The following film is beautiful, but the cord is cut early and there is no placenta! I can't help but wonder why.
The way the woman gives birth so calmly and consciously in this video is a delight. I love the way the tank enables the family, the midwife and the doctor to see what is happening without interfering or interrupting the woman's 'flow'. I also love the way the woman uses her hands to birth her baby's head and how she engages with the baby when the baby's head is born. This woman was obviously well prepared for the birth of her baby.
BUT - where is the placenta???
The birth of the placenta is missing from most videos. The fact that the placenta is missing from birth videos sends the wrong and incomplete message about birth. Giving birth to the placenta is the third stage of labour. The third and fourth stage of labour, during which time the woman adjusts psychologically, physiologically and spiritually to the birth of the baby, are vitally important parts of the birth process. This period is a 'peak experience' time; one where women get surges of the 'love' hormone oxytocin if the environmental conditions are optimal. These surges in oxytocin are essential for optimal psychophysiological functioning for bonding with the baby, contraction of the woman's uterus, haemostasis and the initiation of lactation.
The placenta is an awesome organ and needs to be given due respect and acknowledgment for the mighty role it plays in the beginning of life.
Many cultures have the Tree of Life symbol which is said to be a metaphor for the placenta; artworks across millenia demonstrate this potent recognition of the placenta's role in the life of a fetus and baby. Not only is the symbolism missing in modern life, even the placenta itself is written out of the mainstream artform - that of videos.
Ignoring or dismissing the placenta comes at a cost. Women don't know they have a placenta to birth; if they do know, they don't know the magnificence of it. What that means is they think birth is over when the baby is born. Unfortunately, thinking birth is over sends the wrong message to the neural networks and hormonal system. Safe birth requires conscious engagement in the process.
A key lesson of modern neuroscience is that a change in the focus of our attention changes our brain firing patterns and changes the neurochemicals associated with the firing pattern. The practical application of this lesson is that our physiology responds to our thinking. The thought that birth is over when a woman doesn't realise that the birth of the placenta requires attention, especially when the feeling of relief is profound and/or the woman is disturbed/distracted from her baby and birth process can result in a blocking of the release of oxytocin. A drop in the level of oxytocin can predispose the woman to excessive blood loss because her uterus doesn't get the chemical messages it needs to contract well and seal off the placental site. The attentional network that I suggest is optimal in birthing the placenta and keeping safe in third and fourth stage of labour is the attentional neural network associated with fascination. When a woman is fascinated with her baby, she is safe and her physiology works as it ought. Disrupting, distracting or in any other way interrupting the fascinating network bodes trouble. Midwives have a duty of care to ensure the birth environment is conducive to women's fascination with their babies being enhanced and potentiated; a key aspect of midwifery guardianship. .
I've written a theoretical paper, with my colleague, Professor of Midwifery, Dr Kathleen Fahy, on midwifery guardianship in the third stage of labour. You can access the abstract here.
We also conducted a cohort study which showed that women who had active management of third stage were 7-8 times more likely to experience excessive blood loss in third and fourth stages of labour than women who were well prepared and, together with their families and midwives, had a mindful approach to the birth of the placenta.
On this Mother's Day, the recognition that knowledge is power and education about the placenta is lifesaving and helping women to stay safe in childbirth is a good thing to think about!