Saturday, 24 July 2010

Vision, perception and birth

Being able to see is a gift and yet, often taken for granted. How we see and what we see is regulated by the way the neurons fire together primarily in the visual cortex. Our vision also is influenced by our perceptions and our intentional/attentional networks. What we pay attention to influences what we see.

Graphics of the brain, like that above, while useful for showing the general region of activity of various parts of the brain, miss out on the myriad links and neuronal connections that influence and modulate the brain's activities.  Neurons are amazing. 35,000  neurons fit under a pinhead and each has anything from 60-60,000 connections. The neurons don't actually touch - they communicate and connect through chemicals and electrical signals.

The longest axons goes to our big toes! So everything is connected. The more connected, the richer and deeper our experiences. So too with vision.

Many years ago, a friend was at our place and waxing lyrical about his experiences with LSD - a popular drug at the time. He was trying to explain to me how the drug affected his ability to see things much more deeply and clearly. In an effort to get his message across, he told me with some exasperation that 'red was really red!"  I remained unimpressed and thought that his words were the ravings of an idiot - my impression of anyone who took drugs.  My friend's words came back to me about two decades later when I was driving across the Nullabor after a seven day residential meditation course. To my amazement, everything seemed brighter and more colourful. I finally understood what my friend had been trying to tell me all those years ago. Mind altering substances and mind altering experiences of meditation can have the same effect; that of opening up more connections in the brain enabling deeper, richer experiences.  The meditative strand is controllable, the drug induced experience much less so. Neuroscience tells us that it is our brain that sees, not our eyes and that our brain cannot tell the difference between what we imagine and what is actually in our visual field. Neuropsychologists have found that we don't see the world as it is, but how we 'are'.

Buble et al (2010) have found that when people are depressed, their colour differentiation is contracted, less vibrant. That finding makes sense to me when you think about attentional networks, neural linkages and moods, all of which are interconnected and all of which profoundly affect the way our physiology works. The greatest teacher the world has known said 'without vision the people perish'.  When we can't see beyond our current situation, our view contracts.  The ability to visualise or engage in 'imagineering' - seeing in our mind's eye what we desire to have happen or experience affects both mood and body physiology.

A midwifery student wrote a note about her experience of helping a birthing woman to use visualisation to change her labour trajectory.  The student has given me permission to repeat  her story and I do so here as I think her words demonstrate even more clearly what I'm talking about in this blog:

"Just HAD to tell you all of my experience in birthing suite last week!  Arrived at 7am to a primip (sic nullip) who had been having irregular pains all night following spontaneous rupture of membranes the day before.  Not coping well with these pains as the baby was in a posterior position, epidural was being inserted as we arrived, followed by Syntocinon infusion.  Unfortunately, we did not believe that established labour had begun, and the CTG showed little evidence of uterine activity.  Four hours post VE (showing barely 3cm at 7am), another was attended, and showed 4cm, posterior lie and thick cervix.  The midwife with me explained her concerns that this labour would probably end in a caesarean. Syntocinon was as high as it could go.  There were some typical decelerations noted on CTG.  She decided to let this woman know that labour did not appear to be progressing 'as it should', and that she should prepare herself for the possibility of the caesarean if no further progress occured.  While left alone with this lady (who had a big cry at this point with her supportive hubby), I suggested that she close her eyes and imagined her baby moving down and changing position, reassurring her that this was a powerful strategy to use.  We dimmed the lights and I left the room to allow the couple some space together.  At 1pm the obs registrar attended another VE and we were all elated when he announced it was time to start pushing!!  The look on the woman's face said it all.  Wow! I don't know who was more surprised - me, the midwife or the woman - who managed to birth her baby beautifully some 20 minutes later, cord tightly around neck, but Apgars 9,9 regardless.  Never underestimate the power of the mind OR the ability to birth well!"
For anyone who is concerned about a nuchal cord, which is the baby's cord around the baby's neck, let me refer you to the wonderful post of midwifery lecturer and independent midwife, Rachel Reed.

What do you think about all that? 

Bubl, E., et al. (2010). Seeing Gray When Feeling Blue? Depression Can Be Measured in the Eye of the Diseased. Biol. Psychiatry 68: 205-208. DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2010.02.009.


Rachel Reed said...

This is such a fascinating area. The data I am studying is birth stories told to me by mothers and midwives. A number of the mothers talk about using visualisation before and during their births.
I have used it with stubborn placentas - ie. asked the woman to visualise her placenta separating.
Thanks for the mention too!

Carolyn Hastie said...

Agreed Rachel. Visualisation and especially when coupled with emotion, is a very important and powerful tool for safety during birth in every stage. Perhaps you may like to share an example of when you used visualisation for the stubborn placenta?