Pregnancy is a great time to realize what the heck motivates your choices as you venture into the great transformation of birth and becoming a parent. Nekole Malia Shapiro shares with Adriana how using the embodied approach of connecting with yourself and your body can help you find your own best expert birth guide, while also building the awesome habit of bringing more oxytocin into your life.
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- A video of Nekole from Birth Uncut, with a great self-connection exercise at the end
- A Radical Approach to Healing Yourself & Helping Others Do the Same, a podcast interview from Nekole for Taking Back Birth, on healing yourself and helping others do the same
- 5 Ways to Strengthen Your Connection to Yourself, PsychCentral
- Release the Flow of Oxytocin for Emotional and Relationship Health, Love & Life Toolbox
Related Birthful episodes:
- Birth Principles, Better than a Birth Plan
- How Your Nervous System Impacts Your Pregnancy and Birth
- Dealing with Birth Fears
- Sex After Baby
Getting Comfortable with the Intimate Nature of Birth
Adriana Lozada: Welcome to Birthful, Mighty Parent or Parent-To-Be. I’m Adriana Lozada and I’m just so excited that you’re here for this fantastic conversation with Nekole Malia Shapiro which is part of our Birth Beyond the Clinical Experience series.
Ok, so we know that pregnancy and birth involve a great deal of transformation, so much transformation, and as you prepare for facing all this change, it can be so immensely helpful to figure out how to connect with yourself and realize what the heck motivates your choices. Right?
So the question is: Where do you start?
Well, Nekole is here today to help us look at this exploration through an embodied lens, and she proposes that by connecting with your body you can find your own best expert guide for birth.
So then, let me tell you a little bit about Nekole. Nekole Maria Shapiro is the creator of Holistic Peer Counseling, where she’s become a go-to resource for parents, birth pros, sex educators, activists, and countless others searching to bring the human back to humanity, and I love that so much. Along with being a second-generation grassroots organizer, and educator, Nekole combines a lifetime of bodywork experience with her Columbia University pre-medical and cultural anthropology studies.
This conversation was just so delightful and juicy, and I love how Nekole’s approach toward getting comfortable with the intimate nature of birth can also get you into the awesome habit of bringing more oxytocin into your whole life, and who doesn’t want that?
You’re listening to Birthful. Here to inform your intuition.
Adriana: Nekole, it is so fantastic to have you here. Welcome.
Nekole Shapiro: Thank you, Adriana. I’m excited too.
Adriana: And I like this idea of you, your whole scope being, trying to bring the human back to humanity.
Nekole: Yeah, for sure.
Adriana: That is such a heartwarming, you know, goal.
Nekole: I just think that’s where it all starts.
Adriana: Yeah. No, and I absolutely, and I really appreciate how you look at birth and all the work that you’ve done to help alter the current culture of birth. And, and it goes obviously into that main, that big goal of human into humanity. Tell me a bit more of how you got there.
Nekole: How I got there? That’s a great question. Well, it’s a long journey, you know? I think. The more that I am in the continental United States, ’cause I grew up in Hawaii, and the way that I put it is I grew up going to an ashram, raised by a single mom that was running a massage school and I did a lot of theater in Hawaii and then I left at 18 and I went to New York City, to Columbia University.
So I had this huge, like, culture shock thing happen. Which did a lot to humanize the other for me, actually, like being able to go from, you know, a lower socioeconomic background (marginalized in our own ways) to, like, being at the hub of everything, you know what I mean?
This Ivy League institution— which I didn’t even know what “Ivy League” meant at that time— being in Manhattan and meeting people that I had not been anywhere near growing up. And then them being my roommates and my friends and the grandparents that took me out to eat, and all these kinds of things. And it really gave me this… it humanized the “other” for me.
Adriana: It’s so incredible how travel can do that for you, just being exposed to something different out of your comfort zone.
Nekole: And it was hell uncomfortable. I mean, I was definitely, like, terrified a lot of the time. Not sure if I was allowed to exist, like, you know, there was definitely a lot of discomfort. But after 15 years of living there and marrying my East Coast Jewish husband and you know, all the different influences, having the massage clients I had and the mentors that I had.
When it came to the giving birth, I was still a bit split, I would say. I would still say, I had sort of left a big part of where I came from at that point, and was much more academic and much more in the world of New York City. By then, I had been there probably 14 years, and it was in the birth of my first child in a New York City hospital with, you know, someone who I thought was probably the most progressive OB I could have gotten. And, coming out of that and almost feeling the two parts of myself had been at odds in the birthing process, instead of really working together in the birthing process.
And, it re-stimulated some of my PTSD from 9/11. I had been downtown in the middle of 9/11 and I had PTSD and it had re-stimulated some of it, and nobody really knew that until I moved to Seattle and I had been interviewing midwives for my second birth. And one of the midwives here asked me if it had re-stimulated my PTSD, and I immediately started crying and I felt like ‘How did she know that? I never told that to anybody.’
And as I started to prepare for that second birth, I was getting into my later second trimester I think, when this all started to really happen. I started feeling that opportunity for these parts of myself to really start to merge together instead of being at odds, I had set up the second birth completely different.
I was gonna have… I had a home birth in the basement of my house here in Seattle and I had a midwife with a good amount of experience, but still, you know, I didn’t go unassisted. You know… I mean, I was still, like— again, kind of skating that world between, you know, myself in these two worlds and like, how much was I gonna be what I was raised in, and how much was I gonna be this person that I had grown into in New York.
And it was… It just had that humanizing effect. It’s like everybody becomes more human the more I become more human, if that makes any sense. The more I can see myself and like the complexities of myself, and how I even was at odds with myself and getting the parts of myself that were at odds with each other to, you know, have a marriage of sorts. And come to terms with each other so that I didn’t beat myself up for being in a hospital with my first baby, but understood that who I was at that time, that was the best choice that I had made for myself at that time.
And that also helps me to then humanize, you know, anybody else that’s in a hospital setting, because those are the best choices they’re making at that time, if that makes sense.
Adriana: And I find that becoming a mother is one of the most humanizing things you can do. And when people tell you “You won’t understand until you’re…” you know, “You won’t get it [until] you’re a parent.” And then you become a parent and you go, “Oh, shit! Yeah, this.”
Nekole: Right! Really?
Adriana: And, and then you… the first thing you do is you probably appreciate your mom a hell of a lot more, because you realize what they went through, that you had no clue, and you’re, you know, individual person not caring for other selfish way where, you know, viewing them through that lens and going like, “You’re such a loser,” and “You’re such a this,” and “You’re such that.” When in fact you got to that other side and go like, “Oh, okay.” Humbling.
Nekole: Totally! The first thing, when I got my first daughter home from the hospital (and I got us out of there as soon as I possibly could), I was… you know, so first time I’d ever been a patient in a hospital. So I had not really grasped what that would be like, you know? And then here I was and I was like, “Get me out of here, as fast as you can!”
And, so I’m home and I’ve got this little tiny being on my chest and all I can feel and think about is how I moved thousands of miles away from my mother. And how this little being that feels still so much “me” will probably do that same thing to me one day. And I mean, the tears were just… It’s like I felt the pain my mom felt around me moving an ocean in a continent from her, you know?
Adriana: Absolutely. So the topic of this show today, and is supposed to be, Birth is an Intimate Event. And I was talking to you a little bit beforehand that I wasn’t quite sure how to approach that, but I really wanted to talk about it.
Adriana: So can you lead us into that?
Nekole: Yeah, for sure. So I think there’s multiple levels to birth being an intimate, intimate event. And one I already spoke a bit about, which was the humanizing of myself as I walked into the birth room the second time. Because there’s intimacy with myself and then there’s intimacy with others. And I will say that I’m a pretty firm believer that both of them feed on each other. So the more deeply I can connect with myself, the more self-love I can have. The more I can reduce the impacts of self-hatred and shame on who I am in each breath I take, let’s say. The more readily capable I am to connect with another human being in all of who they are.
So, both in the preparation for birth, and in the birth itself, and then in parenting after the birth, this awareness and this general philosophy is informing a lot of what I do. Both what I did with myself and what I do with the people that work with me, at whatever phase they are. I mean, I have some people that work with me, you know, years later after giving birth or even, they’re not even parents yet, but they think maybe one day they’ll want to be.
So, since we’re focusing on birth, what I’ll say is when people come to me prenatally, part of what I have to assess is how connected they are to themselves intimately, and how connected they are to each other intimately, because I’m a firm believer in working with people from where they are.
So if I have somebody in front of me— you know, if I have people in front of me, for instance, that, you know, the relationship’s in fabulous shape, they’re super connected, and they have a lot of self-awareness and they’re, you know, they have practices in self-care, you know?— we work from a different level than if I have somebody that comes in and they’re fighting and they’ve never meditated in their lives or, you know, they have no concept of self-care. So, right? It varies depending on who comes.
But what I’m talking to right there even is intimacy, right? That’s my awareness of who I’m about to connect with intimately. I don’t get to just assert intimacy, right? I have to, like, be aware and cognizant and gentle with who I’m working with and how they show up.
So what I usually do is start with wherever they’re at, whoever they are. I have to do a lot of focusing on myself as well to make sure that I’m not triggered by whatever’s going on with them, so that I can stay grounded and present to who is actually in front of me. And then I’ll just work from where they are to bring them a little bit deeper into themselves and a little bit more connected to each other. Because I grew up in bodywork and meditation and yoga practices, that tends to be my skill set, right?
But I have more and more Christian people showing up to work with me. And so as I learn about the tools that they’ve been handed within their structure, then we’ll work with that, right? So if somebody comes to me and they’ve done a lot of prayer throughout their lives, well, then let’s use that, right? I don’t need them to, like, focus on their Kundalini just because, just because that’s what I do, right?
Adriana: They’re like “kunda-what?!”
Nekole: Yeah! Right? I don’t need to give them a whole, like, lesson in the culture and practices that I grew up in. We can use what and again, right? That’s intimacy. That’s like me knowing them and them knowing me and us, like, having that dialogue.
Another one is cultures that use dance a lot, you know, like if that’s a way for them to connect to themselves, the focus is to bring themselves deeper into who they are— which usually is quite cathartic. I haven’t yet to meet somebody who has no self-hatred.
Adriana: So to go a little deeper into that… like, those would be the different tools that you use, depending on what’s a good sort of technique for them, whether it’s prayer, whether it’s body work, whether it’s dancing. But what is it that… the transformation that you’re looking for, or that you assist with, or that happens within them?
Nekole: They become more connected to themselves and they become more connected to each other. So what we have is, often we have patterns living our lives or stories living our lives that have been incorporated into who we are, based on the culture that we’re in, the family that we grow up in. And we may or may not agree with those things.
We may or may not want to be living our lives that way. I use the body as a major focus point because that’s just where I come from. So the idea is to bring us back into ourselves so that we can more intimately connect to ourselves so that we can make choices in our life that represent who we actually are and what we actually want to do.
So we can apply that to birth in the sense of like— here’s a good example I’ll run into. So, generally speaking, I have a higher percentage of homebirth people that work with me than your average, like if you looked at the national numbers.
So generally the people that work with me, want to not use medication, maybe they wanna be at home. And people come to that choice for a variety of reasons, right? I have the people that come to that because they are super connected to their bodies, and they want birth to be an experience of being very connected to their bodies. And then I have people that come to me that they do it because they’ve read all the reasons they should be scared of the hospital, right? And those are two drastically different reasons to decide to have, let’s say, a homebirth.
So I will do a lot of work with that person that says, “You know, I’m so terrified of the hospital,” because the fear right now is what is dictating their choice. And because it’s the fear that’s dictating their choice, I’m not yet sure if this is actually their choice. Does that make sense?
Adriana: It does! Because the fear can be, you know, if you go deeper into it, they could have a completely different reason that has nothing to do necessarily with the hospital.
Nekole: Right, exactly. Exactly. So when we’re not intimately connected to ourselves, we’re more readily tousled around by the opinions of others— by whatever we read, wherever we read it, by whatever we watch. So the purpose in a… beyond just getting ourselves physically ready to birth, there’s also this very practical piece, which is to say, “Well, let’s really get to what you’re processing here, so that when you make a choice, you’re making the best choice for you, from you,” not because you know, I don’t know, “List all the different people that wanna tell you how you should birth your baby,” right?
So that’s a very practical example of why we want to be more intimately connected to ourselves so that we really make sure that the choices that we’re making out in the world are a reflection of who we are, and who we want to show up as in the world. And then that also translates into how we wanna birth our baby.
Adriana: And you made a great point, is that, especially during childbirth and parenting and pregnancy, it can be a really overwhelming moment in life because there’s so many new things thrown at you. Like all these books, and all these choices, and all the things—
Nekole: Oh my God. Oh, yeah.
Adriana: —can get overwhelming to a point of, you know, decision fatigue, of just losing sight of just saying, “I don’t know what I want,” and feeling lost within yourself.
Nekole: For sure. For sure. And what I know from trauma is that is trauma, right? Like, if I am not in myself… Because the other thing I was gonna say about this, is the other side of that is then when whatever happens is what happens, I have personal responsibility on the flip side too, right? Like, “I chose to,” for instance, I chose to birth that baby in a hospital and I didn’t really get real with myself about all the details of what was gonna happen to me when I got in that hospital. I had some ideas, but I really didn’t get really clear about… there were things I stayed in denial about, let’s put it that way. And so when I come out the flip side and I’m a little broken, like part of what puts me back together is me recognizing that I did choose to put myself in that setting.
And actually I think that the more aware of my choices I am and the more conscious I can be of making those choices, the less impact the trauma has on me on the flip side, even if things happen outside of my control. Does that make sense?
Adriana: Because it was something that happened, but not that it happened to you.
Adriana: It happened because of circumstances and, you know, you can own a little bit more.
Nekole: Yeah. I mean, I just feel more in myself, right? So “information fatigue” is a great word. I mean, it’s like, it’s information battery almost sometimes it feels like, right? And especially when you’re talking about something as deep and primal and intimate as birth. You know,
I mean, it’s like the places that I had to go in myself to prepare for my second baby. I don’t think any other thing could have taken me there, if that makes sense. It’s like here I was, super pregnant— I think I’m remembering this meeting I had with some friends on a couch, at my couch— and I’m like really facing down this second baby and remembering how I didn’t like a lot of what I felt like after my first one, and so I was anticipating the second one, and I was imagining that I had prepared differently. I mean, I had done a lot differently for myself, prepared in very different ways I, and set up things in very different ways, but I still didn’t really know what was gonna happen, and to sit with that fear and really process the things that came up and to cry the tears and to speak all the thoughts, you know? And then I turned around and I was in labor for almost three days with my second baby.
Adriana: Not quick! Not the quick second baby.
Nekole: Not quick, nope. And you know, the truth is, is that’s me. I like to be very aware of every step. I like things to be really… you know, I almost picture an elephant. It’s like, I like to be really, like, present and aware and really taking the information from each morsel of something that happens to my body. But the… what I… the reason I brought it up was because after two days of me being in labor, I mean, I really had worn my team out. And nothing swayed me. I was like, “What? I’m having a baby.” Like, you know, I knew I could watch them, like, wearing out, and it didn’t… it just didn’t sway me. I wasn’t worried.
And, and my midwife told me later that she, that the midwife conversations outside of the room were like… you know, they were starting to get worried because we were going on day three. But they just, you know, I so wasn’t.
Adriana: As a doula, I had an experience once… It wasn’t a three-day birth, but it was a two-day birth at a hospital. Mind you, with a mama that she was— and she’s lovely, I love her so much because of that— I mean, she was so like you were saying, you were good with it. She was so good with it. This thing was taking a long time and she was just chugging along and standing and taking little naps and I’m like, “How you doing?” And she would just smile and go like, “I’m good. Everything’s good.” You know, Hour 36. And she’s like, “I’m good. Everything’s good.”
Adriana: Well, we’ll keep doing this. Meanwhile, dad and I are like, “Shit!” Taking naps wherever we can.
Nekole: I mean, it is hard, right? I mean, we’ve got all these hormones coursing through us to help us do it, and that was part of what I knew. You know? We actually have this really magical story because my mom had been… I went into labor almost two weeks early and my mom was scheduled to fly in and you know, she made this joke when I went into labor, “You better not have this baby before I get there.” But I knew that was three days later and I was like, “God, I hope not,” you know, at the beginning of the labor.
But sure enough, she walks in and she, you know, she’s been a doula trainer probably 15 to 20 years now, and she’s been at a lot of births. And so in walks my, you know, mother doula, basically. And she’s fresh! We sent the other doula home ’cause she’d been there overnight. The midwives, you know, were sort of back and forth. They kept coming and checking me and then leaving and checking me and then leaving. And then my mom shows up, you know, and she looks at me and she’s like, “How you doing?” And again, let’s talk about some intimacy, right? This is my mother, and I said, “They want me to, like, go to sleep! And they want me to take this stuff to slow my uterus down. And I… what’s the… what?” My mom goes, she stares me straight in the eye, you know, she says, “Well, what do you wanna do?”
And I was like, “I wanna have a baby,” you know? So, she says, “Well, alright, let’s have a baby.” And there were hours and hours of it just being me and my mom, her hands on me.
That was the other thing. I mean, touch is a big thing for me and I think I saw that in that birth. Like my other doula was pretty hands-off, used the TENS unit, and that was just not the same thing as having my mom’s hands pushing on my sacrum and, you know, all the communication that happens around touch for me.
Adriana: Yeah. And you knew she was coming.
Nekole: And I knew she was.
Adriana: So that’s such a… thank you for sharing that.
Nekole: Yeah, sure.
Adriana: But to get to that place, individually… it’s both individually and culturally and at, on all levels, it’s difficult culturally. Like it is difficult to get to that, you know, place where you were, you were able to get to.
Nekole: Yeah. I’m forever learning how difficult it is and I will say, you know, sometimes I just cry about it because oh, it’s such a valuable place!
Adriana: So I think a lot of what’s important and I think this keeps coming up in all these shows that I do, is the whole rethinking of birth. And it can be scary because, you know, we’ve been doing this— you, I, birth workers in general— we’ve been doing this for a while, and we all started in a place. You were in a hospital in New York City. I didn’t have a doula. Like, we all started in a place where birth was what we culturally knew. And maybe for me more than you, because you had that different background growing up, but I think a big part of the general population culturally tends to think of birth as a scary physical event that is fortunately (“fortunately”) supervised and taken care of by “professionals.” Again, quote-unquote “in the event something goes wrong”— and thank goodness they’re there when something goes wrong.
Nekole: Right, right. Yeah. I see it so differently.
Adriana: There was a— in the birth stories that I’m sharing, I have permission to share. I just wanted to put that out there— but I had a second-time client who ended up… it was… this was a fun story. Her first birth was very different than her second birth. Her first birth, she made the choices she wanted to, but she was like, “I loved my epidural! It was great. It was fantastic.” Right? And then the second time around she’s like, “Ugh!” But we had separation because of infection and all this, and “I don’t wanna do the epidural this time because of my temperature, but… I really loved my epidural. How can we do this?” And she was doing HypnoBirthing and they live out of the country… And she’s gonna go, “Oh, you’re telling my story!” but I have permission, she’s given me permission. Hi, Tammy!
Nekole: Hi, Tammy!
Adriana: Tammy, thank you for letting us share your story. So she doesn’t live here in Rochester anymore. She lives out of the country, and they came back to give birth. So they were staying at a hotel like a month beforehand. And she called me and she was doing HypnoBirthing, very calm. Her water broke at midnight and she’s like, “You know, I’m good. No, nothing much.” And I’m like, “Well, just, you know, stay in bed,” you know, “Let the midwives know, but just stay in bed.” And whenever, and then she called me at 7:00 a.m. saying “Things are more intense, but we’re good. We’re so happy here.” Later I found out that they were all like dad and their son all in bed, just having, like, a really… she calls it my “kumbaya moment,” like really calm and breathing. She would check out for a contraction and come back into it. This was at 7:00 a.m,. she called me, said, “Do you want me?” “No, whenever.”
Adriana: At 8:00 a.m. I get a text message from her husband saying “Things are more intense.” And it’s him texting, right? And I go, “Well, does she wanna go to the hospital? Does she want me over?” And he says, “You, yes. Hospital, no.” Okay? And I’m like, “Okay, great. I am on my way.” I get there, like, at 8:26. He called me at 8:00 a.m., I get there at 8:26 a.m., baby was born at 8:15 a.m.
Nekole: Yeah. Right, right. That’s right.
Adriana: And she got up and she felt like, “Oh, I feel like I need to go to the bathroom.” It wasn’t the bathroom, you know? She gave birth in the bathroom, though. That was nice for cleanup. And everybody that she tells her story to says, “Oh my God, thank goodness you were okay!”
Nekole: Oh, interesting. Really?
Adriana: Right. They’re like, “Oh gosh, how scary for you? Thank goodness you were okay!”
Nekole: Oh, wow. Such a different population of people than I talk to.
Adriana: Right, right. Well, and she would’ve never set up a homebirth for herself! She loved her epidural. But when we were debriefing the birth afterwards she was saying, “I keep getting this message from everybody, saying ‘Thank goodness you’re okay!’ And that, ‘Oh, everything was fine.’ And ‘Oh my goodness, how scary!'” And in her mind she was like, “You understand that actually it was really beautiful and it was a great thing!” ’cause the level of relaxation that she had earlier at 7:00 a.m. in that bed, she was telling me “I don’t know if I could’ve been that relaxed—
Adriana: —at the hospital with the machines and the things…” She had already done that birth, right?
Nekole: That was why I kept trying to get out of the hospital. I was like “Stop interrupting me!”
Adriana: Right?! But, but she was… she was not, you know, she wasn’t there. It’s all about what you were talking about, like, where we’re at it. Once it happened to her, she was so happy about her birth.
Nekole: A beautiful story.
Yeah. Well, I mean, you start to talk about that and I start thinking about like, you know, the history that— or the herstory— that gets us here, gets us to where, birth moved to the hospital and it was taken from the home and women and given basically over to men, because at that time that was who the doctors were. And then now we find ourselves in this, you know, she’s… that’s a microcosm of the macrocosm of the culture of birth right now. And how those of us that know this experience— that you just described, that she had— that know that that is birth. How do we now get that to happen more and get it to be organized around that happening?
Right? That’s what I hadn’t— personally hadn’t— anticipated in the hospital, was how much they would feel comfortable interrupting me. How entitled they would feel to taking over the space while I was giving birth. I hadn’t anticipated that really, and I certainly couldn’t anticipate how distracting it would be and how hard it would be to birth in that type of a situation.
Adriana: This is the double-edged sword. The difficulty of shining a light to the possibility of that experience of birth as an intimate and transformative event for yourself, that happens the best when you don’t have interventions.
Adriana: Knowing that that is so at odds with the experience that 99… 90-something percent of people will have, and then how to not have the listeners, who are pregnant and excited about their pregnancy and looking forward to their birth, be scared about that that’s possibly coming. And how to make it better because it’s not like “Everybody go run and have a homebirth,” ’cause that’s not a good option for everybody either. You know, it’s… you gotta choose it yourself, like you were saying. What are the choices you are making intimately?
Nekole: Right! Exactly. That’s exactly it. You know, I was just talking to somebody— last night, actually— about embodiment. They had talked about the words “embodiment” and “discernment.” So “embodiment” is the term, right? My birth curriculum, for instance, is Embodied Birth… Okay, I wanna say two things. So first, I’ll finish this and then I wanna say something about the intimate space. They were talking about this sense of intuition, like, knowing, and I said I often give that less… I focus less on a knowing as I more focus on a choice and a willingness, because you know, you can have a hunch, but you don’t always know.
And I think there’s been this desire to have the intuition know. And I more like to think of the intuition as something that helps me make my choice. Because then if it isn’t what I thought it was, I’m less likely to be thrown, right? If the emphasis is on me knowing then and it doesn’t happen the way I “knew” it was gonna happen, I’m more likely to be confused and thrown off my center, than if I recognize that I have made a choice, right? Does that make sense?
Adriana: Yeah. And especially when we’re not, in general, in tune with our intuition, so it’s… that’s a muscle that hasn’t been worked. We don’t trust it that much so it’s hard to suddenly, all of a sudden, at this point in time, you’re going to wish for trusting that intuition and then you feel let down when it doesn’t work, right?
Nekole: Right! As opposed to being like, “My work is to try and continue to connect with my intuition and then make the best choices I can from that space that I can.”
So the other thing that I wanted to say that informed the Embodied Birth curriculum a lot— and actually, the first course I ever created was, More Oxytocin, Please: Increasing intimacy in the birthing room— so I used a lot of the science of oxytocin to pull everything together. So, you know, I mean, I’m not saying I haven’t ever supported births in hospitals. I most definitely have, and many of them have been lovely and beautiful and wonderful, and what we focus on is how to bring as much intimacy and oxytocin generation into that setting as possible. So, you know, there’s a lot of things to think about. Like— this actually wasn’t a hospital birth, it was a birthing center birth— but I had a couple that I was working with that really were, like, making out during labor, really worked very well for them, but they were very uncomfortable with anybody being around while they were making out.
And so they would make out and then, you know, I would leave the room, they’d make out, and then her contractions would pick up and they’d want me to come in because she wanted me to massage her hips. It was this, like, back-and-forth thing where it was like they wanted to make out ’cause that helped the oxytocin get going, but then it was uncomfortable for them to do that with another person in the room.
And so we were like jocking back and forth in that setting. Right? So there’s things like that to consider, like “What are the things that get you…?”— you spoke of Tammy’s hallelujah moment, right? Like, “What are the things in our family dynamic in our partnership that help us get to those hallelujah moments?”
Adriana: Yeah, she called it “kumbaya.” But yeah, same thing.
Nekole: “Kumbaya,” sorry. Kumbaya! “Kumbaya moments.” So as we can, you know, this is some of the information gathering that I’ll do with prenatal clients, is help them try and find those moments. A lot of times they don’t even notice they happen because they’re a bit altered, altered state-y. You know, like people will kind of flow into that kumbaya moment and not even notice that it happened. So getting them to the awareness level where they can actually start to go, “Oh, that was that, what I could also call ‘an oxytocin moment.’ That was that moment where I felt super close to that person. Time stood still. I was very in the moment, very aware of what was happening. There wasn’t a lot of fear. Probably no fear.” And so trying to find naturally what those moments are within the dynamic of their current lives and using those as preparation for the birth and learning how you’re gonna integrate them into the birth itself. Does that make sense?
Adriana: Absolutely, absolutely. Some of what I encourage my doula clients to do is give themself pleasure moments— but meaning not just go and have sex, but or make out or whatever.
Nekole: Yeah. No, there’s like… it could be tea, it could be a smell.
Adriana: I have them like, eat your favorite food alone at home. Not watched, not out in a restaurant, but just, you know, really savor that thing. Or have a dance party or have… Yeah, it’s finding what works for them that gives them that, what you’re talking about, that feeling of “Oh! So delicious and yummy.”
Nekole: Right, right, right.
Adriana: —so that they can practice it. Yeah.
Nekole: To me that’s increasing intimacy, right? Like, that practice, just to be home. I mean, you said that, and I immediately could feel myself biting into a chocolate truffle. And to really… like, that increases my awareness of myself, my sensations, my body, how it’s responding. So that, to me, is a level of intimacy. What is interesting to start to run into (and this is how I am forever learning from whomever works with me and whomever talks with me) is the discomfort, triggers, shame, the list of things that keep people from that—
Nekole: —keep people from that pleasure. You know, like, even for myself. I don’t know if ten years ago I could have done that practice that you were saying specifically with food, and probably not with a chocolate truffle, because of all the kind of body image stuff that I had imposed upon me, being in theater. And my father’s a real workout nut, right?
So it’s like there’s the, like, the isolated desired intent of the practice. And then there’s the very real complications in the way of the practice. And I think that this is the way that for me— you know, this is what yogic traditions have been all about for me is getting ourselves in these, and my path was an ascetic path, so it’s almost like “Let’s put ourselves in discomfort so we can find all the triggers so that we can clear them, so that we can find bliss in even the most austere experiences.”
Yeah, so there’s like the practice itself. So if the practice is to sit with alone with your own favorite food and eat it, the person could also be triggered by being alone. They could be triggered by food. They could, right? There’s all these other things. So creating the space for those things to get cleared so that you really can have that incredible experience of sitting alone with your favorite food and fully bringing in the sensory experience of that.
Adriana: What are some of the— I’m not gonna say “tips,” skills, I’m not gonna say tips— what are some suggestions for ways to help clear those discomforts so that you can get to a point where then you actually release the oxytocin?
Nekole: Well, I often say throw a lot of fits!
So the holistic peer counseling work and the embodiment work is a lot of this, and it takes practice, right? It’s like especially because we sort of live in an emotion bodyshamed world, right?
Like, bringing the “human” back to “humanity.” A lot of what that is for me is to recognize that human beings need attention. Where attention is often seen as a bad word, human beings have, we are incredibly expressive, erotic human beings, like, beings, like, that’s part of being human! And so much of that has been vilified and commodified and reclaiming that is important. And so, so that we can be us, right? So we really can show up as us in the world.
So if what happens is, for instance, Adriana has this amazing practice to go and, you know, to suggest to your clients that you get this food and you go and you sit is what you know, what comes up even when you just suggest it?
So you suggest it, and then how is that for you? What comes up for you when I say that? And so then that gives… that already gives rise to the opportunity for clearing to begin. If they say, “Oh my God, but you know, I don’t have the money for that.” Or “Well, my favorite food is really something I shouldn’t eat.” Or “Oh my God, I can’t wait to do it. Let’s leave right now and let me just do it.” All that, all those stories are part of the clearing.
Another part of the clearing could be “I feel like crying.” Another part of the clearing could be the memories that come up of the food. “I remember when I used to eat this with my grandmother and my grandmother’s passed away and wow, she was such an amazing human being” and you know, all of that. So, so much I think really is about releasing the shame around the complexities and variety of experiences that we have as, you know, human beings living moment to moment. Does that make sense?
Adriana: It does. Absolutely. Yeah, because another thing that I suggest to my clients to do is to journal or to actually sit with, think about the fears they have about this birth and go deeper. Is it fear of intervention or is it fear of, you know, what is it deeper that you get? And I don’t always tell them to go eat cake. I tell them they can dance. I tell them they can…
Nekole: Yeah. Right, right. Sure. There’s so many practices.
Adriana: No, but I like the… I like that next level of, what did that bring up for you? Because it is in that awareness of you acknowledging the feeling that things get cleared.
Adriana: I find myself every time more and more realizing that to prepare for birth, you actually have to do a lot of introspective work beforehand, which seems even harder than just going and taking a childbirth class.
Nekole: Oh, yeah.
Adriana: Which is all external— like the childbirth class, reading the magazines, getting the OB— like all that is immense, great preparation on the outside. And then you get into birth and it hits you.
Nekole: Yeah. I mean that, you know, you, as soon as you said that, you know, again, I was back to my first birth where it was like I had taken the childbirth education classes at the best place with the best person right, like. And, and just really being on the flip side of that and, you know, part of what really inspired me to follow in my mom’s footsteps and start teaching at all was the awareness of how much was missing from the ways that I had prepped, I had gotten massaged every other week. I had gotten to acupuncture every other week. I had had one of the best doulas in town. I got myself the best OB in town. I went to the best place for childbirth ed, and yet I was not prepared. You know what I mean?
And so as I, as I did this deeper work to prepare for my second, part of what inspired me to start actually, you know, going beyond just my own personal experience and wanting more people to, to have access to the tools that I was using, was because of that. Because it was like, “Has this been erased off of the planet?” like, “Did we used to know this and we don’t anymore?” Where would I have even known to find it? You know, it was like there was all this work that I had done that I know can help people. I know it.
And had someone else known it, but just I had never run into them. You know, I really, because part of my work was really the intersectionality is recognizing birth as a sexual event. Which really when I walked out of that I was like, I think Orgasmic Birth had just come out, right? So then I was like, “Ooh, okay. Someone does know something about this. I’m not the only one that’s aware of this.” You know, because I really, I hadn’t run into it even with a mother who was a doula educator, even with, I was talking to somebody about reading, Spiritual Midwifery my first time. And I didn’t really pull that out of there. It’s in there. But when I read the book, I didn’t… it didn’t really pop out at me as a thing, right?
Adriana: Yeah, it’s kind of between the lines in there.
Nekole: Yeah, exactly. It’s between the lines. And the truth was is that there’s so much noise around sex. There’s so much distraction in the world around sex.
Adriana: And shame too, right?
Nekole: Oh my god, so much shame! I think that’s what gives rise to all the distractions, you know? So, yeah. So I’m hoping that with all of us, you know, yourself included and all the, God, all the amazing people that I have met over the years of focusing on birth. I hope we’re helping people get what they need so that they can have more moments, like more kumbaya moments, ’cause they’re really amazing.
Adriana: Yeah. Yeah.
Nekole: Really amazing, yeah.
Adriana: And then you feel so happy for them, ’cause you know that it doesn’t make it any less tough. It doesn’t make it any less, you know, all the things that birth is, it’s still that.
Nekole: No. Oh, yeah.
Adriana: You are in a better place to be able to ride that wave.
Nekole: There’s like this certainty about who I am today that I feel like I claimed in my second daughter’s birth. There’s this like, “Yeah, that’s me.” Yeah. And it’s a lot to take off. It really is. It takes dedication. It’s a lot of work. It’s not “this is right,” this is my thing about the tips, is it’s like, it’s not just gonna happen because you read a blog, it’s not gonna happen. I mean, I finally wrote a book. I wrote a book on holistic peer counseling work. And it took a long time for me to actually get that book out because I didn’t want people to read the book and think they get it.
Like the book is an entryway into it, but the work, the actual work of doing this is deep and demanding and rewarding, so rewarding. It’s a lot like birth in that way. It’s so much work and it’s so rewarding, but it, you know, you have to have that, you have to really make that commitment to do it.
You really do. So not, not everybody’s ready to do that.
Adriana: No. No. And, but absolutely because so, I’ve started to tell my clients that the work they’re doing during pregnancy, like this hard, introspective work and of really exploring where they’re at is early, early, early, early, early, early pre-labor. Like they’re already in labor.
Nekole: Yeah. Yeah, love it.
Adriana: And whatever they’re doing now is gonna make it shorter at the end or at least more, more enjoyable, or, you know.
Nekole: Yeah. That’s a great framing. And it’s also the beginning of parenting, right? I mean, you said that, right? It’s it, that’s the other thing is it’s like this is also getting ready to be a parent. Cuz as much as we’re talking about the information fatigue for birth, goodness gracious. As soon as you become a parent, right, there’s everybody telling you how you should do it.
Adriana: Well, at the same time, you’re getting tons of 24/7 stimuli from this little baby who’s messing up with your sleep, and you’re a new person. And so much!
Nekole: Yeah, totally. So, so much. Yeah.
Adriana: Start doing the work right now, people!
Nekole: Right?! Totally. Agreed.
Adriana: Thank you so, so much for this fun talk. It’s been a pleasure.
Nekole: Oh, thanks for having me! It really was a joy.
Adriana: That was Nekole Malia Shapiro, the creator behind HolisticPeerCounseling.com, where she offers self-led online courses as well as a series of neutrality exercise workbooks, each created specifically for the birthing parent, the birth partner, and the birth doula. You can find Nekole on Instagram @nekoleshapiro and Nekole is spelled N-E-K-O-L-E.
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And then come back for more ways to inform your intuition.
Lozada, Adriana, host. “Getting Comfortable with the Intimate Nature of Birth.” Birthful, Birthful. March 29, 2023. Birthful.com.
About Nekole Shapiro
Nekole helps you dive into your body to find your own best expert for your own best life. She combines a lifetime of bodywork experience with her Columbia University y studies in pre-med and cultural anthropology. As a second-generation grassroots organizer, educator, and bodyworker, she is a go-to person for parents, birthworkers, sex educators, activists, and countless others searching to bring the “human” back to “humanity.”
Nekole is the creator behind Holistic Peer Counseling, which is the name of both her book and the practice where she offers self-led courses as well as a series of neutrality exercise workbooks— each created specifically for the birthing parent, the birth partner, and the birth doula.
Connect with Nekole via her website, Facebook page, LinkedIn profile, or her YouTube channel!
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