Photographs of birth capture what an intense physical event it is: lots of grimacing, blood, nakedness and sweat. A film can transmit much of the emotion of the experience: pants, groans and cries, the anxiety and the joy. Birth itself, the experience of giving birth or sharing birthing with someone you love can be one of the deepest spiritual experiences of one’s life.
Labor and birth are powerful rites of passage. Experienced consciously they are excellent preparation for the concentration and surrender of parenthood. A laboring mother experiences the forces of nature and spirit using her as a vehicle; the participating father sees the strength and transformation of his mate and is himself transformed. Together they experience and guide the emergence of their child, taking responsibility from the beginning for his being. The newborn experiences from without the vibrations, voices and love she knew from within. Those who share the birth imprint together with the parents on their new brother or sister joining them on the material plane.
But birth has been removed from most people’s lives. Since the ’30’s most babies have been “delivered” at the hospital. Hospitals have offered certain medical safeguards, but they have taken birth away from the family. In medical hands it has become a clinical procedure accompanied by impersonal routine, bright lights and stainless steel. Mothers and infants have been too drugged to experience each other. Hospital policies have separated husband from wife, mother from child. Now birth is returning home, back to its spiritual roots.
It all seems so natural and right that a couple should have their baby in their own bed surrounded by the people they love and in the atmosphere with which they are familiar. What must be realized is that our society has so greatly departed from this that the pregnant couple is likely to face great opposition to their decision.
Birth is a confrontation with Self and it must not be met unprepared. For birth at home preparation must be total — physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Long before the actual labor all the hidden feelings of apprehension and self-doubt should be brought into the light and seen for what they are. The parents must make their choice and take full responsibility, gathering all their resources to a point of affirmative focus. They then will be ready to deal with medical professionals, relatives and others who will question, doubt or judge them.
Facing birth means facing death. At some point it is necessary, all preparations having been made, to surrender to what lies ahead with the resolution not to lose faith in oneself. Social opinion will generally be less sympathetic to parents who have difficulties at home than to those who experience problems in the hospital. To our knowledge there are no physicians or licensed midwives attending home births in the Chapel Hill area. There are, however, many couples giving birth at home and a growing community of support for alternatives in childbirth.
We decided that home was the best place for us to give birth. It was not an easy decision or a last minute one. We shared two home births during the pregnancy and visited hospital labor and delivery rooms with mixed feelings. We read all we could, saw films, took childbirth classes, including pre-natal exercises, and practiced sound nutrition. We found our pre-natal clinic inadequate so we switched to a private doctor. We hoped someone trained or at least experienced in birthing would be there but we were prepared to go ahead alone if necessary. Finally we relied on meditation and our faith in that inner experience.
Our daughter was born at home five months ago. It was a straightforward fourteen hour labor; she emerged into her father’s hands at two o’clock in the afternoon. By four we were all out in the yard enjoying the Indian Summer day. Among the close friends who shared the birthing was a physician’s assistant and his wife, who have been present at many home births, and our childbirth teacher, the mother of five home-born children. The aura of Woodwyn’s birth is still with us. It provides a joyful foundation for our parenthood.