…This ‘time’ at the end of pregnancy was described in a lovely article (The Last Days of Pregnancy: A Place of In-Between- The Mothering website) as Zwischen, a German word for between. At the end of pregnancy the mothering hormones start to cause emotions to run high as the cervix starts to soften, efface and women generally crave the quiet and private places they need to emotionally and mentally travel inwards.
In many traditional cultures around the world, women are known to actively leave their tribes for birthing huts (Inuit Tribe a group of indigenous people residing in the Arctic regions, Kwaio a tribe who live in an Island off the Pacific and many more). The Eipos people in Papa New Guinea are documented (Schnietenhovel) to go into the Wilderness of the Bush shortly before the onset of labour. The tribes above are also protected by various women they already have a relationship with throughout their pregnancy and birth journeys. Midwives and female relatives provide the support to enable confidence in the birthing process and some of the women will go off and give birth alone.
She also writes about how the pervasiveness of social media might impact this need for privacy:
…Don’t be fooled by the facelessness of facebook and other social media. Just because you cannot be physically seen, it doesn’t mean you have privacy. I often hear so much unnecessary stress from women who feel observed on groups within the social media communities. Smart phones leave us open to be contacted by anyone day or night at a time when we just don’t want to be in touch with anyone at all. I wonder what effect social media has on the orchestration of birthing hormones that play such a vital part in undisturbed childbirth.
I felt a strong call to retreat and pull in during all of my pregnancies, maybe because of my introverted personality and craving for solitude, but maybe because of biology too…
Pregnancy—towards the end of pregnancy I feel an inward call. I start wanting to quit things, to be alone, to “nest,” to create art, to journal, and to sink into myself. Nothing sounds better to me in late pregnancy than sitting in the sunlight with my hands on my belly, breathing, and being alone with my baby and my thoughts.
For me, this preference for solitude is reflected in my preferred birth environment which involves no talking/noise and as few other people present as possible.
This is not how all women feel, my own mother has expressed that she enjoyed and wanted quite a few people around her while she was giving birth—the help, support, companionship, and affirmation from other women was important to her births. The women giving birth on The Farm, of Ina May Gaskin’s Spiritual Midwifery fame, also seemed to be very social birthers. I remember looking at the pictures in the book and feel a little horrified by the huge gatherings of people present for births! Speaking of The Farm, I enjoyed reading this interview about the birth culture created by the midwives there:
“This is how I had my own babies,” she said. “I knew that if I could do it, pretty much anyone who was healthy and well could do it. So I wanted to help women. Of course, I never thought I’d be in the type of job where I was working mostly with delivering babies, but in the process of helping women, I fell in love with women. Women are brave. We’re absolutely beautiful creatures.”
I was also reminded of this past post about Birth Witnesses. This remains one of my very favorite guest posts that I’ve hosted here and it gives me food for thought every time I re-read it:
The only way to understand birth is to experience it yourself. The ONLY way? That comment stayed with me, haunted me. I became a doula after my daughter’s birth because I wanted to be able to provide women with support and knowledge that could give them a different experience, a better memory than what I had. I just couldn’t believe that there wasn’t a way to understand birth at all except to experience it firsthand. Certainly there wasn’t always this fear and unknown around birth that we each face today. Not always. I began studying that idea. What about other cultures? What about our culture, historically? What about The Farm? There wasn’t always this myth and mystery about birth! I realized there was a time (and in places, there still is) when women banded together for births. Mothers, sisters, cousins, daughters, aunts, friends. They came together and comforted, guided, soothed, coached, and held the space for one another during birth. These women didn’t go in it alone – they were surrounded by women who had birthed before them. Women who knew what looked and felt right, and what didn’t. Women who could empathize with them and empower them. In addition to that, girls and women were raised in a culture of attending births. Daughters watched mothers, sisters and aunts labor their babies into this world. They saw, heard, and supported these women for the long hours of labor, so when they became mothers themselves, the experience was a new, but very familiar one for them. Birth wasn’t a secretive ritual practiced behind the cold, business-like doors of a hospital. It was a time for bonding, learning, sharing and sisterhood. Girls learned how women become mothers, and mothers helped their sisters bring forth life.
We can’t overemphasize the importance of who is present in the birth space and their influence on how a birth unfolds. Other people’s presence can have a powerful impact, whether positive or negative. One important area is with regard to freedom of choice and self-direction:
…Women can find themselves feeling bullied or coerced into agreeing to procedures they wish to avoid, such as induction or continuous fetal monitoring. They may be told if they don’t follow their doctor’s suggestion their baby’s life will be in danger. Consent is most often given, but it is not informed consent. Many parents in this vulnerable position either don’t know how to advocate for themselves or are under prepared to – practically, emotionally and psychologically.
Choice-based narratives figure heavily into both “alternative” and “mainstream” dialogues about birth. I am emphatic that the companion to informed consent must be informed refusal. Very often, there is no option to refuse, and in this situation, there is no real choice involved at all…
…Women’s lives and their choices are deeply embedded in a complex, multifaceted, practically infinite web of social, political, cultural, socioeconomic, religious, historical, and environmental relationships.
And, I maintain that a choice is not a choice if it is made in a context of fear.
On a related note, what about pain and birth? Do we accurately remember what birth feels like? I feel as if I do remember, though it is often said that you “forget” as soon as the baby is born. I find instead that it is more of the “halo effect” described here:
The ‘halo effect’ is the term given to describe the positive emotions experienced by the new mother when the baby is placed in her arms for the first time. In that moment, amidst a rush of oxytocin and happiness, the mother is likely to have a more positive view of the birth experience than she did ten minutes earlier. Simply put, the happiness of holding her baby for the first time overpowers any pain or negativity from the birth.
It makes sense that this effect could influence how the pain of birth was remembered. The pain of birth may be remembered as less severe simply because the benefits of having a healthy baby are felt to outweigh the discomfort caused by childbirth.
Women who experience traumatic births and who are unable to hold their babies immediately after the birth may miss out on this ‘halo effect’. Though they will still experience the rush of love and hormones upon holding their baby for the first time, the delay can reduce the impact this has on their overall feelings about and memory of labour and birth.
When you feel amazing about yourself and deeply in love with your baby, the memory of exact sensation fades to the background and the exhilaration and triumph and love moves to the forefront. However, there is also simply the physical component (kind of like when you have the flu, it dominates your mental landscape and you forget ever feeling healthy. Then, you get better and the flu-self becomes distant). I marvel at how women shift through these physical stages. When I am Pregnant Woman, it is totally real and becomes normal. After I give birth and become Nursing Mother again, that is what is vibrant and real and Pregnant Woman, and the thoroughly embodied experience of pregnancy, becomes fainter and more dreamlike. Interesting that I use the word dreamlike, because I also find that it is in dreams that the physical experience returns with crystal clarity. I sometimes dream about being pregnant or giving birth and in those dreams I am 100% confident that I have not forgotten at all what it feels like, my body holds a deeply invested physical memory and “imprint” of my babies and births, it is just hard to call it back as vividly while going about every day life tasks at the same time.
Anyway, once we’ve experience the power of birth, we may become evangelists for birth, at least for a time. I really enjoyed my memories of the enthusiasm and energy I felt as a new birthworker reflected in this post from ProDoula:
It’s magical. It’s moving. It’s more than you ever imagined it would be. And you love it!
You never want it to end. You want to feel the power of these women and you want to talk about birth, ALL DAY LONG! In fact, you never want to talk about anything else again!
At the end of the last day, you “friend” each of these women and you expect to stay in contact with them forever. You are sad that it’s over, but you are a new woman because it happened.
You are replenished. You are fulfilled. You are wiser and you are stronger.
And then, you go home…
What I discovered with time though is that I feel the power of women and this replenishment and strength in other forms besides the birth world. I find it in my priestess work, in my women’s circle, and at the Red Tent too.