Birth is sacred. Like death it is the portal of life. There is something awesome and mysterious about our transition from spirit into substance and back again. In past ages and still today in some cultures, people have honoured these transitions as profound spiritual mysteries. In our modern Western civilisation, however, we have largely forgotten this ancient wisdom and we need to remember it again.
The philosophy of science that developed out of this era thus separated body and spirit into two mutually exclusive domains (3). Scientists came to regard the material world, including the human body, as a multitude of different objects assembled into a huge machine (4). This mechanistic worldview (which became known as 'positivism') underpinned Newtonian physics and the Enlightenment project of exploring and conquering the natural world. Positivism depicted an objectively observable reality based on fixed universal laws of cause and effect that existed independently of human consciousness. Knowledge was derived solely from the senses and human beings were seen as rational individuals governed by social laws. This paradigm allowed scientists to treat the material world as inert and completely separate from themselves. The disastrous consequences of this view are evident today in the industrial exploitation of the Earth's natural resources, pollution, species extinction, deforestation and most notably, climate change.
The discipline of science itself has moved literally a quantum leap away from the old mechanical universe. Around the turn of the 20th century, the discovery of electro-magnetic fields required new theories to account for the nature of reality (1, 3). The scientific revolution which followed depicted the Earth as a living organism and the universe as a complicated web of energy fields and wave-like patterns of interconnection. This 'new science' inverted the mechanical worldview by asserting a fundamental underlying unity in the universe, in which everything was inter-related and interdependent (3). Quantum science redefined the world as teeming with probabilities rather than certainties; it was much more unpredictable and mysterious than previously realised and - most radical of all - it was a participatory universe, where the act of observation could change what was being observed (5). The birth of the quantum paradigm paved the way for new ways of thinking (for example, chaos theory, complexity studies and general systems theory) and began to correct some of the more destructive aspects of the old modernist worldview.
The human body is really a community of more than 50 trillion cells, all of which are living entities that adjust themselves to the environment. That cellular community is governed by our mind, shaped by our thoughts and beliefs. As highly intelligent entities, our cells refer to our thoughts and perceptions as their source for interpreting the world (10). We now know that for every thought or feeling, there is a corresponding chemical and physiological reaction in our bodies that either affirms or denies the vital life in our cells (2). Cancerous growths and other disease patterns are cells that opt out of the community of healthy cells. What is more, the quantum paradigm also tells us that the field of energy in which we have our being acts as a conduit from inside our bodies to the outside world. The feelings and beliefs which begin in our bodies extend beyond our skin, projected into our surroundings, so that our world mirrors our collective consciousness. Our minds, especially our thoughts and beliefs, are the key to living in harmony both with our cells and with the world around us (6). When we find our deep inner peace, our bodies are flooded with life-affirming chemicals that facilitate healing within ourselves and in our world.
The assumptions of the ‘new science’ are not just abstract theorems; they can be applied in very practical ways. For example, labouring women need to have the right environment for the cells in their bodies to switch on and function optimally, and caregivers are intrinsic to that environment. They play a key role in creating a conducive atmosphere by their words, tone, looks and gestures. When they express faith in the woman and in the natural process of labour and birth, they can facilitate the complex cascade of hormones that are integral to birthing.
The quantum framework provides caregivers with a new conception of the human person and their professional scope of practice. This paradigm affirms that we exist in a web of relationships, that observation changes what is observed, that wholeness is the fundamental principle of the universe and that human beings – especially birthing women – can access this underlying wholeness in a special and trustworthy way during labour and birth. Such a framework is much more dynamic, reciprocal and empowering than the 'faulty machine' model.
The spirituality of birth is not just an intellectual concept; it is grounded in the body, particularly in the hormones and the brain. Hormones are physical, measurable substances that act in clearly identifiable ways. Birth spirituality is mediated by hormones. If you take the hormones away or replace them with synthetic hormones, birth can be (and often is) drained of its spirituality. Syntocinon, for example, can replicate the hormone oxytocin to stimulate muscular contractions of the uterus, but it does not cross the blood-brain barrier, so it cannot engender the changes in consciousness associated with oxytocin, the love hormone (11).
When the hormones of labour - oxytocin, beta-endorphins, prolactin and catecholamines - are at their maximum levels, they enable a labouring woman to enter an altered state of consciousness (12) in which her doors of perception are wide open to spiritual realities that are not normally accessible. This spiritual opening means that women are acutely vulnerable during labour and birth. As a result, when they are treated respectfully, gently, with kindness and consideration, they can experience birth as a spiritual initiation, in which their very identity is transformed (13). Women who undergo such an experience speak of how it gave them a confident foundation for mothering. They know they can trust their bodies, they breastfeed easily; they trust their authority as mothers; they know how to meet their babies' needs.
By contrast, when women in this heightened state of vulnerability are treated disrespectfully, carelessly, aggressively or violently, the effects penetrate deep into their psyche with long-lasting consequences (14). I have worked with clients sometimes years after a traumatic birth experience and the depth of their feelings of violation has been as fresh as when the events first occurred. Unfortunately, the caregivers concerned often don't get to hear about the painful sequelae of their actions, either because there is no opportunity for mothers to provide them with feedback or because the woman feels unable to articulate her experience or believes she has failed. As a result, the damaging patterns get repeated.
A large part of my professional practice has involved working with clients to debrief from traumatic birth experiences. Sometimes the trauma has involved a genuine medical complication. But most often, it has been the attitude and behaviour of birth attendants which has adversely affected them. Frequently the behaviours clients describe are a form of bullying. A traumatic birth can make it very difficult for a mother to bond with her baby because the baby reminds her of the trauma. Over the years, I have developed a process to enable clients to detach from the emotional trauma of their experience. The factual memory remains but there is no longer pain at the memory. When the trauma is resolved, a mother is then free to lovingly connect with her baby because the obstacles have been cleared out of the way. Restoring mothers and babies to their rightful connection with each other is one of the most rewarding aspects of my work.
The neuro-chemicals associated with the 'fight or flight' response affect every cell in our bodies (2), for example, by creating muscular spasm in the uterine tubes, speeding up the cardiovascular system, suppressing the immune response, inhibiting sperm production and directing energy away from the reproductive system. One of the most powerful corrections of hormonal and other imbalances in our bodies is the Relaxation Response, first described by Dr Herbert Benson in the 1970s (15).
An innate ability, the Relaxation Response is characterised by a slowed heart rate and breathing pattern, alpha brain waves, endorphin production, the release of muscular tension and feelings of calmness and ease. There is now a well-documented body of scientific evidence to confirm the effectiveness of the Relaxation Response in healing a range of conditions (16) including subfertility (17). When people learn the art of deep relaxation, they create a much more conducive environment for conception. They also lower their stress levels, harmonise their physiology and build a sense of safety which is essential for reproduction.
Our minds are the most powerful shapers of our lived reality, including our health and wellbeing (18). Our conscious mind, which is associated with our sense of identity, our thinking and our personality, comprises just a small fraction of our total consciousness. In the scientific assessment of the physical apparatus of the brain, the 'consciousness' material (prefrontal cortex) is estimated at only 10%, while more than 90% comes from the subconscious (19). This means that the subconscious mind, which houses every experience of our entire lives (all of our deep beliefs, unresolved emotions and body knowledge), is much more powerful than our conscious mind. It is estimated that for 95% of our everyday lives, we operate out of our subconscious.
The language of the subconscious is imagery, metaphor, music, imagination, feeling and emotion. By accessing the Relaxation Response and then speaking with the subconscious in its own language, we can dismantle the mistaken beliefs and old emotional patterns that tie us down, and learn how to stretch our wings and fly. It is within our human power to set our spirits free. That is our ultimate destiny and our reason for being here.
"Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with birth!" (20)
"Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with birth!" (20)