“Spiritual birth recognizes that each and every birth is the birth of the Christ child. The birth support person’s job is to do her best to bring both the mother and child through their passage alive and well and to see that the sacrament of birth is kept holy,” writes the great American midwife Ina May Gaskin. When I visited Gaskin’s Farm in Summertown, Tenn., earlier this year it was to further my training as a doula — a birth support person.
My first birth experience after my training with Gaskin was with a woman who had an older child and was preparing for her second. This woman remembered loud noises, and being directed what to do when she had her first birth experience. She recalls being tense all over, which, she says, made labour pains worse. She had a fear of that same experience with her second child. Being mindful of this, I made sure to allow her the space she required as she found her ritual of walking in circles, stepping in only when she needed to be guided physically.
She paused every few steps and we’d rock back and forth together as she hummed and swayed. She was somewhere else right now. A deep and spiritual place, it seemed.
She was completely at one with herself to the point that I knew that even if an intervention needed to happen in her labour, she would stay in this sanctuary she’d stepped into. She continued to hum and rock to the beat of her own internal rhythm.
An intervention wasn’t needed.
This got me thinking … there is something ritual about labouring and something ceremonious in carrying a child from the great unknown into reality.
In her book Spiritual Midwifery, Gaskin posits that if a woman allows herself to enter a spiritual realm in labour, her pain will be felt less, she will reach a new high and she will cross over from one part of her life into a new dimension.
I have to say reading those things before I had a child seemed wildly presumptuous. But, as I attended more and more births as a Doula, I began seeing these crossings more often. There seems to be a marked point in labour where if a woman has enough of a connection to her spirit, she goes inward to an ethereal place.
Almost all religions have some sort of ritual, whether it’s the ceremonial and symbolic drinking of wine, chanting, reciting or singing. It’s that ritual that keeps the follower of a select religion coming back. It represents something meaningful, comforting.
Labour is an intimidating and scary ceremony to step into, but this mother I speak of hummed her baby into the world. When the baby was born she just stared straight ahead, breathing, with a fixed gaze. After what felt like an eternity to me, she just readjusted her eyes and looked at her baby with a smile that took up her whole face. She had come out of her spirit den as it were.
There are instances where the labouring woman can go to a place of divinity. It takes faith, support and the desire to know one’s spirit better. Trust it and let it lead you.
When her labour was over, there she was, back in this world with her newborn child feeling as though she’d rushed toward the centre of her spirit for 12 hours and back again, reborn with a newborn. What a blessing it was to witness.
Sarah-Jane Steele is a journalist, mother, trained doula and yoga teacher. She hails from Halifax and now lives in Victoria with her family. You can contact her regarding any of the above at firstname.lastname@example.org.