I arrived to Naoli's ranch on the morning of April 18th, to find myself with 14 extraordinary women from Europe, Canada, the US and Mexico, who came together to learn The Art and Science of Traditional Birth Practices and Philosophies of Mexico. What a gift to be together as we explored the emotional, physiological, and spiritual aspects of the natural labor process. Most of us are not mothers, yet we are birth workers new and old, with a keen understanding of what it means to help someone "walk the path" that we have walked ourselves. But if we haven't had our own children, how have we walked the path that they are on as pregnant women, you may ask?
When a woman is walking in her pregnancy, she may fear the "unknown" in a general sense and may be anxious as a result. Or she may be fearing something very specific such as not being able to open because her mother didn't open during her own labor. She has carried her mother's story for years and is about to carry it into her own labor if she doesn't return it back to her mother beforehand. A woman may also remember the trauma of abuse or a painful loss in her life- an abortion, a miscarriage, the death of a loved one. No matter what she is carrying, if she has succeeded in keeping it hidden throughout her pregnancy from herself or others, suddenly toward the end of her pregnancy her midwife may notice something, and gently ask her what's going on. This ability of the midwife to intuit and to listen and for the mother to open is key in their relationship and for the process of labor to flow.
The midwife herself knows from her own life experience that transformation happens with an open heart and mind and body. She knows that women open when they feel safe, when they are given the space they need to navigate in their own way. Surely the midwife has walked the road of pain, loss, and healing in her own way. Or she has been through labor herself. However she has experience transformation, she herself has done her work and continues to do her work. And she herself comes from a mother who has come from a mother. We all hold memories and information about birth and how we and or ancestors were born. When you are called as a midwife, you pave the road for women to open, to receive and to let go all at the same time, to take the leap of faith and dive forward into a place of openess and love. It is the only way to give birth.
A wise birth attendant listens closely to what is needed in each moment in pregnancy, labor, birth and postpartum. When we are "with women" we are midwifing them through the veil and to the other side. This does not mean we hold their hand each time. Sometimes it means we witness, and sometimes we use our tools. But we always listen, and this is how we know and discern. At Naoli's workshop , many stories were shared around the idea of women facing their "stuff" before labor even begins, and if not, they will for sure face them on the big day. Either way, we must face them ourselves. Partnering with a practitioner who is sensitive to the needs and process of the laboring woman makes birth outcomes much more humanized, loving, and joyful. In labor, the opening of the cervix correlates to the opening of the heart, and the gate in which women walk forward into their new life as Mother, with courage, curiosity, and strength.
The territory of birth has grown ten-fold for me since leaving 2 weeks ago. The miracle of life is found in birth and it includes our whole lives and those of our mother and father and grandfathers. Birth brings life and death together and shows us in some way how they share the same bed at night. As we each live our lives and then one day die, there is also a part of us that dies each time we give birth, or witness a birth. Thus with each birth, every person present is reborn, and enters a part of their heart they have not known yet. With each new baby born, the mother goes deeper. And her midwife as well.
One of the activities we shared together was called "vaginal exams without violence." We experienced first hand how to guide the practitioner based on our comfort and how it feels to actually be safe in the hands of another during an exam. It brought up deeply stored memories of abuse for many women by family members and medical practitioners. Their stories included the aggressive touch by practitioners during normal vaginal exams and the unnecessary mistreatment they had lived in their labor and postpartum as mothers themselves. We were healed as we shared and listened. We were healed as we experienced something mysterious and curious in each other. For many of us, it was the first time we had done an exam on anyone. I think one of my favorite parts of the retreat was when one woman's very young daughters came in to listen to the end of our talk each day. They were little women engaging and taking in the art of womanhood. It would be beautiful to see more mothers introducing their daughters at a young age to the beauty and mystery of the female body and spirit.
We spent time in nature learning about the naturalness and joy of pregnancy and birth. We rejuvenated in hot springs next to a river where cows and chickens roamed the hills. Naoli showed us how to massage a woman in postpartum with river stones and wooden bread rollers. We practiced on each other and were asked by the public how much we were charging! Naoli told us the story of when she was a young girl and how she made her friend take a 9hr rafting ride with her down the same river we were on. The next time she went she had a bigger following, which included her father, whose raft got poked somehow and so he had to have his finger holding the hole closed the whole way down the river for hours! Naoli is a breath of fresh air. She says, "The only thing you should expect of your birth, is that it will be wonderful."
We were welcome into her home, into her life; we met her partner, her children, her mother, and lived on the land for 10 days where hundreds of women have come to birth in her presence with love and JOY. We laughed, we cried, we shared our wounds and secrets, and we raised our hands to let each other know that we had been there as well. We sat in a traditional temazcal together and placed that which did not serve us into a stone and said thank you and goodbye and threw it into the fire. We shared a home together on Naoli's ranch and bathed outside separated by walls of bamboo. We ate beautiful meals of flower soup, huitlacoche, and every other kind of exquisite traditional Mexican cuisine known to mankind.
When a woman had birthed on our third day there, we were able to make homeopathic tinctures using a tiny piece of the fresh placenta, drying the rest for placenta encapsulation. We also made a drum with the amnio bag and a beautiful dried heart with the whole umbilical cord. We painted pregnant mama's bellies, as an alternative to ultra sounds, after measuring them through touch and listening to the baby's and the placenta's movement through a fetascope. No matter how big we painted them, we were reminded that no baby is ever too big to come out.
In Naoli's 18 years of practice, she has never transferred because a baby could not fit through the pelvis. We learned how to open the pelvis with our hands and with the use of the rebozo, and how to position the mother in case the baby is not coming down smoothly in case of a dystocia. But even more important, we spoke of her freedom to move on her own in labor so that she may hear loudly from her own inner wisdom where and how and when she shall be in order to bring her baby down as he should. We also practiced rebozo techniques for shifting a posterior baby, and "closing" the mother in postpartum. We made a hot chocolate with medicinal herbs for postpartum, a salve for stretch marks and aloe suppositories for hemorrhoids. We named the 40 day period one of healing and we promised we would help women understand the importance of resting and being with their baby during this delicate time of adjustment and new beginning.
I come back to my home in NYC ready to walk with my Mamas, to honor birth and the love that makes it happen. I come back with much curiosity and a heart wide open with joy to share. I invite you to come with me.
Erica is a Childbirth Doula in NYC. Her present focus is on the postpartum period.