If you are new to the pregnancy scene, it doesn’t take long to discover that everyone from the checker at the grocery store to your hairdresser has something important to share with you regarding childbirth, pregnancy, and the coming baby.
People give advice, warnings, congratulations, help and even criticism. Very often it seems that new and expecting mothers are a little taken aback by the constant influx of unasked for input.
Why is it that everyone cares about and is suddenly verbose when it comes to all subjects relating to birth?
Why are people so offended, excited, or outspoken?
Birth is, of course, very common. We are all born. Many of us will give birth ourselves. It is one of the still almost universal things about humanity. Yet, despite its commonplace nature, childbirth is far from mundane. In fact, it’s where we can find the thin place on earth.
I recently heard a talk from Virginia Pearce talking about “thin places” on earth. The concept of a “thin place” is not new. In Celtic beliefs, there was this idea of thin places- often geographical locations- where the barrier between earthly life and the heavens was not so strong – a thin place where heaven meets earth.
Ms. Pearce takes this a step further and notices that it’s not just geography that can make a thin place, but an experience.
Maybe it’s the moment when you fell in love, or time of solitude when you gained needed personal understanding.
Maybe you have experienced a thin place as you sat with a loved one as they passed out of this life.
I know we all have different beliefs about this life, the afterlife, and if there even is one. This is one of the blessings of humanity – our differences and our ability to see them and love each other still.
To me, and I believe to many of us, childbirth is a thin place. I remember vividly a moment when I was laboring with my second child. I was in a birth tub, somewhere between 8 centimeters and meeting my baby, though a number the size of a softball surely doesn’t do justice to that experience – when I felt I was in a thin place. I was, in fact, very sure that I was going to die.
I don’t tell birthing women about that to scare them, but because it is the only way I can communicate the incredibly intense and overwhelming place I was existing in at that moment. I was experiencing pain so vivid and all consuming, a feeling of splitting into two people, that I was sure I was on the brink of death.
In reality, I was a very healthy young woman who was simply having a baby. But that moment and the precious moments that followed were a thin place for me.
I was on earth but I was barely there. I was close to touching something much different, much bigger. The experience was more than physical, more than emotional, more than spiritual. It wasn’t easy but it was transcendent.
When our daughter took her first breaths, snuggled up close and began to nurse, that too was a thin place. I’m old enough that this was the first time in our lives as a couple that we had these fancy new “cell phones.” Shortly after the birth my husband was on the phone calling family members and telling them about our new edition. We lived far from family and everyone wanted the news.
It seemed that the air thickened and the distance between earth and something beyond grew once we welcomed that technology back in and reached out again to others.
I have spent the last 12 years immersed in childbirth. First I was just preparing for my own baby’s birth. Then I suddenly committed to helping others prepare. Why would I and hundreds of other childbirth educators possibly care about how other people have their babies? Why does it matter to me what other people do in this private moment?!
This is a good question, and one which, honestly, it took me years to be able to really answer.
At first it was just this nameless passion. “Well, I want people to have great births! Birth can be awesome!” I thought. But I realize now it is more than that. Crazy birth people don’t just care about birth because they are crazy or pushy or want people to do what they think they should do. Some of us have been blessed with these thin moments where we can almost, almost touch something else that is far beyond ourselves.
All I can say now is that I truly believe that women, their partners, their babies, their families – they all deserve for birth to be a sacred experience like I experienced. They deserve to walk in a thin place. To touch heaven.
People think this is all about natural birth, it isn’t. This is about honoring the special thing that birth is.
I think EVERY birth is a thin place.
In fact, I kind of think that is what draws many people to birth work as doulas, midwives, and childbirth educators. While we get paid for this work, it is still an honor to simply witness this moment as women experience it. It is an honor to hold that space and recognize its importance, its ability to be deeply profound.
The sad thing is that all too often birth isn’t recognized as a thin place.
When we get caught up in the routine, the “everyday” of birth, sometimes those that are there don’t witness and hold space, they just go through the motions or stick with the “policy” of birth in a particular venue, we miss out on what that experience can and should be.
Why do I and so many others care about birth? Why do we keep talking about it? Why do we get bothered when people treat it like just another medical procedure? Motherhood…I don’t know how to say it nicely…it isn’t always easy. In fact, it can be crushingly difficult and make you hurt places you didn’t know you could hurt.
Starting the journey of motherhood by touching heaven, no matter how you gave birth, it’s a start that we can all benefit from having.
If you feel that your birth wasn’t the sacred experience it should have been, never fear, parenting will bring many more moments like it. You’ll see them. Many of them.
In the meantime, let’s honor the thin place of childbirth a little bit more.
This thin place Sarah describes is a great description of what so many mothers experience and feel as they go through childbirth. And they’re backed by science that says this absolutely is a thing.
This research suggests that women may indeed actually have out-of-body experiences (OBE) during childbirth, particularly if stressed or facing trauma. The researchers said the experiences the women had were described as floating above the scene, remaining close to the scene or even a full separation of a body part from their main body. The researchers found that the women had very clear memory and recall of the OBE, and they could even pinpoint the point in their experience that it happened.
The research did disclose that some of the OBEs in the review were trauma-related, as might be expected sometimes when childbirth has emergency circumstances or other issues that the birthing mother may not have expected nor anticipated. In those situations, the researchers believed it to be extremely important that clinicians took the disclosure of the OBEs seriously and that they explored how those OBEs affected the women during childbirth and later in the postpartum period.