Over the years as a certified childbirth educator I have had the privilege of teaching about childbirth and how to give birth in an informed, empowered and confident way. I taught classes for twenty years, first as a Bradley Method® teacher, and then I created a methodology that synthesized and incorporated the best of what I had learned since my teacher training, and it was called Birth Empowerment® Childbirth Preparation. The classes presented a thorough and comprehensive curriculum that included an early pregnancy workshop for women, a labor and delivery series for couples, and a parenting seminar that provided hands-on experience with baby care (using Cabbage Patch dolls) and vital information about breastfeeding. The birth preparation recognized how birth is an important rite of passage for both parents and helped to reduce their concerns and fears, increased understanding of the birth process, and built confidence in the body’s capacity to give birth. The benefits of participating in the classes were an enhanced knowledge of options and alternatives, and the courage to make correct choices; increased confidence to cope with the painful reality of labor and birth and to accept responsibility for the decisions that were made; a complete understanding of the physiology of the birth process; and greater personal empowerment in meeting the challenge of a fulfilling birth experience.
Engaging Partners and a Couples’ Retreat
My emphasis in teaching couples originated with the Bradley Method®, also called Husband-Coached Childbirth, at a time when fathers were newly admitted into the labor and delivery suite. Although it is the mother who is having the baby, the father has a vested interest in what is happening during the birth process, and I have always been dedicated to helping fathers/partners engage with the experience in meaningful ways. There’s nothing worse for a father/partner, especially for the first time, than to have to watch the laboring woman in pain and be unable to do anything about it. Partners were given thorough preparation as to what to expect and how to assist with birth in a purposeful and meaningful way, as well as trained to provide comfort and support throughout pregnancy and birth, with specific instruction in labor support measures. When the Birth Empowerment® Childbirth Preparation method was developed, a weekend intensive for couples was also created called The Birth Empowerment Workshop® and it focused on the emotional and spiritual aspects of having a baby. Most childbirth preparation doesn’t allow time to these matters to be addressed. At the time it was an innovative program and one of the first to explore a multidimensional and holistic approach to birth and parenting. The workshop uses an extensive variety of experiential tools to create magic, including role playing, games, guided visualization, ritual, and creative artwork, to name a few. The workshop evolved into a couples’ retreat that strengthens the connection between the parents so that they are on the same page while they are moving through the transition to parenthood, as well as for parents who are having another baby. Having prenatal relationship training is a powerful way to manage the stressful elements of newborn parenting and to avoid the traps of blame and resentment. The workshop is returning after a long hiatus, and will be offered in June in Los Angeles: http://www.birthsanctuary.com/classes-and-events/the-birth-empowerment-workshop.
The sacred nature of birth has become a popular idea since the days when I was teaching classes regularly. After taking a sabbatical from being a birth professional, working in the world of academia for twelve years, I decided to follow my passion and return to birth work. I discovered that sacred birth had become a common concept around the world, and there were websites called spiritual birth, soulful birth, sacred birth, and recently I became aware of many Facebook pages about empowered birth, and some dedicated to sacred birth specifically and to pre-birth communication too. Webinars are available that allow women to tune into their unborn child through the intuitive capabilities of the healer who facilitates them. I am fascinated by how things have developed in a dozen years, a sacred birth world that has exploded into the consciousness of birthing families. In order to tune in to the higher vibration of sacred birth, the parents need to have trust in the birth process and confidence in their ability to birth powerfully. When viewed from a multidimensional perspective, birth is a truly wondrous moment, a holy meeting of souls at the first contact after separation. It is the beginning of a new way of connecting, an external embrace of loving attachment that becomes grounded in the senses. We can now touch the baby, smell the aroma, see its features and hear it cry.
Scared or Sacred?
When I returned to the work of birth, I noticed that things had diverged between one path of birth that was even more medicalized, with exponential levels of inductions and cesarean sections, and another path of birth that was more empowered and woman-centered, along the lines of ecstatic and orgasmic birth. In the former technocratic model of obstetrics practiced in hospitals, the sacredness of birth is erased from the experience. It is easier to attain in birth centers and at home, where birthing mothers are able to work with their bodies through a physiological approach to birth. What happens in hospital birth is more about fear of the process, a professional distrust in birth, and a view that birth is an emergency waiting to happen. Another development that had occurred during my absence was the application of a risk management model of birth, amplifying the threat based on these negative attitudes about childbirth. Instead of being sacred, birth became something to be scared of. I often marvel at how the simple rearrangement of letters in this anagram turns sacred into scared. That’s what medicalized birth has done over the last century – turned a sacred moment into a scary process that most women don’t feel empowered to experience. Being scared, they opt for interventions that often escalate in the course of the labor, without any real understanding of the risks involved in their use. Childbirth is not the problem. The problems start when we interfere with the normal physiological process, disturbing the natural hormones and rhythms that are meant to drive the progression of labor and delivery. The risk model is disproportionately applied to the unknowns of birth, but not applied to the risks of the interventions. This selective application of risk assessment needs to be re-examined.
Ignorance Is Not Bliss
When I talk to women these days, I am aware that they are going into birth uninformed, unprepared and scared. I haven’t quite worked out whether this is a cultural thing, because I live in the UK now, and most of my teaching was done in the United States. I recently attended a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Conception to Age 2 – The First 1001 Critical Days, an initiative to develop national strategies for supporting the mental health needs of childbearing women and families. Another member of the group spoke out about how the needs of pregnant women to prepare for birth are not being met, concurring with my view completely. I know there is an expectation among American women that preparation for birth is part of the pregnancy experience. Although women can choose to go to free NHS (National Health Service) classes taught by midwives, or National Childbirth Trust (NCT) classes for a fee, and Hypnobirthing classes are becoming quite popular these days, there doesn’t seem to be a consciousness for learning about what would make birth an easier experience. When I speak to women who seek my services as a doula, I’m often surprised at how little they know. They contact me because they are scared, but knowledge acquisition is not on their minds, and they don’t seem to realize that knowledge is power in the birth place. I love to support women through the birth experience, but my support is not a replacement for understanding what’s going to happen to them and what they could do about it. There’s even less awareness that a good birth is the best start for the family. Instead, there is a tragic trend towards traumatic birth experiences that leave their scars for years, have the potential to destroy relationships, and disrupt the evolution of the family. Whereas traumatic birth was an uncommon experience when I was teaching birth preparation, it seems to have escalated to outrageous levels where women are denied the dignity of having their needs addressed. I believe that education can go a long way to reducing the incidence of trauma, as women and their partners who know their options can negotiate more powerfully in hospitals, even though hospitals are usually a place where parents are out of power. However, it also has to be said that trauma is not limited to hospital birth and some women have traumatizing experiences in other locations for birth too. The possibility of sacred birth is virtually impossible when trauma dominates.
Transforming Scared Into Sacred
How do we transform scared into sacred? We need to restore a sense of trust in the body’s ability to give birth by learning about childbirth and practicing strategies for dealing with pain. It is the perception of pain that needs reframing as a healthy thing, not a damaging one. There is pain associated with healing after an injury or surgery. Some people have growing pains. It’s the pathologizing of pain in birth that makes women think that pain relief is their only recourse. We need to promote non-medical strategies for dealing with pain, like water immersion and acupressure. There is a new generation of babies coming in to be born and they have a higher vibration that needs a soft landing. These cosmic babies are raising the frequency for birth to become sacred again. The Birth Empowerment Workshop® is my way of raising consciousness for sacred birth. Here is what one of my father participants said about the workshop: “Birth Empowerment is about growth (both personal and interpersonal), about exploration, learning and discovery (both pragmatic and spiritual), but ultimately Birth Empowerment is about love; love and its most creative product: a beautiful healthy child and two ever closer growing parents enriched by the magical experience of birth.”
What do you think?