Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Crazy Lady in the Rocking Chair

I'm still thinking about Ina May Gaskin! Her 1977 book, Spiritual Midwifery, encouraged countless women to consider birth a spiritual experience, rather than a medical one.


Of, relating to, or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things.

Birth is certainly physical, but it is not only physical. It is spiritual, too: the mind and body must be in alignment. Having grown up in a Jewish home, my spirituality is grounded in Hebrew liturgy and prayer. When I was in labor, I spent a lot of time rocking in a rocking chair. The movement kept me centered, much like shuckling helps some Jews maintain kavanah, or intention, in prayer. But despite my knowledge of Hebrew prayers, I did not find myself saying them while in labor.

During my pregnancies, I practiced yoga. Yoga is a physical practice that has the added benefit, for many people, of calming the mind. It's perfect for labor, because it brings body and mind together. I took to heart the idea that vocalizing during labor could help the process move along. During every contraction of my labor with Bella, I took a deep breath and released a long "om", repeating until the contraction ended. You can imagine how that made me look: I was already the crazy lady with the doula in a small suburban hospital. Now I was om'ing, over and over, as I rocked in my chair. I was not acting like a normal person! But what I was doing was not only normal, but necessary. I was in a heightened and altered state of consciousness, using effective tools to calm my mind and body during a challenging and unique experience.

Women who have positive births find a spiritual place that gets them through. The means are infinite: reciting psalms, chanting in Sanskrit, visualizing an opening flower, breathing rhythmically, or in the case of a woman interviewed in Birth Story, "making out" with her husband.

Spirituality is very personal. What affects my spirit and soul will not necessarily affect yours. If you had a spiritual experience in labor, I'd love to hear about it.

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