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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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Birthing in the Spirit


She labored in the water, feeling her body becoming lighter as her abdomen tightened in another contraction.  Her partner looked at her saying, “Are you okay?” with a thumbs up to encourage her.  She smiled back at him looking relaxed in the water.  But inside she felt huge.  Her mind was whirling as she felt the power connecting her to all the women who have given birth before her. She was not alone. This power was sustaining her through strong, hard, contractions.  She thought to herself, “If they could do it, so can I.”

Birth is sacred.  What can be more sacred than the formless taking form through the human body.  This is something we may often forget, getting preoccupied with all the other concerns in birth.  For those attending births, the process may become routine and lose the wonder and awe of what has just happened.

Experience of the Body – Birth is an integrated experience of the mind, body, and spirit.  We know it is an experience of the body because we can see the body, feel the body, and hear the body.  We see the abdomen growing a woman as her fetus approaches full gestation.  A pregnant woman can feel her baby kicking inside.  These are tangible  experiences.

Experience of the mind – Birth is an experience of the mind, and even though we can’t see the mind, we believe it exists because of all the thoughts and emotions that surface during pregnancy, labor, and birth.

Experience of the spirit – When it comes to the spirit, there is more ambiguity because the spirit means different things to different people.  But the energy driving the passage of a soul taking birth must come from somewhere, and this remains one of the mysteries of life.

I believe love and spirit are synonymous with each other and that they cannot be separated.  Love is in spirit and spirit is in love.  From the time of conception to the end of our lives, the body serves as an instrument of the spirit.  The more the body can be viewed as a vehicle through which the spirit works, the more smooth the process of birth is likely to be.  At birth, a part of the body has now become separate from it and a baby is born with his own personality, inclinations, and tendencies.  This process can be likened to a flower.  The flower can be viewed as a vehicle for the fragrance so that it can be expressed.  This fragrance brings us joy.  In the same way, the body can be seen as a vehicle for the spirit bringing joy.  The sweet fragrance could not be enjoyed if it weren’t for the flower.  The spirit could not be enjoyed if it weren’t for the existence of the body.  Just as fragrance is in the flower, so the spirit is in the body.  Both the flower and the body are material and can be seen.  Both the fragrance and the spirit are nonmaterial and cannot be seen.

When a woman in labor views her body as a “vehicle” through which the spirit can flow, she is more likely to surrender to the forces of labor, welcoming contractions as they become stronger and more intense.  She feels more confident and has less fear.  She is more in touch with her instinctive nature and follows its guidance.  Focusing on the awe and wonder in the power of such birth-forces can bring a woman inner strength that will serve her well as she progresses into the unknown of labor.


“Birthing in the spirit is the birthing of our ancestors.  Before birth in the western world became mechanized and dehumanized, women and men honored the sacred ability of women to create and bring forth life.  Birthing in the spirit is reconnecting with those natural, primal beginnings.  More than just relaxing and letting go, birthing in the spirit is moving through the portal of birth to the transcendent place that birthing takes women;  the place of connectedness to every being and to the earth.  It is feeling life itself pulsing through your veins with the simultaneous power of a volcano and the peaceful silence of snowfall.  It is losing yourself entirely and only then knowing the core of who you really are.  Birthing in the spirit is what women do when we are honored, cared for compassionately, and deeply trusting of our bodies’ ancient wisdom moving us to that sacred space.  Birthing in the spirit is the ritual of motherhood;  it is through the intensity of the experience of birth that women find the power and the compassion to give all of themselves, and then to give more, to their babies.  It is in that place that we become mothers.”                                                           Jacque Shannon-McNulty