Sharon Moloney, PhD

Miraculous Moments

Holistic Fertility Therapy, Birth Preparation and Hypnotherapy

My PhD Research

Thesis Title: 

"Female Biology as Sacred: Australian women's bio-spiritual

experiences of menstruation and birth"

Through my research, I explored the deeply embodied spirituality of women’s experiences of menstruation and birth.  In Western culture, female body processes are usually seen as simply physical; they are often regarded as medical concerns.  From childhood, women learn to devalue and detach from their menstrual rhythms, which then become associated with pathology, shame and the profane. In contrast, pre-patriarchal, Indigenous and Eastern traditions have recognised menstruation and birth as times of heightened sensitivity to the realm of spirit. 

For many women, myself included, the moment of birth is something of profound spiritual significance. It is truly an awesome moment when a new human being is born into the world.  Some writers have described birth as a sacrament.  Many caregivers know this intuitively but their training does little to prepare them to engage with it confidently. For historical reasons, obstetric medicine, which is now widely accepted as the norm for our birth practices, does not regard spirituality as its remit and doctors are not taught about the spiritual dimensions of birthing.  Midwives are exhorted to care for women holistically, attending to all their needs; yet their studies do not usually include the spirituality of birth. For couples, birth preparation classes do not address the topic of spirituality and so they too approach the experience unprepared.  This lack of education and understanding about what is intrinsically a sacred experience represents a huge gap in our health care system.  For most Australian women, birth occurs in a busy hospital environment, where it is often treated as a purely physical process. Omitting the emotional, psychological and spiritual dimensions of birth can contribute to higher rates of intervention, birth trauma, spiritual distress, lactation problems, difficulties bonding with their babies and post-natal depression.  This knowledge gap was the problem I wanted to investigate.

As a qualitative feminist study, I aimed to explore how cultural constructions of female body processes influence women’s actual experiences of menstruation, birth and spirituality. My methodology was Organic Inquiry, a relatively new methodology with roots in feminism, women's spirituality and transpersonal psychology. Organic Inquiry presumes research as a partnership with Spirit, making it perfect for my topic. My study involved ten in-depth interviews and seven women’s circles (focus groups) with Queensland women.  My subjectivity and personal experiences of the topic were transparently included as part of the data. 

My findings identified menstrual shame as a key factor that predisposed women to approach birth feeling fearful, disempowered and vulnerable to intervention.  This shame engendered the perception of female physiology - and thus womanhood - as inherently flawed and untrustworthy.  Despite these constraints, there was also a robust group of women who had transformed their relationship with both menstruation and birth.  While most participants began menstruating from a place of shame and secrecy, many underwent a remarkable transformation of meaning in which their bleeding became a sacred practice.  There were three main pathways for this change: the birth of a first or subsequent child, attending a menstruation workshop or ceremony, and a spontaneous spiritual awakening.  A fourth pathway for some women was their participation in my research which caused them to think and feel differently about menstruating.  These transformative experiences all shared one thing in common: a felt connection with something greater than self during menstruation.  For many women, redesignating menstruation as a spiritual phenomenon enabled them to transform and transcend their menstrual shame, connect with their female spirituality and give birth fearlessly and powerfully.  

A surprising number of women experienced both ecstasy and orgasmic pleasure in their birthing.  Their profound experiences of being taken up into something greater than self – a process to which they willingly surrendered - not only brought intense pleasure but lasting transformation.  Changes included an abiding sense of empowerment, an expansion of their identity, a deep appreciation of being female, authoritative mothering and often a different life trajectory.  In addition, these women reported weeks of elation after their births, which must surely have had a powerful impact on the quality of their mothering and their bonding with their babies. 

My participants' blissful birth stories  illustrate the spiritual potential of women’s bodies when it is unfettered and fully actualised.  When women are fear-free, able to trust in their bodies and the natural process, and supported by sensitive caregivers, birthing can become a deeply pleasurable and profound spiritual awakening.  Many of the women in my study felt their bodies to be vehicles of the Life Force – a power mysterious and indeterminate, yet utterly trustworthy and beneficent. 

In the industrialisation of Western culture and its alienation from nature, the spirituality of menstruation and birth has been largely forgotten.  We need to remember it again and let it work its magic in our lives.  My thesis recommends widespread cultural reform of shaming attitudes to menstruation, beginning at menarche, as a precursor to confident birthing.   

Respecting the sacredness of birth requires changes in the education and training of caregivers. Doctors, obstetricians and midwives require adequate knowledge and skills to engage confidently with the spirituality of birth. The discipline of science in which most caregivers have been trained has literally moved a quantum leap away from its origins in the Newtonian paradigm of the mechanical universe and the human body as a machine.  The discovery of electro-magnetic fields required a new way of understanding the nature of the universe and the human person. The quantum perspective describes fields of energy or a matrix of life, rather than isolated individuals.  The new science asserts that human beings exist within a web of relationships, that observation changes what is observed and that wholeness is the fundamental principle ordering the universe.  My research demonstrates that birthing women can access this underlying wholeness in a special and trustworthy way during labour and birth.   

The assumptions of the 'new science' can provide caregivers with a framework of understanding consistent with their scientific discipline. If these assumptions were incorporated into the curriculum, they would change our understanding of the incredibly powerful impact caregivers can make in the birthing context.  The delicate spirituality of birth must be safeguarded by training that recognises, respects and collaborates with the miraculous and sacred energies of birth.  As my participants' stories show, when the energetic blueprint for birthing is acknowledged and trusted by caregivers, birth outcomes and women’s satisfaction levels improve dramatically.  

Alongside this change for caregivers, it is imperative that women and their partners put themselves back at the centre of the birth process, so that they take responsibility for creating the birth they wish to have and are not looking to health professionals to 'get the baby out'.  Women are hard-wired to birth safely, efficiently and powerfully.  When they are prepared by dismantling the fear of birth, learning how to access their deep relaxation response and understanding how to work collaboratively with their mammalian physiology, they are perfectly capable of giving birth from their own centre of power.  

Sex differences deriving from the physiology of menstruation, pregnancy, birth, lactation and mothering involve a uniquely female spirituality.  Despite adverse cultural attitudes and practices shaping both menstruation and birth, women’s spirituality continues to unfold in many women's lives today.  That spirituality is evident when contemporary women awaken to menstruation as a spiritual phenomenon that transforms their worldview, and when they experience birth as a spiritual initiation into empowered mothering and their deep female identity.  


If you would like to contact me about my research or publications, please use the form below:

Thank you for contacting me about my research or publications. I will get back to you as soon as I can.
Warm regards,
Sharon Moloney, PhD,
Women's Health Practitioner
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