It’s too easy to focus on things that are negative and controversial. To balance this, I want to focus on something undeniably positive and beautiful: the miracle of life.
First, let’s get the obvious bad stuff out of the way: Yes, babies are born with birth defects. Yes, some babies are harmed in the birthing process. Yes, some pregnancies become miscarriages. Yes, babies are stillborn. Yes, babies die after birth. Yes, sometimes it is directly correlated to the mother’s choices. No, it absolutely is NOT always the mother’s fault. Yes, even today sometimes mothers die in childbirth. Yes, all of these things can be incredibly painful to mothers, fathers, and their extended families. No, not everyone reacts the same way to all of these occurrences–in some cases, there may even be relief, depending on the circumstances. There is balance in everything, even the miracle of life.
While everything stated before is true, and often sad, in the modern world childbirth is typically a joyous occasion. For the purposes of this post, I am going to focus on a “normal” and healthy birthing experience.
I have been working as a labor and delivery nurse for about six months now. This is what I always wanted to do after my OB rotation in nursing school, but like most nursing school experiences, the actual reality of being an OB nurse is very different. The hours are long, the charting is excruciating, the drama is high, the emotions are palpable, and there is so much to be learned. And pregnant women? They all experience labor differently, and it is different with each pregnancy they have, and it is the job of the labor and delivery nurse to balance out the mother’s personality. If she needs support, you give support. If she needs a firm hand, you give a (reasonably) firm hand. If she needs to be left alone and you can do so safely, you leave her alone. All of this while continuously assessing the health and safety of the fetus with only two pieces of evidence at your disposal: the mother’s contractions and the child’s heart rate.
I have come to understand more deeply why the Egyptians believed that we thought with our hearts and our brains were just cranium filler. While we know now that reasoning and language is ruled by our brains, our hearts are capable of giving us an incredible amount of information. It can tell us when we are sad, anxious, angry–all with changes of rate and rhythm and the sensation of our blood pounding. It can tell us we are sexually aroused by increasing rate and the swelling of blood in our genitalia. In a baby, it can tell us that their umbilical cord is being compressed, they don’t have enough oxygen, or their head is nice and low in the pelvis and getting squeezed. It can tell us if mother and baby have an infection–and it can also tell us that they are OK. For me, being a labor and delivery nurse is all about the heart, literally and figuratively.
Recently one of my co-workers posted a meme on Facebook of a pregnant goddess with the caption–” If a woman in labor doesn’t look like a goddess, someone isn’t treating her right!” Her comment on it was: “I try to view all of my laboring women as goddesses.”. I don’t know what her religious or philosophical perspective is, but what she said resonated with me on a deeply spiritual level.
Yeah, labor isn’t glamorous, and it is messy, but the Goddess isn’t just a being of conventional beauty. In Wicca we conceive of the Goddess as virgin maiden, pregnant mother, and wise crone, and we acknowledge that she gives birth at the Winter Solstice–but it’s a fact that is glossed over. I think we still have images of mangers and animals looking on peacefully, but if our Goddess is humanoid, and I don’t know of any stories of divine anesthesiologists giving her an epidural every year, you can bet that her birthing experience is anything but placid. As an agricultural/seasonally based myth keep in mind, too, that the land is turning cold and bitter as we approach the solstice, the winds become harsh, and She is difficult to find because the natural instinct is for a women to find a safe place to give birth, which is not usually out in the open. Even at the hospital I work at it feels like our unit is tucked safely away from the rest of the world and it looks completely different from the ante- and postpartum floors, The season reflects labor–contractions gradually become stronger, the winds become more biting, the pain intensifies, it grows colder, a woman has to reach deep inside of herself to cope with what it is happening, and the days grow darker.
When it seems like it can’t get any darker, any colder, and she can’t hold the babe in any longer, she begins to push. Water, the lifeblood of the Earth and mother and child, gushes from her. She curls her body around her baby, and with incredible strength she bears down. She cries out with the force and pain of it. The veins stand out in her neck, her breasts. Sweat beads on her face, where she has the look of utter determination. Her body is powerful, and it knows exactly what to do. She trusts in it, listens to it, and with each ripping contraction she urges her baby from her womb, which is the Cauldron of Cerridwen, the Holy Grail of Immortality.
All of this–the pain, the waiting, the pushing–and then, all of a sudden, the babe begins to crown, and within moments, like a glorious burst of new sun over the horizon, the promised child is born, squalling, and placed on her chest, and they hold each other tight, the child damp with fluid, the mother damp with sweat, keeping each other warm and saying hello, face to face, for the first time. Her hair is rumpled, the baby is covered in vernix–and she gets this amazingly contented smile as she gazes at her baby, and her baby blinks its sleepy eyes up at her. There isn’t even pain anymore, just a vague sense of achiness and some mild cramping, but doesn’t even care. Her child is in her arms, her body brought this beautiful life into the world.
And oh, she is tired–and, much like a new mother rests in the hospital for two or three days, the Goddess now begins her own recovery, which takes two or three months before she is strong and renewed to begin the cycle over again. The days begin to grow longer, soon they’ll bring warm breezes and the greenness of new fertile life.
The Goddess is much more than a beautiful woman. She is the vessel of life. Her womb is the cauldron of creation. She is utterly powerful. And this is the power blessed unto every woman who chooses to become a mother. This is what it means to be a Mother Goddess.