After the birth of my daughter in 2011, I received a small package from a Birthing from Within mentor friend. In it was a sweet little t-shirt imprinted with the words, My Mama is a Birth Warrior. The words on the shirt surrounded a labyrinth image, which I love as a metaphor for birth and life.
Written on the enclosed card was the following:
Imagine a tribe in which a woman is prepared for childbirth in the same way warriors are prepared for battle. Imagine a Ceremony for this woman before she gives birth, a grand send-off with holy songs and fire. Imagine a feast, prepared just for her.
Her tribe tells her, they say to her “Go to your journey, you have prepared. We have prepared you. If you fall from your horse once or a hundred times, it does not matter. All that matters is that you come back to us, that you come home.
Throughout your journey–your labyrinth of Great Love, Great Determination, Great Faith and Great Doubt—you rode on!
The Great Tribe of Mothers welcomes you back from your birth journey with honor.
Imagine, indeed. After I read this note I reflected that I did feel I embarked on a mighty journey during my last pregnancy, I did pass through those Gates, and I did ride on. I AM a birth warrior!On Memorial Day last year, making a thematic connection, I shared a “birth warrior” quote on Facebook. It prompted some interesting comments regarding the appropriateness or not of associating “war” or “fighting” with birth. Personally, I was surprised to find myself connect with the birth warrior metaphor in labor. Shortly after my first baby was born, I turned to my dear friend who had been present and said, I feel like I’ve been in a war. I distinctly recall my sense of vulnerability, amazement, and weariness in saying that. It was my fundamental and deep, heart assessment of how I felt at the time—I mostly associated it with the blood. I tend to have extremely bloody births and there was blood all over my arms, belly, and even on my face. I felt like one of those bloody, battle-weary soldiers staggering off the battlefield. This was interesting imagery for me, because I tend towards a pacifist mentality.
My second birth also involved lots of blood—I had it streaked on my face and even on the bottoms of my feet, in addition to my arms, legs, and belly. One of my tenderest postpartum memories is of my midwife, gently, lovingly washing the bloody bottoms of my feet with a washcloth. In that birth and with my subsequent births as well, I also connected with the “hero’s journey” metaphor. Like I had journeyed to my personal threshold and successfully, powerfully crossed it.
So, to me, the “birth warrior” image represents that experience of focusing and channeling and “riding” the waves of intense energy and the feeling of having climbed my mountain, run my marathon, swum my ocean, crossed my threshold, faced my self-doubt, taken my journey, felt my personal POWER, and brought home my prize. Of course, I also agree wholeheartedly with radical midwife Carla Hartley that birth is not a time when a woman should have to fight for anything, but I also feel like there is a place for the “warrior” archetype in the birthroom. To me, it represents the active nature of birth and dispels any sense of a passive “patient” lying in a bed accepting her “fate.”After thinking about this subject in-depth I went down to my sacred woods and composed a poem, in which, I feel, the connection between women’s work in birth and men’s work in war actually comes together in a format that transcends Men. War. Bad. Women. Birth. Good, distinctions.
To create life
to save life
to bring the new forward
rising up again and again.
that which previously thought possible
expanding your boundaries
finding your limit
and going past it
into every reserve
of courage and strength you possess
giving it your all.
in the heave and swell
tightness and release.
when you feel like stopping
when you feel like
you have nothing left
and yet, still you rise.
You show the world
what you’re made of.
What is a Warrior?
Is she solely
She’s about protection
she stands up
she won’t quit
she can be counted on.
She emerges victorious
with blood on her thighs
and a baby in her arms
knowing that she would
fight to the death for this creature
that she would
lay down her life for this creature
that she has already sacrificed
bone, flesh, and blood for this creature
and that she would do so again,
and again, and again
until there is no breath left in her body.
Though the poem above was composed specifically for Pagan Families, this post is excerpted from one first published at Feminism and Religion: Birth Warrior by Molly Remer | Feminism and Religion. The post prompted an interesting discussion again, considering the “validity” or appropriateness of using “warrior” metaphors to relate to giving birth.
I often turn to nature and to my experiences as a mother to inform me. And, I see “warrior mothers” throughout the animal world. Even my simple domestic chickens would fight to the death for their babies and they’re the original “chicken,” when it comes to aggression, strength, conflict. It was to this shared, interspecies maternal experience that I also turned to when I wrote my poem.