Natural birth whilst in a coma
The parts of our brain and nervous system in control of the birth process are primitive, instinctive and automatic. Our bodies usually know how to get our babies out, all by themselves.
During birth, our cervix ripens, our uterus muscles gather up rhythmically and the neck of the womb begins to open. Our babies inch down and down as the muscle fibres in the womb shorten, then the powerful muscles of the uterus begin to actively push babies down the birth canal - a powerful expulsive reflex that does not require a mother's conscious assistance from the muscles of her abdomen (although she may feel very much like going with those strong urges!)
When our neocortex is quietened (that part of our brain that analyses, overthinks and worries), our innate instincts take over, our bodies simply flow through the birth process, rather than forcing or indeed fighting it. People call this optimal mental state the 'birth zone'.
All (non-comatose) mammals require certain conditions to be met in order for this primitive physiology to kick in... that is - feeling relaxed before birth commences, and having a very quiet, warm, safe space where we feel loved, supported and free to do what feels good from one contraction to the next.
"One cannot actively 'help' a woman to give birth naturally. The goal is to avoid disturbing her unnecessarily" Michel Odent, surgeon & childbirth expert
Examples of women giving birth in a comatose state are a stark reminder of how birth is essentially an automatic physical process, requiring little or no conscious input, even when the body is in crisis. Thankfully all of the following birth stories have happy endings, with the mothers waking up...
Emma fell into a coma after contracting pneumonia at 27 weeks of pregnancy. She went into labour prematurely two weeks later, and gave birth to a healthy daughter named Amy (3lbs 5oz). Nurses only noticed that Amy was on her way when her head emerged! Emma regained consciousness a further two weeks later, and was well enough to be discharged home after another two weeks. She says of her birth:
"It seemed incredible to think that I had given birth naturally whilst I was still in a coma. I hadn’t consciously pushed or experienced a single contraction, yet my little girl was here and she was healthy. It just seemed like a miracle. It’s amazing to think how Amy came into the world. Even when I was unconscious, my body knew what to do. I’d love to be able to remember giving birth to her, but I’m just grateful that we are both alive and healthy now."
Chastity became comatose after a car accident in 2001. It was discovered upon admission that she was just two weeks pregnant. She carried her baby to full term whilst in a semi-conscious state. Chastity could sometimes look at people when they spoke to her, but could not move or speak. Her doctors decided to induce her, so as to ensure close monitoring of the process. Chastity gave birth vaginally to Alexis Michelle (7lbs, 7oz) in just four hours. Dr Baha Sibai, chief of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at University Hospital in Cincinnati, said Mrs. Cooper "surprised everybody" with a quick delivery and the obstacles she overcame. Her husband believes that she smiled at her baby daughter following her birth, and Chastity's amazing recovery continued over the subsequent years, regaining her cognitive functions, movement and speech. Her son Aaron said in 2013 "She is now doing great... we just hope her next move is getting out of her wheelchair..."
Abby was put into an induced coma after fainting on New Year's Eve. She had been fighting the H1N1 virus which had developed into pneumonia. Abby went into labour naturally at 34 weeks of pregnancy. Doctors reported how she had progressed through the natural stages of birth and, her Grandmother says, her body "actually pushed". Waking up several days later, Abby descibes her son Douglas' birth as a 'miracle', exclaiming "How many people give birth when they're in a coma?!"
Becky was also put into a medically induced coma after contracting H1N1. Her doctor Dr. Asad Sheikh said "She was actually on the ventilator. So really the labor process itself was one that, by and large, occurred with her body responding going into labor on its own." Chase was born and did well in the NICU. Becky was brought out of her coma five weeks later, to meet her son. Becky said "I always thought it was the next day.. I didn't know it was weeks later so it was like - 'Oh, well what happened?"