Birth Warrior by Molly Meade

editMollyNov 083“In this culture…a woman can be made to feel foolish for emphasizing the centrality of giving birth to her identity or her personal religiousness, her ‘womanspirit…’” –Stephanie Demetrakopoulos (Listening to Our Bodies)

After the birth of my daughter in 2011, I received a small package from a Birthing from Within mentor friend. In it was a sweet little t-shirt imprinted with the words, My Mama is a Birth Warrior. The words on the shirt surrounded a labyrinth image, which I love as a metaphor for birth and life

Written on the enclosed card was the following:

Imagine a tribe in which a woman is prepared for childbirth in the same way warriors are prepared for battle. Imagine a Ceremony for this woman before she gives birth, a grand send-off with holy songs and fire. Imagine a feast, prepared just for her.

Her tribe tells her, they say to her “Go to your journey, you have prepared. We have prepared you. If you fall from your horse once or a hundred times, it does not matter. All that matters is that you come back to us, that you come home.

Throughout your journey–your labyrinth of Great Love, Great Determination, Great Faith and Great Doubt—you rode on!

The Great Tribe of Mothers welcomes you back from your birth journey with honor.

Modeling her little t-shirt.

Modeling her little t-shirt.

Imagine, indeed. After I read this note I reflected that I did feel I embarked on a mighty journey during my last pregnancy, I did pass through those Gates, and I did ride on. I AM a birth warrior! 

IMG_0069

Labyrinth of pregnancy and birth mandala drawing from my last pregnancy–the path can be followed all the way into her spiral belly…

On Memorial Day last year, making a thematic connection, I shared a “birth warrior” quote on Facebook. It prompted some interesting comments regarding the appropriateness or not of associating “war” or “fighting” with birth. Personally, I was surprised to find myself connect with the birth warrior metaphor in labor. Shortly after my first baby was born, I turned to my dear friend who had been present and said, I feel like I’ve been in a war. I distinctly recall my sense of vulnerability, amazement, and weariness in saying that. It was my fundamental and deep, heart assessment of how I felt at the time—I mostly associated it with the blood. I tend to have extremely bloody births and there was blood all over my arms, belly, and even on my face. I felt like one of those bloody, battle-weary soldiers staggering off the battlefield. This was interesting imagery for me, because I tend towards a pacifist mentality.

My second birth also involved lots of blood—I had it streaked on my face and even on the bottoms of my feet, in addition to  my arms, legs, and belly. One of my tenderest postpartum memories is of my midwife, gently, lovingly washing the bloody bottoms of my feet with a washcloth. In that birth and with my subsequent births as well, I also connected with the “hero’s journey” metaphor. Like I had journeyed to my personal threshold and successfully, powerfully crossed it.

So, to me, the “birth warrior” image represents that experience of focusing and channeling and “riding” the waves of intense energy and the feeling of having climbed my mountain, run my marathon, swum my ocean, crossed my threshold, faced my self-doubt, taken my journey, felt my personal POWER, and brought home my prize. Of course, I also agree wholeheartedly with radical midwife Carla Hartley that birth is not a time when a woman should have to fight for anything, but I also feel like there is a place for the “warrior” archetype in the birthroom. To me, it represents the active nature of birth and dispels any sense of a passive “patient” lying in a bed accepting her “fate.”

I am of the belief that birth is the original sacrament of salvation and that we see this origin imagery purposely inverted in Christian salvation imagery:

“Mary is wife, mother, and child to the same male power-figure. She is utterly meek, abject, passive. In her, the ancient power of the Goddess is captured, chained, used, cannibalized—‘metaphysically cannibalized…’—domesticated and tranquilized. It is no accident that Mary is portrayed as giving birth in tranquility and bliss, as a reward for her asexuality and total submission (thus ‘redeeming’ the crime of Eve)—while Christ, her son, takes on the suffering and dramatic childbearing role of the Mother. For he twists on the cross in labor, to give birth to a redeemed human race. Pierced by a soldier’s sword, blood and water pour from his body—exactly as from a woman in childbirth. The figure displayed on the crucifix in Catholic churches particularly is a male parody of the female experience—of menstrual bleeding, of childbirth, of ontological physical suffering for the human race. But while Christ coopts this female experience into his own power and glory—women, who really have to do these things, have been forced to hide the signs of our bleeding and childbirth ‘crucifixions’ as unclean processes, and badges of corruption, inferiority, and shame. The deified male martyr flaunts his ‘sacrifice’ everywhere, and we are supposed to bow down to it. Women, the real thing, are required by ‘decency’ to hide our messiness out of sight…” (Sjoo and Mor, The Great Cosmic Mother, p. 354).

I find I readily buy into the notion further explicated in Monica Sjoo and Barbara Mor’s book The Great Cosmic Mother that war is possibly a male-dominated culture’s replacement for the inability to give birth: “’…it is perfectly reasonable to assume that menstruation, lunar calendars, and midwifery are as much or more at the foundation of human science than man the great killer so celebrated by macho-anthropologists…the biblical idea that humanity began with a crime of disobedience is wrong…Human life begins with birth. And human culture and intelligence began with birth, with the female’s experience of surviving pregnancy and bearing children and keeping them alive…” (p. 145). With patriarchal domination, this original birth, and one’s original creatrix became distorted into something “unclean” and the notion of a “second birth” arose, a birth through the father

However, it is exactly this duality and simplistic division of men from women that Melissa Raphael explains that spiritual feminism has been criticized for, since it “…cosmologizes the gendered divisions of labour and production…as kind of female gnosticism in which women embody peace and goodness and men embody war and evil” (Thealogy and Embodiment, p. 124). Women give birth and grow children, men kill and make weapons and “in cultures where myths prescribe male dominance, social equilibrium is preserved by bloody strife and the perceived need to harness the chaotic power of female reproduction” (p. 125). We may, in fact, see this exact dynamic played out at  the present moment in history, in which a war is being fought for questionable purpose and political/financial gain, and women’s bodies and legislation surrounding them have become so intensely politicized that the country is held captive for days by the image of a female senator standing for hours to filibuster an abortion restriction bill.

However, after thinking about this subject in-depth I went down to my sacred woods and composed a poem, in which, I feel, the connection between women’s work in birth and men’s work in war actually comes together in a format that transcends Men. War. Bad. Women. Birth. Good, distinctions.

IMG_0273

In this birth art figure created during my last pregnancy, the spiral of birthing energy courses through her body.

Birth Warrior
what else would you call it
when you emerge bloody and victorious
triumphant and strong
having laid down your body and your blood
for your people.

To create life
to save life
to bring the new forward
tested
challenged
rising up again and again.

Going beyond
that which previously thought possible
expanding your boundaries
and capacities
finding your limit
and going past it
digging deep
into every reserve
of courage and strength you possess
giving it your all.

IMG_0303

This “Pushing The Baby Out” birth art sculpture was created to help me cope with some fear regarding tearing during birth.

Losing yourself
in the heave and swell
tightness and release.

Going on
going forward
when you feel like stopping
when you feel like
you have nothing left
and yet, still you rise.

Birth Warrior
Blood Warrior
Life Warrior
You show the world
what you’re made of.

Love.

What is a Warrior?
Is she solely
about fighting?
No.
She’s about protection
strength
courage
triumph
exhilaration
spirit
passion
vibrancy
life.

She defends
she protects
she stands up
she won’t quit
she can be counted on.

She emerges victorious
IMG_0525
with blood on her thighs
and a baby in her arms
knowing that she would
fight to the death for this creature
that she would
lay down her life for this creature
that she has already sacrificed
bone, flesh, and blood for this creature
and that she would do so again,
and again, and again
until there is no breath left in her body.

Birth Warrior.

Molly is a certified birth educator, writer, and activist who lives with her husband and children in central Missouri. She is a breastfeeding counselor, a professor of human services, and doctoral student in women’s spirituality at Ocean Seminary College. Last summer she was ordained as a Priestess with Global Goddess. Molly blogs about birth, motherhood, and women’s issues at http://talkbirth.meabout thealogy and the Goddess at http://goddesspriestess.com, and creates goddess art and jewelry at http://etsy.com/shop/BrigidsGroveShe is presently working on a thesis about birth as a spiritual experience and welcomes idea sharing.

About these ads


Categories: Childbirth, Ecofeminism, Embodiment, Family, Gender and Power, Gender and Sexuality, Goddess, Goddess Movement, Goddess Spirituality, Herstory, Motherhood, Patriarchy, Spirituality, Women's Spirituality

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

14 replies

  1. Do you know about Mary Breckinridge? She was a very privileged woman whose father had been ambassador to Czarist Russia, and her grandfather had been Vice President of the U.S. Her life experiences led her to become a nurse-midwife, much against her family’s wishes. She studied in Britain in the 1920′s and brought back her skills and classmates to start the Frontier Nursing Service in Eastern Kentucky. Her motto was: if you take care of, and empower the mother, she will be able to take care of her children. She started the first midwifery school in the U.S. in the Kentucky hills, and all midwifery in the U.S. is descended from her original efforts. The childbirth education movement that you mention in your article was written by a graduate of her school in Kentucky.

    Wendy Valhoff, nurse-midwife

  2. In The Ebo tribe of Nigeria, when a woman is in labor, the women who are attending her say “jeseekay”. This means literally, “Grab your power”. With these women, it is a given that they are powerful beings, but in labor, sometimes women forget how powerful they are, and must reminded. What they are supposed to do is reach down inside of themselves and grab the power that is there and pull it up so that they can use it to withstand labor and birth their baby. I have seen it work quite well. After working in Nigeria, I brought this concept back and taught it to my clients during prenatal visits.

  3. Right on! This is wonderful! Thank you!

  4. I have not experienced giving birth, but I love the way you write about it.

    I have been thinking about the warrior imagery you advocate and keep coming up with the idea that because we live in a war culture (like Gina’s rape culture), our imaginations have become impoverished. I sincerely hope that we will create images of female (and male) power including birthing power that are not tied to warriors and therefore to war.

    I do not think any good has ever come of war, not even for the so-called victors.

  5. Once again, Molly, a beautiful post. But in this case, I have to disagree with you and agree with Carol. First, because I wrote my dissertation on “Motherhood for the Fatherland: The Portrayal of Women in Nazi Propaganda,” I know that the male Nazi propagandists, including Hitler himself, asserted that every child which an Aryan woman brought into the world was a battle which she endured for her people. I certainly don’t think we want metaphors for our power that echo National Socialism. And second, although my experience of birthing was also one that involved blood and pain (22 1/2 hours of it) and a violent transition from one state to another — from non-mother to mother, the power I experienced in giving birth was power-from-within, the power of the Goddess giving birth to the world, the power of every woman who has ever given birth. After giving birth I knew in my cells that I was a strong woman. And it’s a good thing, because I had my baby to take care of (for the next 18+ years), and that was the hardest work I ever did.

    • I perhaps did not explain fully my own mixed relationship with the word/image. This post began as about ten single spaced pages with many ideas and quotes that I forced myself to trim down to reasonably fall within FAR’s 1,000 word guideline! In so trimming, I feel that perhaps I did not adequately convey the connection I was attempting to make. I would call myself primarily a pacifist. I am not a “fan” of war and I have serious misgivings and grievous heartache about the state of the world today, the military-industrial complex, and the U.S. role in dominating and exploiting the cultures of others as well as hemorrhaging money for the purposes of death, domination, and destruction. This post was not intended to be about the military-industrial complex or patriarchy itself, but primarily about personal experience.

      To further contextualize my post, I realized I may never have mentioned that I work with the military constantly as a college professor on an Army base—I have a much more nuanced understanding of the people involved with this system than I ever had before. I have active duty Marines, drill sergeants, and Naval officers in my classes. I teach men from the Bronx and from East St. Louis who were “saved” by the military (their words, not mine). My criticisms of military culture as an institution are very, very different from my criticisms of military servicemembers as people. They are actually remarkable and multifaceted and complex and while we dance delicately around some issues of politics, economics, mindset, and philosophy, I have learned a LOT from them—as a result of engaging directly in a face-to-face setting rather than as a faceless institution to which I am philosophically and spiritually opposed. I actually teach *human services* classes and in my lectures I specifically and purposely introduce my students to the concepts of dominator vs. partnership models, power over vs. power within, individualism vs. collectivism, and the idea that patriarchy hurts both men and women (I’ve had students express that they’ve NEVER heard the word “patriarchy” before!!!). We also spend a lot of time on empathy and compassion. They actually *get it* much more than I ever expected them to when I looked at them only from a distance as stereotypes or caricatures. My favorite “warrior” ever in class (20+ years of service with a very, very rough past) told me that being in my class was like peeling a scab from his heart. So, I keep peeling and I keep learning from them as they learn from me.

      And, I do have to say that without *non-Nazi’s* who were also willing to fulfill the “warrior” role we might be in a very different place today and so I end up in a cognitively dissonant place of feeling grateful for those warriors among us.

      I also wonder about the warrior goddess image in general and turn over the question of whether there a legitimate place for her in thealogy or whether she is only a subversion or a patriarchal agent? I know that often turn to nature and to my experiences as a mother to inform me. And, I see “warrior mothers” *throughout* the animal world. Even my simple domestic chickens would fight to the death for their babies and they’re the original “chicken,” when it comes to aggression, strength, conflict. It was to this shared, interspecies maternal experience that I also turned to when I wrote my poem.

      As I was preparing this post, I talked to my husband about it at length and about whether or not the long-ago, deep down origin of war could possibly be from protective paternal impulse (since become bloated and twisted beyond most recognition). This poem was my attempt to make a connection to something I would have said on the *surface* that I didn’t “understand.” But, looking through a personal, maternal lens as well as my bodily experience of birthing and mothering, I did make a point of connection and, I felt, of coming to place of maybe, just maybe, touching on an understanding of a shared *root* from perhaps which the warrior role springs (which in our present culture and under patriarchy has become a bloated, hideous, destructive monster, but perhaps a long, long, long time ago originated in parental love and not in hate)…

      • This is very thought-provoking. It IS different sometimes when we deal with individuals rather than “the system,” and although I think of myself as a pacifist and am horrified by war, I know in my heart that I could be a warrior if someone threatened to harm my children.

      • Right, and I was kind of trying to “bridge the gap” here.

  6. Thank you for your wise words Molly! wonderful!!
    Love Jane xxxx

Trackbacks

  1. Birth Warrior?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,710 other followers

%d bloggers like this: