Birth Ecology - Tending the Garden of Birth by Kara Maia Spencer, LMT, CD
The Deep Ecology of Birth Birth is a sacred rite of passage for women, a life-altering experience that brings knowledge, experience, growth, and discovery. There is great power and potential inherent in pregnancy and birth. Labor is an altered state of consciousness that the woman journeys through in order to discover her birth power. The sacredness of mothers, babies, and birth must be honored first and foremost, for the survival of humanity and our earth.
The newborn’s emergence at birth imprints the baby with the first impressions of the world. The baby has an instinct to be born, the mother’s body ripens for birth but she must be patient to wait for the baby’s unique time. Physiologically, it is the baby who initiates labor, signaling the mother’s body to labor and birth. The baby is a conscious participant in the birth journey. When a mother listens to her body and her baby, and gives birth instinctively, that child is imprinted with the ability to respect and honor its body and being.
Conscious birthing is an ecstatic experience, and women who birth instinctively can even experience orgasm and spiritual awakening. Birth becomes a tantric experience between the mother and baby, as they communicate through deeper consciousness and without words. Birth is one aspect of the women’s cycle of fertility and sexuality, and all the rites of passage in women’s sexual cycles are ecologically vital and have ecstatic potential.
The women’s sexual life cycle includes many rites of passage: menarche, menstruation, childbirth, and menopause. These are known as the Blood Mysteries, and have been honored by traditional cultures around the world for thousands of years. The women’s mysteries are opportunities for sacred connection to nature, deepening self-understanding, gaining new wisdom, and creative potential.
Women’s cycles are a deep source of connection to nature. The menstrual cycle is guided by the moon; the lunar cycles influence the tides of the oceans and women’s wombs. Just as we experience the cycles of nature physically every day—the cycle of the day and night, the moon cycle, the solar cycle of the seasons—so we experience natural cycles within our bodies, the lifecycle, the menstrual cycle, and the birth cycle. The gestation of pregnancy is actually ten lunar cycles, and many people call the postpartum time, the babymoon.
Throughout gestation, the mother and baby are biologically one unit. The baby is dependent upon the health, nourishment, and love of the mother. Humans live in the womb of Mother Earth, and we are all dependent upon the health of the planet and our environment, which provides us with everything from atoms to atmosphere, to food, shelter, and medicine.
The Earth is our Mother. She gave birth to all of us; all the trees, mountains, herbs, flowers, animals, minerals, and humans are her children and family. Her web of interconnectivity and interdependence binds us all. This Earth-Body balance is vital for health; a balance between ecological health, such as a sense of connection to place and environmental health, and somatic health, the physical, personal, and inner essence of body and spirit well-being.
Humanity must honor our interdependence with nature in order to heal our bodies, and our Earth. Western culture’s disrespect for the Earth is seen as the destruction of the environment, natural resources, ancient forests, atmosphere, and oceans. This is mirrored in the highly invasive treatment of women’s bodies in medicine, media, and childbirth practices. Western culture is no longer in sync with the rhythms and cycles of nature. We are cutting open our bodies and our planet. The farther we push ourselves from living ecologically, in balance with nature, the more we kill ourselves and our planet. How do we find a way to regain balance?
In our vision to create a safe world for children to live in, we must begin with making birth safe for children, so that they may be at home in their bodies. In order to heal birth, we must care for the whole health of mother, baby, family, and community. Healing art midwifery must address the body, mind, heart, and spirit of mother and planet. Each birth is a seed for humanity. The journey to healing begins with addressing the birth trauma that we carry, from our own births, and the births our ancestors. Each birth brings a new opportunity to preserve the garden.
Biodynamic Birthing Michel Odent, a French obstetrician-turned-midwife and primal health researcher, advocates in his book “The Farmer and the Obstetrician” for the practice of biodynamic attitude toward birth. “Bio” means biological; the way of nature. In birth, this is to understand the normal physiological process of birth, gravity, hormones, and decreasing intervention by birth practitioners to allow instinctive birth. “Dynamic” refers to life force energy, change, motion. Biodynamic birthing serves each pregnant woman uniquely with the blend of natural birthing wisdom, medical science, and evidence-based practices to facilitate an optimal birth experience.
The word “biodynamic” is also well-known to describe biodynamic gardening, a model of agriculture developed by Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education. Biodynamic gardening teaches of relationship between healthy living soil and cosmic forces. Biodynamic gardeners use their understanding of the lunar cycles and spiritual connection to the forces of nature to improve vitality and health of the plants, soil, and ecosystem. Biodynamic gardening utilizes the science of life-forces to aid in healing ailing land on earth. The biodynamic perspective is a holistic model of agriculture that optimizes ecological wellbeing while healing the past and providing for the future.
Biodynamic birthing is an ecological perspective of birth. A biodynamic attitude recognizes working with the natural cycles of birth, and emphasizes relationship not hierarchy. The practice of maternity care must be reevaluated to support sustainability, community, healing, and peace. Through biodynamic birth practices we can heal birth trauma, prevent unnecessary birth violence, nurture bonding and attachment, and cultivate a peaceful planet. It is essential that we not only improve maternal and infant health care but that we also heal the cycle of abused infants, and practice sustainable, biodynamic birth.
21st Century Childbirth Birth in the United States today is extraordinarily industrialized, technological, and controlled by capitalist interests. Within the last 100 years, the medicalization of childbirth has nearly wiped out the legacy of midwives, and the practice of homebirth, and instinctive birth.
At the dawn of the 20th century, the vast majority of women birthed at home, with a traditional midwife in attendance. Midwifery experienced a renaissance in the 1970’s. Today, professional homebirth midwives practice all over the US. However, less than 1% of women in the US give birth at home. In hospitals, 7% of women have a Certified Nurse-Midwife attending; the remaining 92% of women have an Obstetrician managing their care. The ancient art of women attending women in labor, birthing instinctively and privately, has been vanished to a tiny fraction of families who are called to birth in the way they feel safest.
In fact, the British Medical Journal published a study in 2005 that showed that birth at home was as safe, or safer, than birth in a hospital. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that midwives are safest care providers for healthy women with low-risk pregnancies. A study at the University of Washington in 1999 researched the communications of physicians and surgeons with their patients, and they concluded that 91% of the time the physicians did not give their patients enough information to make an informed decision about their healthcare. Midwives trust in the wisdom of birth, and educate their clients to make informed and safe choices throughout all of pregnancy, labor, and birth.
The parent’s process of educating and preparing for the birth of a new child is necessary for the parent’s readiness to care for and nurture the child throughout the entire time of childhood. When parents are given full information about the risks of medical intervention and unnecessary technology in childbirth, then the soaring rates of induction, epidurals, electronic fetal monitoring, and cesarean sections will be reversed. Children that are born gently and peacefully into loving hands will heal the cycle of abuse caused by the technocratic medicalization of childbirth.
Women giving birth in America today usually labor in bed in a decorated hospital room, hooked up to numerous tubes and wires that connect their bodies to machines, monitors, and medications. The majority give birth in a modified lithotomy position—the most unnatural position to give birth for it opposes gravity and reduces pelvic mobility. The hospital is an unfamiliar place, and numerous people come in and out of the room during the course of the labor. Each pregnancy is treated as a potential pathology and is aggressively monitored. Medicalized childbirth is a self-fulfilling prophecy, for many complications are instigated because of unnecessary interventions. In the US, 29% of women give birth by Cesarean section, and the rate has been increasing each year at an alarming rate.
Interference during labor halts the physiological process of birthing. Normal healthy mothers need respectful attendants who do not disturb the instinctive and hormonal orchestra of labor. Mothers need to be free to move as they please, to immerse their bodies in buoyant warm water, to walk outside in the garden, to labor undisturbed, and to be undisturbed immediately after the birth, to hold and touch their baby, establish nursing, and fall in love.
Birth is in crisis, and is calling to the midwives. Cultivate the garden, and stand guard at the gate. Protect the sanctuary of birth and understand the laws of nature. The future of humanity depends upon healing childbirth, educating biodynamic midwives, and creating a sustainable world for the children.
Kara Maia Spencer, LMT, CD is a massage therapist, birth and postpartum doula, childbirth educator, and birth advocate. She has a private practice in Eugene, OR. Her website is www.MaiaHealingArts.com and she can be contacted at [email protected] Kara is also the Chairperson for the Birth Companion Network, www.BirthCompanion.org, and a Representative of the Lane County Birth Network, www.LaneCountyBirthNetwork.org.