One of the times I find being a doula most difficult is when women come to the end of their pregnancy before the onset of labour. I find it difficult as my role as a birthkeeper to protect women’s birthing space. It seems to be appearing more and more difficult culturally, for women to protect themselves in their final days of pregnancy. The privacy and space they need to let go and disappear into, to find a private space where they can remain unobserved often seems impossible.
This ‘time’ at the end of pregnancy was described in a lovely article (The Last Days of Pregnancy: A Place of In-Between- The Mothering website) as Zwischen, a German word for between. At the end of pregnancy the mothering hormones start to cause emotions to run high as the cervix starts to soften, efface and women generally crave the quiet and private places they need to emotionally and mentally travel inwards.
In many traditional cultures around the world, women are known to actively leave their tribes for birthing huts (Inuit Tribe a group of indigenous people residing in the Arctic regions, Kwaio a tribe who live in an Island off the Pacific and many more). The Eipos people in Papa New Guinea are documented (Schnietenhovel) to go into the Wilderness of the Bush shortly before the onset of labour. The tribes above are also protected by various women they already have a relationship with throughout their pregnancy and birth journeys. Midwives and female relatives provide the support to enable confidence in the birthing process and some of the women will go off and give birth alone. In these cultures childbirth is documented as easy.
The habits of many of the Mammalian Kingdom are similar to the women in traditional cultures; pregnant sheep separate from a flock when birth is imminent. Rats, nocturnal creatures will give birth in the daylight so they are unobserved from the rest of their species. There are many childbirth articles that discuss the airing cupboards that cats retreat to so I won’t go into that here but I will refer to the problem free births that these mammals usually have when they are unobserved and free to just give birth in their own environments.
So culturally what is stopping women today from building nests and protecting their ‘Zwischen’? How can women find that place of mindfulness to stay present with their pregnancy and the uncomfortability that can sometimes seem to engulf these last weeks? How can we ensure women feed on the confidence needed (often given by the females in the tribe) to birth easily?
Modern culture means for most women that they don’t live in a tribe. In families, we are often separated from parents and grandparents. Also, if your Mother was enticed by obstetrics and lost her confidence in the physiological birthing process you might prefer her not to be in your tribe for this part of your pregnancy. So where can you find your tribe? Positive Birth Groups, Home Birth Support groups (even a great place to build up your confidence whether you plan a hospital birth), red tent communities and caesarean support groups. Find your own Midwife (IMUK) who you trust to provide all your antenatal care, and/or hire a doula to walk alongside with you on this very important journey to becoming a mother. Have a blessingway and get your female friends to honour your pregnancy journey.
Don’t be fooled by the facelessness of facebook and other social media. Just because you cannot be physically seen, it doesn’t mean you have privacy. I often hear so much unnecessary stress from women who feel observed on groups within the social media communities. Smart phones leave us open to be contacted by anyone day or night at a time when we just don’t want to be in touch with anyone at all. I wonder what effect social media has on the orchestration of birthing hormones that play such a vital part in undisturbed childbirth.
I challenge all pregnant women to respect their ‘Zwischen’. Find their female tribe, switch off their mobile phones and disconnect from social media. Will this enable women to build a nest, a private space where she can be mindful, creative and protected to rest with limited stress through her last days of pregnancy?