For millennia the danger and lack of choice that has surrounded childbirth has been the single most destructive force undermining women’s power. What a sad state, when giving birth and nurturing powerful children is one of the most empowering, godlike opportunities offered to womankind. Traumatic experiences associated with birth poison the power these mothers have with their children born, their children unborn, and society at large. Like any good social scientist having found a profound primary cause of suffering, the key is to change that experience and watch the family and society change in response. That is the power of this book in the hands of women who know what they’re doing.
I’ve already written about the incredible breadth of resources and perspective found in this collection, so today I’d like to share some personal generational experience to explain my commitment to the writers’ mission. (And no, I’m still not profiting from my little advertising venture for them.)
My grandmother was born into a family of violence and in her teens was motherless at the hand of her father, raising younger siblings and trying to train as a nurse and finish high school. She was married a few months before my mother was born and carried the stigma of her parents’ and personal failures in her heart like a stone. My mother was her first child, the apple of her father’s eye and the envy of her mother’s. You can imagine that had an impact on both of them.
My mother had three miscarriages before her first live birth, and was told that she had an immature body that wasn’t prepared for pregnancy. She labored without preparation, etherized, terrorized, shamed by her doctor who not only refused to help her understand and manage the process, but blamed her for its horror, and after all that was shown a hairy child with a misshapen head from too-long pushing in unproductive labor. I was that child, and though I lost the hairy monkey-suit and my head popped back into shape, you can imagine that had an impact on both of us.
I was alone when I went into labor with my first child, left by my husband months before. I had taken childbirth classes and was well enough educated, but still had to discover what worked for me by myself. Lying down was unbearable and a warm bath was miserable, but the childbirth instructor at the evening’s class before didn’t think it was true labor and I didn’t want to bother anyone, so I did my best alone. I walked comfortably back and forth in the night, leaning over a chair through contractions and waiting for my mother to arrive from three hours away. We went to the hospital at her nervous insistence and discovered that I was dilated to 7, where they hurriedly had me lie down. My labor continued but produced no change for 8 hours, at which time my doctor began threatening me with surgery because I refused to cooperate and dilate. My mother nearly passed out, I was angry, my daughter was born in a cold birthing chair, and you can imagine that had an impact on all of us.
My daughter gave birth to her first daughter at home in a birthing tub. Her midwife was a very hands-off coach and the back labor was incredibly difficult, much different from the empowered birth my daughter had planned carefully to create. When my granddaughter was born, the very short umbilical cord, which had been wrapped tightly around her foot (apparently for some time), broke, flooding the water with blood whose source none of us could see. Although we found the 6″ cord piece pulsing blood from the baby’s body within seconds, and her Apgar and blood tests were normal, she was fractious and traumatized for months. You can imagine that had an impact on all of us.
Each of these experiences had the capacity to wound the crucial feelings each mother and child had about birth and the connections to one another that birth solidifies. Those wounds, quite common in modern birth and usually left untreated, continue forward, altering relationships and interfering with the bonding we experience as we nurture one another.
In the section under The Atonement, Sheridan Ripley addresses traumatic births and explains the steps we go through as we heal.
1. Shock and denial – a way we endure difficult experience
2. Pain and guilt – physical, mental, and emotional pain lingers often until resolved
3. Anger and bargaining – looking for someone to blame (self or others) distracts a mother from healing
4. Depression, reflection, and loneliness – feelings of abandonment may surface later in mother or child
5. Reconstruction – a review can help mother and child see from other perspectives and forgive
6. Acceptance and hope – we can be dissatisfied with an experience but still accept it and move on
In a previous era, women were often helped through birth by other knowledgeable women who could lessen the emotional and physical setbacks that are commonly faced. In a modern era that has often traded emotional support for technical expertise, women who are well-prepared (especially through a resource like The Gift of Giving Life) can navigate the type of birth that best protects their feelings of empowerment. When that happens, the bonds between mothers and children are best preserved, and society will see the change.
Visit The Gift of Giving Life site to sign up for a newsletter and to receive a free Meditation MP3 as well as tips to help increase spirituality in your pregnancy and birth.
For my readers: a coupon code for 10% off a copy of The Gift of Giving Life. Click here and after you add the book to your cart use this coupon code: GWFWXR3F. The code is good until Father’s Day (June 17) 2012.