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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.

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Birth in Today’s Media: Finding Help Without the Hype

“The Media” as a term encompasses all channels of content prepared for the express purpose of being sold to consumers, to encourage them to consume the information or entertainment. This includes everything from traditional news outlets of TV and newspaper (which sell commercials) to movies and television shows to sponsored content on social media sites such as Google and Facebook. This Media takes its sustenance from marketing the sensational. By its own design, these outlets never highlight the normal or the ordinary. Sensation Sells.

When this media mindset intersects with birth, the result is an inflated, dramatic rendering of the pregnancy, labor, birth, and mothering process. We should expect nothing else from the large channels, which highlight only “the exciting.” Visual media (like television and movies), along with print media (like newspapers), do not have the time, patience, or finished-product space to show the true nature of labor and birth – which at times can be slow, uneventful, and little appears to be happening on the surface. Instead, the frantic, dramatic birth scenes prevail. Even in the series Call the Midwife (produced by BBC), some normal births are highlighted, while many more of the scenes focus on the extra-ordinary. In Newspaper articles, almost never will one see a headline of  “Baby Born at Home in Peaceful Setting.” Instead, the babies born in cars on the side of the road or in hospital parking lots are disproportionately highlighted compared to those born in “normal” settings of hospital or home.

Whether or not the scene itself is portrayed as dramatic and frantic, the visual cues included are very likely to promote a medical model of pregnancy and birth. The picture of the ultrasound as a birth announcement. The scene of the parents during the ultrasound focusing on the screen. The birthing woman ready to begin pushing (when the doctor says so, of course), with feet up in stirrups and seemingly in the least comfortable position possible. All these scenes take power away from the birthing woman’s intuition and connection with her body and her baby. The impact on society and on women who give birth is one of disassociation with her own body and her own power.

Social media is – maybe surprisingly – providing quite a potent antidote to the otherwise pervasive cultural representation of passive and/or dramatic labor and birth. Through personal channels such as Instagram and YouTube, women are able to share more thorough representations of their experience with birth. Many times, these are personally inspiring and empowering. A powerful shift has happened with the art of birth photographers/videographers and midwives being widely shared across these social media networks. While still running a business, yes, with the intent to sell their services to clients, these women are first and foremost creating art to be shared with the world. Pictures and videos of birth experiences in various settings and levels of medical intervention are expressed as empowering and normal. I see this source of content as a powerful tool for woman as they grow into childbearing age and as they preparing to welcome a child. Great instagram accounts include @monetnicolebirths, @birthwithoutfear, @cradledcreations, and @lindseymeehleis.

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ACED Workshop NJ

Our birthright as women is the feminine creative energy present in the peak of our fertility and wellness: conception, pregnancy, childbearing, and nurturing. Power and intuition are inherent in each woman’s body. I love that all of BirthWorks’ lessons, experiences, and interactions honor this creative energy, and acknowledge pregnancy and childbearing as a healthy and natural process. Watching videos such as Birth in the Squatting Position and Birth Day at the workshop inspired me to imagine the powerful, peaceful time of connection that birth can offer. How different might our world be if more and more families had this time of intense connection, challenge, and joy? How different might our homes and schools and workplaces be if filled with individuals who had this opportunity for love and embrace in their first moments? Those are the ideals that inspire me in my life and in birth work.

Making the trip from Cheyenne, Wyoming to Medford, New Jersey for the workshop and beginning the investment in the certification program are steps towards fulfilling my vocation of supporting new families. Attending the workshop was a big step. As an introvert, it takes a lot of mental and emotional preparation for me to be ready to enter an unfamiliar social space. The set- up of the workshop – keeping the attendance to a small group – allowed relationships to form, emotions and experiences to be expressed, and equal talking and listening time.

As I’m a rather bookish type and a birth junkie on my own, the workshop really allowed me to experience positive and stretching exercises in a group setting. I especially appreciated the time of guided meditation/visualizations, as these were new to me. I left the workshop feeling very empowered to begin this journey to help expectant parents get in touch with their own power and intuition.

After experiencing the workshop, my initial feelings of BirthWorks as a positive force in our world were confirmed. The organization exists to see expectant parents embrace their own power and intuition, and this is desperately needed. We - the birth and postpartum doulas, the childbirth educators - are simply facilitators in that process of greater self-confidence and trust. As I look forward to beginning doula services and teaching courses, I am both bursting with potentially life-changing information for families, and slightly overwhelmed at the amount of positive information and stories to share in a limited amount of time. I trust that as I move forward, I will begin to know how to prepare for classes, and also to continue listening to my intuition in the moment to know what topics to address and how to act in the moment.