When I first described my thesis project about birth as a spiritual experience, I described my use of the word “spiritual” in this way:
When I use the word “spiritual,” I mean a range of experiences from a humanistic sensation of being linked to women around the world from all times and spaces while giving birth, to a “generic” sense of feeling the “might of creation” move through you, to a sense of non-specifically-labeled powers of Life and Universe being spun into being through your body, to feeling like a “birth goddess” as you pushed out your baby, to more traditional religious expressions of praying during labor, or drawing upon scripture as a coping measure, or feeling that giving birth brought you closer to the God of your understanding/religion, or, indeed, meeting God/dess or Divinity during labor and birth).
Just this week, a mother shared a link to her birth story on my Facebook wall and there, embedded within the body of her narrative, was exactly the kind of thing I’m exploring with my thesis:
The pain was deep and blinding at this point. I was still pacing. I felt out of control, my primal being had been unleashed and it was a spirit I could no longer cage. I yelled that I couldn’t do it, I begged for help. In my mind I was screaming, I wanted to claw at my eyes, rip out my uterus, jump off a cliff and end my pain.
Then something happened… I don’t remember what was said, but the walls around me rung with words of encouragement from my men, and from the wise women.
All of a sudden it didn’t feel like we were just 6 people, but the very ground beneath opened and the walls melted and the ceiling cracked to reveal the sky and what I saw were the souls of billions of women who had come before me, gathered together in support of us. I opened my eyes and suddenly it was as though I was immeshed in a tightly woven tapestry of all the mothers who have ever existed- all my sisters and grandmothers- that had birthed their children before me and they held the space- I found myself surrounded by souls from every time and place. These were women of the cities, of the jungles, the sierras, the ghettos, the caves, the shores… these were mothers from every single culture, every walk of life. Starting deep and low and getting louder and louder was a chanting, and in my mind’s ear I heard some ancient song that these mothers sang to me- and it brought me one message: I can do this. I am doing this. I am safe. I have the power. I am protected by all the mothers who have come before me and I will hold the space for all the mothers who will come after In that moment, I was protected and supported by every mother who had ever existed- they stood around me in a circle and from them, I drew my strength.
No more fear. No more pain. I banished the negative feelings and harnessed all positive energy. I opened my eyes and looked deep into the eyes of my child and I was moved by his wisdom- Joell smiled back at me and a universal truth made itself known to me in that moment: all children are deeply connected to birth. Something in his eyes told me, “You can do it, mommy”. They understand the universe in ways we cannot fathom. They are the wise ones, and from them we have much to learn.
I’ve also been catching up with issues of Midwifery Today and noticed the following quote in the article, “Searching for Ancient Childbirth Secrets” in Midwifery Today Autumn 2013. Tsippy Monat writes:
“Anthropology describes trance as a condition is which the senses are heightened and everyday things take on a different meaning. Communicative competence with other people may increase or may not exist. Facts of time and place are revealed differently than in normal everyday consciousness. This description reminded me of situations encountered at birth because birth is a condition in which the mind is altered. When I accompany births, I experience the flooding of oxytocin and endorphins. In Hebrew, the root of the word birth can also mean ‘next to God’” (p. 49).
And, in an essay based around an article about an old Gemanic/Jewish naming ceremony that I wrote for a different blog, I wrote:
If power does indeed rest in the stories that are told, how would the birth culture in the US change if we did have stories and rituals like the Hollekreisch (with original connection to the Goddess intact, of course)? In their book Milk, Money, and Madness, Michels and Baumslag explain: “In western society, the baby gets attention while the mother is given lectures [emphasis mine]. Pregnancy is considered an illness; once the ‘illness’ is over, interest in her wanes. Mothers in ‘civilized’ countries often have no or very little help with a new baby. Women tend to be home alone to fend for themselves and the children. They are typically isolated socially and expected to complete their usual chores, including keeping the house clean and doing the cooking and shopping, while being the sole person to care for the infant…” (p. 17)
This is in contrast with perhaps the original function of the Hollekreisch ceremony which acknowledged the mother’s vital role:
“The consistent connection of the ritual with the motherʼs rise from childbed, and the home-based nature of the ceremony, seem to indicate that the Hollekreisch ceremony gave the mother an important role. Hayyim Schauss, whose research was based on interviews, eyewitness accounts, and historical writings dating from the seventeenth century, indicates that in some areas of Germany, a synagogue ritual preceded the ceremony. The mother of the child walked to worship with the local rebbetzin and donated a new wrapper (wimple), with the infantʼs name sewn onto it, for the Torah scroll. This allowed the mother and her ability to give birth to be celebrated along with the new child—which may be precisely why the ceremony became associated with, or was originally rooted in, the legend of Frau Holle” (p. 66, emphasis mine).
Also in a new family project that actually has deep roots in my personal experiences with birth as a spiritual experience, Mark and I have been working on making pewter versions of some of my birth art sculptures. This one is my pushing-the-baby-out sculpture, the original of which was created to help me prepare for the birth of my last baby:
I am a wild woman
and the spirit of every wild woman
coalesces in me
for we are each wild women
and we are all the spirit
of the wild woman.
I will follow the voice in my heart.
~ Melissa Clary, quoted by Raising Ecstasy
(via Journey Of Young Women)