Not long ago, I attended a birth as a doula. Shortly after the baby was born, I heard the doctor quietly say, “that was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.” I was touched by her heartfelt words. I was surprised to hear them knowing that she must have witnessed quite a few births. I wish I had thought to ask her to explain her thoughts about it. As I have pondered her comment, I thought of these words by Ina May Gaskin in Spiritual Midwifery:
“[This book] is spiritual because it is concerned with the sacrament of birth – the passage of a new soul into this plane of existence. This knowledge that each and every childbirth is a spiritual experience has been forgotten by too many people in the world today” (12).
How wonderful that people from many different walks of life see birth as a sacred, transformative life changing event. The definition of sacrament does refer to different rituals depending on the religion. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the Sacrament refers to an ordinance held weekly to commemorate the Savior’s teachings of the Last Supper. However, sacrament is also defined as something consecrated, possessing sacred character or mysterious significance; a sign, token or symbol; an oath or solemn pledge.
I did not realize that we had more in common with Ina May & Stephen Gaskin than I thought. I enjoyed hearing that they also view birth as a sacrament. If you have not read the essays “Birth in Remembrance of Him” or “The Two Veils” from The Gift of Giving Life, they support this thought from the quote above, that birth is a sacred sacrament. Jeffrey R. Holland in a speech given at BYU is quoted as saying,
“A sacrament could be any one of a number of gestures or acts or ordinances that unite us with God and his limitless powers. We are imperfect and mortal; he is perfect and immortal. But from time to time—indeed, as often as is possible and appropriate—we find ways and go to places and create circumstances where we can unite symbolically with him, and in so doing gain access to his power. Those special moments of union with God are sacramental moments— such as kneeling at a marriage altar, or blessing a newborn baby, or partaking of the emblems of the Lord’s supper. This latter ordinance is the one we in the Church have come to associate most traditionally with the word sacrament, though it is technically only one of many such moments when we formally take the hand of God and feel his divine power” (7).
When I think of birth, I do think of a consecrated act in which a woman offers her body. It is sacred and definitely mysterious. It doesn’t matter how many times I have witnessed birth, I still learn something. I’m still humbled. How the magic of that moment comes together is a complicated and stunning sequence of events. Birth is a sign of a God’s grand design, a token of faith and hope in the future, a symbol of strength of feminine and masculine power. Participating fully in the process of birth is a solemn pledge of love and places us in a position to sacrifice for another.
Ina May many times credits her husband with infusing her with faith in the process of birth. He said, that “when a child is born, the entire Universe has to shift and make room. Another entity capable of free will, and therefore capable of becoming God, has been born” (13). I love seeing elements of the Plan of Salvation in his words. I have read many texts, memoirs and other books about birth and haven’t found a midwife who doesn’t hold a belief in a Heavenly Power of one kind or another. Ina May speaks of the midwife’s job as seeing “that the sacrament of birth is kept holy” (271). She expands on this theme saying “Every birth is Holy. I think that a midwife must be religious, because the energy she is dealing with is Holy. She needs to know that other people’s energy is sacred” (270).
I would extend that responsibility to anyone present at a birth, in whatever capacity, and in whatever form that birth is unfolding to guard the event as a sacred, holy sacrament.
How have you witnessed the sacrament of birth being reverenced by a care provider, doula or someone else in attendance? Please share with us your thoughts and experiences.
Gaskin, I. M. Spiritual Midwifery, Fourth Edition. Summertown, TN: Book Publishing Company, 2002.