Spiritual Midwifery is a holy and sacred partnership between women based on trust and respect. This bond between women has been broken yet its power is intact, alive and breathing as I write this. When I became a midwife I believed midwifery was a spiritual profession, however I was soon to discover that the spiritual aspects of midwifery have been seriously caked over with way too many mental concepts, procedures and rules, many of which have become arduous annoying burdens for the midwife.
In clinical midwifery partnership, the woman is the expert of herself the midwife is the expert of normal pregnancy and birth. The midwifery model of care is well documented and research tells us that continuity of midwifery care is highly protective for mothers and babies. Evidence shows continuity protects women and babies from 50-80% of medical interventions in the birthing process.
Spiritual Midwifery works in the same way and is protective of a womans soul. The woman is still the expert of herself and the midwife the guide through the mystery. I witnessed spiritual midwifery first hand when my daughter and a dozen of her friends became adolescents. The girls were prepared through a gentle process held by Moana Pearl when the girls were aged between 9 and 11, just before the tide of hormones kicked in.
Each girl and mother pair met with Moana weekly over a 6 week timeframe. Every week mothers and daughters participated in a living lesson, not through facts and information, no. Through the senses, and the felt experience of sitting in a tee pee with a dozen mothers and daughters, sitting close to the earth, with fire, stars above, sensing the dusk turn to night, tasting the food made by each woman, with carefully chosen storytelling and mask making activities. I witnessed these girls moving into menstruation with dignity, self esteem, confidence, peer support, ease, grace and even, lo and behold celebration!
A major turning of the tide. One huge step for woman kind. (Deep gratitude goes out to Moana Pearl) As a midwife helping women heal from childbirth I know how crucial this phase of a girls life is. Many a womans birth is deeply influenced by her feelings of how her body and blood were received by those close to her at the time of menarche. The imprints at these times are subtle yet profound. If a girl doesn’t feel loved, held, good and right in her body and blood, it can show up in her birthing process, years later.
Reclaiming menstruation as a sign of health, fertility and connection to natural cycles is powerful preparation for childbirth. Bleeding well teaches girls the essential art of self-care. It teaches girls to listen for what and who is nourishing and therefore helpful to her and what is harmful, essential skills to learn before we become mothers.
Spiritual Midwifery is like a navigator is to a yacht at sea. She leads the boat directly through uncharted waters, through danger, storms, rain, hail, snow, blistering heat, steering away from rocks and cliffs, recognizing predators and then eventually steering her home to a safe harbour.
I experienced spiritual midwifery again six years ago when I had a miscarriage. I was 13 weeks pregnant. There was no physical or emotional pain. It happened over a few days at home. I was in a state of peace, trust and surrender throughout. I accepted that this flow of blood and bone was nature’s plan for me. I didn’t fight nature. I didn’t try and hold on. I am fairly sure the experience might have been very emotionally painful if I had fought it or been afraid.
Katherine Cunningham held the space for me to safely let go of my baby over that time. She was my spiritual midwife. A guide, a safe soft ground, a woman, an Angel.
She respected my spirit and my soul throughout this process.
I had felt the baby leave my body as I slept, one night two weeks earlier.
It was like the feeling of a cord releasing from inside me and I noted a distinct freeing sensation. It was like a dove being released from a cage.
My intimate relationship at that time wasn’t a healthy place for me, let alone a baby. Shaking and terrified after a frightening scene with my ex, sensing I was beginning to bleed, I ran for cover. I threw a few clothes and towels in the car and drove to safety to my friend Katherine who happened to be holding space for the Womb Awareness Week art exhibition in Melbourne.
She said, “Yeah, come down and see me honey,” when I phoned her. Katherine was sitting alone in a gallery full to the brim of women’s Womb art. Art made by women inspired by their awareness of their wombs – some had even been painted with menstrual blood. I didn’t get to see any of the art, neither of us knew what was about to unfold.
I sat down. I took off my rings my partner had given me and placed them on the desk between Katherine and myself. My soul had not a minute longer to carry what was within me. Two minutes later I felt a river of warm blood begin to gush through my clothing onto the floor. I looked down to see blood running down my legs and filling my shoes. I made my way to the ladies bathroom where I began bleeding like a running tap. I could hear loud splashing noises.
I was calm. I knew I was okay and realized why I had thrown a few towels and old clothes into the car. We needed them.It was obvious that I was losing the baby. The only time I felt fear was when I went to see a doctor a day later. The GP said I needed to be rushed to the women’s hospital immediately for an emergency D&C, to have an anaesthetic and to have my womb scraped.
I still remember the jolt of terror that ran up my spine as she spoke those words. It seemed strange to me. Nothing in me told me I needed medical assistance. The GP was very convincing and I began to feel afraid. I had been completely okay and calm up until I went to see this doctor. Looking back I guess I felt “I should” talk to a doctor about what was happening.
As I left her office, Angel woman Katherine stepped into the waiting lounge and hugged me. Katherine placed her gentle hand on my lower back as I sat in the waiting room. I told her about the doctor’s suggestion of a D&C.
Katherine asked me… what feels right to you? I got a clear answer from my body that said, go home and rest. Everything flowed well for a couple of days I bled out some big clots and stayed close to home.
I prayed to the Goddess to help me complete the process naturally as I didn’t want to go into hospital. That night in my dream I felt a hand gently enter and cleanse my womb. I will never forget the feeling of kindness that came with that hand. The next day I awoke feeling that everything was complete. A large splosh in the loo and I knew this was the last of the pregnancy. I gathered everything together for blessing and releasing.
II found a sacred place to see and be with the loss. It felt very natural to stay with and see the remains for a while. Fortunately I had no fear, no surgery, no drugs and no antibiotics. My body healed beautifully. I know that I wasn’t meant to have a child in an unhealthy relationship. I so wanted to have another baby but the baby I needed to love and hold was the one inside of me.
I am holding her now.
I’d like to expand on what Katherine did for me over this time and what thankfully, she didn’t do. I am speaking here of the ancient art of woman to woman care, the lost art of spiritual midwifery. We can burn a forest to the ground and she will still sprout forth green shoots. She will always rise up. We cannot be destroyed and neither can our wisdom and our ways. Spiritual Midwifery is an ancient practice of deep listening, nurturing and protecting women and babies during life transitions such as menstruation, birth, menopause and death.
Katherine listened to me with every part of herself.
She listened to what I was saying in words and she listened to my soul. She didn’t judge. She didn’t try and save me from my process. She didn’t rescue me. She didn’t take pity on me or feel sorry for me. She didn’t panic. She didn’t stop me from bleeding. She made sure I was safe. She made sure I was listening to my my heart. She did seek advice from a registered midwife. She did convey her guidance to me. She trusted my process. She trusted my blood.
She didn’t offer me drugs. She didn’t do clinical tests. She didn’t take swabs. She didn’t fill my head with complex ideas. She didn’t take me into my head. She didn’t tie me up to a machine. She didn’t leave me with strangers.
I learned a lot from my miscarriage. I learned that if the space is held strong and safe, I can let go with a fair amount of ease.
At this time my tears flowed, my blood flowed and love flowed too. It all flowed out of me into the river by my house. I am grateful for this blood mystery. I learnt so much from this experience that I feel inspired to hold space for women who may not have had the loving support I had. I am grateful to Katherine for her gentleness towards me at this time. I felt so safe in her arms.