“The profound mystery and spirituality of birth can never be understood with the mind; they are known through the heart.” Pam England and Rob Horowitz I will never forget the first time I heard a woman in labour. I was 37 weeks pregnant and sitting in the waiting room of our local birth centre. Behind the door I could hear the deep methodical groans of a woman well into birthing her baby. I felt absolutely terrified and shuddered at the prospect that it would soon be me. I cried in fear to my midwife who reassured me that the sounds behind the door were indicative of her good progress. Still unconvinced I left nursing considerable fear and apprehension regarding my ability to birth our baby naturally. For the majority of women in our culture our first experience of birth is our own. Most of us have little or no exposure to the natural process of birth but instead face our own labour with an abundance of unconscious assumptions and inhibitions. Our preparation for birth comes largely from books, antenatal classes or unspoken cultural “training”. We bring our conditioning of fear and avoidance to our labour and often surrender this most powerful opportunity into the hands of impending intervention and play the role of passive onlooker. In the words of Pam England and Rob Horowitz (1998) we “teach new mothers about birth from the outside, in other words, how it is perceived and managed by professionals. This information is fascinating, but irrelevant to a mother white knuckling through a contraction.” In preparing for the birth of our first baby, Harrison, I remember piles of books on my bedside table. I was hungry for information. I devoured large amounts of literature in an attempt to be totally prepared to birth our baby. I wanted everything to be perfect and felt that if I was well informed I could cope with any situation that may arise. Whilst I did spend time strengthening my awareness of my body with yoga and connecting with my baby through meditation, my greatest learning occurred in my head with the massive consumption of facts, figures and “how to’s” from the library that grew in my bedroom. Nevertheless, Harry’s birth was the most empowering experience of my life so far and began a deep spiritual journey for me which continues to this day. Fortunately in the throws of labour and birth I ditched my hard earned literacy knowledge for a deep wisdom inside myself. I had never experienced such power and embraced it whole heartedly. The birth of our first baby changed me forever. This birth gave me a recipe for which to approach life. It was a recipe to understand and embrace suffering. A recipe to appreciate the transitions of life and changes they bring. A recipe to surrender to the wisdom and inner knowing in all of us – to trust, be patient and have the courage to go forward. For I now knew the rewards were abundant on the other side of pain. Longing to deepen my understanding I fell pregnant again three years later. This baby was lost to us shortly after life began in my womb. Through this experience I was once again challenged by the mystery of pregnancy and birth. I was forced to confront notions of being able to control or at least positively influence this most sacred of life’s journeys. I walked away from this experience with a renewed respect for the mystery and magic of conception and birth and whilst I did not totally surrender my beliefs in preconception preparation I became acutely aware of greater forces at play. Now, with a beautiful baby blooming in my belly and birth near at hand, I reflect how different a preparation this pregnancy has given me. The past nine months I have spent considerable time nurturing the divine mother within myself. I felt repelled and distracted by books feeling like I could not relate to what I read or others stories. Instead I indulged in painting and drawing and made time to meditate and connect with my baby. I used music and poetry to muster strength and passion. I listened to my intuition and felt guided by my body and my own sense of self. I spent time with wise women who nurtured, reassured and encouraged me. In many ways, this pregnancy has been more challenging than my others and I have at times clambered to maintain a sense of calm resolve. However I feel far more prepared to enter the sacred passage of birth from within myself rather than from the knowledge bestowed by others. Ancient mothers have a lot to teach us as their journey of pregnancy and early motherhood was a time for women to care and nurture one another. Women faced their labour and births with a “mixture of fear, power and surrender” (England and Horowitz). They experienced powerful prebirth rituals that prepared them to walk this sacred path with wisdom and encouragement from the women around them. They encountered early motherhood as a time for bonding and celebration of their child. The everyday chores were left to the other women as this was a respected time of nurturance and attachment. Women knew the own strength and power and firmly embraced the passage of birth as a time of transformation and empowerment. Women need to reclaim their births as their own. The medicalisation of birth has distracted us from the true wisdom and power of this sacred passage as we place it in the hands of “experts”. Preparation for birth needs to come from within so we are familiar with our innate ability to birth our babies. The wisdom of our bodies can not be underestimated and as our ancient mothers knew – neither can the power of birth. Most mothers know the theory of birth – very few embrace her power. Reference: England, P. and Horowitz, R. (1998) Brithing from Within; Partera Press; New Mexico.