Extracts from the book “Mother First Guru” by © Swami Gurupremananda Saraswati.
”Previously I have been discussing the principles of spiritual mothering and addressing the problems in this area. So what are the solutions? I believe, to re-establish something long lost and of any lasting value, a broad-based movement needs to take hold, something which women own and maintain for themselves, something which binds us all and helps us all, old and young alike. Believe me, I do not intend to re-invent the wheel or propose a new political movement. What is needed already exists – it just needs promoting. And it needs lots of initiates!
The notion of spiritual midwifery is clearly beginning to re-emerge in Western culture. As society has become more and more technologically based, many aspects of our lives have been reduced to purely physical functions. Childbirth especially has not escaped this rationalisation/de-mystification trend. In this process of focussing on what is happening to our bodies and the physical condition of the baby, many have lost the opportunity to experience the spiritual nature of childbirth.
Birth and death are two of life’s greatest spiritual mysteries. No amount of medical science will ever debunk the mystic nature of either. Attempts at the de-spiritualisation of birth are not only impossible and foolish, but also dangerous.
Fantasy, illusion, myth, mystery, mysticism, metaphysics and spirit are all distinct but subtly different entities, and when it comes to matters of human reproduction and its phases of conception, pregnancy and birth, it is immensely important that we know how to discriminate accurately between them all. It is indeed good and necessary that as adults we do not believe in the fantasy that babies come from under cabbage leaves or are brought by the stork. It is good too that the old myth that a menstruating woman was too unclean to prepare food, and should be confined to bed for the duration of her menses has been exploded. It is good that the mystery of why some women are unable to conceive, no matter how hard they try, has been discovered by science to be a physiological or psychological flaw, rather than consider God’s punishment for previous sins. However I do not consider it necessary, relevant, or even possible, that the modern sciences remove the inherent mystic, metaphysical or spiritual components from the process of procreation. Rather than taking sides in a debate over the material or spiritual nature of birth, it is yoga’s approach, that both aspects must be included for the whole nature of birth to be experienced.
So to understand the nature of spiritual midwifery, we need to get our terms clear for a start. It is extremely hard for anyone to give a complete and flawless definition for the term “spiritual”. And that is the paradox, since the spiritual nature of something actually comprises a large element of the unspeakable. Dictionary definitions always define matters of spirit as opposite to those of matter, however I do not consider this correct. To me, the spiritual nature of any entity includes all its properties – its physical ones as well as its non-physical ones. All of matter, in its many manifestations, is spiritual too! In discovering the spiritual element in any event or thing, we do not need to exclude or denounce the physical aspects of it. It is only those who have not experienced the oneness of life’s spirituality who insist on discriminating between the physical and non-physical components of spiritual.
A spiritual midwife is a person, usually a woman (but not necessarily, as I will explain later), whose primary purpose is to guide a woman on a journey of spiritual discovery – a voyage fuelled by her pregnancy, her giving birth, and her motherhood. Their purpose is to help you discover the wholeness of your self through the unique transformations that reproduction presents. She may or may not be your own mother, but she is very like your mother in the sense that she has the knowledge of what you will be going through, and will be leading you into childbirth so as to come out the other end with your own wisdom. Such a person may or may not be medically trained and, as strange as it may sound, they may or may not have had children of their own.
It is a glib understatement to say that pregnancy is a time of great change in the life of a woman! When pregnant with your first child, you are unarguably taking a trip into the unknown. There is so much information, so many books and videos available on pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood. Theoretically, from all such sources, you can educate yourself about these events well in advance, but what will actually happen on the day, in your particular circumstances, can never be known through the information and experience of others.
To gain the most out of the opportunities this stage in her life affords, a woman should initiate a relationship with a spiritual midwife. If it is your first pregnancy, the chances are you will not be spurred into such an action until the realisation of pregnancy really hits home. If it is a subsequent pregnancy, then hopefully you will only have to dial the phone number of your midwife from the last time! You may even involve this special person around the time of conception or even planning the next child.
For both parties, trust and faith are implicit for this relationship to work. Just as with a guru-disciple relationship where the true guru empowers the disciple, a spiritual midwife gradually empowers the pregnant woman. In my own experience and from what has been reported to me, this is why many women find their relationship with an obstetrician or medical midwife ultimately unsatisfactory. This is not just because an obstetrician is focussed on the physicality of pregnancy and birth, but because in institutions like hospitals, the patient must abdicate all power and decision making to the doctor/nurse. Within a conventional medically managed birth, the relationship is always one where the doctor does the doing and the patient is passive or at best assisting. Yet a pregnant woman should not be a patient. She is not necessarily sick or dying. She is simply pregnant. It seems such an obvious thing to be pointing out, but to handle the process of birthing, a women needs to be empowered by her pregnancy.
As with any spiritual relationship between teacher and student, there are times when a woman must be able to have absolute faith not only in her own capabilities, but also in the wisdom and capabilities of her midwife. For example, when she is having unreasonable fears about her unborn baby or getting caught up in the pain of birth, she may need someone outside of herself who is able to bring her focus back to her own inner strengths.
In traditional societies the local midwives are the wise old women of the village. They have had many babies of their own, assisted many of their grandchildren’s births and know, so deeply in themselves, what a woman can and can’t do. They are known to be endowed with much spiritual understanding and are honoured with great respect. Their relationship with the younger women of child bearing age is indeed very close to the essence of guru-disciple.
In our culture, I admit it is very rare to find such relationships, but it is possible. There are a growing number of hospital midwives who do appreciate the spiritual nature of birth. They are aware of the importance of trying to develop a relationship with the mother (albeit within the confines of hospital policy and their busy scheduled maternity ward activities) and are committed to providing a pregnant woman with emotional support in addition to any necessary medical expertise during the pregnancy and birth.
There are also independent nursing midwives, sometimes called homebirth midwives, who will travel to outlying areas and into homes to support a woman with pre-natal education, birthing support and spiritual guidance. In this way they have a better chance to create the trusting relationship most desired for natural birthing.
Then there are a few independent spiritual midwives who, although not medically trained, have great knowledge about all the necessary aspects of birthing. These birth attendants were previously called lay-midwives, which is now an illegal profession (at least in Australia). They learned their skills and knowledge not through text books or within hospitals, but by attending many, many births and assisting other spiritual midwives. They fundamentally believe that since women are designed to give birth and have the power within themselves to do so, what they need is support, guidance and faith in the natural process. Such medically uncertified birthing attendants have now been totally discredited by the medical profession as “witches”. As a result, in recent years some of these women have gained the required medical certification as midwives so as to be able to continue to practice. Others work as part of a team alongside a registered midwife. Such a team could provide everything an aspiring natural birther could want.
Also existing these days are “doulas” or birthing assistants. These are women who also have much birthing knowledge but primarily support the pregnant woman in a very practical way by helping around the home, before during and after the birth. More about all these different birth support people is included in Chapter 5 – “Birthing Assistance and Support”, page 293.
Many of these birthing support roles cross-over. It just comes down to a mother formulating in her own mind what sort of birthing program she would like, the players she wants and what roles they are to play. Remember it is your birth and your baby, so just as with new baby clothes, shop around carefully until you find exactly what is right for you and your baby.
Pregnancy, childbirth, motherhood, yoga. Each one offers us an opportunity for profound transformation – to make a leap into a new consciousness. Nature invites us to feel into our bellies, to discover what lies hidden within, to manifest that being and to teach and learn through that maternal bond. My greatest hope is that every woman experiencing pregnancy will heed these silent urgings. My greatest gifts are the teachings of yoga, a way of making this potential a spiritual reality.”