Birth Warrior by Molly Remer
“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.
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!
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.
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
rising up again and again.
that which previously thought possible
expanding your boundaries
finding your limit
and going past it
into every reserve
of courage and strength you possess
giving it your all.
in the heave and swell
tightness and release.
when you feel like stopping
when you feel like
you have nothing left
and yet, still you rise.
You show the world
what you’re made of.
What is a Warrior?
Is she solely
She’s about protection
she stands up
she won’t quit
she can be counted on.
She emerges victorious
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.
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.me and about thealogy and the Goddess at http://goddesspriestess.com. She is presently working on a thesis about birth as a spiritual experience and welcomes idea sharing.