#57 | Childbirth: A Woman's Awakening with Certified Professional Midwife, Joni Stone

October 21, 2020

Joni Stone is a homebirth midwife of twenty years. After studying neuroscience in undergrad, she earned a Master's Degree in Clinical Psychology with a focus in Spirituality from Columbia. Her work explored the physical changes our brains go through in becoming mothers, and how these changes are akin to the same brain changes that occur after an intense life experience, which may result in spiritual enlightenment. In this episode, she explains the five factors in enlightenment, raises the possibility that traumatic birth may interfere with having those types of experiences, and discusses simple yet powerful techniques for both awareness and healing.

* * * * * * * * * *

If you enjoyed this episode of the Down To Birth Show, please subscribe and share with your pregnant and postpartum friends.

Between episodes, connect with us on Instagram @DownToBirthShow to see behind-the-scenes production clips and join the conversation by responding to our questions and polls related to pregnancy, childbirth and early motherhood. You can reach us at Contact@DownToBirthShow.com or call (802) 438-3696 (802-GET-DOWN). We are always happy to hear from our listeners and appreciate questions for our monthly Q&A episodes. To join our monthly newsletter, text "downtobirth" to 22828.

You can sign up for Cynthia's HypnoBirthing classes as well as online breastfeeding classes and weekly postpartum support groups run by Cynthia & Trisha at HypnoBirthing of Connecticut

Please remember we don’t provide medical advice, and to speak with your licensed medical provider related to all your healthcare matters. Thanks so much for joining in the conversation, and see you next week!

Support the show (https://www.paypal.com/paypalme/cynthiaovergard)

View Episode Transcript

I'm Cynthia Overgard, owner of HypnoBirthing of Connecticut, childbirth advocate and postpartum support specialist. And I'm Trisha Ludwig, certified nurse midwife and international board certified lactation consultant. And this is the Down To Birth Podcast. Childbirth is something we're made to do. But how do we have our safest and most satisfying experience in today's medical culture? Let's dispel the myths and get down to birth.

Joni Stone is a homebirth midwife of 20 years after studying neuroscience and undergrad she earned a master's degree in clinical psychology with a focus in spirituality. Her work explored the physical changes our brains go through and becoming mothers, and how these changes are akin to the same brain changes that occur after an intense life experience which may result in spiritual enlightenment. In this episode, she explains the five factors of enlightenment raises the possibility that traumatic birth may interfere with having this type of experience and discusses simple yet powerful techniques for both awareness and healing.

I'm Joni Stone, I've been a midwife for 20 years I've been practicing. I've had my own practice here in Connecticut for 18. So a few years ago, I decided to go back to school and get some more didactic information on psychology and how the brain works. And just coming back to my undergrad, which was focused in neuroscience and pre med before I decided, I think I want to be a midwife. Um, and so I went back to school at a really amazing program at Columbia University and Teacher's College. And that's part of the spirituality Mind Body Institute. And it was this really great program that integrated psychological site, psych research, spirituality research, and really how they combine so the it was called the spirituality Mind Body Institute. And we had, they were like two years of two summers of intensive where we, they had spiritual leaders, and psychologists from all over the world come and talk to us, it was just so incredible. And at the time, where I thought I had two teenagers, and I was done, I also found myself pregnant. So that brought me I didn't, I thought maybe I could do school once without being pregnant, but that didn't happen. So, um, so anyway, that brought me back to my own motherhood journey. And I took a deep dive. So something that happened on the very, very first lecture on the first day of school was a neuroscientist who came to talk to us and he his name is Andrew Newberg. And he had just launched a new book called how enlightenment changes your brain. And so what he did was talk about this, he found that there were people that had these enlightenment experiences, some of them were near death experiences, where people, you know, have it have a near death experience, experience, and it changes the trajectory of their life and how they interact with the world. I mean, I think there's some people, you could say, have done that on certain types of LSD, or there's certain people that have just had a woken up and something happened and their life is different. And so he thought these people that had these experiences were really fascinating. And he surveyed them. And so he got, I don't know, 1800 or so surveys back from these people that had these enlightenment experiences. And he found there were five components to anybody who had these, like what he called a little EEG or Biggie experiences were short, literally, or like the little enlightenment things that happen. And then big, he were, like, huge, like, everything changed when they woke up after that. So when he was going over, being the midwife, you know, kind of seeing everything through that lens I had, I was listening to this lecture, and the fight so the five components that he said of people of how enlightenment changes your brain or their experience of enlightenment, I will say was, the number one was a sense of unity and connectedness. Number two was a incredible intensity of experience. And number three was clarity and new understanding and a fun time. Mental way. Number four was surrender or loss of voluntary control. And number five was a sense of something like one's beliefs, or one's life for one's purpose has suddenly changed. Like, wow, that's really fascinating. Because, you know, when I see mamas really, truly have a physiologic experience at birth experience.

They have all five of those.

Um, you know, especially I think the one that caused me the most is that that sense of surrender, or, I mean, you know, you just, there's no way around it, you have to go there, you have to go to that scary place in order to let it all happen.

And that only happens in birth, where we have to surrender, it happens to the whole parenting experience.

And it's, and that's in its preparation. I mean, there's nothing, there's nothing else you can say about it, you have to go there, you have to take a leap and say, Wow, I don't know about this, but go there anyway. And then it happens constantly, no one tells you that part.

Over and over and over again, it'll be experienced till the day you die, that you can't control anything related to your children. And that's obviously where the growth lies, too.

Absolutely. And even just, you know, the surrender to let your children be who they're going to be. I mean, you know, I mean, I could say that, because I'm getting ready to go off to college. So, um, yeah, but it's, it's incredible. And I and I would say, you know, what I found, though, is that I kind of shifted those five components into a different in a different order. You know, and I would say, the first would be the intensity of the experience, because, and I'm talking about birth, and I and but I would say that, that, you know, this, like motherhood journey that we're on that you could say, this happens, all throughout the journey, not always, always at the time of birth, you know, we're speaking because that's an easy, it's an easy time period to talk about the birth is, but it's a much longer experience, but certainly the intensity of experience, I mean, for most women, that those that birth is incredibly intense. And, you know, I said, am I going to figure out if I haven't been dragged in? So it's like, yeah, you know, design, the design to get your attention, you know, even if it isn't physically intense, even if it's a scheduled c section that goes really beautifully, the intensity emotionally and on every other level exists, maybe in a way more so with a scheduled c section, because She blinks and it's over. And she hasn't had that time to process what's happening. And I and I have seen that when people have had those experiences that they or I mean, with scheduled c section, but also in somebody whose birth was an hour and a half, you're like, Oh, that's amazing. Well, yeah, except that they spend the next two hours going, what the heck just happened? You know, what just happen. So you know, cuz it's so startling to your system, maybe is, um, so I would, but nonetheless, it is, it is intense. And certainly in a fitness section where you literally are surrendering, you're lying on a table and letting somebody else take your baby out, which you know, is it is a birth in a totally different way. But it's at birth all the same.

And you're surrendering as well, even when you're on your hands and knees vaginally birthing your own baby, because those are still forces out of your control?

Absolutely. I would say yeah, I mean, I would say it's the same. And I would say it does reorganize in the brain a little bit differently. And I guess if I'm going to say anything, you know, because I, yes, I'm a home birth midwife, but I have seen the complete spectrum of how women birth, you know, and it doesn't, it isn't saying that you have to birth one way for this to be an outcome is that the brain is incredibly resilient. And when there are people that are haven't had that experience, we're having challenges, I guess where we're gonna come to at the end is what are the things that we can do to implement to help help you get there and embrace that experience? And, and not feel traumatized? Because, you know, obviously, there's a lot of trauma around birth.

And for you, you're saying in childbirth, it seems intensity comes first.

I would say intensity comes first. I would say second is surrender to the intensity. I would say third is, and this is usually sometimes it's during the labor, but usually it's right after birth is this sense of like joining the mothers of the world, you know, is that like, Oh my gosh, I'm suddenly connected to this network of woman, women and sisters that I didn't know that was ever going to be connected to.

Yeah, I remember feeling that a lot actually throughout contractions when they would be so intense just having these moments of feeling like, all around the world, how many women are doing this and that in this exact same moment, and like that would help keep me grounded, like, okay, just get through that one. Just like there.

I had that experience briefly with my son, right before he emerged, there's this instant where I thought, it's our turn, you're in the queue, you're next in the queue. That's right, we're now that was number number three. And number four was clarity and a new understanding in a fundamental way, you know, and that can go in so many different ways. But certainly, I mean, you know, you see these mamas, they can't take their eyes off their baby, you know, I mean, and how many of us with you know, prior to having a having our first baby, and then I'm just gonna go do this and do that, you know, all these things. And then all you're like, I literally am wasting seven hours a day doing nothing but watching my sleeping baby. Staring? Yeah, it's an it's a new understanding. It's just, you know, suddenly, though, we don't always commiserate with our own mothers necessarily at that moment. But you know, shortly thereafter, there's usually a couple of aha moments of, you know, what other people have done, what you've seen and what you expected versus what's happening in this moment. And, you know, it really is just seeing the world from a different perspective, even if you were totally prepared, it doesn't matter. There's nothing that can, you know, just as there's nothing that could totally prepare you for it, there's nothing that can totally prepare you for that moment. And so, um, so yeah, so clarity. And then, and then I think this one is a given, you know, is a sense of something, our purpose is different, something is permanently changed, you know, and honor. And I'm going to say that this happens when we have our babies that are here are staying with us. And I think it also happens when our babies aren't here with, if there's, if there's a pregnancy loss, and it's something has permanently changed, it doesn't matter, it's still happening. You know, and this isn't, this isn't just for the first time this is this happens, actually, every single time we have, we still have to open our bodies and our hearts again, another time. And I think that's in deep preparation for just opening our hearts and loving another human, you know, in that in that really intense way.

That's really interesting, because I can remember so distinctly when I was pregnant with Ruby, my second, and I don't remember how far maybe like six months along or something sitting at night, tucking Lola in and just looking at her and thinking, there is no possible way, I will be able to love another child as much as I love her. So how does this work? Like, this doesn't seem like I will never have as much love to give.

And then you give birth, and it just magically appears. It's just like there.

And that's the one that goes with beliefs.

Yep, our beliefs, our life, our purpose. So what Dr. Newberg did was he looked at the surveys, he came out with these components of enlightenment and then went into fMRI scans on the folks that have had these moments of enlightenment, and found that those people that have had these experiences, their brains look different, what's different, he kind of matched where like each of these five components would be would be different in these certain parts of the brain. I mean, one of the things that I love is that there is this part of the brain, you know, women always talking about the baby brain and mommy green, you know, and complaining, like, I can't remember anything, I can't think of anything. And that's happening in the thalamus where you have a hierarchy. And that's where you come up with a hierarchy of importance, at least important, you know, giving your baby milk and, you know, knowing where they are, and making sure they're safe is important. You know, it's reorganize your brain to read, you know, and that happens in pregnancy. But certainly after birth, did you say these were all near death experience? People are not other things to other things, too, okay, a lot of his research and is on spirituality. And he was really looking at the brains of meditators of like, you know, Tibetan monks who spend hours and hours a day in meditation. You know, amazingly,

Tony, is it safe to say that motherhood is akin to enlightenment, or is that going a step too far?

Yeah. Well, I guess that was my hypothesis. I will say that it is part of our psycho spiritual development. And I will say that also, I think that women who are who have come out of a birth with a lot of trauma, that that's the part that they haven't recognized that yes, there's a physical part of it. There's an emotional part of it, but there's also something that was in their deep, deep belief system that was taken away, altered, challenged any of the above.


Can I just clarify that So my understanding of what you just said is that these five steps are the birth process should naturally take Women through these five steps. And if they have had a traumatic birth, some of these steps have been skipped and gets whether that's where the trauma is coming from. And in order to heal that trauma, maybe they have to find a different way to move through these steps.

Oh, I'm glad you clarified that, Trisha, because I was assuming that you were saying the trauma can result in emotional growth that's on that trajectory toward enlightenment.

I think that it can. But it has to be recognized as that. And how many women don't even see that it was even important. You know, I mean, and this is just shown, and I mean, we all know that how many of the women that we work with who are pregnant are, you know, have a random person come up to them in the grocery store and tell them their traumatic birth story. And they're doing it because they're seeing this woman and they're suddenly triggered, and they're sharing their story. That's not obviously not helpful for the pregnant women. But it but I also my heart goes out to that person, but they're so traumatized by whatever happened to them that they need to make sure and in a loving way, really saying you got to be careful, because this could happen to you like it happened to me. And I think that's just any how often does that happen? all the time?

Yeah, I get it, I see it in my classes I get sometimes women come to class bringing their own mothers as their partners instead of their partners. And it's so interesting, because they have so many emotions that get so deeply moved, they have so much to say after class, it's like they're real. They're reliving their own births, and they're seeing things in a new way. And it's almost as if they're processing their emotions for the first time. And you realize it just never goes away.

And you know, and, you know, I almost always talk about a talk with the women I work with about their mother's experience.

How come? Because it's how she was raised, or because it's something cellular that happened as she was born?

Yes. All of it, all of it. You know, I mean, all of it, just how they talked about it, whether they know anything, which is always fascinating to me, which tells me that either it was not important or incredibly important to her mother, I don't know which, and how traumatizing it was for her and her relationship. But you know, and this is kind of jumping the gun of like, where I was going with this. But what these are two things that I find absolutely fascinating, is that we actually hand down our trauma. I mean, this is part of my research is how do we know if there's a little bit more, there's a lot of trauma research out there about how it gets passed down. But we do pass down our birth trauma actually, on a cellular level. Part of the reason this happens, and this is this is this is triggering for people and good and bad ways that our own oxytocin Foundation, the receptors in our body are laid down in the first six months of life. So how we give and receive love for the rest of our life is based on how we were nurtured in the first six months and how receptive our caregiver was to us. I mean, I want to say Mother, and sometimes it's not the mother, and they've even done research to look at, you know, taking oxytocin levels or endogenous oxytocin levels in like the first trimester. And they can actually see how responsive that mother's going to be to her baby based on how much oxytocin she has in the first trimester.

That's incredible.

I have two thoughts, two suggestions for women who are aware of the trauma that they've had. One is we interviewed Elena Tonetti Vladimirova. Do you know about her work and birth into being this is precisely what she does, whether it's sexual trauma, or the trauma we are experienced in coming through our mothers into the world, this is what she specializes in. And we know that healing happens when women do the work. But the other thing that I'm seeing incredible results with with some of the women I've worked with, and in running a Syrian support group for so many years, is EMDR. Have you been seeing work with this?

So okay, so I'm going to tell you some of the something else was that I said way?

Yes, it's a good one. Yeah. So there is another technique out there similar to EMDR, that they actually have been finding even better results. And it's called Haven, ng, and haven ng is what it you know, a shortcut to where we can talk about the brain in a minute, but where we keep ancient trauma is in our amygdala. And certainly birth trauma is usually there's usually a trauma if there's a trauma at birth, it's also usually triggering another trauma. And so this technique is really I mean, I can show you but you can't see See it, as you're listening to this, but it's touching your arms and this, and this motion, and what we do is in touching your hands, like you're washing your hands, and we're touching our face, like we're washing our face. And doing this while we're talking is actually getting your brain into delta waves when delta waves or is that as the where you are in that deep, deep feeling good sleep, right? You know, and we'll talk about whatever it is, it's coming up for people. And sometimes we just talk through it, sometimes it's not a, we don't even have to go into the deepest part of the trauma, but we're just talking about the trauma. And then what will happen is that we do all these like funny little things to distract them. And then literally, what's happening at a brain level is that you're deep attenuating, that trauma, it's not being held in the same way, so that it doesn't get retriggered is this a technique you perform on yourself, or you have to go to a certified specialist for this, um, so you go to somebody for it, although I can do it via zoom, I don't have to do it in person, which is teach it, I can teach it and talk people through it as they're going through it. Yeah.

So I did mention, I did mention EMDR, without explaining what it is. And he said that you've compared the results between the two, can you just give a little comment on what EMDR is, and then maybe what they're seeing, that's different about Havening, I can only speak to that briefly, because I haven't done, you know, done a lot of the comparison of EMDR. But I have to say, just as more here say from the workshop is that they have a lot of the folks that are doing this, the woman who taught it Geez, she's a midwife, she does it at almost all of her visits of just whatever people are going through at that moment in time, to even in labor, where she's seeing, you know, where somebody's in the hospital where they have them on the monitor, and they're seeing, like the contraction pattern and the heart rate getting all out of whack. They do the hastening and then you can come back to normal like crazy, crazy stuff. And so and what the report from her was, is that there's a lot of folks that are doing hating all over the world, not just around her.

Well, I'll explain a little bit of what EMDR is the little that I understand it to be, but it's it has to do with rapid eye movement, right, and we heal when we're sleeping, we heal when we're dreaming, we process our emotions and our memories. And EMDR is a way of expediting that process now. So you sit I think you have six or eight sessions. And I don't know if they ask questions or do this process. But I've seen women who have been so deeply traumatized. We had one woman who always stands out, because she was the first woman who ever told me about EMDR, and Assyrian support group. And this was she was pregnant again, Three, Four years later, and was still gasping. And sobbing, talking about her birth, it was really traumatic. And it was heartbreaking. And she came month after month for maybe two or three months. And the energy was just so heavy in our compassion was so deep. And then there was a month where she just kind of sauntered in. She said hello to everyone sat down and completely spoke about her birth from a cerebral place of a place of being at peace, a complete place of acceptance. And we were just saying you've transformed what what's happened, this is such a difference. And she said, Oh my god, EMDR. It's amazing. And it really got my attention. And since then I've recommended it to women, and I keep getting the same feedback. So all of these techniques, I mean, we we have barely scratched the surface as human beings as to what our potential is, with various techniques and healing, whether it's touch, whether it's work with the brain and the mind and focus physiology breath.

Yeah, and I think that's, that was a large part of what we were talking about is really the things that are healing and incredibly touching to us that we can't see that we can't necessarily measure, although they're trying, you know, they're trying to measure it. I mean, they're doing fMRI scans on everything, because no one will take it seriously until they do until they measure it, no one will even think it's a thing. That way with everything,

I mean, it's incredible. And, you know, then this gets into all this stuff, like, you know, talking about, you know, the my microbiome and what's happening there, and how is that connected to our emotions and how that you know, I mean, like, we're so connected in ways that we have no idea about. And, you know, I'm just scratching the surface in my own little part and what I think where so much of this got so fascinating to me and doing this research is that the OB, obstetric world and the psychology world do not talk. They're both talking about oxytocin but in totally different ways. And I was like, guys, like, this is kind of amazing. You know, let's talk about let's talk about oxytocin. And how do we get more it you know, that's what the whole psychology world is talking about right now, it's such a good point. I mean, here we are pumping women full of synthetic oxytocin on the obstetrics side. And here we are on the psychology side being like, like, if you just paid attention to how you create this naturally, it's within you, like, we could forget the bags of pitocin.

Yeah, it's really a pet peeve of mine, when I hear medical providers refer to pitocin, or synthetic oxytocin as oxytocin.

Mm hmm, I just feel like you have realized that's really bold, to call synthetic, it doesn't have the same effect at all, in the brain, or the body. And Nice try, like the way to give me oxytocin is to love me. So go ahead and try to love me. And you can't give it to me through an IV actually, to generate love within me is the way so make me feel love within me, maybe toward you provider, because you're so good to me, and you're so respectful, and generating so much trust within me. You want me to have oxytocin, that's how you've got to do it. Otherwise call it what it is synthetic oxytocin, oxytocin, and it has its place. But it's not oxytocin?

Mm hmm.

So we shouldn't use them interchangeably. Yeah, that's not too much to ask.

We're also trying from day one, to see this other person as a human. And that what we can, whatever we can do preventatively, to help this woman have the birth that she, you know, like, and have a mom and baby who are happy and healthy and thriving, we're talking about thriving, we're not about you know, having a baby come out. Right, there's a difference. And so what you know, one of our favorite things that we talked about lately, is when there is so much that comes up during pregnancy, emotionally, and we're really working hard to increase mom's happiness, but also in their thriving in their resilience, but also their own oxytocin. I mean, there's only good things you can do from increasing oxytocin. So sometimes we'll tell her mom's like, get in bed with your husband, or your partner, whoever that is. and gets going, just going over that we talked about skin to skin a baby, I mean, and not even have Don't listen to him talk about sex or intercourse, if it happens, great. Race, touch, just touch, touch, love. And because we need it, we mean that skin to skin and as you know, as we get older, we tend to not do it that much. We got to be our own separate beings doing all these, you know, things. And I think that's one of the, I guess that takes me into, like, I think the, you know, our American dream, like we have to be these self sufficient people and do everything by ourselves. And we can't ask for help, and so forth. So bad for current modern mom, even within their partnership, you know that they don't they can't ask for help or what they need, or maybe they don't even know what they need, that they need that love that love is really important. And maybe it isn't love. Maybe it's just touch but it's still going to increase that oxytocin. So we'll take it.

So Joni, what would you say to the woman who doesn't know if she has birth trauma? She doesn't really know her past. And she hears this episode. And she thinks, Oh, my God, like, what if this happens to me and labor? What if something comes up?

Sure. So I think women, women as a whole are incredibly resilient in mind and body. And there's so many things that can be done. And so simple, it's this is not these are not major things that need to be done. We often and also in the mental health world, we're talking about depression, a lot of postpartum depression, but I see it manifested anxiety all the time. And women think they just have to live with it. And I would say that's not true. And I will say the other biggest, biggest art of the what I talked to all of my mom is about is that we all want to this is our culture, we want to do something, we have to be proactive, we have to do doo doo doo doo. The best thing that we can do is do nothing, is just be surrender. Literally just being I mean, there's meditation, there's mindfulness is doing all that stuff. And but we still are doing it because we hear that it's good for us. And we're doing such a good point about meditation, because that's such a barrier for people to actually do it. Because meditation seems like this thing that you have to do and do it. So right. But it really is exactly what you just said, like you can meditate just being is being in a state of meditation.

Yeah, I think what I have seen over and over again, in the body, and also in the mind that so many of the things that we think are negative things are the challenges that we have or whatever it is that we have to deal with. I mean, I think we're we're trained to think of all these things as bad as negative and I think most of the time they are really there for our benefit. You know, whether that is for our spiritual process, whether that is development or whether that is for me. Really our brains and our bodies actually doing exactly what they're supposed to do. And you know, and obviously, this is not the only way, you know, for women, but it is part of it is just part of who we are. And it doesn't mean that every woman, every woman has to have a child, my best friend just adopted a baby after going through a lot to get there. And so she had all of this, that that surrender, that intensity of experience, she had all of it. So it's not always about the actual birth experience, but it is that trajectory, and the change in us is about change. And we don't you know, like I said in the beginning, you know, there's this idea of like, I'm having a baby, meaning it's like a something separate from us. It's not happening to us, right, but it is it is actually happening to us physically, and on a much, much deeper level. So that yeah, that we do recognize that the world is different after you have a baby. That's important because to have that.

If you enjoy our podcast please take a moment to leave us a review on Apple podcasts and share a favorite episode or two. You can follow us on Instagram and Twitter @downtobirthshow or contact us and review show notes at downtobirthshow.com. Please remember this information is made available to you for educational and informational purposes only. It is in no way a substitute for medical advice. For our full disclaimer visit downtobirthshow.com/disclaimer. Thanks for tuning in, and  as always, hear everyone and listen to yourself.

If you enjoyed this podcast episode of the Down To Birth Show, please share with your pregnant and postpartum friends.

Share this episode: 

Between episodes, connect with us on Instagram @DownToBirthShow to see behind-the-scenes production clips and join the conversation by responding to our questions and polls related to pregnancy, childbirth and early motherhood.

You can reach us at Contact@DownToBirthShow.com or call (802) 438-3696 (802-GET-DOWN). 

To join our monthly newsletter, text “downtobirth” to 22828.

About Cynthia Overgard

Cynthia is a published writer, advocate, childbirth educator and postpartum support specialist in prenatal/postpartum healthcare and has served thousands of clients since 2007. 

About Trisha Ludwig

Trisha is a Yale-educated Certified Nurse Midwife and International Board Certified Lactation Counselor. She has worked in women's health for more than 15 years.

Want to be on the show?

We'd love to hear your story. 
Please fill out the form if you are interested in being on the show.

screen linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram