Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Birth as Religion

Hi folks,

No, I haven't gone anywhere.  I have been busy doing other writings, and slowly easing back into my life as I get used to being a well person again.  I am busy, but not working at the crazy pace I did before I got sick.  I will never go back to that pace again.  Lesson learned.

Having been on hiatus from birth attending these past months, I've had the opportunity to sit back and think a lot.  I've been thinking about how to define my personal philosophy of birth.  Everyone seems to have a slogan, or a mandate, and I've been trying to figure out how to put mine into words.

This led me to think of the many schools of thought which exist in relation to birth, and in turn made me think of all the paths of religion there are to come to know and develop oneself in alignment with a divine energy.  Birth is a mysterious, powerful, creative, transforming force that works through us.  It is studied in every which way, yet the normal process and exactly why it works as it does remains elusive.  Why do some perfectly seeming normal combinations of pelvis and Baby end up having a terribly rough time during labour, and why do some women deemed at risk for not being able to birth at all have their babies practically fall out of them?  Why do traumas happen?  Why do people sometimes even die when nothing seemed wrong? Why do some get to drink from the Holy Grail of birth ecstasy and others don't, despite having done everything they felt to be the correct way to "worship"?

Birth has its rituals and its magic words.  There is the "Finding out of the Sex through Ultrasound" ritual.  There is the "Head in the Toilet for Three Months" cloister process some go through.  There is the "Baby Shower" and the "Mother Blessing" ceremony.  We have the great and powerful "Timing of the Contractions". There is the "Cutting of the Cord" (many variations of even this ritual).  There are affirmations and breathing exercises, akin to the Rosary and prayer beads, as well as mantras uttered in prenatal yoga class.  Much is done to call upon the benevolence of Birth, in hopes of being one of the chosen to experience a problem free delivery and the ecstasy of the all mighty oxytocin high.

Birth also has its privations and sacrifices.  No sushi.  No alcohol. Expanding beyond the boundaries of one's favourite pair of jeans.  Pain.  A transformed life.  A new identity. The grace of parenthood Birth grants us doesn't come for free.

 Birth has its temples, in the forms of hospitals, birthing centres, and homes.  It has its ministers, the doctors nurses, midwives, and doulas who serve as ambassadors of Birth, middle-wo/men, if you will, who assist a woman's communion with Birth.  Birth, obviously, has its initiates; those doing the birthing and those who are birthed.  Some prefer a specific place to express Birth, some simply end up worshiping wherever the spirit of Birth takes them, like in a speeding car or the toilet at Tim Horton's.  Initiates also like different types of ministers. Some appreciate a guide to help them interpret the messages from Birth and support their choices on the path to Birth.  Others want to be saved, and put their absolute trust into their highly appointed holy wo/man.  And there are others who wish to skip the middle wo/man altogether and prefer a direct revelation of  Birth, taking the minister-less route.

Birth has its exquisite sacred writings, tomes dedicated to nurturing one's path on how to know Birth.  Many rest their laurels on the Word of Williams, Odent, Frey, England, or Gaskin, finding their sense of rightness and comfort in these holy books.

As with any religion, Birth has its followers, which come in all kinds of forms.  There are those who believe without the container of an expensive medical temple and a bevy of appointed holy people, the road to Birth is far too dangerous for the initiate.  There are those who will cry from the rooftops the good news that Birth is wonderfully safe, IF you keep the temple and holy people out of the experience and embrace it as a vision quest to be done alone.  Some more inter-faith types of folks want a gentle, skilled guide to be present, but not to impose their views, simply to intervene if necessary.  They're not fussy about the temple, trusting things work out for the best however things unfold.

If all feel safe and happy within the tenets of their chosen road to Birth, more power to 'em!  I believe we all have the right to our own expression of Birth within whatever context we feel best.  It is a human right. Let us celebrate the diversity and richness inherent in our birth cultures, and embrace those who felt moved by their dance with Birth, whatever that looks like to them.  May we honour each path for its strengths, knowing that every path, our own included, has its weaknesses too.

As most wars are waged in the name of religion, there are many conflicts about what is the "right" way to give birth.  What was intended as a loving framework for guidance can be expressed by some as a fundamentalist view that holds itself above others, and believes that all those who don't follow its philosophy's tenets are doomed to experience a Bad Birth (whether they know it or not).  There are many threats, parables filled with fire and brimstone, of the dangers of straying from the almighty right philosophy.  The fundamentalist Medicalists call the preistesses of Home Birth "witches".  The zealots of  Midwifery-ism call the holy wo/men of  the Hospitalites "butchers" or even "rapists".  Initiates who have their own personal reasons for eschewing temple and minister are touted as Heathens, reviled as ignorant endanger-ers.  If you don't give birth in a dark room by yourself, your fetal ejection reflex simply cannot let down, and you'll likely bleed profusely if anyone says a word or farts too loud.  If you experience a Cesarean your child will not bond with you properly and your relationship is basically screwed for life.  If you have an epidural you are not a worthy warrior, and wrecked your good Birth hormones, besmirching your self and your baby in the eyes of Birth forever.  If you don't have an epidural and Pit you're a martyr, and are subjected to the suspicion of being more interested in the experience of Birth than the safety of your baby. Threats are deployed, and the environment thickens to ensure the tenets are obeyed.   You may be searched for explosives.

As with any war, there are casualties. In this case it is the mothers and babies who are harmed emotionally or even physically, not to mention the collateral damage to the witnesses. Something gets lost when we have shifted from the belief in our birth philosophy as a framework to lovingly support birth's initiates in a flexible way, to a kind of self-righteous zealotry. What motivates much of the expression of zealotry?  The desire to be "right", to fit everything into a personal scope to the point of not believing what is actually before ones' eyes, and the deep, Ego assaulting worry that for someone to act outside of our belief system is a threat.  Fear, basically.  And when fear clouds the love that was meant to be expressed through the tenets of our personal birth philosophies, we potentially cause the very same problems we accuse "the others" of doing.  Whether we shoot from the left or from the right, shooting is still dangerous, and the innocent get caught in the crossfire.

Obviously, few are that extreme.  Thank goodness for that!  But each time we speak badly of another birth philosophy or put down a mother's experience because it didn't fit into what we think defines a decent birth, what part of us is speaking?  Is it truly out of love and concern for everyone involved, or is it out of fear that our sense of personal righteousness is threatened?  Because really, "there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatia, than are dreamt of in your philosophy".

As for me, I have decided to renounce birth religion all together.  Do I have opinions?  I surely do.  It is the nature of human beings to judge.  We need our judgement, as it helps us weed out the helpful presences in our lives to the not so helpful.  Our judgment often keeps us safe.  There is nothing wrong with discernment. But our judgment is OURS.  To project it strongly onto another because we assume they are not on the right birth path is dis-empowering.

We all come to birth innocent and perfect.  Every time.  No matter what is in our heads.  On some level, somewhere, the way we give birth, no matter what the outcome or our feelings about it, is an expression of our magnificence.  Birth can be gentle, it can be fierce.  Birth can express itself as Kali, Lakshmi, Mary, or Morrighan.  While we may have influence, we ultimately have no control.  There is no bargaining with Birth.  Birth is not some figure who doles out good births to the faithful and crappy ones to those who don't do things "right". It is a big crazy power that works through us, leading us into Mystery.  And yet we do it. This makes us pretty awesome, no matter how.

So while I have no words for my own personal birth philosophy at this time, I do have words I say to myself before embarking upon a birth journey with anyone.  It keeps me clear, and open to whatever unfolds, so that I may support them in their truths, keeping mine to myself.  I take out the "Lords" and "Gods" and stuff, but this is the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi:

..., make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.