“Here is your sacrament
Take. Eat. this is my body
this is real milk, thin, sweet, bluish,
which I give for the life of the world…
Here is your bread of life.
Here is the blood by which you live in me.” –Robin Morgan (in Life Prayers, p. 148)
“…When I say painless, please understand, I don’t mean you will not feel anything. What you will feel is a lot of pressure; you will feel the might of creation move through you…” – Giuditta Tornetta in Painless Childbirth
“I am the holy mother; . . . She is not so far from me. And perhaps She is not so very distinct from me, either. I am her child, born in Her, living and moving in Her, perhaps at death to be birthed into yet some other new life, still living and having my being in Her. But while on this earth She and I share the act of creation, of being, and Motherhood.” —Niki Whiting, “On Being a Holy Mother” in Whedon
“Woman-to-woman help through the rites of passage that are important in every birth has significance not only for the individuals directly involved, but for the whole community. The task in which the women are engaged is political. It forms the warp and weft of society.” –Sheila Kitzinger
In 2011, I started working on my doctoral degree in women’s spirituality/thealogy (Goddess studies). Before I even began my first class, I chose my dissertation subject: birth as a spiritual experience. I’ve been steadily plugging away on my coursework and somehow in the midst of everything else that I am responsible for, I’ve successfully completed 13 of my classes. I already have a (not related) master’s degree and this is why I was admitted straight into the doctoral program, even though I have to complete a lot of M.Div (master’s of divinity) level coursework as prerequisites to the actual doctoral classes. After I finished my most recent class and got my updated transcript, I finally actually noticed how many M.Div classes I’ve completed thus far on my journey and it occurred to me to email to inquire what it would take to finish an M.Div degree first. I had this sudden feeling of what a nice stepping stone or milestone experience it would be to finish something, since I know that I have a minimum of three more years remaining before I complete the D.Min! They wrote back quickly and let me know that with the completion of three courses in matriarchal myth (I’m halfway through the first right now), my almost-completed year-long class in Compassion (I’m in month 11), and The Role of the Priestess course (involving three ten-page papers), all of which are also part of my doctoral program, the only other thing required for successful completion of my M.Div would be a thesis (minimum of 70 pages).
As I’ve been working through my classes, I’ve felt a gradual shift in what I want to focus on for my dissertation, and I already decided to switch to writing about theapoetics and ecopsychology now, rather than strictly about birth. I was planning to mash my previous ideas about birth and a “thealogy of the body” into this new topic somehow, perhaps: theapoetics, ecopsychology, and embodied thealogy. Then, when I got the news about the option of writing a thesis and finishing my M.Div, it became clear to me: my thesis subject is birth as a spiritual experience! This allows me to use the ideas and information I’d already been collecting as dissertation “seeds” as a thesis instead and frees me up to explore and develop my more original ideas about theapoetics for my dissertation! (This is the primary subject of my other blog.) So…why post about this now? Well, one because I’m super excited about all this and just wanted to share and two, because I’d love to hear from readers about their experiences with birth as a spiritual experience! While I don’t have to do the kind of independent research for a thesis that I will be doing for my dissertation and while my focus is unabashedly situated within a feminist context and a thealogical orientation, I would love to be informed by a diverse chorus of voices regarding this topic so that the project becomes an interfaith dialog. Luckily for me I’ve already reviewed a series of relevant titles.
- The Gift of Giving Life (explores the divine nature of pregnancy and birth from a Christian, specifically LDS/Mormon, perspective)
- Embodying the Sacred (written from a Catholic point of view)
- Sacred Pregnancy (a gorgeous book with a non-specific spiritual perspective)
- L’Mazeltov (written specifically for Jewish parents-to-be)
- Birth on the Labyrinth Path (focuses on the divine nature of pregnancy and birth from a pagan wordview)
Now, I’d like to hear from you. What are your experiences with the spirituality of birth? Do you consider birth to be a spiritual experience? Did you have any spiritual revelations or encounters during your births or any other events along your reproductive timeline? (miscarriage, menstruation, lactation…) Did you draw upon spiritual coping measures or resources as you labored and gave birth? Did giving birth deepen, expand, or otherwise impact your sense of spirituality or your sense of yourself as a spiritual or religious person? Did any of your reproductive experiences open your understanding of spirituality in a way that you had not previously experienced or reveal beliefs or understandings not previously uncovered?
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). I’m particularly interested in women’s embodied experiences of creation and whether or not your previous religious beliefs or spiritual understandings in life affirmed, acknowledged, or encouraged your body and bodily experience of giving birth as sacred and valuable as well as your own sense of yourself as spiritually connected or supported while giving birth. I would appreciate links to birth stories or articles that you found helpful, books you enjoyed or connected with, and comments relating to your own personal experiences with any of the comments or questions I have raised above. I would love to hear about your thoughts as they relate to:
- Reproductive Rights
- Birth as a feminist or social justice issue…
With these things said, I also want to mention that I’m planning to redirect a lot of my writing energy/time into this thesis project rather than to blog posts. I’m trying to come up with a blog posting schedule for myself, but in order to actually do this thing, I must acknowledge that I have to re-prioritize some things and that means writing for my blogs probably needs to slip down a couple of notches in terms of priority of focus.
Oh, and I also hope this thesis project will turn into a book of some kind as well!
“It is hard to find a female-based concept such as Shakti alive within Western spiritual traditions. Shakti could be viewed as an expression of goddess in the female body at the time of birth. I would say its flow / expression and outcome of love is hindered by unnecessary interventions at birth which divert such energy towards fear- based, masculine forms. The use of masculine, rescue-based healing forms such as cutting (Grahn, 1993) can be necessary and useful, yet such procedures are currently used at the cost of women’s autonomy in the birthing process (see Jordan on C-section, 2007), and define the parameters of what feminist thinker Mary Daly called patriarchal medicine (1978). Modern women are largely lost when it comes to giving birth, turning to medical authority figures to be told what to do. Daly pointed to the dangers of this appropriation for women’s personal and collective autonomy.
Birthing bodies resist, disrupt and threaten standard North American modernist investments in linear time, rationality, order, and objectivity. Birth disrupts the Judeo-Christian male image of God, even as He hides the reality of female creation and creativity. I hold that women giving birth act from a focal point of power within their respective cultures and locations, the power to generate and renew human life itself from within the female body. This power is more absolute in its human reality then any other culturally sanctioned act of replication and material production, or social construction. I speculate that how this female power is expressed, denied, or acknowledged by women and within the society around a birthing woman reflects the degree to which women can and may express themselves at large. As each soul makes the journey through her/his mother, re-centring human consciousness within the female-based reality of human birth causes transformation of patriarchal consciousness as a whole…” –Nane Jordan, Towards an Ontology of Women Giving Birth