Childbirth can be orgasmic, I promise

"It's possible to get a climax AND the baby. Still get tingly thinking about it."
"It's possible to get a climax AND the baby. Still get tingly thinking about it." Photo: Julien L. Balmer/Stocksy

What if I told you that vaginal birth was as good as an orgasm?

You would probably respond just the way one particular young man did when I had this discussion with him. No way. You can't be right. Don't write about it like that because no-one will ever believe you. What he should have asked me – as my editor at Daily Life did – is for some proof.

Vaginal childbirth gets the worst press. The. Worst. You will be in pain. Your labour will be never ending. You will split from pillar to post. Hard to believe that anything could be better than an orgasm but with childbirth, #somechildbirth, you get the climax AND the baby. Still get tingly thinking about it.

Before we get to the evidence, some background.

I'm talking about the birth of my third child. So I was getting good at it by then. I knew what a real contraction felt like. My body had already pushed one darling baby out; and delivered another darling baby through caesarean section.

So, I'd had practise. I didn't have to pfaff around wondering whether I really was in labour, whether I was really ready to push.

This labour was short, intense, like surfing with sets coming close together. I knew exactly what it felt like. Nothing about the labour was surprising except its brevity.

My first labour was 38 hours, second 20 hours. This one was about two hours from first contraction to first push. So no time to get exhausted and stressed.

I was in a regular hospital but surrounded by my lovelies, my husband, my dearest friend, our eldest child, the very kindest midwife who did not seem to mind that my foot was on her shoulder (can someone please give these women a collective award for services to childbirth). I felt safe and secure and protected. And relaxed.

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These are just the settings needed for an orgasmic birth.

The proof?

Meet Amy Towle, of Wahine Toa Midwife, who has practised as a midwife for eight years in Victoria. She says orgasmic childbirth is not common but happens as a result of the hormone oxytocin. She describes it as the hormone of love, released when women orgasm but also released during the contraction of the uterus.

I wish I'd known this before the birth of my third child. As the contractions grew closer together, it stopped feeling like pain, more like a thrilling ride down the face of a wave I couldn't get off. Less like f--- off and get me out of here; and more like, getting to the top, pressure, tension.

And, aah, release.

This powerful tiny being squirms its way out, like a big fish swimming down a small stream, buffeted by urgent, pounding contractions. And with one more jolt, your baby slides out.

So much pleasure, like a tiny explosion of joy. Not that tiny. 4.66kg.

And, yes it's true, the company of people you love makes a difference.

There were so many hands on that day, mine, my partner's, the experienced hands of the midwife. Our eldest child was there, our friend Robin.

Nobody told me childbirth could be glorious. That it could be glorious no matter the manner of the delivery. And I can promise you no-one ever told me it could be pleasurable.

More proof that orgasmic birth happens?

Susan McDonald, professor of midwifery at Latrobe University, says that in one small study of 26 women, one woman chose the word orgasmic from a list of words offered to describe childbirth. She also recommends the work of Ina May Gaskin, who is the full-bottle on orgasmic childbirth. Amy Towle says she's supported two women over the course of her eight year career, where they experienced orgasmic birth.

And Hannah Dahlen, professor of midwifery at Western Sydney University, tells me that there is a film, Orgasmic Birth, which details the phenomenon.

"Women have vividly described it and it is generally where the environment is very conducive, where the woman is in a trusting safe state of body and mind."

But Dahlen, McDonald and Towle all make it clear it's not the norm. Both Dahlen and Towle say that the use of epidural or other drugs are likely to change the physiological experience.

So, as usual, there is a catch. I feel very fortunate to have had that experience once, but I'm much more fortunate to have had three darling babies, who've fulfilled their roles as children and driven me mad with worry and filled me with blissful happiness.

How they were born mattered a lot on the day they were born. Thirty years later, you just feel very grateful that they are all in one piece. Touch wood.

One more thing. My vagina which had remained brilliantly, surprisingly, impressively, more or less intact after darling number two, didn't do so well. Nobody explained very well what happens to your vagina after you deliver a huge baby in a couple of hours. It is possible for it to spring back. Or it mightn't. And boy, do I have a story to share with you about exactly what happened next.

This is an expansion of some of my experiences, detailed in the chapter called Why It Never Gets Old published in the anthology Doing It: Women Tell the Truth about Great Sex, edited by Karen Pickering and published by UQP. RRP $29.95.

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