Ecology of Birth

Last week I spent a day at the University of Humanistic Studies, Utrecht, The Netherlands  attending a symposium:

“Concerning maternity: ethical and existential questions at the beginning of life” hosted by Dr. Inge van Nistelrooij & Dr. Joanna Wojtkowiak.

Every human is brought into the world through the woman’s body, however, there is surprisingly little research conducted on mothers’ perspectives on good care at the beginning of life. The symposium focused on existential concerns at the beginning of life from the perspectives of those closely involved in the care of new life: mothers, fathers and professional caregivers. This symposium was the first part of a two-piece expert-meeting of a new program of research. This 1st symposium posed the question

‘What are existential concerns at the beginning of life?’I was invited to share some of my insights about spirituality, childbirth and existential experience. Needless to say i resonated with this theme! Part of the key note I gave explored the following taken from my chapter  ‘Birth as a Sacred Celebration’,  In (Crowther, S & Hall, J. 2017 Eds.) Childbirth and Spirituality: meaning and practice at the start of life. pp. 15-16. I want to share this excerpt from the chapter and presentation in the hope it will generate some dialogue.

Ecology of birth

There is a wholeness about childbirth which I to refer to as an ‘ecology of childbirth’ which unfolds at each birth (Crowther 2016, Crowther 2014). Yet we need to be cautious of naming something. The notion of an ‘ecology of childbirth’ (see figure 1) and its implications for how childbirth occurs within contemporary maternity systems is used here as a point of departure in our explorations and is not intended to be taken as a fixed and inflexible notion.

An ecology of birth

According to Haeckel (1986) ecology is the science of relationship of living things/beings and their environments. What is key in this definition of ecology is the significance of relationships. I would contend that ecology in relation to childbirth is concerned with multiple relationships. It is an interrelated phenomenon comprising an embodied quality [i], a spatial quality that includes felt-space and physical places of birth, a quality of relationality or being with others, a quality of temporality that incorporates Kairos time (explored later in chapter), a dynamic quality of social-political and cultural context e.g. changing policies and practices informing childbirth. Simultaneously every birth includes a mysterious unspoken quality unfolding in and around the occasion. This ‘ecology of birth’ incorporates ALL types of birth in ALL circumstances.

An ecology of birth is a notion built upon the enigmatic description of Heidegger’s fourfold [ii] (Heidegger 1971/2001), Smythe et al’s (2016) interpretation of the ‘good birth’ and my own research in relation to the existential qualities of lived-experiences of being at the time of birth (Crowther 2014). Reawakening our collective cognisance of an ecology of birth can bring remembrance of how each birth is potentially a joyful celebration of life and our shared natality. I infer a ‘reawakening’ as I fear we have forgotten or covered up our original knowing. In this chapter I adopt a phenomenological and philosophical hermeneutic lens informed by the works of Heidegger (1927/1962), Gadamer (2008/1967), Arendt,(1958) Dilthey, (2002) and O’Byrne, (2010) to present a philosophical interpretation of birth as spiritually meaningful.

[i] Embodied experiences refers to how the body is the medium of our perceptions (Merleau-Ponty 1962/2002). Experience and bodily sensorial sensations are thus inseparable. For example a joyful experience is both our material body, such as tears of joy, as well as the lived experiencing of the joy. As Heidegger (2001) contends we body our experiences, that is to say we embody them.

[ii] Heidegger’s philosophical notion of the fourfold is a central aspect of how we dwell as human beings in all situations we find ourselves. The fourfold has four components: earth and sky, divinities and mortals which are an inseparable unity that cannot be divided into separated components. Each component is interconnected and in the interiority of the other. Heidegger claims that human beings are not only a being in the world, but are always part of this fourfold. For further description read Heidegger’s (2001) Poetry, Language, Thought

(full references given at end of chapter).