Guest Post by: Julia West, Childbirth Educator & GBC Mom of 4
If you were to read accounts of birth scenes from previous centuries or more primitive cultures, you would probably notice a common theme: older and younger, experienced women surrounding, supporting and serving the birthing woman through and after her labor. We can even read about midwives assisting births as far back as Genesis accounts. This is an ancient model of care.
One could assume this was simply a lack of any other options, where an educated obstetrician and a sterile hospital were not present. But I propose the arrangement was actually innate wisdom, designed to serve many purposes for the mother and baby and community.
In many modern day birth scenes, the attention is often focused on simply the physical process of birth, tracking measurable changes in physiology, manipulating to speed up or slow down. Some medical professionals may have never seen a woman give birth without some form of intervention and it can seem foreign or possibly, unreasonable. The impact of the emotional environment may never be considered.
In a room of women who have experienced or witnessed the natural process of labor, there is an empathy and understanding for a birthing woman- an acknowledgement that the safer she feels and more relaxed she is, the smoother labor will go.
And so they are able to share the oral tradition of birth:
- how to use gravity to move a baby down
- how to make space in the hips
- how to use darkness and quiet to keep a mother in a relaxed state
- to feed and hydrate her for the work of labor
There is a collective memory to glean from of ways to encourage and support, sometimes even without a word, to promote a smooth transition from womb to world for baby and mother.
Aside from the verbalized help, there is a calm that comes from knowing what birth looks like and that the signs of intensity mean that all is going well, not something to be frightened of or rescued from. And this is how even husbands and children or family members who attend births benefit from the presence of an experienced woman in the room.
To someone who has never witnessed a birth, the mother’s grunting and moaning and crying may be troubling. But looking into a peaceful face who says, “She’s doing very well,” may bring the reassurance that an onlooker needs in order to add calm to the room, not fear or doubt.
My husband has been my main support through every birth. Even though he cannot empathize, his care and tenderness is just what I need to relax in labor. But if he were worrying about my safety, I know it would affect his ability to be fully present with me.
We used our pregnancies to build trust in our midwives and then during birth, we are able to work together in confidence, knowing their watchful eyes were present. Relying on their wisdom and experience was what made our birthing environment feel peaceful and safe to both of us.
Women in many other cultures have witnessed many births before their own by attending the births of neighbors, cousins and sisters. The oral tradition of birth actually starts for many well before they are the birthing woman. But in our culture, birth is often kept behind a curtain, a mystery until it is experienced first hand.
What a gift to witness the process and normal, natural sights and sounds of labor before it is your own, as some young siblings are able to do now and even young women training to be midwives. This is how this ancient arrangement serves whole families and communities – it supports and educates and preserves this body of knowledge that is so sacred and so necessary in every time and place.
This is the impact of women serving women in labor. This is the power of women sharing experience and wisdom and supporting mothers. This is the beauty of midwifery.
Grapevine Midwifery Experts