We try to make birth practical by measuring, overseeing, and monitoring it… when really, it’s an experience that flows seamlessly from one stage to another, taking the birthing person deep into their physiology and intuitive altered states. Whapio Diane Bartlett shares with Adriana how to better describe what the laboring person goes through, by explaining the Holistic Stages of Birth.
In this second episode of a two-part series, we go deeper into the Quietude, to then finally emerge into immediate postpartum and the life-long weaving of the story. Make sure you listen to Part One, if you haven’t already.
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What we talked about:
- Stage 6: The Tides (when you are galvanized because something is “different”)
- Stage 7: The Breakers (when, ideally, there’s no mention of pushing)
- Stage 8: Emergence
- Stage 9: The Return
- Stage 10: Acquaintance
- Stage 11: Coming into Union
- Stage 12: Completion
- Stage 13: Weaving the Story (which goes on forever)
- Why birthing people take a moment before picking up their babies
- Circling back to the organic physiology of birth
- The Holistic Stages of Birth, The Matrona
- Michel Odent’s Womb Ecology website
- The 5 Brainwaves and The Connection to Flow State, MindLab
- The birthing brain: A lacuna in neuroscience, Brain and Cognition
- The Normal Second Stage of Labor: A Plea for Reform in Its Conduct, BJOG
- Joyous Childbirth Changes the World, by Dr. Tadashi Yoshimura
- Birth in the Squatting Position video
Related Birthful episodes:
Transformation Through the Holistic Stages of Birth (Part Two)
Adriana Lozada: Hello hello, Mighty Parent or Parent-to-Be! I’m Adriana Lozada and I want to welcome you back (hopefully!) to Birthful, as we continue on this series called Birth Beyond the Clinical Experience.
So this is part two of our two-part episode with Whapio Diane Bartlett on the Holistic Stages of Birth. Last week we stopped somewhere after what’s usually thought of as transition, and then this week we’ll go deeper into what Pam England calls Laborland, to then emerge during immediate postpartum and life as a new family.
If you didn’t listen to last week’s episode, you’re not quite going to understand what we are talking about this week, so please go listen to that one first, and then come back here.
Whapio is my guest again today, and Whapio is an independent elder midwife who has been supporting and learning from expectant and new families since the mid-80s. Whapio is also a community mediator and founder of The Matrona.
Last week she was taking us up the metaphorical mountain of birth, and we were about to take a moment to enjoy the view…
You’re listening to Birthful. Here to inform your intuition.
Adriana: Here’s Whapio again.
Whapio: If you climbed a hill, okay, and, and it took every ounce of everything, it took an act of will to get to the top, and you got to the top… you wouldn’t just run right back down the other side, and you wouldn’t just rest up either. You would look at the view. You would receive what you came to get. This is a very… I just feel like it’s a very holy stage of labor.
It’s a stage where it has, of course, the physiological benefits of allowing her to rest and— but that’s not all. And if we relegated simply to that, once again, we’re missing the point. This is a time of deep, deep altered state consciousness.
I’ve had women… you know, I will ask them sometimes what happened in your, in your Quietude? “Oh my God. Whapio! I finally understood who this child came for.” One woman said, “When I got to the top of the mountain, there was this huge block of turquoise. And I knew that my baby was somewhere in there. I knew I had to get in there. I didn’t know what to do. I reached out my hand and then I entered, there was my baby. This was all about the journey to bring this baby to earth. And now I have my baby.”
Women have told me things that have transformed their lives, okay? And I feel like, I definitely wanna see this quiet, this “rest and be thankful,” be respected. Because then, all of a sudden, what will happen is a woman who has been quietly snoozing or trancing out or resting will all of a sudden become galvanized, okay? She will wake up, she will feel that something is different. And I’d like to throw in just a tidbit of anatomy and physiology here: When we look at the cardinal movements of labor, what we realize is that during that Quietude, when the uterus is open and relaxed, this is when the baby’s head rotates. You see?
So yes, physiology is going on, the mother is resting, the baby is turning their head. There’s a download happening. And now the reason that she is galvanized again is because the head has rotated and it’s beginning now to extend, and her pelvic floor is like alive with the fact that, with sensation, that her baby is coming down now. Her baby’s coming out of the uterus! “I’m gonna give birth.”
And so I call this next piece The Birthing Tides. Because the baby’s head is extending, the uterus begins to have contractions again, alright? These are different contractions from the dilating contractions, okay? These are the contractions that are gonna birth the head and birth the baby. And the uterus is quite capable of doing this without the mother having to even act like a piston.
We would wanna call this “second stage,” but I really like the British model— and I am trying to make a case for the British model, which we do not have here in the U.S.— that there are two stages, if you’ll permit me to go back to this practical model, there are two stages of “second stage.” There’s a “latent” and an “active,” just like we identified “first stage” with a “latent” and an “active.” And what is the latent stage of second stage? It’s the baby moving down the birth canal. And what is active? “Active” is you can see the head and pushing begins. In the British model there is no pushing during latent second stage, meaning you don’t push until you see the head. Now this would revolutionize birth in our country!
Adriana: It’s unheard of. It’s totally unheard of. It’s “You’re 10. Start pushing!” Or you’re being asked every five minutes, “Do you have the urge to push? Do you feel pressure? Do you want to push? Are you sure? Do you wanna push?” Which it just gets in the way and it, and makes people exhausted because then they’re pushing way longer than they need to because they’re going against physiology, yes.
Whapio: Doesn’t this make sense? That you push when the baby’s there?
Whapio: And when you can see the head, you know— I mean, during the contractions, you’ll sometimes when the whole— the vulva opens, you see the head right there. Even if it goes back a little bit, that’s pushing! That’s fine.
But you’re right, women get tired, and so do babies. And so we see fetal distress. You see? And there is a model for this: In the British model, you don’t push until the head is on the perineum. And I wish doulas would understand the physiology of that, so they say, “You want a physiologic labor and you’ll probably feel like pushing when the baby’s here. Don’t waste your energy.” See? These are ways that we can help women to navigate some of the practices that, I personally say— with all due respect— are not undergirded by physiology, alright?
So I feel like there’s this place, latent second stage, if you will, I wanna pinpoint it for everyone. It’s where the, I call it The Birthing Tides, and it’s where the uterus just brings the baby down, alright?
Sometimes when you’re out there in the ocean, you know that sometimes that if you just sit in the boat, it will take you toward the shore. You don’t have to do a lot of strenuous rowing. It’ll just kind of bring you in. And this is… the baby’s head is extending, the baby’s coming down.
What are women doing? Oh, they’re feeling it, they’re feeling contractions, okay. Sometimes they push with them in, in a tiny little bit. Sometimes women have this idea in our culture that as soon as you feel like pushing you, you muster every ounce of energy and you push. And sometimes it’s very hard to dissuade women from pushing once they feel like pushing has been initiated.
So whenever a woman tells me she feels like pushing and I can’t see the baby’s head, or the baby’s clearly not there, I just tell her, “Oh, this could be so gentle.” And I don’t kind of pay a lot of attention to it. And oftentimes it goes away and a different rhythm starts where now the rhythm of the uterus brings the baby down in The Birthing Tides, okay?
And then of course, that baby’s gonna get down there on the pelvic floor, alright? Where the head is ready to, you know, be seen and come out. And a mom’s gonna feel like pushing. And I call this The Breakers. I mean, you… The Birthing Tides will bring you in and bring the baby down. And then those breakers, okay… We know that to come into shore, you gotta hold on to the oars, you gotta steer the boat. It’s not very long, alright? And you hold on. These are the breakers, and this is pushing.
And I just wanna say that when I was a young midwife, one of the things that we really did do— and I really appreciate that— is that we gave women a lot of time. You know, so many women back in the eighties and the nineties, and even today, maybe say, “I feel like I could have birthed my baby. I just needed some time. I just needed more time.” And I think midwives were great. They said, “Okay, you will have all the time you need.” And I think, though, there was a disconnect. If you’re gonna give women time, then I think you don’t wanna tell them to push ever, okay? We still, as midwives, we still kept this idea that if you’re fully dilated, we can’t find a cervix, you should push now, alright? And I feel like we had long, long pushings, like really long pushings… and I feel like that’s not physiologic.
I would love to send you a study if you’re interested in it, by a British midwife who back in the fifties did not allow any mention of pushing or any coaching, and what she found out, with 100 first-time moms, was that 83 of those women birthed their babies, alright? With no need of anything— no episiotomies, nothing. And, 83 out of a hundred birthed their babies with no mention of pushing. And they were all in the beds, by the way. They were on their backs.
Adriana: Yeah, I would love to see that study, please! Yeah, no, please send it to me! I will post it with the show notes.
Whapio: Oh, please do. I will definitely get it to you. It’s a scientific study, okay? So it’s going to be in scientific language, but the, but what you will learn as a doula, even about labor!
You know, we have this idea sometimes, even when we are pushing, that it, you know, we have to get the maximum out of every contraction. And what we’re learning is that that’s not what contractions do. Contractions are like ocean waves and they come in sets. And if you’ve ever been out there in the rollers, you know, there’s like a wave and then a wave and then a wave, and then a little bigger, and then a big one, and then a wave and a wave. And you have sets. And birthing contractions are the same way.
You’ll have a contraction and a contraction and a contraction, and nothing much is happening and then all of a sudden you’ll have a big one and you make a lot of progress with the head or something like that. If we could just do that physiologically, instead of trying to get the maximum amount with every push, because that’s not what contractions are like… authentically, organically. I mean, there’s such a movement for being organic these days. I would really love us to look at what is truly authentic and organic in labor and birth, as well as the food we eat or the clothes we wear or something like that.
So, anyway, back to The Breakers, okay? This is usually short— and Constance Beynon, the British midwife that I’m gonna hook you up with, who has passed away now because she did this survey in the fifties, okay— she said that the average labor for those hundred women, for the 83 of them that birthed their babies totally physiologically, was about an hour for first time, all first-time moms. Yes.
Adriana: Of the space between The Tides and birth, or The Breakers?
Whapio: Well, I’m gonna say… I don’t know. She didn’t make that distinction, whether that it was like that second stage of labor, alright? Of second stage. I’m gonna read it again and make sure, alright? But anyway, what… see, some of her detractors said, “Oh, if you don’t coach women to push, the labor will go on and on and on.” And she said, “No, I feel in my bones, I feel intuitively that that’s not true,” alright?
So anyway, it’s a good study, but what I really wanna get to is after the baby is born. And this is one of my favorite things to really talk to people about. I feel like when a baby, you know, a mother is now in The Breakers, she’s pushing out her baby… and I will say a comment about position, okay? Over the years, I have never really, you know, coached anyone to be in a certain position. I’ve always told women, you can be in whatever position is instinctive to you. And I very seldom saw a woman get in bed to birth her baby. And I know that some women have read, like “Squatting is better,” and I’ve seen women, you know, attempt squatting, but leave squatting because it doesn’t feel solid. It doesn’t feel… you know, it feels very like you could fall over a lot, unless you really do a lot of squatting, okay, in your life.
Adriana: Right, we’re not used to squatting. We don’t… That’s not a thing in our culture, yeah.
Whapio: So even though a woman might say, “Oh, I’m in a squat,” I see that she doesn’t stay in a squat. And I don’t see women go over on hands and knees, maybe in the labor, but never for the birth— because, you know, if you’re on the hands and knees, your baby will fall out, okay? And what I see women do is get down on one knee, one knee bent, and one knee on the floor, like a kneeling position with one knee bent. You see what I mean? It is a very physiologically natural position. Why? Because it’s very solid. Two, because you’re very present with the birth of your baby, okay? Your baby’s not gonna fall out behind you. Three, you could catch your baby if you wanted to, alright? Four, your partner— or whomever you want to, you know, your caregiver, your partner— is also able to be there, okay? And it just… women just gravitate to this position. You don’t see any shoulder dystocia. You know why? If you’ve got a big ten pound baby and the baby is hard coming out, all the woman has to do, it’s just raise up, open up her pelvis. Do you see what I mean? Like, just put her hands to the sky and the baby will usually pop off the pubic bone and come right out.
This is an amazing position that women— women— have chosen, rather than a caregiver-chosen position. And also it’s just great for pushing because gravity, do you know what I mean? You’re working with gravity here, and you’re not sitting on the baby’s head. I mean, that is one of the clear concerns with women semi-sitting in the bed. They are sitting on the baby’s head. And while it’s much better than being on your back, actually, physiologically being on your back is easier, to birth in. Because the baby can push the sacrum, alright, unfold it and get out. But if you’re sitting on the bed, like the semi-sitting, you’re sitting on the sacrum. What you usually see is that we have to push the mother back further and further and further, roll the bed down, put her knees to her ears, and—
Adriana: Or get her to the side!
Whapio: —and side-lying. I tell this to doulas all the time: This is the best position to deliver a baby in a bed with, unless you can be… unless you’re allowed to be kneeling, alright? But side-lying is wonderful. It puts more, equalized pressure on your bottom, really. It’s less likely to tear. And it seems honestly that babies just kind of come out much easier. They kind of ooze out when you’re side-lying. So, I love for doulas to know this and to help women get in that position, you know, during a birth.
Anyway, okay, so baby’s coming. Now, I will say this. Over the last years of my practice, I no longer found myself in a woman’s birthing field. I was kind of sitting, I don’t know, maybe five feet away where she could see me and I could see her, but I wasn’t in her vicinity because, what I learned was that the Hispanic phrase for giving birth, “to give the light,” dar la luz…
Adriana: Dar a luz.
Whapio: I mean, that blew my mind! “To give the light.” And very early on in my practice, I realized that if a woman is giving the light, I am not the recipient. I’m just not. I… it is not meant for me to receive the light. That is meant for the person that she chooses. And in my practice, most women chose their partner— their husband, the dad, whomever— okay? But very seldom was I chosen to receive the light. So I wasn’t in a woman’s field anymore. She chose who she wanted to be in her field, and as I said, it was usually her partner or the baby’s dad.
And what I saw was amazing. I saw that nobody needed to do anything to get a baby out, especially with a woman in a kneeling position. She could just move her body if she needed to. I saw that dads caught babies. I saw that they instinctively put the baby down between the two of them, alright? Between the mother and the dad, put the baby down, face down. And I saw that something happens here.
I also noticed that women didn’t pick up their babies right away. And at first being a young midwife, I thought, “Oh my goodness, what’s wrong? She doesn’t have any prolactin. Where’s her oxytocin? Why isn’t she picking up her baby?” And I even went so far, early on, as to pick up a woman’s baby and put it, like, in her lap, like, “Here’s your baby!”
And after I did that the third time, I realized, “This is very wrong.” I mean, “I don’t know why, but I gotta figure this out, but this is wrong.” And then I realized, “Well, of course I’m not meant to receive the light, and I am not meant to pick up another woman’s baby because I am not creating a lifelong relationship with this child. She is.”
So, I never picked up another woman’s baby, alright? And I noticed that it was so interesting that a dad would put the baby down. That’s just— without anyone ever saying it— it was instinctive. The dad would catch the baby, put the baby down.
And then what I noticed was this space, it’s like another Quietude. I would see a mother coming back from this journey. I would also know that she knew exactly what was going on with her baby, and if there was something going on with her baby, she would snatch her baby up. She would say, “Get over here Whapio. What’s going on?” But that’s not what I saw, okay? I saw women who basically would then sit down and have a moment, sometimes five minutes before women would pick up their babies, and I realized, “Oh, this is what’s organic.”
And then I wondered about what was girding… this undergirding of physiology. And I was like, “Oh, of course! Leave the baby right there.” I mean, the baby’s getting the download of their placental blood, alright? The baby is changing over from fetal and neonatal circulation. So many things are going on right now that you couldn’t see because the mother, the father, and the baby are almost in this place of suspended animation.
I call this The Return. And I am really attached to women having their Return respected. And then, you know what I see? I will see after a few minutes, a woman kind of comes back, kind of collects herself and she’ll kind of look down and maybe she’ll touch her baby or stroke her baby. And then I see her pick up her baby. Consciously. Deliberately. And I realize she is claiming this child. She’s claiming this child. She’s claiming a lifelong relationship with this child.
And I watch as the baby’s dad is watching this… A baby’s dad has now just seen his partner, his woman, the mother of his child, pick up their child. And what I see her do in this holy moment is she will oftentimes look at her partner as if like, “I’m picking up this child. How about you? Are you in?” And he’s crying. “Of course!” He’s never seen anything so profound or been involved in anything so profound. And oftentimes she would look at me like, “You saw that, right? You saw that. We’re in, the three of us.”
And what I realize, Adriana, I’m looking at is the creation of family. And I am crying now too. You see, because this, to me, is the most profound mystery of all. How we give the light, how we receive the light, and how we create family in that experience. And I have seen it. So I am very clear that this place in labor, the return is not to be disturbed. Ever, ever, ever, ever. This is just me, alright?
Adriana: And that’s a real hard one. I find in hospitals… I mean, if it’s hard for the routine not to be to tell them to push, you know, every time they’re told to push. And that’s an easy one— just don’t say “Push!” Have one where, you know, fingers aren’t in the vagina and baby’s head isn’t being helped to rotate and helped to get out, and let the mom catch baby? That sounds crazy in terms of what happens in a hospital. And much less “Just let the baby sit there for five minutes.” You gotta rub baby really quick so baby can cry and we can put baby on their chest.
Whapio: This is probably the time that there’s the most disturbance, when I feel there should be the least. And I mean, I agree with you. I’m not saying that, you know, this is going to happen tomorrow. No, this is gonna be the last thing that caregivers wanna give up— because, I get it, caregivers feel that this is the most dangerous time of all. The baby needs to come out and breathe, and the mother needs to get… birth her placenta so she doesn’t bleed. So this is when we’d have to be involved the most.
But actually, ironically, organically, I believe it’s the time where we should be involved the least, because something else is happening here. And if we continue to do this, then we cannot complain about broken families, alright? And I will say this: There are models for this. I experienced this for years in my practice and no baby ever died, okay? I feel like Odent was very much like this and had some of the lowest infant mortality, postpartum depression, episiotomy, and c-section rates in the world.
And now there’s sort of a modern-day Odent who is Dr. Yoshimura in Japan, and his book, Joyous Childbirth Changes the World, he also has… he has a 3.4[%] cesarean rate and his clinic does not even have an operating theater! And like Odent, he took high-risk women, low-risk women, all kinds of women. And his statistics are mind blowing. And he is also of the same ilk, where we never disturb the woman for any reason in her labor unless something clearly is happening. Unless she’s pouring out blood, or the baby comes out white and lifeless, you know what I’m saying, alright?
Adriana: Right, but it’s an “Observe first,” not just do by default.
Whapio: Totally. We can do this. We’re, you know, little by little, we are changing, okay? I mean, when I was a young midwife, everyone cut the cord. And no one would hear any other information about it. We’ve changed, okay? When I was a young midwife, nobody was in hands and knees and you know, so we are changing! And I do agree that this will be the last bastion of clinical medicine in birth, you know: the moments after birth. But I’m saying there is something else. And the more women hear about this and see this and realize it’s true, the more women will claim it, you know?
Adriana: Right! And it’s the tough part of this period of transition from getting one place to another because it’s that double-edged sword of explaining what could be, knowing that you’re not most likely gonna get it. But you’ll get parts of it, and the more you raise your voice and the more you’re aware about it, the more you’ll get.
Whapio: Exactly. And the more you are capable of intelligently speaking about it, the more you will be respected by your caregivers and the more you will… the more choices you’ll have.
It was interesting. I worked in a religious section of the population for many years out in the countryside in Georgia when I was a young midwife. And this particular group of people, they do not sue. They don’t sue! It’s part of their religion and you know, the doctors let them do anything they want. It was so interesting.
If she wanted to stand, you know, if they did hospital births, if she wanted to stand up in her bed, the doc said, “Okay!” If she wanted to have her waters broken and not come in, he would say, “Okay!” Why? Because they didn’t sue. And they really let women do what was physiologically normal to them. And they also realized that it worked. So it’s interesting how much of our routines are actually based in defensive medicine. And I get that.
I feel like it’s a long ways coming, but I feel like one of the reasons that we are having this discussion and that it’s going out in the airwaves is because I can attest that there is another way. It’s not just a hypothesis, alright? It was something that was taught to me by women, that there is another way (that seems more organic to me) to birth our children.
Adriana: Absolutely. And it’s one of those things that… Why would we think that it’s broken? I understand how high the risks are when things go wrong. I totally get it. And that’s tough because that brings on fear. But also the more you trust it and the more you go into this intuitive place, you’ll know if something’s wrong.
Whapio: Well said! Absolutely, okay. That’s the whole idea of having these deeper connections with families because you work seamlessly together, and if something’s going on, everybody knows it. Ding, ding, ding. It just pings, and we come to full present attention. Yes. I totally agree that the more intuitive we become together and we know what’s going on…
Adriana: And I find that if you are practicing sort of a family-centered maternity care, then you’ve got that heart. If you’ve got that heart, you’re doing fabulous. But what makes it tough is the amount of care providers that have never seen one vaginal physiologic birth, they can’t tell what’s normal or not
Whapio: You’re right! You’re right. I ended up taking a woman who I worked with, a woman a long time ago who tested positive for GBS strep, okay? And she had a caregiver in the military. Her husband was in the military and she didn’t wanna make any waves. She was gonna have a homebirth, but she felt like she needed to have concurrent care with a doc.
So, her doc tested her and she was GBS positive. So we ended up going to the hospital to have her baby and when we were there, the doc came in to me and he said, “Would you mind if my staff comes in? We’ll be very quiet. We… you know, it will be very quiet. We just wanna observe. Would that be okay with you? My neonatologist wants to come in, and my OB nurses.” And I said, “Well, I don’t know. Why?” I mean, why?! And he said, “Well, because it… She’s going to have a natural birth. And these seven people have never seen one.” I was floored, right?!
Adriana: Yeah. And a great thing about him saying, “Can we watch? Can you give us the privilege— all seven, eight of us— to watch this, to witness a physiological birth?”
Whapio: Yes, he was great. I loved him. He was a really cool little doctor who absolutely got his anointing that night, okay? To finish the story, she wanted to birth on hands and knees. And he said, “No.” He said, “I’ve never done that before. I couldn’t do that.” And I said, “Well, I’ll be right here.” And he was like, “No.” And then he came in a little later and he said, “Well, maybe.” And then he said, “Okay, you stand right here and we’ll do it.”
And then what was happening was, because her labor was so unhindered, the bag of waters never really ruptured because it was very gentle and the baby was being born in the veil [en caul]. And he had never seen anything like that either. And I could feel him sort of freeze up because first of all, here’s this woman on hands and knees, and now what the heck is this, alright?!
Adriana: What am I holding on to?
Whapio: Right? And I heard him say to me, mentally, because honestly, when you’re at a labor, you can hear the loudest thought on everyone’s mind— you know what I mean?
And I heard him say, “Oh my God, what should I do?” And I just kind of was very, very quiet and very… tried to be very invisible because he was the doc, okay? And I just said, “Just catch the baby.” And he did. And then he looked at me and I said, “Well, see it’s already torn up under there. Go ahead and pull the membrane off the baby’s head.” And he did. And then he was on hands and knees and he just turned the baby toward her and slipped the baby up under her body to where she could gaze down at her baby. I mean, that was an amazing experience for me.
And I tell this story all the time. Why? Because some doctors are so amazing and wise and caring, and we have to tell their stories too. I mean, I agree that midwives are, they bring a lot of hearts and they are intuitive and they’re more relaxed about birth, you know? But whenever I hear a good story about a doc, I wanna pass that on to, you know…
Adriana: Absolutely! I love that story. So we do have a few more stages to go through. So, if, yeah, we should start wrapping it up, unfortunately.
Whapio: Okay, and I can do that So, baby’s born! Then there’s this return where nothing happens that you could see even though amazing things are happening in the fetus. And then a mother will pick up her baby. And it’s obvious that she puts her baby kind of, like, on her, on her belly, and usually that’s where the placenta is, okay?
So meanwhile, while she is, you know, looking at her partner and looking at me for reassurance sometimes, and looking at her baby and getting acquainted, and then, so I call this Acquaintance. This is important. This is where family is woven, really right here.
And then I see her go, she then… she bumps it up to where she widens the circle. She may even call me over and say, “Come here, look at our baby.” Or she might be like, “Come here, Mom,” or “Call my mom,” or “Bring the kids closer. Come here, kids.” And she’s excited! Now she’s back in Beta, okay? And I call this Coming into Union— with her larger family, her tribe, that kind of thing. And that takes a couple of, you know, these are quick stages of labor.
But what’s happening here that you couldn’t see is that she’s got the baby now, like, on her belly, and the placenta knows that she has her baby. So the placenta will now begin to separate. Usually the placenta will never separate before she picks up her baby, alright? Then that’s because we know that the placenta’s the baby’s advocate, the baby’s lifeline.
We do know that the placenta in those first five minutes is downloading one third of the baby’s blood. But we also know that if for some reason something happened, alright? And the baby wasn’t… you know, respirations weren’t changing, or the mother wasn’t there, that the placenta could switch back to a two-way street and continue to oxygenate the baby, alright?
But usually when the mom picks up her baby and the placenta feels that weight and movement of the baby that will initiate the first post-birth contraction. It’ll take about three contractions before the placenta comes off. It will slip down into the vaginal canal, vaginal vault, and the next stage of labor is completion.
Make no mistake that every woman births twice! She births a baby and she births a placenta (the baby’s advocate). And I feel like both of these are very important births. We tend to think that the placenta as an afterthought, the afterbirth, the afterthought. And it doesn’t matter how, a woman births her placenta. I would beg to differ. I feel like it’s really important the way that she births her placenta. And I feel like many moms wish to be conscious and focused during the birth of their placenta.
So this is what I see with completion. I see that usually, after she picks up her baby and gets acquainted and brings her larger tribe in, I feel like the baby stays awake. You know, the baby has that adrenaline rush of their own, okay? And that gives the baby the “oomph” to lift their head and be birthed and relate to their surroundings. And I find that babies are usually born and then aware for a good hour, and then they kind of fall off to sleep. Maybe they’ll have nursed and and whatnot, and then they fall off to sleep.
And then oftentimes I see a woman will kind of put the baby down. And attend to birthing her placenta. Sometimes I don’t look for placenta for 45 minutes or an hour, alright? Because I feel that the mother’s not ready to birth her placenta yet. Now I know where her placenta is. I know it’s not in the uterus or partially separated. I can tell by looking at the contours of her abdomen that her placenta is in the vagina, and we don’t have to worry about it. And there’s no rush. Okay? There’s no rush.
And then when that baby kind of falls off to sleep, I see a mother become very conscious again and focus on birthing her placenta. And so I call this part of the labor The Completion. Now the birth is complete: baby and placenta are born. And then, for me, the last stage of labor is the one that kind of goes on forever. It’s The Weaving of the Story. Everybody has the story of this transformational event. The mother, the father, the mother-in-law, the midwives, the doula. Everyone has a piece of this amazing transformation.
So I’ll tell you what I used to do. I used to take the placenta, alright? And, sometimes moms would want lotus birth. Sometimes they’d like the cord cut, you know, at a couple of hours or something. And I would put the placenta in the fridge. I might give it a quick look, but then I would put it in the fridge.
And usually like on day three, I would come back and I would ask the family if they would like to do a placenta reading. And what we would do is we would get the placenta out and now, you know, mom’s had a couple of days to learn her nursing relationship with the baby and, you know, get the baby introduced to everyone.
And now it’s time to look at this baby’s advocate, baby’s twin. And we will get the placenta out and we’ll look at it. I will show them the maternal side, the fetal side. The tree of light. The bag of waters. We’ll just remark on how interesting and beautiful it is. And I will do something that I call a placenta reading, which is… it’s not gypsy fortune telling or anything, it’s kind of just looking at the placenta, all of us together and weaving the story of the birth and talking about what occurs to us as we have the mother, the dad, the baby, the placenta, the doula, all come back and, bring closure. Witness closure to this art and act of transformation. And then, weave the story. And truly, that weaving goes on forever because five years later, moms still wanna talk about that birth. They’re still learning and they’re still applying the great lessons of transformation to their lives— to the next birth, to their families, to their daughter’s lives. And so it goes. So for me, that’s it. That’s The Holistic Stages of Birth.
Adriana: Those are fantastic and they’re… you can tell they’re seamless, but I like that you’ve learned it from seeing it over and over again, and being able to witness and realize, “Wait!” like you said about people birthing their babies and setting them down and saying, “Well, no, that can’t be right. No, that can’t be right. But it keeps happening. So I’m the one that must be wrong, ’cause it keeps happening. There must be something to it.”
Whapio: I mean, and have you ever seen the movie Birth in the Squatting Position?
Adriana: Oh yeah, yeah.
Whapio: Well, if you notice, none of those mothers pick up their babies right away. That’s exactly what I’m talking about. You should watch it again. And see how none of those mothers pick up their babies. It’s so interesting. It is organic. Yes. Thanks for mentioning that it’s… it is based, you know— all of this holistic stages— is based on an organic physiology, truly.
Adriana: And I’m so glad that you were able to come here to tell us all about it and, and answer all my questions. And the thing about weaving the story— be it five years, 10 years, 20 years, 50 years— like, that’s one thing you never stop talking about.
Whapio: Right? Yeah.
Adriana: Whenever someone finds out I’m a doula, that’s what they wanna tell me, their birth story.
Whapio: Yep! So great
Adriana: Yeah. And it’s an honor, right? To be able… Yes, I will listen, please tell me your birth story. Keep learning from it, because every time you tell it, you learn more.
Whapio: Yes. Yes. Mhm.
Adriana: It’s been a delight to have you on today.
Whapio: Well, thank you so much for having me.
That was independent elder midwife Whapio Dianne Bartlett, who has been involved in the realm of birth since the mid-80s. Whapio directs The Matrona programs where she teaches about Quantum Midwifery and the holistic witnessing of birth to return it to the family. You can find Whapio on Instagram @whapio_and_thematrona or learn more at thematrona.com and Matrona is spelled M-A-T-R-O-N-A.
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Birthful is created and produced by me, Adriana Lozada, with production assistance from Aysia Platte.
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And then come back for more ways to inform your intuition.
Lozada, Adriana, host. “Transformation Through the Holistic Stages of Birth (Part Two).” Birthful, Birthful. March 15, 2023. Birthful.com.
Whapio has been an independent midwife for more than three decades. In 2001, when she retired from active midwifery, she founded The Matrona, with its quantum midwifery and holistic doula program designed to educate birthworkers and provide a balance of the practical and intuitive aspects of birth. She also teaches homeopathy and is affiliated with the Hahnemann Academy of North America (HANA). Additionally, she has studied homeopathy and Qigong with Robin Murphy, ND for over twenty years. Plus she has explored healing modalities via The Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine and the Beijing Massage Hospital in China. She is a community mediator and counselor for family concerns. She enjoys speaking and writing on the topics of quantum midwifery and returning birth to the family. Whapio developed and shared the Holistic Stages of Birth with families and caregivers in order to reframe the process of labor in language that best describes the transformative journey of birth.
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