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orchidWhen we give birth, we open so completely that our centre dissolves.  Our cervix melts.  Our belly becomes utterly soft.  In this receptivity the boundaries between our baby and ourself are magnificently transparent.  Breastfeeding sustains this unity while helping our body to regain its strength and realign around an expanded centre.   While the uterus needs about six weeks to return to the size of a pear, connective tissue needs about a year to regain its pre-pregnant state and the transformation that happens in our heart is forever.  In the most literal sense of the word,  post-partum isn’t a limited period of time after birth but extends through the rest of our lives. 

An uncomplicated birth initiates us into an awareness of our wholeness.  Obstetrician Michel Odent says women enter an altered state when they give birth.  We experience  a physiological transformation that ensures we are able to give and receive love.   When the process is interrupted by major medical intervention, the integration is also interrupted.  A woman experiences the spiritual aspect of birth without being able to process the intensity of it through her body.  In the case of a ceasarean section, dis-integration happens not just because of the physical trauma of surgery but because a woman loses touch with herself, with her source. Integration will need to take place after the birth rather than through it and the early weeks of motherhood will likely be a particularly vulnerable time.

One in three women who give birth in Toronto today will do so by caesarean.  It is such a common event and yet as a society we don’t honour the immensity of the experience or the multi-layered healing that needs to take place afterwards.  Every woman needs deep nurturing after giving birth but after a caesarean this is especially so.   I met a woman a few days ago who has gone through two caesarean births in the space of three years.  She said her children are happy, her husband is happy but two years after the last birth, she is still in pain.  While not a usual situation, it is not an uncommon one either.  After talking to her and seeing how she breathed and moved, it became clear that she has yet to recover the connection to her strength that was severed in the course of two major abdominal surgeries.  As a place to begin, I gave her some simple Yoga to do every day. 

When the ujayi breath is the inspiration for movement (see previous post) Yoga engages and strengthens precisely those muscles that were most stressed during pregnancy and birth: the pelvic floor and abdominals.  In a caesarean, the abdominal muscles aren’t merely stressed, they are cut in two.   A reconnection of above and below needs to happen in order for the body to regain its fluid strength.  When it does, the spine aligns and the internal organs, including the bladder, uterus and intestines, find their place.  A linking of above and below is also necessary for our heart’s equalibrium.  When softness and strength balance each other, we feel good.  

In a caesarean birth, a woman’s body doesn’t get the opportunity to complete the full birth process and her participation is restricted to that of a witness.  Mind and body separate and “hormones of love” don’t flood through her system like they would in a spontaneous birth.  Sadness and grief are a natural part of the time after birth but they can be a particularly strong reaction to the parameters of a caesarean experience.   As the baby isn’t brought immediately skin to skin with the mother when it is born, more time and support to establish a satisfying breastfeeding relationship might be needed. 

Having someone in the recovery room who can unwrap the baby and help latch it to the breast in the first hour after the birth can be a great help in bringing mother and child together again.  I do this in my role as a doula.  It is a great source of comfort to have your newborn suckling at your breast even as your body is coping with the immediate effects of surgery.  I often see vital signs in the mom stabilize as soon as she and baby are reunited in this way.  Oxytocin and endorphins flow; Life moves and all is well in the world.  Getting consistent breastfeeding support in the subsequent days and weeks is also invaluable.  It is a mother’s relationship with her child that is her primary Yoga.  Connected to each other, both find their strength.

In traditional societies all over the world, it’s recognized that mother and baby flourish when the mother is completely cared for in the first forty days after birth.  She needs warmth on every level: a warm, quiet, space; hot food and drink; warm baths and gentle touch.  Nurtured, she can nurture in return.  While our urban, technological environment suggests otherwise, we need no less.

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img_2755How were you born? Do you know the story of your birth? Has the tale been woven repeatedly or do you live in its stark absence? In imagining our beginning, we touch both the mystery of our existence and the obvious reality that we are an integral part of life. We didn’t enter the world alone but in total fusion with another. No one exists who didn’t emerge from the warm, fluid centre of a woman.

It is a simple truth and a profoundly intimate one. I want to give voice to this intimacy and to the wisdom that nurtures it because our ability to love and be in right relationship with the world depends on it. Science supports this understanding. Research gathered by the visionary French obstetrician Michel Odent  links psychological and physical disease with our time in our mother’s womb, how we were born and how we were cared for in the first year of life.  Clear links have been made between rates of violence towards oneself and others and the circumstances of an individual’s primal period.  A mother is her child’s universe. For the first time in history, the majority of women are giving birth without releasing ‘hormones of love’. Odent asks what our future holds if the capacity to love continues to be restricted? We are part of the whole and that whole is in crisis.

To speak of birth is to speak of fear. In its grip, the Feminine voice is silenced. Quietly, one in every three birthing women in Toronto is cut open to her core. Every year, in this same silence, 24,000 women in Afghanistan die after giving birth. There the Feminine has been pushed so far underground, fear is so thick, ignorance so deep that in many places there is no one able to assist at births. Both the deadly absence of medical skills and their aggressive use point to a world devoid of wisdom.

Birth is a part of a woman’s sexual life. I believe this is why we try to control it. To give birth freely is to feel life moving through us. Birth requires our receptivity and strength, our passion and wisdom. In the process of connecting to these, we meet our restrictions and our lack of knowledge about ourselves. I read of a recent Australian study in which one out of three (that statistic again) women had never, or rarely, experienced orgasm. How easily do these women give birth and suckle their children? The full release of oxytocin, the  ‘hormone of love’ , is necessary for all events in the continuum of a woman’s sexual experience: orgasm, birth and breastfeeding. 

Birth sheds light on Yoga. The light comes from life, the flow of the Feminine force, rather than two thousand years of doctrine. The principles of Yoga are found in life and bring us back to life. Mark Whitwell’s clarity about Yoga supports my experience. Birth is Yoga, when the waving and pulsing of Shakti through a woman’s body is an utterly tangible experience for her and her child. Shakti is not a metaphor or a philosophical concept but reality.

Participating in reality is the purpose of Yoga practice. It is in everyone’s reach, of course, because we are what we seek. We are real. We are the manifestation of Life in all its mystery and power, in all our mystery and power. In the repression of the Feminine, the understanding of how to live and love has only been whispered. Listen to these tales! They are written out loud.

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