By Kyndal May, MFA, LMP, CD(DONA), BDT(DONA), LCCE
Today on Science & Sensibility, we start a new series on teaching ideas and techniques for you to use in your birth classes. The Brilliant Activities for Birth Educators series will bring you exciting and innovative methods to teach the topics normally covered in a Lamaze CBE series. We will be highlighting a variety of childbirth educators as they share some of their favorite activities from their classes. Today, we welcome Kyndal May, a childbirth educator in Boise, ID, as she shares how she covers the hormones of birth, and the role of oxytocin. Do you have a creative method of teaching a CB topic? Let me know via email, and we can connect about sharing in a future Brilliant Activities for Birth Educators blog post! Everyone loves to learn new ideas and refresh their class activities. I would love to hear from you.- Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility.
This past September, I was among many doulas and childbirth educators lucky to attend Sarah Buckley’s session on The Hormonal Physiology of Childbearing at the Lamaze International/DONA International Confluence in Kansas City, MO. Following Dr. Buckley’s U.S. tour of her Undisturbing Birth Workshops, I suspect many childbirth educators may be revisiting the way we approach and explore the topic of the hormones of labor in our classes. After viewing her DVD, Undisturbed Birth: the Science and the Wisdom, I am currently working to adapt both my childbirth classes and my birth doula workshops to incorporate this information in a new way.
While I play with what that will look like and how best to make that learning both powerful and playful, I’ll share how I have long taught about the hormones of labor –with a focus on oxytocin and a few activities (both past and present) that make it meaningful and fun.
Like everything in my classes, both content and my facilitation style is constantly changing based on what I am reading at the time, what I am witnessing in births, and the dynamics of the group. My students’ interactions and participation bring so much to the experience that they unknowingly contribute (often month to month) to what stays and what gets tossed.
I doubt that I am that different from other passionate childbirth educators who tend to see life through a “birth lens” if you will, meaning that very often, what I see, hear, and experience goes through the “how does this relate to birth?” or “could I tweak this to be a teaching tool?” filter in my brain. So, in 2009, when I saw t-shirts with messages like “I love my midwife” and “My midwife helped me out,” I immediately starting thinking of a t-shirt message I could use in my class and quickly put in a custom order for my “Got Oxytocin?” t-shirt.
I wore this t-shirt under another shirt through the first half of class one but I wait to show it to the class until we have explored the role of oxytocin in relation to birth. For example, oxytocin as a smooth muscle contractor – the perfect lead-in to discovering the unique structure of the myometrial musculature and watching as moms and their partners come to appreciate the uterine muscle and its work in labor in a new and meaningful way; oxytocin as ejection reflex initiator – the perfect lead-in to discussing oxytocin’s role both in the second stage and in orgasm and watching the connections made by each couple as they realize the essential environmental commonalities between the two and the need for a safe, private space for both.
At this point, orgasm becomes the perfect lead-in for understanding the role of beta-endorphins — as pain-suppressant and pleasure/transcendence producer — through a brief lesson on the etymology of the word (sometimes using smart phones).
With a consensus regarding the pleasure of orgasm and the pulsating rhythm of labor, everyone would very much like to know how to avoid inhibiting that process. So, epinephrine and norepinephrine become the perfect lead-in to receptors and …a short detour actually, to the brain, where we acknowledge the differences between a “typical male” and “typical female” brain through the perspective of the adolescent brain, in particular. Here, we compare the fight or flight response to ‘tending and befriending’ and what that can look like in different settings.
Throughout this process, we pause so that each couple can answer a few questions together and privately identify their own unique styles of co-creating an oxytocin-rich environment in their day-to-day living and connect it to their mutual vision of a safe birthing space.
Sound complex? It is – as complex as the interactions of these hormones, but just as rewarding and very fun. At this point, we take a break and when we come back together, I am sporting my “got oxytocin?” t-shirt for all the class to see.
As we turn our attention to how oxytocin and its partnering hormones set up both mother and baby for a thriving start together in the postpartum period, I pass out plain, white baby t-shirts to each couple. I invite them to take them home and design their own “Got Oxytocin?” baby t-shirt. I ask them to create it as if the baby was asking the question of everyone who comes into the birthing space.
My intention is to have them continue to think about oxytocin’s value in labor; to remember how it interacts with and is inhibited by the other hormones and how they might best co-create a space that supports the free-flow of the hormone. And most of all, because their canvas is the baby t-shirt, they are mindful how it benefits not only the mother but also the baby.
Each time I have used this activity, the response has been very positive. The first time, it was met with surprising enthusiasm and every couple chose to participate. Two weeks later, they returned with their amazingly creative t-shirts using everything from paint, to iron-on transfers, crochet to tie-die. One couple even reconstructed their t-shirt into a bowling shirt complete with buttons, color panels, collar and nametag. It was clear all of them not only enjoyed the activity, they enjoyed doing it together as a couple. A few commented that the activity provoked them to imagine their baby’s personality.
At least one couple took their baby t-shirt to their birth as a reminder to everyone who entered to support their efforts to create a safe and private birth space. Many couples commented how meaningful it was to them to have the t-shirt as a memento from the class in their baby book.
It has been a while since I have done this kind of an activity in class, but a new idea came to me last year. As we approached the holiday season, it seemed the perfect time of year to try it out.
At the end of class one, I handed each couple 2 clear plastic tree ornaments – one round and one in the shape of a heart. These ornaments can be opened and filled with paint, confetti or, in the case of the photo here, a piece of paper with some writing on it. I asked each couple to think of some way they might represent oxytocin or what oxytocinmeans to them and put it into the ornament. The objective is to work together to identify what is especially oxytocin producing for them. Once they do that, they’ll find a creative way to represent it and put it in the ornament that will then become their personal “mistletoe”.
They are invited to hang their “oxytocin ornament” and each time they walk under it, it will remind them to stop and spend a little time in an embrace — which we know, if they will hold for 10 seconds or more and do it 8 times a day, is a wonderful way to increase their own oxytocin levels.
This first group brought their oxytocin ornaments back and I had just a moment to photograph just a couple at the break. The first one is filled with berries that represent gooseberries for the couple who met a health store called “Gooseberries.”
Another couple filled theirs with sheet music as each of them is very musical and plan to use music as a comfort measure in their birth. One couple filled their ornament with small birthday candles to represent candlelit moments and another filled theirs with layers of colored cake decorations – each color representing something about their relationship. Overall, the project was met with positive interest and one couple said they enjoyed it so much they found themselves giggling through the process which became a very playful experience them.
Early in my teaching career one of the moms in class brought a gift to give everyone at the closing class of the session. She told us all, “The way Kyndal talked about oxytocin, I just felt it was a ‘wonder-product’. It can contract the uterus and bring milk down, it can bond people to each other and more…maybe even get stains out of the carpet. So, I thought everyone should have their own bottle of oxytocin.” She passed out massage oil in tiny bottles with a label claiming the contents to be “oxytocin” and thus began an long tradition of sending each couple home with their own personal bottle of “oxytocin”.
I have since shifted my parting gifts but I revisit that one now and again as it was a long-running favorite. You can see more of the “Got Oxytocin” baby t-shirts by visiting my site.
Maybe you would like to incorporate some of the ideas listed here in your childbirth classes as you cover the hormones of labor. If you do, please consider coming back to Science & Sensibility and sharing how it goes. We’d love to hear from you. – SM
Note/Disclaimer: The use of the acronym “BABE” (Brilliant Activities for Birth Educators) is not affiliated with, aligned with or associated with any particular childbirth program or organization.
About Kyndal May
Kyndal May, MFA, LMP, CD(DONA), BDT(DONA), LCCE, is a storyteller and facilitator; a confidence and commUnity builder for expectant parents, doulas and childbirth educators. She has been an active, private practice childbirth professional since 1995. Teaching her own curriculum, first in Seattle, WA and now in Boise, ID, she has well over 2000 hours of teaching experience and has attended nearly 300 births. A Licensed Massage Practitioner, she incorporates her background in bodywork and movement into her classes to facilitate awareness and help her students discover their own way to labor and birth. She refers to her Confident Birthing Childbirth Class as an ‘informed choice’ class and her unique education platform is used by educators in the United States and abroad.
She is a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, a DONA Certified Birth Doula and Birth Doula Trainer offering advanced doula trainings in loss and communication. She serves as the consumer member of the Idaho State Board of Midwifery and on the DONA International Board of Directors as the Western Pacific US Regional Director.
Kyndal’s photography has been published in The Essential Homebirth Guide, Birth Ambassadors: Doulas and the Re-emergence of Woman Supported Childbirth in the United States. A frequent speaker at professional conferences, her session, The Doula’s Field Guide to Birth Photography is available online through DONA International’s webinar series. To view more of her birth photography, visit her website at: www.kyndalmay.com