When most people come to this site or hear of it, their immediate thoughts are of birth and babies and the whole traditional concept of midwifery. That is no accident (few things are, as we know). I have always been fascinated by the process of pregnancy and birth. The creation of new life is an awesome endeavor. I was always proud to be a woman so that I could personally partake in the wonderful act of childbirth. I have been thus honored twice now. I have read hundreds of books on the subject and pursued an educational route which included becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse working in high risk OB and also a Certified Childbirth Educator. I am a proponent of the Midwifery Model of Care and spread the word about the benefits of midwifery-based care and homebirth via my websites.
In addition to my intense interest in pregnancy and childbirth, I have always maintained a strong spiritual side. I kept myself involved in the music ministry, prayer, and church activities as well as personal growth and meditation. It wasn't until more recently that I put it all together and found the link between my passionate pursuits. Instead of separating all my interests into their own neat little packages, I have combined all of who I am and define myself by two words: passionate and spiritual. In discovering these truths about who I am, I also discovered the truth inherent in the world around me, seeing all things as spiritual and purposeful. In the acknowledgement of these truths, I was able to see how some of the most beautiful and important aspects of our spiritual life are often disregarded by our culture/society in lieu of the more "civilized" and "educated" models of factual existence. Birth is no exception.
In the 1800's, most middle-class women were farm wives with large families. The children were born at home with the assistance of a family doctor, midwife, or friends to help out. Birth was a natural part of life and was not kept in some closet away from the rest of the family. Everyone was involved in the process, although during this period in history, people were pioneering into new lands and were ignorant of the implications of hygiene and its effect on health. With the introduction of new environmental factors and no pharmaceutical means to battle infection, babies who entered into the new frontier often became gravely ill and/or perished due to the inability to fight disease. Some today still argue that homebirth is not safe because of the history of babies dying during the early pioneer days of conditions which are entirely treatable today. It was the introduction of handwashing and antibiotic therapy which has allowed more babies to survive, not the movement of birth from home to hospital.
Doctors, not wanting to miss out on the action of birth, began creating instruments which could make birth "better" and began constructing a regimented structure of the medical model of birth. They were able to implement this first to the upper class, marketing their services as superior to the "uneducated" midwife. The other classes followed in their utilization of the medical model, as it was seen as the most advanced and civilized way for a woman to give birth. Gradually, the practice of birth shifted from the home to the hospital, and in the process of becoming more medicalized, it became less family-centered. Birth was no longer the making of a family, but a physiologic process which required medical attention.
By the mid-1950's, hospital birth was by far the "norm." Husbands were separated from wives, being forced to stay in the waiting room which was often on a different floor of the hospital than the mothers and babies. Newborns were taken from their mothers' arms immediately after birth to keep them "sterile." Women became the passive victims of the medical model of birth. In their desire to improve the conditions of childbirth, they lost control of the process. Normal birth was no longer the intimate gathering of friends in the farm home, the laboring woman following her bodies' cues, or the event marking a transition to parenthood. Now, birth consisted of the woman coming to the hospital, being separated from her loved ones, placed in a hospital bed and anesthetized while the doctor performed the surgical necessities of episiotomy and forceps use to assist with the birth of a child. This is where childbirth became known as "delivery", for the newborn was delivered from the mother. Also lost were the physical and psychological effects of breastfeeding, replaced with the use of a "superior" form of nutrition: bottlefeeding.
The pendulum of time began to swing back during the mid-1970's. As the younger generation searched for a return to nature and spirituality, women searched for their presence in the act of birth. Homebirth made a comeback and those who participated in it were seen as "off the beaten path." Fathers finally made their way back to the "delivery room" in the early eighties. By the 1990's, hospitals were now recognizing that women still wanted the reassurance of the safety of a hospital birth, but desired the comfortable surroundings of home, along with the freedom to make choices affecting their birth. Hospitals responded with LDRP's: one home-like room in which women and their immediate families could labor, deliver, recover and spend their postpartum period. Most women and their families are relatively happy with that set-up. Those who further educate themselves as to the necessity of hospital birth and the safety of a homebirth with a professional midwife, find themselves demanding more. Those of us who realize that birth is a normal physiological event and not a medical emergency, embrace its holistic nature and attempt to enlighten others as well.
"Birth is not an illness."
As we push onward into the next millennium, the pendulum continues on in its path toward a cultural standard of non-medicalized childbirth. It is important to note that in some cases, the act of birth requires medical management, but should not be an expectation for all births. It is time to reclaim the sacred power of birth and give it the honor due. Any woman who has endured the agonizing hours of labor will tell you how powerful she becomes in those moments. She is able to endure more than she ever thought possible. After the event, she feels empowered. It is truly a spiritual experience which needs to be nurtured in such manner.
The birth environment is sacred space. It should be filled with a prayerful ambiance, utilizing such items as music, candles, incense, special pictures, people, foods, rituals, and other soothing, meditative components. The midwife is the shaman of birth. She brings with her the knowledge of the anatomical and physiological process of birth, the understanding of what women feel as they undergo this process, and the ability to nurture childbirth as a spiritual event. Truly, giving birth at home with a midwife is the truly superior method of birthing. Once this is given recognition and brought into the mainstream, all of life will take on a more holistic perspective, giving the often-ignored spiritual aspect of our beings equal footing with the physical and mental aspects. It all begins with birth.
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