Are you an expectant mum wanting to prepare for a positive & even pleasurable childbirth?
Then you will love this interview, packed with tips & wisdom from Debra Pascali-Bonaro. Debra has been a Doula & Birth Educator for 35 years and spread her wisdom working & teaching in 42 countries.
Co-writer of “Orgasmic Birth: Your Guide to a Safe, Satisfying and Pleasurable Birth”, and world-renowned speaker and advocate for childbirth, Debra teaches 2 online courses – ‘Pain to Power’ and ‘Pleasurable Birth Essentials‘
It was such a pleasure & honour to spend time with Debra, and I thoroughly enjoyed our late-night (for me!) interview. So without further ado, let me introduce the wise & wonderful Debra Pascali-Bonaro …
Your work is all about helping mums to have peaceful, empowered and even pleasurable & transformational childbirth experiences, and you’re a mother of 3 yourself. It sounds as if you’ve had an incredible amount of experience in the area & much wisdom to draw upon.
Yes, and to clarify, I’m a mum of 3 by biology but I have 2 additional children who came to me through my husband. We’ve been together 20 years, and actually, my daughter is pregnant and I’m getting to be her doula so that’s exciting!
So I usually say I have 5 children and include them.
I’ve been incredibly blessed growing up in a family where my great-grandmother, grandmother & mother shared with me about their childbirths when I was very young, and their stories were really full of joy and pleasure and love, and although they talked about birthing & parenting as ‘work’ they never talked about it in a negative way. You had the challenges at times but you moved through it with joy, with love & wisdom.
So I came to my own time of expecting & birthing my first son, never was the word pain in my mind, never with any fear. Just really looking forward to rising, as the women did before me, to this opportunity and knowing it will have challenges but by facing them I had this opportunity for great pleasure.
And this is where the name of my Childbirth class ‘Pain to Power’ says to me & to so many people, that when we can face challenge or pain, we can move through it, and not only discover power we never knew we had but really tap into this primal power that’s moved through us in birth and, I believe, in breastfeeding & parenting.
So in my own first birth, I had to overcome a lot of obstacles of the medical system and my challenges were in navigating where & whom I could trust in this ability that my ancestors had. None of them were put down, either literally or figuratively, none of them were hooked up to machines and IV.
Yet that was the challenge, and that’s what terrified me.
Finding the Doula Path
So finding the right person & place & having a powerful & joyful birth set me on the path and I’ve been a birth educator for almost 35 years now and a doula for almost that time. People started inviting me to their births early on before I knew the word ‘doula’.
Then I ended up, through life’s beautiful synchronicity, attending DONA Internationals (Doula Association) very first meeting in 1992 and become part of their board and one of their early doula trainers. So I had an opportunity to be there right at the very beginning of the doula movement taking hold and to be one of the early trainers.
Now I’ve taught in 42 countries, and been a part, with DONA, in bringing the doulas around the world, which to me is enacting that ancient circle. It’s the wisdom of our ancestors, it’s not new knowledge. It’s remembering the wisdom that was there, of how we can help through touch & technique & emotional support and physical comfort, for birth to be gentler & more positive.
So it’s all this experience, and I have to credit ‘her’ story that I came with, that started for me really seeding birth, and so many others in birth becoming joyous & overcoming challenges.
No matter where or how birth happened there was this opportunity for love & pleasure & joy & bliss.
But I didn’t hear that language reflected in current culture, and that for me really stimulated the birth of the documentary ‘Orgasmic Birth’ and the book (Orgasmic Birth) I co-wrote with Elizabeth Davis.
I felt we needed to bring forward this language, and I call it the best-kept secret. Why wasn’t anyone talking about this?
That spurred me to say ok I teach in person this approach all over the world but I wanted to bring it online because there are so many wonderful preparation courses around, but even sometimes the best courses leave out this language of pleasure and the tips & tools that just help people open up to it in a way that’s really so easy.
I often say a quote I love ‘If you don’t know you have options then you don’t have any’.
I feel that so many people are so caught up in this pain/fear/tension model of birth that they’re missing opportunities to be positively prepared for birth. To certainly look at and address our fears, but look at how we can move to pleasure.
So a long answer to your question, but for me I feel my path to get there was that I was born into a family where this approach just happened naturally and it took me years to really say ‘wow why is this missing in so many places and how can I help to add to the wonderful body of information that’s out there, and help people just a little bit more.
How wonderful that you had that early gift of such loving support & those positive beliefs infused into you from such an early age.
Would you say that in the area of childbirth, what you don’t know actually CAN hurt you and your baby?
Yes, I say this all the time because I think a lot of people are having really poor outcomes based on a lack of knowledge.
Absolutely, and it certainly looks as if your course arms women with an incredible amount of empowering knowledge.
So if a mother is only just beginning to realise that another way is possible for her, outside of the conventional hospital birth, what advice would you give her?
Getting Educated & Our Beliefs
I would say:
- Education – not just our course but education anywhere, research classes that resonate with your culture & beliefs, and (ask) what books can you read because I think knowledge is the real key to opening up access to your own power
- But my #2 and of equal importance is to look at where do your current values and beliefs & knowledge about birth come from, and, as we’ve already discussed, sadly for many people it comes from their own stories of being fearful or negative or (from) the media and the messages that are inaccurate & many times dysfunctional, often fear-generating.
Those are the worst ways to go into birth so one of the first things I say to people is to really get back to ‘How were you born?’ and your parents born, if you know the stories, like I do. Your grandparents etc, you know I often say to people, we are using sites like Ancestry.com and others to do lineage but wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all put our birth stories in there because how special would it have been if we all knew those stories
For most of us depending on where we live in the world you’re not that many generations away from birth happening at home with loving, helping, gentle support, many of the things we can now bring into home birth or birthing centres or even at a hospital.
These things were just common knowledge
So find out for yourself where was the last baby in your family born at home and what was that like?
Finding out what happened in your own birth and the things that happened that you want to bring forward, and if maybe there were challenges or maybe your mother birthed at a time where she couldn’t have all the support she wanted, and was limited in movement or had things she didn’t want.
Because you as a baby experienced that and those become embedded fears
So how can we work through them in pregnancy, really address them and what can we replace them with?
The Sexuality of Birth
That’s where you move into preparation, and to replace our fears with confidence. And build a toolkit of comfort, physically, emotionally & spiritually, and I always add sexual. That’s where our class is unique in the world. We are honouring that birth is a part of our sexuality.
I think that by stripping away the sexuality of birth, you know we moved birth from home to hospital where certainly we have benefits for those people that need technology to safely give birth, caesareans can be life-saving, but we started applying a medical model to everyone right. Even those who are incredibly healthy, and (we are) literally sanitizing birth.
By putting on gowns & IVs & using technology we really took away the opportunity to tap into that sexual energy. And for most people conception is part of sexuality, even when we use reproductive technologies to become pregnant we still know there’s an element of love, that we’re doing this out of a deep love.
We’re still giving birth from deeply within our intimate sacred sexual parts.
So for many people, they miss an opportunity to birth with more love and sacredness that sexuality offers.
And I always honour too that sexuality has not been a positive experience for everyone. So for the many people that are survivors of sexual abuse, emotional abuse or physical abuse which is so many people, pregnancy is a real opportunity where we can look at these elements and find the healing that can take us to a more whole place.
Then coming into birth is an incredible opportunity for survivors of sexual abuse to reclaim their body and their sexuality in a whole way.
Why are Women coming out of birth Traumatized?
But sadly our current model is retraumatizing people, often seriously putting people into post-traumatic stress, (and) depression.
So by not honouring the sexuality, whether it’s whole & healthy or if it hasn’t been, either way honouring sexuality can allow us to put into practice, both for ourselves and the broader system, to be more whole, more healthy.
And that’s where the opportunity for a love-filled & pleasurable birth can also expand (from).
Absolutely, and you often hear people say that ‘All that matters is that your baby is healthy’, and it seems to me that when we say this we are perpetuating a culture that is silencing women who are hurting really.
There’s this real disconnect between what is actually going on emotionally. It’s a culture that says, it doesn’t matter what level of trauma goes on behind the closed doors of the birthing suite, as long as everyone comes out alive.
So thank goodness awareness around this is actually growing and it seems to me that what people like yourself are doing is a big part of this
Yeah, women are healthy right, but they’re traumatized and we can easily convert to helping people to see how in birth being healthy physically does not mean that birth is healthy.
I love the new global slogan that you should ‘Survive and thrive’ – that emotional wellbeing is as important as physical wellbeing.
To be a healthy parent we shouldn’t come out of birth feeling less than, we should come out feeling empowered
Emotions, Pleasure & Orgasmic Birth
So true. My own birth experience taught me about being open emotionally and how holding onto fear actually creates pain. I remember this moment through transitioning where I actually completely surrendered to those overwhelming sensations & feelings, you know emotionally, and it was the most exhilarating feeling, I would not call it ecstatic exactly but certainly an intense feeling that was exhilarating & pleasurable.
Thank you for sharing that, that’s such a beautiful example. You know, we can feel pleasure both in the physical sense and it can be emotional pleasure, spiritual pleasure right?
Pleasure means different things to different people but it’s being able to experience it in our way. and often it’s an expansion right. Like the experience just opens up many people. Say it’s their heart opened up, they were just bursting with love when they looked at their baby.
And for me, that’s a pleasurable orgasmic birth.
Orgasmic is heightened physical & emotional sensation. Of course, that could include orgasm for many people.
Its just what you said it’s being open & able, and I love that you used the word surrender, but I’m always sensitive with a survivor that can be triggering so I’m always cautious of what is the word that will help them to fully open to the experience in a safe way. Safe for them. We all have different languages of fully opening body, mind & spirit, and sexuality to birth.
Isn’t it in that opening, that release and surrender that is really when we are having a pleasurable sexual moment, what we’re doing? I mean it’s very hard to get to orgasm if you’re thinking of the 3 things you have to do tomorrow or if strangers are coming in the room.
It’s like any single distraction will hold us back from the full potential of pleasure. But when we can find those moments where we can fully let go and be present in the experience and just allow ourselves in a safe environment, trusting – whether it’s alone or with a partner – to go deeper.
Its an expansion that is the pleasure and the orgasm. And that expansion into pleasure and orgasm is where we can create in birth that same environment of safety and privacy and not feeling observed – 3 essential criteria to also allowing our hormones to function optimally.
Our essential Birthing Hormones
Our hormones of sexuality and our female orgasms are the same hormones that have to flow and in the same sequence in birth. They are often disturbed by the same subtleties that will disturb our sexuality.
Isn’t that amazing?
Yeah, really amazing. And this is where I feel that people not getting that is a hindrance. We need to understand that the right place to give birth is where you can allow yourself to open to an experience where your hormones will flow optimally, which is typically in the same kind of environment that you’d want to create for a safe satisfying sexual experience, either alone or with a partner.
If you knew that & you understood all the elements to giving birth gentler, quicker, easier & pleasurable, then I think some people might rethink where they will give birth.
What would you say to a mum who is perhaps sceptical about the idea of a pleasurable birth and believes that the pain is inevitable?
Is Having a Pain-Free Birth Possible?
So one of the things I often say is that life is not always pleasurable right, we all have moments, whether it’s personal challenge, relationship challenge, loss, work challenge, sometimes pain on a physical or emotional level.
Life is a combination of pain & pleasure and I always say that if I’m in the midst of a challenging situation through the day, I can always make a choice to experience 3 minutes of pleasure.
Those 3 minutes for me are often putting music on and dancing wildly to my favourite song, or there’s not a day that goes by where I don’t have a piece of dark chocolate, and that’s my pleasure moment.
If you take each day that moment to have that pleasure moment, and you know one thing we’ve gotten away from that being able to identify our pleasure so one of the things we have to do is realise that we birth the way we live so during pregnancy or before, is the time to start finding these moments of pleasure throughout the day then when you’re in challenges you can bring that in.
I want to open it up that pleasure is on all levels, it can be mindfulness, it can be prayer, meditation. What is it that gives you a deep connection and gives you that mmmm yum feeling.
Whether its one minute, 3 minutes, an hour or more…
Our Languaging & Pain
Then look at birth. So even though we honour the sensations you feel, I don’t like the word contraction – I teach mindful languaging, and our language of birth is often of illness & pain.
So if we re-language the way our body feels and change it into either neutral or pleasure, it’s often the beginning of feeling the sensation in a different way.
Even if we feel the sensation in a way that can be labelled pain, they’re coming in waves with gaps between them. Even in transition, the most intense part, we have 1 to 2 minutes in between and so what can you do in between, you know, whether it’s kiss, loving words with partner/doula/friends, whether it’s your favourite artist & dancing wildly in between or even dancing during the surges…
Bringing in the Pleasure Experience
There are just so many simple ways of bringing pleasure in, and if you bring in pleasure for 3 minutes you ‘re going to experience the next surge differently.
We can really change that sensation and I think that so many people are just so fixated on pain that they’re not seeing that even if you use the in-between moments for pleasure will shift the next surge.
I’ve known so many people around the world as a doula, and pain is not part of their vocabulary once they realise how they can change it. Not saying it wouldn’t be strong or challenging but we can do many things.
But our current model of putting people into bed, being still and focussed on pain just creates pain and more pain and more pain.
Moving and bringing in so many elements of pleasure from sound, smell taste, music, using every sense. This is how I love to work with people because we are all unique, and ‘Pain to Power Childbirth’ and the new ‘Pleasure Essentials’ is all about guiding each person to find their own pleasure tips and tools.
We give them many suggestions and inspirations and guide them to re-language, to address their fears and this very simple process prepares people in a way that many many people experience birth in a different way
Like this Article?
There are so many things we can do isn’t there that bring in things that create pleasure which then expands us, it’s so simple really isn’t it.
It’s SO simple.
Bringing Pleasure into Parenting & Beyond
And going into parenting – while my courses are very much focussed on preparing for birth, and while we’re pregnant we’re so obsessed with just how do we get the baby out, we often don’t have our focus on after. But we do include some modules, and people can come back to them after the birth, on how do you continue bringing pleasure to breastfeeding & caring for a baby.
Because those next weeks can often be our highest highs and our lowest lows all within the same hour or within the same day. And there’s certainly challenges in parenting, often coupled with the joy of parenting.
So having some conscious pleasure techniques when you are in the challenge moment – you can take that 3 breaths or dance or whatever your thing is – your pleasure tools are really there for birth and for life.
We’re living in a world right now where too many people are living in fear, just in their daily life. Not making those little moments, because we think ‘I don’t have an hour to go to a yoga class’ or whatever. So take the 3 minutes.
I noticed you have a blog posting entitled ‘Healing Leads to Orgasmic Birth’ and I really can see the truth in this statement, because when we are holding onto past pain & trauma we hold it in the body don’t we, which can restrict our natural opening process during childbirth.
And you know I’ve heard from several women recently who’ve said ‘wow I wish that I was more prepared emotionally for childbirth, no one tells you how emotionally intense it can be’.
How do you support women to prepare emotionally for their childbirth experience?
How our own Healing Process can help Childbirth
Yeah and so not for me to know but just to open up the opportunity for them to think about in themselves, what have been their challenges in their life? If they are a survivor of any type of past abuse, where are they in healing that?
And in our class, we provide different books and websites & resources so depending if you’ve identified you have suffered past abuse or trauma we provide many resources that can be tools to go deeper into healing or maybe to begin healing for some people who haven’t addressed it.
Birth Is Emotional
But I’ll also go further just to say that we birth the way we live and birth is very emotional so it’s hard to go through labour without a flood of emotion. Some joy & love-filled but some can be really scary and hard and bring us back into past issues, some of them can be in relation to parenting.
So often in labour, we’ll have an emotion of ‘My mother was a great mother. Am I going to be able to do this?’ For some ‘My mother was a terrible mother, I don’t want to become her’. There are so many thoughts about our own relationship to parenting and how we were raised, how will it change our relationship.
So we go into so many ranges of emotion that are just natural and normal with birth. Many of these are going to come up in labour, so being prepared for them and having a way of safely expressing them.
The Power of Tears
Often in labour safe expression is tears and I love it when women cry in labour and I tell them, as their doula and their educator. Because when they release this pent-up emotion they actually carry stress hormones out of the body. And stress hormones in the body prolong labor.
So a good cry and letting the emotion out & letting the stress hormones out usually really opens the path for the baby to move through our body and into our arms.
So being safe to express emotion and that includes who’s with you? You don’t need to explain it to anyone.
And where will you do this? Because if you’re in a hospital with strangers around you, very few of us are going to allow ourselves to get to that place, to our deepest emotional core and express those feelings.
And I believe that’s why a lot of babies are cut out, sucked out and pulled out, because we’re only looking at the physical level. But we need to open physically, emotionally, spiritually & sexually, and anything that impedes any of those layers from opening literally holds us back from birth.
So I do talk with people a lot about:
- That this natural & normal and healthy, and
- Creating an environment so they can, plus tips on how to get privacy, even in a hospital where it can be hard so that you can find that moment of self-expression.
And it’s not about therapy, you know a doula’s not a therapist but labours not a therapy moment. So if something comes up for you emotionally whether it’s big or small, it’s not about finding the solution to it. Its simply about expressing it out, and that will bring your baby out a well.
And once you’ve tapped into it sometimes it’s a surprise what comes up is something you’ve really not ever thought about on a conscious level. And then it’s an opportunity post-partum if you feel you need to come back to it to get additional healing for whatever might have come up.
But sometimes the cry is all you needed and that acknowledgement to yourself that I’m feeling this and I’m willing to let it go. I’m willing to make this space for my baby.
So as a doula we have a question we often ask. It’s quite simple, as everything is. ‘What’s going through your mind?’ And you know, just that emotional check-in throughout labour, and that could be something you say to yourself, your doula, your midwife. But whether you express it and tell someone or whether you just answer it in your own mind, but express in SOME way!
Dance wildly and shake it off whatever the thought is to that question. I do a lot of moving medicine right, and another tip we use is how to literally shake things off that don’t serve us anymore.
So many many ways. It’s not always just one because we’re all unique, but the thing that’s universal is that birth is emotional and it’s so important to prepare people for the emotions that will come and how to safely express them.
Pleasure Essentials & Pain to Power
It sounds like the course includes fantastic support including 12 months of online doula support. What kind of benefits can a mum expect from this?
Yes! So both myself as doula/trainer and Meg our ‘Pleasure coordinator’ is an amazing doula and childbirth educator as well.
So both of us are really there at the drop of an email & we also offer opportunities in our private FB group to kind of dialogue with us. And I open up to people, depending on which level of the course they sign up for, if they’re taking the basics then they can buy into an actual consult with me face to face, if they’re taking the VIP then that will come with additional personal support with me.
But we’re really there, email support is just included in every course and private FB group time. So we’re there for you to go as deep as you would like with our materials and make it your own because each birth is a personal journey. And I love that we can doula you through that.
It must be deeply satisfying work to be able to share that with women and hold that space for them. It sounds beautiful.
It really is, and for their partners. We find a lot of partners might not watch every detail although we have some that have. But a lot of the time we encourage people to bookmark and find the pieces you feel ‘Now this is really important partner dialogue’, and we do have a few pieces that are partner specific.
So we do encourage partners to really get engaged with it, and we’re there for them too.
And yes you know one thing I always say is ‘giving is receiving’ so by being able to pass along and give what was given to me, the wisdom of so many teachers and this opportunity that I’ve had to travel the world and learnt from so many different amazing providers and midwives & traditional midwives all over the world & take their best secrets and put it into our course.
By passing on this wisdom I do get so much back, in hearing the stories and how each person uses this knowledge in their own way and has the birth that they desire
Even when birth takes a slightly different path, so in the case where a caesarean is really needed or another intervention, we’re really pleased to see that the tools we can provide are bought into any birth setting or situation and people can come through whatever birth asks of them, feeling whole and finding love.
It sounds amazing, I wish I knew about your course when I was pregnant, it would have been beautiful to have that kind of support.
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
We’ve covered so much, I feel like I just want to give them an invitation to join us, and experience it for themselves.
Options for Mums
We do have, in addition, is our ‘Pleasure Essentials’ our new 6-hour course where we’ve pulled out some of the basic nugget for people who have limited time and are feeling like the full 18-hour course is more than they want.
But what a lot of people do is they start with the ‘Pleasure Essentials’ – come & take the basics, and if you love them & find you have more time, then you can move up to what we call our ‘Pain to Power – Comprehensive Bliss’ course because that includes a lot more about pregnancy, birthing in other situations, the unexpected and also into the baby-moon time, the breastfeeding & parenting. So this is the full scope with 9 modules, and our ‘Pleasure Essentials’ is paired down.
So if they’re already taking an in-person class that isn’t going into the sexuality & pleasure & love, then our pleasure essentials would be a great compliment so that they really can move birth from the ordinary to the extraordinary.
A lot of childbirth educators right now are partnering with us to use our online course to compliment. So we’re seeing doulas include this the ‘Pleasure Essentials’ as part of their package.
Because there is great info out there but not many people are moving in this direction of shifting the language & to really address our challenges, to look at pain and how we can move to pleasure joy and love.
Thank you so much, Debra, for sharing so passionately what you do!
Here are some details for those wanting to know more about Debra’s two courses:
Pain to Power Comprehensive Bliss is the original, acclaimed course featuring 10 Modules covering pregnancy, birth, comfort, options, sexuality, birth stories, cesarean/VBAC, the newborn and postpartum and features my documentary, Orgasmic Birth and Spinning Babies “Parent Class” and “Daily Essentials”.
The Pleasurable Birth Essentials Course is a shorter, more “essential” variation of the highly acclaimed full course. It’s the perfect preparation for busy expectant parents that need a basic, affordable course to feel prepared and inspired.
Both Courses Include:
– Unlimited Email Support for 12 months
– Private Facebook Group
– 1 Year access to all course materials
– “Orgasmic Birth” documentary access
– “Orgasmic Birth” E-Book Copy
– 5 Module related Pleasure Workbooks
– A selection of carefully curated exclusive videos, birth stories, and additional resources.
Debra & her team are offering Holistic Mumma readers 30% off her course prices!!!
Just use this code EssentialsP2P!
Go here to take advantage of this amazing offer
Wishing you a most empowered, positive & pleasurable birth experience xo