The symbols of childbirth

The symbols of childbirth

Spirituality and mysticism can be forgotten in the sterile setting of a clinical birth, with TVs blaring, monitors beeping, and caregivers only remotely available, generally busy and largely unknown.

Spirituality and mysticism can be forgotten in the sterile setting of a clinical birth, with TVs blaring, monitors beeping, and caregivers only remotely available, generally busy and largely unknown.

by Marinah V. Farrell — 

As women, birth is one of our blood mysteries — a spiritual event that causes immense change for the mother as well as for all who partake in her process of pregnancy, birth and parenting. In our culture, however, birth often is seen as a physical event of necessity — the unfortunate process required to have the baby.

Spirituality and mysticism can be forgotten in the sterile setting of a clinical birth, with TVs blaring, monitors beeping, and caregivers only remotely available, generally busy and largely unknown. These images are what many women come to expect — and settle for — in their birthing experiences. They do not expect to be celebrated, nor are they generally encouraged to create individual ritual symbols or ceremony.

The most obvious symbol of childbirth is the hospital. Homebirth challenges this symbol and holds open the space for the intimate and healthy ritual of birth. When you birth at home, the symbols of childbirth are of your choosing. Rather than being surrounded by masked, uniformed caregivers and machines in a sterile setting, you will be surrounded by personal, private items and only people you have invited to the birth. Homebirthing mothers are truly able to honor the nesting instinct while they create new spaces in their homes in preparation for birth.

 

You can make your hospital experience a spiritual one

How can a birthing woman who elects to use a hospital celebrate her birth in a spiritual manner? First, she must become aware of the ingrained symbols of hospital birth and the meaning behind those symbols. Author Pam England has created a method wherein she challenges expectant parents to list all the obstetric symbols they can think of, such as a fetal monitor, an IV, a wristband, the hospital gown and so on.

Once they do this, the parents’ goal is to consider the message these symbols convey. As you read this, imagine a woman in the middle of birth, surrounded by obstetric tools; then carefully evaluate your immediate visceral or emotional reaction. How do these things make you feel? What do these tools suggest to you? We are urged to remember, as we picture and feel the symbols of obstetrics, that pregnancy is a time of wellness, even though the symbols seen throughout the hospital birthing room seem to be saying something different.

The woman who gives birth in the hospital faces the challenge of bringing her own symbols into the room and changing the space — her space — respectfully. She can wear her own clothes or nightshirt during labor, play her own music rather than watcching TV, and bring her own pillows and focal points, such as a painting created by a loved one. She may request that she — not the machines — be the true indicator of how her labor is progressing.

England suggests that women whose births must be medically managed should re-create the symbols . For example, the IV can become a “Tree of Life” during labor, rather than a symbol of restraint or a potential poor outcome.

Pregnant women can use symbols to create a loving, spiritual labor and birth. Once a woman is consciously aware of what a birthing symbol means to her unconscious mind, she is able to discover the workings of her soul and develop a new way of seeing.

Author Anthony Lawlor, in his book A Home for the Soul, writes, “Symbols are windows onto the unseen forces that shape us. They are points of breakthrough where vital sparks of energy and imagination can burst into mundane existence. When we learn to see common objects as symbols of nourishment and transformation, the rigid boundaries that trap our hearts and minds can become transparent to the workings of the spirit.”

 

Marinah V. Farrell is a certified, professional, licensed midwife. After working at a birth center along the border of Texas and Mexico, she came to Phoenix in 2003 and began Sage Midwifery, a homebirth practice serving the Valley. 602-793-5063 or www.sagemidwifery.com.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 24, Number 2, April/May 2005.

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