Musemother: Do you think women who are not yet mothers should hear our birth stories? Or is it part of the rite of passage to ‘not know’? Some women are afraid to give birth after they hear the particular challenges in childbirth, tearings and rippings and long painful labours. What do you think? And what do we tell our daughters?
Bella: I think there is a time and place for women who have not given birth to hear birth stories. Though they will not truly “know” as in initiation, they can serve as a way of opening possibilities for all the varied ways of giving birth. To tell our daughters and sisters and friends our own birth story is to honor the connection of all birthing women everywhere, that we do not do this alone. Every birth is unique and it is also true that we can find strength and support in knowing that as we birth, so too have the women who came before us and so are the women all over the world birthing with us as well. This holds much power for some women.
Perhaps the question then becomes, not if, but how. Different cultures have different traditions. Here in America at least we seem to have a tradition of recounting horror stories to women at their own baby shower. Along with presents and cake and punch, we tell bits and pieces of our own birth stories and those of our friends and neighbors and they are likely to include a level of warning or danger or misery. The woman who labored for 72 hours or who tore so bad she never really recovered or had a mean doctor or had the baby in the car. Or stories our told about orgasmic births and the underlying message is that if only this woman will give birth the “right” way, she too will have such an experience. It is disconcerting to say the least.
So, how do we tell our birth stories to the women in our lives in a way that does not set out a certain way they must give birth or a way that threatens them with everything that could wrong, but rather offers women a glimpse behind the mystery of childbirth? I would offer that birth stories be shared as a hero’s journey, as I wrote of above. When we tell women birth stories in this way, we are not telling them how to do it or not do it, nor are we saying it is such a complete unknown all she can do is be afraid and wait. We are rather saying, “Here is the labyrinth I walked, the journey I embarked upon. It is sacred and it is personal. May you find here and take from my words what will serve YOU, as you walk your own path, cross the threshold of your own labyrinth, and in doing so join all the women walk not for you but with you.”
Musemother: I experienced pregnancy and childbirth as a great awakening. I did not always want to be a mother, having been little mother to seven younger siblings. However, once out of the labor and childbirth with my son, I wanted to crow to the world! And nominate every one of my sisters-in-law for sainthood, in fact every woman who had given birth. How would you describe the spiritual aspect of birth as a rite of passage?
Bella: I think I have touched upon this in some of the other questions.
I will say here, that what Spirit and even spiritual, means is very different for different women. For some women giving birth is a deeply spiritual experience and they would describe it as such. For some women their faith in a god or higher power plays a large role in their experience of birth and offers support and strength. As a doula, I have come to hold deep respect for the many faith traditions that guide a woman in labor and childbirth. And I have come to experience even that nameless sense of spirit. My work with women is to explore what spirit means to them and to explore ways this might bring power and comfort and meaning to their experience. And yet, some women are not comfortable with such terminology and shy away from birth as spiritual experience. I honor this as well.
My own personal feelings are that birth has a spiritual aspect and yet not always in the ways that this word is assumed to mean. For example, a home birth is not more “spiritual” than a hospital birth, a vaginal need not be more “spiritual” than a cesarean birth. “Spiritual” need not be divided from the earthly matter of blood and the body. A spiritual birth is not one in which a woman transcends such things but rather these very elements of labor and childbirth become the means through which she herself is born. This is a return to a more Feminine way of viewing spirituality. It is not about transcendence towards the sky, but a descent into the earth where life begins.
At its core I would say that birth is spiritual in that it is a transformation. A woman is still herself once she has given birth and yet she has also become entirely new. She has become the bearer of life. Whatever one’s personal feelings and beliefs are about Spirit and spirituality, that we can as women grow and birth life takes us beyond the realm of our understanding and into the terrain of mystery.
Musemother: It seems there is a very loving and accepting way of accompanying a woman in labour and childbirth being described by Pam England and on your web site. How can one reestablish a sense of the sacred in women’s bodies? It seems that we are so far away from ourselves and far away from trusting our bodies. So much complaining during pregnancy, so much fear surrounding childbirth.
Bella: As a doula, accompanying women in childbirth, my work is not to show her the way. It is not within my realm or power to reestablish for another woman a sense of the sacredness in women’s bodies, namely her own. This being said, many women who are pregnant and preparing for birth begin to ask themselves these very questions. They do not feel they trust their body and do not know how. They feel disconnected from that part of themselves that they sense will be needed to give birth. And so such matters are often explored together.
Perhaps we are not so far away from ourselves as we feel. We are always here, living in our bodies. Though we may feel we do not “know” our bodies, they remain present. So, perhaps the question then becomes, how do I listen to my body that is already present and communicating with me? How each woman goes about this will be different. Pregnancy itself can be a time of awakening where we learn to listen to subtle changes and shifts, feel our baby move inside of us, feel tethered to the earth in our bodies that seem to take over and do their own thing. This experience of feeling more fully “in” our bodies during pregnancy can ripple out way beyond the weeks of gestation.
It is also worth exploring what we mean when we say we should trust our bodies. To be unsure of yourself and your body is normal. Many women who claim to trust their bodies and therefore have nothing to worry about, assume that trusting their bodies means their birth will unfold they way they want. That if they trust their bodies they will birth vaginally or without interventions or in water or at home. If these things do not happen then the message becomes their body has failed them. There is an environment of guilt and shame over the body that women breathe in every day. And every time we tell a woman that if she trust her body she will be promised a certain outcome, that if she does enough prenatal yoga she will receive the birth she has planned, we feed the judge and activate the victim. It is not her body that is the problem but the voice within her that is making judgment over what her body has done or failed to do.
What are we trusting when we say we are or want to trust our bodies?
Perhaps our bodies are sacred in part because of their vulnerability. We are both remarkably resilient creatures and also our bodies will at some point, whether in childbirth or at a different time, break down or not do what we want. When trusting the body comes to mean believing the body is more than human, we can unconsciously breed distrust.
Trust is not to be confused with control. We do not control birth. We can influence it and work with it, but we do not control it. When trusting our bodies comes to mean if you only trust your body you will control how your birth goes, we can so quickly become rigid. And birth requires surrender, yielding, letting go. We soften as our cervix softens and thins, expand as our body expands to push a baby out. Giving birth is about opening and it is difficult to open when we are set on controlling outcome.
So perhaps trusting our body is to trust that our bodies will and do speak to us, even if it is not what we want to hear. That our body carriers such wisdom and compassion in its intricate ways of seeking life. That while our body is giving birth it is not the only factor influencing the birth. Given all the factors, those seen and unseen that are playing out in childbirth, we can trust our bodies to respond and communicate to us that which is needed in any given situation. I believe women want to trust themselves, not so much that their bodies will perform on command, but that whatever happens she will not abandon herself but remain present to herself. To know that you were fully present for yourself without judgment, doing whatever you needed to do in any given moment, is to nurture trust, which is another way of saying love.
Musemother: How does a woman reestablish contact between her self and her own inner knowing so she can experience birth as a rite of passage, a spiritual journey? Are there steps a woman can take to begin?
Bella: Come to my class. In all seriousness, there are many processes I do with parents in my classes and my doula clients, many of which I learned in my training with Birthing From Within, and they are too involved to write here. The book and Keepsake Journal explore many of them and do not require one be in a class.
Exploring her own deepest question is a place to begin. What does SHE need to know to give birth? This can then offer a guide for her, an avenue for exploring her own needs and fears, her assumptions about birth and from where she will find what is required to birth her baby.
I also encourage women to look at how they are already living their lives. This will tell them how they will give birth. A woman’s own inner knowing is not reserved for only momentous experiences. How does she make decisions in her daily life? How does she cope when things are difficult or painful or not as expected? What does she find to be of comfort and from where does she call for strength? Look no further then your pregnancy, then now. How did you know you were pregnant? From where does this knowing arise? How did you choose your care provider? And how did you know this was the choice for you? When a woman can begin to see that she already does know, finding her own knowing is not a quest for something out there but rather calling upon that which is fully present in her even now.
Musemother: What would you say to a woman who was unsure of herself and nervous about the coming birth?
Bella: I would say Welcome. Of course you are unsure of yourself and nervous. You’ve never done this before. And even if you have given birth before, you never given birth to this baby. It is always new. And as such, an unknown.
Our fear is not the enemy. And telling ourselves to not be afraid only pushes it underground where it grows and acts out unconsciously. Pam England has said the worry is the work of pregnancy. It can motivate us to learn things we may need to know. It can also invite us to explore our own beliefs about ourselves.
A great many fears are not as much about the thing itself, but about what we think it would mean about ourselves. That if we have to be induced we have failed. That if we have an epidural we are not strong. That if we freak out and lose control we are crazy and others will disapprove of us. So, by exploring these fears we get to hear our own negative beliefs about ourselves and offer them compassion. The judgments are not “bad”. They are simply the way we have learned to protect ourselves. And yet, the words of this judgment are not truth. When we can embrace that we are, always, enough, we begin to mother ourselves. The Mother awakened, we are now living ourselves that which we have to offer our baby.
The thing we fear may or may not happen. But it need not have the power to tell us who we are or are not.
Musemother: What has been the greatest lesson for you from working as a doula with birthing mothers?
Bella: That there is no right way to give birth, to mother. I have seen birth unfold in so many ways, in so many environments and situations and the things that one might think would create for the “perfect” birth do not play such a big factor in determining a woman’s satisfaction and feelings of power in childbirth. There is simply no right way. Women are amazingly powerful and what this looks like is new every time.
And as a doula, it is not my job to make anything happen or to promise any outcome. There are doula who claim this. I am not one of them. My gift is to hold the space as sacred and to bear witness to your own unfolding, to be a face that sees and is nothing more or less then fully present. This is your birth. I cannot do it for you. No one can. You alone must birth this baby, make this descent, enter this labyrinth. You are the warrior here, the hero. And you are not alone. In your moment of fear I will sit with you. In your moment of triumph, I will sit with you. And when, after it is all over and you are trying to unravel the many layers of what took place, I will be here. I will sit with you and welcome you into your own knowing, your mother self, your rite of passage in which you have been in your own way, transformed. --END--
Thanks to you, Bella, for enlightening us on your work, and on the value of Birthing from Within, even for us menopausal women, who are busy birthing our new selves, going through this descent into the labyrinth.