“Not every woman experiences unaided, natural childbirth, yet many women hope for it. To strive for birth as a peak experience—to withstand this ‘trial by fire’–a woman must learn what labor pain is and be prepared to accept and work with it. And she must also prepare for the unexpected.” –Karen Fisk
“Women are as nervous and unsure of themselves as ever, and they need to learn to trust their bodies. Birthing is much more that eliminating pain. It is one of life’s peak experiences.” –-Elisabeth Bing
From Nane Jordan’s MA thesis, Earthdance, Birthdance, my attention was caught by a reference to Exceptional Human Experiences and whether birth qualifies as such:
I liked the idea of researching what are known as ‘Exceptional Human Experiences’ by Rhea A. White (1998). White does not mention birth in her discussion of what EHEs are, describing the importance of near-death experiences, mystical revelations, psychic and ‘wonderstruck’ sensations. I posit that women can access and experience ‘mystical’ states when giving birth. EHEs contribute to overall human development but in order to contribute they need to be spoken of and integrated as much as painful or traumatic experiences, not suppressed within a person’s life experience. The huge oversight of birth as an EHE speaks to our cultural denial of the revelatory aspects of women’s birth experiences (gestation and birth as perhaps the first ‘mystical’ revelation), and birth’s overall impact within the developmental lives of women…(p. 21-22)
I’ve previously referenced the idea of childbirth as a “flow experience” in this post:
In the textbook Childbirth Education: Practice, Research, & Theory the concept of birth as a peak, or “flow” experience is addressed several times:
The joy and personal growth that can result from successfully meeting challenging experiences has been described as ‘flow experiences’…such experiences are generally better understood in athletics than in childbirth because the public understands athletic events to be character building and an effort or a struggle that requires skill, practice, and concentration and is not without pain. As such, athletic accomplishments are widely recognized for both the product and process…Society focuses the celebration of birth almost totally on the product–the baby–and is rather neutral about the process as long as the mother emerges healthy.
And, about birth as a peak experience in my own life in this one:
Birth is (or can be) a “peak experience” for women (and families). I want all women to have a chance to experience that. I certainly do not want her to feel diminished, unworthy, inferior or lacking if birth is not a peak experience in her life, but I also want all women to certainly be given a reasonable opportunity to let birth unfold in all its power and be treated respectfully and humanely by those around her—regardless of what is going on or the eventual outcome.
I love birth and cherish my memories of my sons’ births and consider them to be some of the most transformative, empowering, and significant single days in my life—peak experiences, powerful memories—and I also feel that birth matters as a distinct (and relatively rare) occurrence in a woman life. I believe birth has inherent value and worth on its own terms.
What do you think? Was a birth a peak experience for you? Does birth belong on the list of potential exceptional human experiences? What do you know of birth’s potential to be a mystical experience?