The Birthing Zone: Secret Men’s Business
The Birthing Zone came out of a presentation that I gave at the 27th Home-Birth Australia Conference in 2011 in front of 400 midwives
, doulas, health workers and home-birthing mothers. Throughout the conference I found myself, yet again, in awe of the fact that women’s knowledge of pregnancy and birth has been handed down from mother to daughter and from midwife to midwife, through countless generations spanning all cultures across millennia; vital skills that have ensured the continuity of humanity no less. Only in the last century has this same knowledge been eroded, with pregnancy and birth now standardised in our modern medical system run by men who, ironically, don’t know what a natural birth is, let alone assist in one. The home-birth conference seemed to me to be a place for keeping the traditional knowledge alive. For most of the midwives in attendance, coming from their hospital background, it was a re-awakening to traditional ways that have been forced out of them by the system.
Only a handful of midwives at the conference were skilled with the knowledge, or committed to fully re-skilling themselves in the natural process of pregnancy and birthing. These were the independent midwives, those that provide a continuity of care of the mother throughout her pregnancy and the delivery of the child in the home. It is disconcerting to know that there are no more than a dozen independent midwives in Sydney, Australia’s largest city with 5 million people, and that ‘the system’ is moving closer towards trying to wipe them out of existence; wiping out the traditional knowledge. But they will never be successful, for women will still be birthing their babies long after the system and this civilisation have gone. The knowledge will survive as long as the sisters are tapped into their deep inner knowing. I’ve heard them say many times , ‘the body knows how to birth’.
With this positive and empowering feeling within the conference I was also deeply challenged. Counting only three men in the conference audience I felt intimidated by so many women with so much birthing experience and began questioning myself on why I was there. My original urge to present had vanished and I simply felt inadequate. My synopsis in the conference program, which I so cleverly wrote nine months before, I was now very much embarrassed by. It read:
Born in a Bucket!?!!?
“Musings on why and how we birthed our two children at home and my part in it (after copulation) as a man, husband and father.”
Men are not famous for being very helpful when it comes to birthing babies, however Gary will tear apart the stereotype and take you out of your medicalised, comatose comfort zone into the organic, dynamic world of home-birthing, as seen from his perspective… and that of a bright orange bucket.
With home-birthing legends, such as Ina May Gaskin, Robbie Davis-Floyd and (Kindred Advisory Board Member) Dr. Sarah J. Buckley in the audience, my stomach turned. No way did I feel up to the Anthony Robins style presentation I had envisaged. What the hell did I know about birthing compared to these people! How the hell did I rev myself up into thinking that I could talk to them on a subject in which they are so expert? I was scheduled to talk late Sunday morning, so I had a whole day and a half at the conference to stew in my thoughts and feelings before I exposed myself as a fraud and they sacrificed me on the alter to the Black Madonna.
When I finally took the stage and nervously set up the presentation, my notes slipped off the lectern and onto the floor. As I stooped to pick them up I suddenly became aware that I didn’t need them. With spot lights glaring in my eyes, I focused, then began telling the audience something that had been on my mind all morning. That, where we live, not two hundred metres from our door is a gully, a wide and wild grassy gully surrounded by bush, where sometimes we walk, pick apples and blackberries, and play in the creek. Part of this gully is a sacred birthing site, once used by the Gundungarra and Darug women for thousands of years. On a recent walk through the gully I spotted markings on two very old gum trees. They each had deep cuttings in the bark in the shape of a vagina. Weeks later I had the opportunity to ask the local Aboriginal elder women about the markings and they exclaimed that they are to warn the men to stay away. This is a secret women’s-business site. “When I walked into the conference yesterday”, I told the 400 women, “I felt like I had passed those boundary markers and wandered into the heart of sacred women’s-business. Part of me felt like a very naughty boy”. However, the reality was that I had been invited into the circle to present my story of how I supported my beloved on her right-of-passage into motherhood, bringing our first-born earth-side. And the nine month process of this support was my own right-of-passage as a man into fatherhood. “In this day and age we are now seeing where sacred women’s-business meets sacred men’s-business”, and that’s really what I wanted to talk about that day at the conference. Giving birth is no longer a secret, yet the knowledge of doing so is still sacred.
I received thunderous applause from the audience in this first minute of my presentation. From then on I spoke confidently and effortlessly. Far from being sacrificed to the goddesses I heard much applause and laughter coming from the audience. I even had the pleasure of seeing Ina May Gaskin, out of the corner of my eye, laughing herself silly in one part. I must say, with all humility, the talk was a triumph. The feedback was fantastic. One women said she was crying through the whole talk, out of joy. Another thanked me, ‘for speaking for the men’. Another told her friends online, ‘Gary was bloody brilliant’. Thrilled by the response I could see that these women, not by their profession, but by being women of today, had been waiting to hear something like this from a man for a long time.
My story explores the place where sacred women’s-business meets and overlaps with sacred men’s-business. And, as this story attests, that place is proving to be most powerful and extraordinary in the birthing zone. With more and more men now being invited into the circle it’s time now to put aside our fears and acknowledge and respect the sacredness of the process which women have been in tune with since we came down from the trees. In doing so we will discover the sacredness of our own inner process of becoming fathers that is intimately interwoven with the woman’s process of becoming a mother and the child’s processes of simply ‘becoming’. We will discover that the man’s right-of-passage is just as equally valid and important as the woman’s and when fused in intimate vulnerability in total love-without-fear it can become an enormous force that can move mountains. Not just in birthing but in every aspect of life and living.
Rights-of-passages in general have pretty much disappeared in our modern society. Though they are beginning to come back into the mainstream (such as with the work of the Pathways Foundation in Australia). The right-of-passage to adulthood for both girls and boys is a process of both physical and psychological change. For the right-of-passage for women to motherhood both the physical and psychological processes are utterly entwined. But the right-of-passage for men into fatherhood is purely psychological (which includes emotional). There is no physical mechanism for men, such as labor or growing pains, to show that we are going through some sort of inner process. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary for men to consciously undertake the right-of-passage to fatherhood because it is this psychological shift, and only this shift, that will, at least, help us through the challenging years ahead. If the process of becoming a father is not made conscious then it remains suppressed and unprocessed which then leads to varying degrees of psychological trauma. The same is true for women, however they have a long tradition of physically and emotionally supporting each other, particularly during pregnancy and birth, enabling them to navigate the process much more consciously – simply because the pain of labor forces them to.
Medicalised birth generally doesn’t recognise or support the psychological process of becoming a parent. Instead, it may well be supporting the increasing rates of post natal mental health issues. We are now seeing an increase in post-natal depression in men (up to 10% of new fathers around the Western world and up to 14% in the USA are diagnosed with PND, compared with 20% for women). As well, we are also seeing a high rate of relationship breakdown in the first few years after the first child is born (for Male Postpartum Abandonment Syndrome [MPAS] read Meryn Callander’s excellent book Why Dads Leave).
Just as we saw in the 1980’s that boys were, and largely still are, missing their right-of-passage into manhood, in the second decade of the 21st century it is equally important to acknowledge and promote men’s rights-of-passage into fatherhood.
A right-of-passage, for me, is simply being conscious of what is present within myself as deeply as possible as I move through a particularly profound process that leads to psychological and emotional growth, or maturity. I experience the process of becoming a father not as a structured right-of-passage ceremony set up by community elders, as in a boy’s initiation into manhood, nor even by my peers (of which both have their value), but simply as a process of being as aware as I can possibly be of my thoughts and feelings, while letting the process of ‘becoming’ unfold of it’s own accord. ‘Becoming’ means change. And this change is fundamentally about reaching a new level of understanding of relationship; primarily the relationship you have with yourself which effects all other relationships. So, either a traditional or, in this case, a contemporary right-of-passage is not something that you can simply take or leave, it is a vital process of psychological development – the continual evolution of consciousness – simply by letting, and watching, the unknown become known. If it all remains unconscious out of fear of the unknown then there is no change. No becoming. Life then becomes stagnant and stale, reactive and competitive, frustrating and confusing, childish even; until a crisis in, and of, relationship manifests to shake you out of your coma.
Let’s not wait for the crisis. Let’s move deeper.
Featured Image Shutterstock/Annemarie Young