Besides writing about all things reproductive health, I also work as a practitioner Doula.
The usual definition of a doula is someone who supports a child-bearing person through the process of labor, childbirth, and beyond. However, as I gained more experience in this area, the definition has expanded for me “A doula is someone who supports people through the most intense transitions in life.”
There’s no way around it. The birth is intense. The sensations, the unknowns, the vulnerability make for a transcendent experience like nothing else.
In the birth room there is a noticeable feeling for something beyond. As a childbearing person progresses through work, there is a shift where suddenly the room smells different, it feels different, the childbearing person has a different look in their eyes as they become still to go inside. All the sounds that escape them come from the deepest parts of their being. Rhythmic moans, general screams and animal roars.
Many people not only lose track of time while working, but also feel in a completely different state outside of time and space. The clock becomes irrelevant when you go inside to push your baby outside.
This is how you know that they have shifted to a different realm when their new baby finds its way into the world. The deeper they penetrate into the country of work, the thinner the veil between the known world and the unknown.
The person giving birth not only traverses another realm, but also the new life that travels through them. A baby works extremely hard during labor. They are pushed down by the uterus, squeeze through the birth canal, and move through the warm, watery home they felt comfortable in, into a whole new world.
The baby or babies are just as part of this experience as the person who gives birth to them, and it’s wild to think about how this journey feels to them. So that your skin touches the air, we know so well when you breathe in your first breath.
Work, on the other hand, not only means giving birth to a new baby, but also a new parent. Even if this isn’t their first birth, each one is so different. Every child demands something new from their parents. A new part of them is about to be revealed. A new relationship will be developed.
Birth requires transformation.
Intense experiences challenge us and make us question the core of who we are. Whether through birth or another transition in life, this journey through the veil prepares people for the next phase of their life.
As esoteric as it sounds, there are physiological reasons why someone might enter this transcendental state during labor.
During labor (especially if it is not medicated), the body has various hormones that pulse through it, making the process easier. That is tender hormonal cascade allows the cervix to soften and open, the uterus to contract to push the baby down, the placenta to separate from the uterine wall, and more.
As you can imagine (or maybe you’ve experienced it), these hormones can also make you feel really high.
Oxytocin is a power player in this process, which we have affectionately referred to as “the cuddle hormone”. This love hormone helps to create feelings of euphoria and cause contractions.
Secretion from the pituitary gland, Beta endorphins, are the body’s natural pain relievers that act on opioid receptors. It’s no surprise that they can create feelings of joy, euphoria, and transcendence.
There are so many metaphors for life in the beauty of birth.
The physiological process of the body making room for a baby reflects the emotional, often spiritual, experience that many people giving birth go through. In order for a baby to pass through the vaginal canal, the pelvis opens along with the cervix. The birthing body becomes softer when it moves into a place of total surrender so that this new being can find its way.
Moving through this veil offers the opportunity to heal trauma, connect with ancestors, and get in touch with the most fundamental part of being human. The process we all go through in one way or another to get onto this planet.
As the late French obstetrician and author Frédérick Leboyer said, we have to “Learn to respect this sacred moment of birth, so fragile, so fleeting, as elusive as dawn.”
Note from a doula: While this article focuses primarily on non-drug vaginal births, this symbolism can be applied to any birthing experience. One birth choice is by no means superior to another, and we have the utmost respect for what you do with your body, your baby and your birth.