Honoring the Spiritual Dimension of Pregnancy and Birth

Honoring the Spiritual Dimension of Pregnancy and Birth

(Part I)

By Dena Moes

Pregnancy and childbirth are exciting, life-changing events for a woman and her family. These changes take place on many levels, including the physical, emotional, social, and spiritual. In my work as a nurse-midwife, the spiritual dimension of pregnancy and birth has always been an area of special interest to me. I wrote my master’s thesis in 1996 on women’s experience of birth as a spiritual event, and today in my home-birth practice I work to support the spiritually transformative nature of birth. In this two-part series, I will share some thoughts with you to help you honor your own spiritual growth during the pregnancy, the birth, and after.

Part I: Pregnancy

During pregnancy, a woman undergoes enormous physical and emotional changes. New life takes hold within her, and she prepares for the work of birthing and parenting. Often she is very busy rearranging her lifestyle, career, home, and finances to accommodate the coming child. While this is important work, I also encourage women to use the time during pregnancy to focus inward, to listen for and explore the spiritual changes taking place. These can include discovering her great inner strength and wisdom, a feeling of harmonious interconnectedness with all life as she experiences the life unfolding within her, and her feeling of being a part of something greater than herself. There is a natural inclination to slow the pace of life during pregnancy, which creates the opportunity to tune into the quiet voice deep within and to connect deeply with the unborn child.

Meditation is a wonderful way to tune into the deep, powerful transformations of your pregnancy. Simply sit in a comfortable, upright position, either cross-legged on the floor using pillows to prop yourself as necessary or in a straight-backed chair, and focus your attention on your breath as you inhale and exhale. Watch your breath as you breathe in…and breathe out. Is your breathing fast? Slow? Are you breathing deep into your belly? Make sure you breathe deeply, sending that good oxygen to your baby. You can visualize that with each inhalation, you are sending loving, healing energy to your baby, and with each exhalation, you are sending away fear, stress, and anxiety. What color is the loving energy as you inhale? What do the negative emotions look like as you exhale them? Even if you do this for just a couple of minutes each morning, you will find that your breathing, and your thoughts, will slow down, which will naturally relax you. You will feel refreshed and more aware of the life within, and this technique will also help relax you during labor.

Pregnancy is an opportunity to cultivate faith and patience while facing the unknown. All pregnant women experience some fear of the unknown. As health-care providers, we respond to these concerns with ultrasound and prenatal testing, although even these cannot guarantee a healthy baby. When I was pregnant with my children, I chose not to have ultrasound or testing but sought to find my reassurance from within. My midwife with my first baby suggested that I walk by a body of flowing water when my fears arose. My husband and I took frequent walks along the creek, listening to the sound of the rushing water and watching the reflection of the sun sparkling on the water. On these walks I felt comforted by the flowing water and by the perfect beauty of the natural world, of which I felt a part. I developed a strong sense of my baby’s well-being and a deep love of her and willingness to accept her as she was. Here in Butte County we are blessed with a multitude of beautiful rivers, creeks, forests, and lakes. Go out and walk – enjoy the beauty of nature and let the natural world inspire your connection to your growing baby.

Simple rituals can provide a space in which to honor yourself for the hard work you are doing. Many pregnant women love relaxing in a candle-lit bath in the evenings. The bath becomes their “ritual,” their special time to relax and focus inward. Lighting candles, setting up a pregnancy altar, joining a prenatal yoga class, or using lavender aromatherapy in your bath are all ways to promote well-being and relaxation.

A Blessingway ceremony is a beautiful ritual in which the pregnant woman’s friends acknowledge and celebrate her power as a pregnant and soon-to-be birthing mother. It is a baby shower with a spiritual focus. In a Blessingway, the woman’s friends might sing to her, massage her feet with scented oil, braid her hair, or place a garland of flowers in her hair. Then each guest presents the mother-to-be with a bead, a seed, a candle, and a flower, each one symbolizing an intention or prayer for an easy birthing and healthy baby. The beads are strung into a “labor necklace,” the flowers are placed around the house, and the candles can all be lit when labor begins. A ball of yarn or string is passed around the circle, and each person cuts a small piece and ties it around her wrist. These will be worn until the birth as a symbol of connection to the birthing mother. A potluck party concludes the event.

Cultivating your inner strength and awareness during your pregnancy will help prepare you to be relaxed and present for your birth, and for your baby. In the next issue I will discuss spiritual childbirth as a powerful initiation for a new mother and as a compassionate welcome for a baby.

Honoring the Spiritual Dimension of Pregnancy and Birth (Part II)

By Dena Moes

Pregnancy and childbirth are exciting, life-changing events for a woman and her family. These changes take place on many levels, including the physical, emotional, social, and spiritual. In my work as a nurse-midwife, the spiritual dimension of pregnancy and birth has always been an area of special interest to me. I wrote my master’s thesis in 1996 on women’s experience of birth as a spiritual event, and today in my home-birth practice I work to support the spiritually transformative nature of birth. In this two-part series, I will share some thoughts with you to help you honor your own spiritual growth during the pregnancy, the birth, and after.

Part II: Birth and Postpartum

In the last issue I wrote about cultivating spiritual growth during pregnancy. Pregnancy provides rich opportunities to discover your inner strength, to experience harmonious interconnectedness with all beings and especially the developing baby within you, and to learn about surrender to something greater than yourself. Meditation or simple rituals can help with relaxation and promote well-being during pregnancy, and also during birth, which we will discuss below.

In the 1970s, there was a surge of interest in shamanic practice as a spiritual path. A group of Bay Area women traveled to the Southwest to seek out a Native American elder. They asked him if they could participate in the previously male-only shamanic rituals of chanting and drumming all night. The elder replied to them, “Why would you want to bother? You women have a natural spiritual advantage over men. We do these all-night rituals because we can’t give birth! The Original Drum is the sound of the baby’s heartbeat within you. We use these drums because we cannot contain the Original Drum.”

Birth is inherently spiritual. Birth is the ultimate expression of the female creative principle, it is the total surrender of one’s ego for the benefit of another, it is a miracle. Giving birth involves a great shift in consciousness as well as great physical transformation. When a woman is in an environment that respects the psychic and emotional shifts as well as the physical ones, she is able to birth more easily. Her hormones, mental state, and body all work harmoniously to bring the baby forth. For the woman, as well as the baby, the birth is an initiation, a new beginning. When the natural birthing process is respected, it can be a healing passage for mother and baby both. While no one can plan what will happen or how she will feel during birth, there are choices one can make beforehand that will help to facilitate a spiritual, positive childbirth experience.

Homebirth

Giving birth in the sanctuary of one’s own home with a skilled midwife in attendance is a wonderful option for a healthy woman. Women choose home birth to maintain the intimate, family-oriented, sacred nature of birth and avoid routine medical interventions that can disrupt the special energy of birth. The family prepares its “nest” to be a warm, inviting, sacred space in which to welcome the new baby. The midwife provides intimate one-to-one care during the pregnancy with prenatal visits that last from one to two hours. This allows a strong bond of trust and collaboration to arise between the midwife and the mother.

When a woman births at home, she “owns” her birth. She accepts that it is her work to do, and that she will not “hand over” her incredible creative power to medical experts or institutions. She has faith in her baby’s innate wisdom to come when the time is right and in her body’s strength and ability to birth. Her midwife and partner work with her to cultivate this faith. She also knows that if a medical complication does arise, the hospital is the best place to be, and she has a plan to go there if need be.

I gave birth at home twice, and both times I was struck by what a powerful choice home birth is. Both my labors were of the “fast and furious” variety, very intense with little in the way of breaks between contractions. Both times I hit a place where I knew that if I were in the hospital, with drugs and pain medications available, I would have begged for them. But since I was at home, drugs were not an option and I moved through that difficult place by relying on other sources of strength: the loving presence of my husband, the encouraging words of the midwives, and ultimately, my own strength. Our babies were born medication-free, into the loving, peaceful home in which they were conceived. As a result, they were both highly alert and relaxed at birth, which enhanced our bonding. It was a profoundly compassionate choice to birth our babies into such a gentle environment.

When one births without pain medication, natural opiates called endorphins flood into the mother’s bloodstream, and the baby receives them as well. Unlike pain medications, which wear off in a few hours, these endorphins actually last three days. The endorphins fill the mother and newborn with feelings of bliss, love, and well-being. In the first couple of days postpartum, the new family should be given privacy to enjoy the special bonding that is enhanced by these powerful hormones. Home-birth midwives emphasize the importance of protecting this special “birth bubble.” The radiant love emanating from the mother and her newborn are best shared by each other and the immediate family (i.e., partner and siblings) only. The delicate pathways that maintain these hormones are easily disrupted by visitors and busyness. In addition, the new mother is exhausted and the new baby easily overstimulated. Maintaining a serene, intimate postpartum environment enhances bonding and breast-feeding and helps prevent newborn fussiness and maternal postpartum depression.

Hospital Birth

Many hospitals today have designed their maternity wards to be “homelike” and family-friendly. Several nurse-midwife practices attend births in local hospitals, where you can also plan to have a natural birth. If you are planning a hospital birth, here are some tips for you:

  1. Make a birth plan. Hospital providers usually share “call” with other providers, which means that you may find yourself with an unfamiliar doctor or midwife when your time to birth comes. In addition, most of your care will be provided by a labor nurse, whom you probably have never met. By writing down your vision for your birth and bringing it to the hospital with you, you are giving the personnel vital information. For example, if you want the lights dimmed and the room warm so you can move about uninhibitedly during the labor, write that down.
  2. Hire a doula. A doula is a professional labor support. She will be on call for you and will come with you to the hospital to provide woman-to-woman comfort, much like a midwife does in the home-birth setting. She can help you to navigate the hospital routines, through explanation and advocacy. She has strong faith in the birth process and can help you maintain yours.
  3. Stay at home as long as you can. You do not need to be in the hospital for early labor. If you think early labor may be starting, contact your provider, and then relax. This is a great time to light your candles, take that lavender bath, and play your favorite music. It is also a great time to snuggle and smooch with your beloved, which actually can help your labor progress. Some of the most magical births I have attended in the hospital are the ones in which the mother stayed home for most of the labor and arrived at the hospital at 8 centimeters or ready to push!
  4. Prepare to be flexible. Sometimes birth does not go as planned, and again, this provides a rich opportunity for inner growth. Just as we surrender our bodies to birth, so do we sometimes have to surrender our birth plans and dreams of a “perfect birth.” We need to be present and able to respond to conditions as they arise, not only during birth but also in the years of parenting ahead. By committing to your inner strength and spiritual resources during your pregnancy, you will be in a position to handle with grace the challenges that you may face.
  5. Make bonding with the baby a postpartum priority. Request that the baby be given to you immediately after birth, and keep your new one with you at all times. Use the hospital resources to assist with breast-feeding if needed. Keep the room dark so that the baby will open his/her eyes and look at you. Try to maintain a peaceful, restful environment without too many visitors in the first few days. There will be plenty of time for visiting later!

Conclusion

When I was a young midwife, I attended birthing women for years before having children myself. I imagined pregnancy and birth to be culminating life experiences, and I longed for my turn. Several years later, when my first daughter was a couple of weeks old, I found myself overwhelmed by the chaotic, around-the-clock work of caring for her and by my incredibly fierce love for her. The birth itself seemed so insignificant compared with Life with My Amazing Newborn. Later, when the fog of postpartum exhaustion cleared, I realized I had gained this valuable perspective: The challenges we face during pregnancy and birth are opportunities to develop the spiritual strength needed to be loving and present parents. If we take time during pregnancy to cultivate faith, inner strength, patience, surrender, and a sense of interconnectedness to all life, we will be better prepared to raise our children. Blessings and happy birthing!

Dena Moes, Chico, CA, 530-828-9435 or email her at denamoes@hotmail.com