Spiritual guidance

I think I’ve still been asking the wrong questions. I’ve met with a few midwives, asked them to tell me about their practices, asked how they deal with clients who are survivors of trauma or abuse. I’ve asked about undisturbed birth and hospital transfer possibilities. But none of these get to the heart of what I need to find out.

I have an ongoing internal debate over whether it is fair to ask a medical provider to put safety AFTER spirituality, beauty and family. After all, their job is to keep me safe, right? It might be more appropriate to hire a doula to help honor those other aspects of birth – according to one side of the argument. And the midwives I’ve spoken to have largely implied that they think this way too. Their answers to the question about spirituality have been brief: “I respect whatever kind of spirituality my client follows,” or “Yes, birth is spiritual and transformative, and we respect that.”

All the same, some part of me believes that the person providing spiritual guidance at a birth should be the person with the most authority, knowledge and wisdom. What if the climbing guide knew all the routes, but had no appreciation or understanding of what motivated people to push themselves to their physical limits in these extreme landscapes?

Also, spiritual guidance is not the same as leading, mapping or telling someone the way to go. A guide cannot tell someone their truth or make them understand the “right” thing to do. They also cannot make an argument with facts and evidence. Even words are to be used sparingly, and then only to note signposts, symbols and possible meanings, and to suggest a general direction. Nevertheless, as in climbing, they should ideally be able to recognize a clear signal of danger and interpret it.

A spiritual guide holds the space for someone who needs space to flail, moan, and make mistakes and wrong turns before they find their way. The guide makes space in the midst of chaos, even in the face of violence or a natural disaster. The guide waits, and encourages others to wait. Waiting is one of the most spiritual things one can do – especially in labor. A guide waiting with love and confidence can allow the woman to find how she may be led by her spirit through pain, fear, silence and noise, to the other side or the top of the mountain.

Does this sound like something American medical professionals are trained to do? Is it something they may be able to do, even if their training didn’t cover it?

Asking a birth attendant to put spirituality first may be pushing them too far over the line they are already walking – a line between applying evidence-based technical knowledge and supporting the natural birthing instinct. Ina May could do it, but most midwives are not Ina May!

This debate is still going on in my mind, and I am curious what other people think, so please leave a comment if you have any thoughts.

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About investigatingbirth

My investigations of birth began in 2009 when I was trained as a doula. I helped women consider the evidence on common interventions, and helped them prepare for the physical and emotional challenge of giving birth. After some time it became clear to me that there was another type of challenge that I was unable to adequately prepare them for, the challenge of the maternity system. But it was only after my own traumatic birth in 2013 that I realized how little I had understood. I began to ask questions that few around me - doulas, nurses, midwives, doctors - were comfortable hearing. Questions like: Under what circumstances, and for what reasons, do doctors not practice informed consent? How do hospitals deal with other patient populations vulnerable to abuse? How does loss of professional autonomy, for obstetricians, and professional authority, for midwives, impact the quality of care they are capable of providing - regardless of their training? This blog will collect noteworthy information that attempts to answer these and other questions. Most of what you see here will be aggregated from other sources and analyzed. You will also see original interviews, and the occasional opinion piece or personal story, as I try to piece together a clear picture of the system in which American women give birth.
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2 Responses to Spiritual guidance

  1. Wendy Robertson says:

    As a doula, it has become increasingly difficult for me to attend hospital births, because of the challenge of the maternity system. You ask the questions, but in the end the system is there, and unless you get really lucky, it will become part of your birth, even if it isn’t in your birth plan… or you have to ‘cave in’ because that is just the system that we have available to us! I want things to change! Why can’t Dr’s Trust the birth process?!?! why is it so hard for a woman to have a baby with respect and dignity, and trust from those around her?!?! Thank
    you for this.

  2. Yes – it’s a sad day when we consider it “lucky” when we manage to avoid the routine practices that disturb the body and soul of the person trying to give birth. Even having a fast labor is no guarantee.

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