As I mentioned recently, I’m working on my thesis project on the subject of birth as a spiritual experience. Today, instead of my usual Tuesday collection of links, I’m sharing some thought-provoking quotes that I collected while writing the prospectus for my thesis. Pictures in this post are from last night’s Day of Hope and Healing ceremony in Rolla.
The first quote really relates to the whole reason I chose this topic in the first place:
“In this culture…a woman can be made to feel foolish for emphasizing the centrality of giving birth to her identity or her personal religiousness, her ‘womanspirit’” (Listening to Our Bodies, Stephanie Demetrakopoulos, p. 18)
While it is the opposite in my own circle of friends, in the dominant culture, whether given “religious” significance or not, I find this is true: women are made to feel foolish for emphasizing the centrality of birth to her womanspirit, to her life, to her feelings about her capacities as a woman and mother. Women are made to feel foolish for struggling with birth trauma OR for feeling “empowered” by birth. After all, it is just one day. But maybe, just maybe, part of this sensation actually originates in sensitivity to the feelings of other women:
Elizabeth Gray in Sacred Dimensions of Women’s Experience explains:
…this is not the entire story of the ambivalence a woman experiences along the way to claiming the sacredness of her own birthing process. There is the reticence she feels about possibly offending other women by seeming to elevate her own birthing experience. How is one woman to claim her own experience of an ‘easy’ birth when she knows other women labor for days in pain and some women die giving birth? How is she to name as sacred her experience of having babies, when, for whatever reason, other women are childless? How is she to claim her own experience of ‘conscious’ home-birth…,when other women may now regret having been unconscious with medications? Or if you had a ‘bad’ experience giving birth, how are you to name that when women around you are happily anticipating a successful culmination to their Lamaze classes? Women’s naming of much in their own birthing experiences is silenced by the sensitivity to other women’s feelings.
But despite these many reasons for reticence, there is a bonding of women who have given birth. It is deep and silent…a silvery shadowed oath between life and death down which all ‘the birthing mothers on the planet’ have moved, those ‘mothers of all times without whom no one walks this planet.’ Women who have given birth reach out to one another…saying to all those mothers whose birthing experiences were different than hers, ‘Don’t feel badly. ‘Rejoice in the incredible, joyous, astounding fact of creation…Every moment a child is born is a holy moment…’
(Elizabeth Dodson Gray, ed. Sacred Dimensions of Women’s Experience, p. 49-50)
“Because of this ancient overlay, it is not easy for women to lay claim to our life-giving power. How are we do reclaim that which has been declared fearful, polluting and yet unimportant? How are women to name as sacred the actual physical birth, which comes with no sacred ritual, while lurking around the corner of time are the long-established meta-physical rituals of circumcision and baptism?” (Elizabeth Dodson Gray p. 49)
Women today are also laboring to birth a healthier, more whole planet and means of being. For many women this begins with how they approach pregnancy and childbirth, how they consciously prepare to the welcome their babies into the world.
It is well past time in human history to push aside male dread and boldly claim the sacred woman-centeredness of every human birth…The wonder at new human life cannot be separated from the sacredness of women’s bodies or women’s lives. We will be involved in a profound betrayal of the gift of life itself as long as individual men and male culture ‘freak out’ before women’s power to give birth…If we cannot affirm women and women’s bodies and women’s birthing and women’s choice, we will go on bringing death to the planet and to ourselves. We cannot affirm life without affirming women. [emphasis mine]
(Elizabeth Dodson Gray, ed. Sacred Dimensions of Women’s Experience, p. 50-51)
And, as I’ve touched on before, birth and breastfeeding are the original sacramental experiences:
“Woman’s body is a transmutation system; it has the power to change blood to milk, to change itself into food which in turn becomes the physical and psychic energy of a child. She is creating an incarnate soul, assisting it in growth.” —Stephanie Demetrakopoulos (Listening to Our Bodies, p. 36)