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Feeling Spirituality in Birth

At the peak of childbirth, a woman in labor not only has the capacity to heal herself, but to heal the whole of humanity – her own liberation contributing to the liberation of humanity through the web of global consciousness to which we all belong.

BirthWorks philosophy: Birth is instinctive, Birth is sacred, Birth is ancient.

Spirituality can be broadly interpreted as the quest for self knowledge and the search for a higher purpose and meaning to life. As such it can be described as a universal human experience. For some the spiritual quest may be fulfilled through religious practice and belief. Others may turn to more esoteric traditions and still others may look to meditation and the development of self awareness. In the context of being a doula I would define spirituality as the practise of helping birthing women reach their full potential and deepen their self-awareness. The safe space that the doula protects enables the woman to surrender to her birth, transcending the what/where/who/why of self-understanding up until this point. The practise of human values of right speech, right thought and right action will enable a doula to carry out this special work.

The belief that death, the end of one’s life, is a spiritual event appears to be ubiquitous across every culture. It seems oddly lacking that in today’s western culture the synonymous birth, the beginning of life, is not commonly thought of as spiritually significant. Women’s health counsellor and childbirth educator Sharon Moloney states in her paper on the research of women’s spirituality around menstruation and birth “cross- culturally and throughout history, pregnancy and childbirth have been perceived as spiritual events because of the miraculous processes involved”. She goes on to say that despite many couples feeling that birth is a deeply spiritual event, modern obstetrics largely ignores the spiritual side of birth. She says “Because birth is so commonly experienced as a techno-medical event, no one guesses that the depression and spiritual distress that often follow are reflective of a system (and a discourse) at odds with women’s physiology and needs.” When birth becomes a medical event to be managed by professionals the physiological side of birth becomes compromised; both by upsetting the birth physiology and by alternating the mother’s emotional state. Scientific literature abounds around the important role hormones play in the physical and emotional outcomes of birth. Indeed oxytocin is now recognised as the key hormone regarding both contractions and love. By upsetting this process we are robbing women not only of their right to a healthy and emotionally satisfying birth but also of one of the key spiritual experiences in a woman’s life.

A doula can play an important role in upholding the spirituality of birth. As protector of the birthing space, a doula provides the security that women need to allow themselves to unravel in the process of birth. Her presence and gentle words create the safety a woman needs to let go and her reminders to “go within”, “dive deep” and “surrender” help guide a woman to her inner depths, enabling her to connect to her true self. Eckhart Tolle says “Whenever you accept what is, something deeper emerges than what is. So, you can be trapped in the most painful dilemma, external or internal, the most painful feelings or situation, and the moment you accept what is, you go beyond it, you transcend it. Even if you feel hatred, the moment you accept that this is what you feel, you transcend it. It may still be there, but suddenly you are at a deeper place where it doesn’t matter that much anymore”. When a doula helps protect a woman from external stimulation and interference, a woman has the possibility to transcend her experience. She may reach places within herself, and I would argue within universal consciousness, that she never even knew existed. Uninterrupted she is able to reach her deepest levels, those where spiritual transformation takes place. Although she appears to be doing very little, the doula is doing very important work.

Midwife Marianne Littlejohn says “How a baby is born and how well a woman is treated when she gives birth sets the tone and is the matrix from which a child will grow into a future we have not yet imagined”. When the doula meets her clients with an open heart and mind, and when she shares compassion and kindness with the entire birthing team she creates a climate of love that resonates throughout the days and lives of all those she meets. The harried Doctor may reflect on his manner when he observes the doula sitting contentedly with a birthing woman. The midwife may remember why she first drawn to the profession when she observes the connection between doula and birther. When overwhelmed with a crying baby and a crying mother, the partner may remember the love and patience a doula showed to the woman during the toughest times of labour and bring forth those qualities within them-self. At the opening of the next chapter of a couple’s life, the doula participates in the creation of a future of peace and happiness.

Childbirth is a life experience of rich spiritual meaning. Women report birth as being deeply spiritual and in some cases a time of spiritual transformation. Midwife Marianne Littlejohn writes, “Birthing my firstborn son I knew I had tapped into a secret and powerful source of love and energy within myself. I felt more connected to that and from that moment on, I knew I was going to be a midwife”. A study of spirituality in childbearing women identified the following spiritual themes in childbearing women “childbirth as a time to grow closer to God, the use of religious beliefs and rituals as powerful coping mechanisms, childbirth as a time to make religiosity more meaningful, the significance of a Higher Power in influencing birth outcomes, and childbirth as a spiritually transforming experience”. I am particularly interested in the last theme, that of childbirth as a spiritually transforming experience. I believe childbirth is one of the few times in a woman’s life that she is pushed to such extremes of experience that she may undergo any degree of spiritual transformation. Above that, I believe that at the peak of childbirth she not only has the capacity to heal herself, but to heal the whole of humanity – her own liberation contributing to the liberation of humanity through the web of global consciousness to which we all belong.

Within the context of being a doula, it is important to highlight the spiritual beliefs of the families one is working with. A doula should ask what, if any, spiritual beliefs the family and particularly the birthing woman hold. She should be careful that her words and actions are respectful of these beliefs, and if she feels attuned to them, she may ask if the family would like her to bring this spiritual aspect in to the birth in any way. This could be in the form of prayer, meditation, cleansing, sage, chanting, mandala, candles, incense, prayer beads etc.

To finish I will turn to a quote by Sharon Moloney that I feel expresses the depth of spirituality that a birthing woman may experience. She says “Something was happening which would render me forever different……. to be given the opportunity to know this power of creation in the most intimate, deeply personal way—in my own flesh, and from the depths of my being. Yet it was also frightening—something much bigger than me, over which I had no control.” Blessings on the doula who is able to assist a birthing woman in having such an experience.

Response from a BirthWorks International student to the following assignment:

Birth, regardless of any religious affiliation, denomination or belief system, is a miraculous and spiritual event. In your work as a doula, you will become acquainted with families with different beliefs and religious affiliations. How do you define “spirituality” in the context of being a doula? How do you see spirituality being a part of supporting families during birth?

1. Spirituality in Childbearing Women. Lynn Clark Callister, RN, PhD, FAAN and Inaam Khalaf, RN, PhD, 2010.
2. Dancing with the Wind: A Methodological Approach to Researching Women’s
Spirituality around Menstruation and Birth, Sharon Moloney, 2007.
3. Relationships – True love and the Transendence of Duality. Kim Eng.
4. Midwife Explains The Spiritual Side Of Birth. Huffington Post, 2015.