In my early years of practice I found myself called to attend women who were building large families. My third client family was welcoming their seventh child, my next mom was having her eighth. I realized very quickly that my personal experience of birthing two children and my three years of midwifery study paled in comparison to the knowledge of these birthing women. I understood, that as their midwife, I would sit at their feet and learn from them. From these many birthing experiences I was blessed to witness, the Holistic Stages of Birth were born.
Entering the Veil
(First Stage, Active Labor)
The Mother reaches a point in her traveling where it is time for her to go alone. The endorphins released by her body during her embarking have begun to change her consciousness and she enters, more deeply, the realm of the altered state. She travels to the edge of her normal reality, parts the Veil and goes beyond. The Veil is my nomenclature for the curtain that separates ordinary reality from the deep altered state.
Brain wave patterns have begun to slow down and change from Beta (ordinary reality) to Alpha (the bridge into the subconscious) in the Embarkation phase. Now, in the next stage of labor, brain wave patterns slow down even more and mother has access deep into Theta (the subconscious). The aloneness reflects the fact that women move into a place of self-direction that seems to emanate from a grounded yet altered place in them.
The Veil is that stage of labor that heralds the change to this new place. This doesn’t mean that a mother wishes to be alone and that others are not relevant. Rather, it signals the shift into a more self-directed realm. Mothers may approach the Veil several times before deciding to move through. Circumstances may also prevent the mother from moving through. Constant questioning, especially about mundane affairs, and interruptions in mother’s rhythm serve to bring mother back to ordinary reality.
At the Veil, Mom no longer feels chatty and often the experience of something more serious and profound presents itself. She begins the process of separation and while the mom is aware of details and specifics occurring in the room, she becomes less interested in them.
There is often a palpable smell in the air or a subtle but perceptible color change in the room that marks the presence of the mother at the Veil. Many caregivers can calculate the flow of labor by these signposts, making yoni exams redundant at this point. I have experienced color changes and find this to be very reliable and helpful for me as I witness a mother’s journey.
In conventional terms, the Mother has achieved 4 or 5 cm dilation and the character of the labor changes. Contractions begin to be about 60 seconds long and about 5 minutes apart. Mother may seem to act a bit more spacey and unfocused to caregivers in the beta mindset.
(End of First Stage — Transition)
Mother becomes aware that she is nearing the peak. She is deep in a vortex, past anything she has ever known.. She has been continuously opening to wisdom, opening to revelation and now she comes face to face with the apex of her labor. This is what she has come for – accessing the new spirit, the new person that is her child and her Partner’s child, and bringing this soul to Earth. She hears the Summons, she summons her child and together they make their way back.
This is often the most precarious part of the journey. Mother must summon all her reserves and she may want to know that her Partner is totally present and supportive. She assumes her caregiver is following their course and holding everything steady on the other side of the storm. Mother is braver and more courageous than ever before in her life.
Transition is considered the most intense time for Mother. Contractions are long and hard – 90 seconds plus and coming 3 or 4 minutes apart. She is reaching toward 100% dilation or 10 cm. This is as open as a woman can be. Of course things may seem hectic and often the Mother flounders briefly during this supreme openness. She may say that she cannot go on or that she wants to go home. She may have a wild-eyed look and seek the presence of others. She may ask for help but I have noticed this is not the authentic need for someone to do something, rather it is the calling out to be witnessed in this hardest phase yet. Sometimes the presence of another person, especially one she loves and trusts, will restore calmness. And sometimes, the presence of another will allow her to feel safe and she will then rage to the end of the universe. Her personal tempest may take her far from ordinary reality. She will become the storm, become wild and incredibly powerful. Caregivers and partners may be amazed, even intimidated. Mother will find her way however it takes.
It’s important to note that birth does not look any particular way. Some moms are calm, some are wild. Some labors are fraught with pain, some are totally bearable, some are even orgasmic. I am not suggesting that any style of birth is better or more conscious than another. What I am saying is that when the mom is in her authentic power, no matter how that may appear, her birth is normal, natural and perfect for her. I am also saying that when a mom is imprinted by cultural or caregiver mores or prevented from accessing her instinctual wisdom, her experience of birth may be unbearable, agonizing, out of control, humiliating and shameful.
At this time, a woman often needs to find her own way. She needs to hear the Summons in her own language and on her own terms. When she does, the journey toward home can be initiated. Any distraction at this time can be confusing and dangerous but I have witnessed women be flexible and powerful and rise above danger and distraction with astounding regularity. During this time of openness, women find their way, find themselves, find their power and their will and commune with forces greater than they have ever experienced.
At the time of Crowning the largest part of the baby’s head has now passed through the Birth Gate. Mother is often ecstatic and totally energized.
She may cry out as if to announce her return. An adrenalin response occurs in the mother and she rises up slightly from her kneeling position and arches her back. This has been called the fetal ejection reflex by Michel Odent and this rising up allows her to facilitate crowning and the baby moving through the last part of the birth canal. This adrenalin surge, that co-exists with the flow of oxytocin, is responsible for the alertness of the mother and baby during this time. A mom may feel somewhat overwhelmed as she transports from one dimension to another but she is never at a loss for what to do. She simply births her baby. As she kneels to birth, her partner may be facing her, ready to catch his child. Perhaps another pair of hands, those of the midwife or caregiver, are ready to assist, and then again, perhaps not. Assistance is normally not necessary. Mother is not out of control, birth is not chaotic, there is no hysteria or confusion. Birth is accessible and a woman does what is natural.
It is an absolute fact that a woman does not particularly need anyone to catch her baby. She may desire another pair of hands in her field or she may desire someone to catch her child but women do not particularly NEED anyone to catch their babies. The myth that someone must check for the cord or perform head traction to free the baby is simply not true. Cords seem to resolve themselves…in fact one third of all babies I have seen born have had the cord around the neck and generally nothing was needed to be done. Head traction or assisting the baby is usually not necessary either and may, in fact, cause a problem or delay.
At this time Mother has picked up her baby and begun to become acquainted. Mother and Father are in awe; in awe of their baby, of each other, of the amazing realms through which they have just traveled. With a sense of wonder and reverence they approach their baby. Initially they may be crying and speechless, still wrapped in the mystical cocoon of the Vortex. This may soon give way to expressions of delight as parents caress and speak to their baby and each other.
The period of Return and of Acquaintance are times when distractions should be kept to a minimum in order to respect the initial bonding between parents and baby. Stethoscopes, flashing cameras, suctioning devices, hands and voices other than the mother and father can be disruptive and inappropriate during these vital first few minutes, especially if the parents want the sanctity of the bonding process honored.
As the Acquaintance comes to an end (usually after about ten minutes) and mother and father have explored their new child, the mother may feel the placenta descend and feel that it may be ready to be birthed. If so, she will signal for the bowl and perhaps wish the caregiver to come closer. However most women I have worked with have not desired to birth their placentas until after the next stage.
From the Tao…‘The midwife does her work by doing nothing.’
From close by, without interrupting or being in the mother‘s field, the midwife or caregiver can assess the newborn, assess mom’s placental separation and bleeding, assess and meet the immediate needs of anyone in the room, stabilize the environment and be the silent witness during these first minutes and stages after the birth.
(Immediate postpartum, Birth of the Placenta)
About 30 minutes after the birth, the mother will often turn her attention to her placenta. At this time, the placenta is out of the uterus and sitting in the yoni. It is easily birthed at this time with very little fuss and concern. The midwife may hold the bowl and assist the mother in positioning herself to release the placenta.
The mother has had her bonding time and has had initial communication with her loved ones and she now settles herself down to nurse and fortify herself with something to eat and drink. The family is stable and safe. Perhaps the midwife has finished that baby hat by now and may offer it to the parents before she withdraws.
Babies tend to be alert for the first hour or so after their birth. Then they generally drift deeply into sleep, having nursed and fallen in love. Mother has birthed her placenta and received nourishment and witnessing from her loved ones. This is now the time, after about an hour, while her baby sleeps, for the caregiver to return to the scene and assist the mother in accessing her body and her bleeding. Mother may wish to shower and assess her bottom, the birthing room is tidied, phone calls are made. Perhaps mother calls for more food and wishes to talk, perhaps she wishes to rest. As this finishing winds down over the next while, mother and partner draw together and prepare to enfold their baby, and each other, in sleep.
The midwife enfolds all as she writes her notes or closes her eyes in silent vigil.