some women wallow in their immature, uninformed ignorance and expect other women to as well, and project that negativity to everyone they meet who is pregnant. Thus, the cycle continues ... *scream*

  9. I also consider Gisele's experience ironic and completely wonderful considering how many women from her native Brazil have c-sections. They have one of the highest rates in the world, from what I've read. Good for her for not buying into all the crap.

  10. Y'know, I wouldn't call my HBAC painless, but I would say that my putzy labor for the first 36 hours actually allowed me to welcome the contractions, even when they were painful. Maybe Giselle was able to go with the flow and let go a little more than me, but I can definitely see how it's possible to not be in pain. While some contractions I did experience as painful, it was no different than the pain of day 2 of the MS-150 or some other extreme athletic event. I am certainly glad she's sharing with the world, and sorry she's dealing w/the haters.

    It's funny, some of my friends (even from church) immediately had a different attitude toward me right after my HBAC, and I never quite fit in again (and no, not because I really talked it up...I pretty much only answered the questions they asked, as I knew where they stood). It's really sad how ingrained that attitude is, that you're a freak if you choose this. What's sad about it is, that the people who think that way, will never get to experience the beauty and will always live with the self-dobut that makes them act the way they do. Like I said, I didn't experience painless birth, but I'm not going to discount Giselle's experience... hers is hers and mine is mine. She's obviously high on her experience and I'm happy for her!

    Well, preaching to the proverbial choir, no?

  11. All very well-said, Rixa. I'm so glad you passed on these stories.

    For the mean commenters, the ol' gangsta phrase comes to mind, "Hate the game, not the playa!" :)

  12. Shameful.

    How dare those people attack Gisele for simply having a peaceful, gentle birth. Makes me sick.

  13. you aren't kidding call this sour grapes... my gut tells me that people are threatened by her empowered birth experience, at (gasp) home, and ( double gasp) with a midwife! This all on top of the fact she is a beautiful, powerful, rich, independent woman who happens to also be married to a handsome, talented man.

    Sour grapes indeed.

    I hope her Brazilian & American followers take listen to her message that the sensations of labor need not be thought of as the most horrible "pain" a woman could experience, but a normal process bringing one closer to meeting their newborn.

    Great post, as always, Rixa.

  14. Jealousy is an ugly thing, isn't it Labor Nurse? ;)

  15. So it's ok to be sour grapes about Giselle having her pre-baby body back so soon, but not about her having a pain-free homebirth?

    I know plenty of women who've gotten their pre-baby body back almost immediately (especially after their first). I think it's equally unfair to flame her for that and assume it can't be done or hurts other women to believe so.

    Sorry to be a jerk. Normally I enjoy your blog. Thanks!

  16. I agree with the previous poster. I assumed (you know what they say about assuming) that since she is a Brazilian supermodel and the c-section rate is so high in Brazil that she had a c-section once I saw that she had given birth. I'm thrilled to see that she really went for what was going to work best for her instead of doing what is culturally expected. Bravo! I'm also happy for her that she had such a tremendous birth experience.

  17. cheltz--see my comments in the other article about that very thing! I probably came across stronger than I intended in the post about postpartum bodies. I don't doubt that you can regain your pre-baby body back--I did both times (at least in terms of weight) by around 4-6 months each time--but the way the magazine article presented it really rubbed me the wrong way. Gushing on about how all these celebs love to eat, how they just do a little cardio or a little Pilates and poof! back to normal. With the implication that for all the other "normal" women out there, that's all you need to do. I think it belies the effort that is much more common, for most women, to regain their pre-baby body. And of course I don't know if we ever totally go back: we have stretch marks, our breasts change size and shape, our bellies might always look a bit different. That's not a bad thing, either.

  18. Rixa, a well written commentary. Thanks.

  19. I am so behind on reading blogs, but wanted to say thanks for chiming in on this topic! I so agree. Why get mad at her for having a comfortable birth?

    I am a person that had a comfortable, unmedicated birth and sometimes people respond fairly strongly towards my birth story. Why is it that comfortable birth is SO hard to accept?

    I love what one Hypnobabies Mom said,
    "I did have some discomfort during some parts of my birth, but it wasn't painFUL."

  20. Reading this, I instantly thought of one of Tom Brady's peers, quarterback Ben Rothlisburger. He took a bad hit late in the last game of the season, injuring his shoulder so badly his arm hung useless at his side for the rest of the game.

    Except, of course, during a play. Where he executed pass after laser guided pass, helping the Steelers win the final, close game of the season. Even though it was likely just for bragging rights, as the Steelers were unlikely to make the playoffs.

    Rothlisburger was trumpeted far and wide the next day. People marveled at his ability, his work ethic, the amazing way he lived in the moment and focused on the task at hand. How his team rallied round, rising to the challenge with his lead.

    Now compare that to the reaction to Tom Brady's wife doing something similar, at least physically. She lived in the moment, transformed what many believe is something incredibly painful into a positive force. Met her goals. Led her 'team' to the 'victory' they sought. And she is almost universally vilified for it.

    Hate is such a strange little beast...


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