Fear of Birth
© Jeannine Parvati Baker, originally appearing in "Living in Balance"- Vol.4, No.2.
This is the second article in a series about Jeannine’s vision of a freebirth community. The others are Freebirth, Every Mother a Midwife and Vision of a Freebirth Community.
Ritual, like love, calls up whatever needs to be healed. Birth is life’s oldest ritual, as well as an expression of sexual love and as such brings forth unconscious material for healing. In other words, birth turns us inside out. Unfortunately, in this dominator culture, what is brought up is tremendous fear.
This is primal fear. Fear of pain. Fear of death. Even, especially, fear of the unknown. Yet unexplored fear is of WOMEN’S POWER!! It is unnerving to the uninitiated to witness the tremendous primal power of women giving freebirth. When that social mask falls off during the labor process, we encounter the Goddess in an extremely awesome expression.. So the first reason that women turn to drugs is not only a fear of the pain but a fear of being powerful. We don’t get much practice in this culture. This is the first reason that I see why most babies are born in hospitals under the veil of drugs: our dominator culture systematically disempowers the uniquely female expressions of power. We have been told that we can’t give birth and have bought that lie. Yes, bought it. We pay billions of dollars each year to obstetrical personnel to deliver us of our condition. We hire people to be paranoid for us. We have been taught to be afraid of ourselves.
It is no wonder that when I asked the women of the community I live in now, my Mormon sisters, why they take drugs at birth (75% request epidurals at our local hospital) the consistent answer I received was, "It is the only time when we can legally take drugs." (Mormons agree to live the Word of Wisdom, which excludes the usage of such legal drugs as tobacco, alcohol and caffeine.) However, in that Mormon women are promised spiritual blessings for having babies, yet place their trust in the "arm of flesh" (read obstetrician) rather than faith in God, is revealing.
What this shows me, in a patristic religion, is that women’s spiritual merit is linked to reproductivity. Women are encouraged to become mothers. Yet when the time comes to (wo)manifest God’s creation, the mother is adrift for the lack of connection with her creative expression as female. In patristic religions, we have cosmologies which give scant mention to God as female. The role models for a spiritual life are male. In a creation event such as birth, the mother turns to God’s stand-in (the doctor) rather than turning within to her living experience of the divine feminine.
It is frightening to claim female power in the face of the patristic ruling class, or dominator culture – our preferred term so that we might liberate the role of "father" from being related to all the horrible consequences of domination. When a mother gives spontaneous birth, she will often declare triumphantly, "Now I know I can do anything!" One good birth is worth years of spiritual practice. Indeed, it is a mother’s core spiritual practice. As in any devoted journey to transcend the limitations of illusions of ego, there will be fear as the core identity shifts from separation to unity.
The deepest fears are universal and are accepted by the evolutionary advantaged as grist for the mill. In other words, rather than seeing fear as an enemy to birth, by embracing our fears, we can transform them into courageous power. However, what I observe in the professional perinatal community is the collusion amongst practitioners to justify these natural fears and distract the woman from her inner power through a complex series of prenatal rituals which promote obstetrical management of pregnancy. The mother is estranged from her natural knowing through the cult of the experts, who must justify their presence by actions which are at best distracting, or worse harmful (iatrogenic), and this is sustained by her religious beliefs. For example, a Catholic mother with the doctrine or original sin, is set up by her beliefs to suffer in birth. Christian mothers are scripted for saviors to rescue them. Jewish mothers are commanded to sacrifice sons and live with the knowledge that every day, their husbands pray in gratitude to G-D for not being born female. However, beliefs which inhibit the ecstasy of birth are not only endemic to Western religions. When I practiced midwifery in a Hindu community, I would observe yogini mothers in labor looking as if they were trying to give birth through their third eye!? To be sexual in birth was not to be spiritual – to enjoy the process was unimaginable.
Our religious beliefs about women’s place in "The Plan" have held birth hostage for millennia. Freebirth pays the ransom. Herein lives the root fear of women’s power: mothers are sexual beings. Sexuality evokes the primal fear of mortality and the mother in particular, holding the archetypes of both giver and taker of life, is the matrix through which birth and death are granted.
Birth evokes an intolerable recognition of the inherent sexuality of our source, the divine feminine. When one’s group consciousness disallows the idea of a sexually expressive creation goddess, the mothers are estranged from the opportunity birth provides – the realization that sexual and spiritual energy are the same life-force. In my workshops, I invite participants to experience this by imagining their own mothers in the height of sexual ecstasy. Amidst the embarrassed guffaws emerges a powerful message from the Collective Unconscious – incest. To see one’s own mother as sexual is verboten. Is it no wonder that women have a challenge experiencing birth as sexually ecstatic expression when immersed in a group consciousness which sees birth as inherently dangerous?
Once again, birth is dangerous to the ego and this is exacerbated in religious world views which render the spiritual life as sexual. Birth is dangerous to the idea that we are spiritual beings having a sexual experience while on the Earth. An ecstatic birth dissolves the illusion of separation and integrates the seeming duality of life by embodying the creatrix. Mothers who freebirth realize that our sexuality is sacred- and as our births did not need any mediators, perhaps our spiritual lives likewise need no dogma. We are freer to have a living experience of spirit in all forms, through all the cycles of our changing sexuality, especially when mothers.
Freebirth allows us to connect with a dimension of trust which serves through the years we devote to sustaining our creations. Simply stated: if I scare myself with the awesome responsibility of conscious birth, my culture will validate this fear and supply an endless field of experts to keep these children alive and well. If instead I choose the road less traveled and give freebirth as an ecstatic, sexual celebration of love, I am healed and in that process, gain a trust in spirit so strong that I am more apt to be more responsible for sustaining my whole children without the cult of experts, be they medical, educational. legal, and/or religious.
Paying people to enact the group fantasy that birth is dangerous imprints the parents to give their primal responsibility to others, and they are subsequently more likely to make fear-based choices in response to the challenges ahead. "Imagination is more important than knowledge," said Einstein. All the childbirth education in the world will not empower women without a new vision of birth: one picture is worth a thousand words. Yet giving birth is one of the most shrouded events in a woman’s life. Besides our own experiences in being born, where do we get our images of birth? The wallpaper of our lives is created by the corporate media – the advertising which permeates our consciousness. As birth is a hidden event, associated with sickness and death (hospital), the media portrays the values of the dominator class, which rules through fear. Think of the movies you’ve seen as an example of how birth is reacted to in this culture: how many portray birth as an ecstatic, erotic and spiritual experience? Rather we get images of women begging for drugs and behaving like someone in need of an exorcism by the doctor/priest at best, or in horror films, as Evil incarnate herself.
The historical accounts are as likely to focus on the horrific aspects of childbirth as well. Where is the documentary of the increase of maternal mortality once doctors became involved in birth? Instead we see the propaganda of medical science as the best stand-in for the Deus Ex Machina, the technologist of God, the O.B. Who benefits from the primal fear of birth? How do we as individuals and as a society add upon our fear of pain, death, the unknown and loss of control? How can we shift the consciousness which has kept birth in the hands of the experts and deliver it back onto the lap of the family? These issues will be explored in my final article, Part III – "Building the Freebirth Community."
by Jeannine Parvati Baker
Author of Conscious Conception