Seeing the Sacred Nature of Midwifery
Chris J. Hampton (March 2007)
Every birth is Holy. I think that a midwife must be religious, because the energy she is dealing with is Holy. She needs to know that other people's energy is sacred.
A midwife is simply defined by one author as “nothing more nor less than a skilled specialist in normal birth.” Other names include sage-femme or “wise woman” (French), jordmother or “earth mother” (Danish), whereas midwife comes from Middle English midwif, meaning one who is “with [a pregnant] woman”; from these definitions of a midwife, one can begin to see that many cultures attach more importance than the first definition here seems to denote. More common in Native American cultures are women as ethnobotanists, healers, and leaders of ceremony—some of which who would be midwives as well. Furthermore, in indigenous cultures such as Native American cultures, it is more common to find what Western scholars would separate as religion, culture and healing, all combined in one connected cultural system or lifeway. In order to broaden an understanding of the woman, birth, midwifery, nature, and the body, this paper seeks to utilize concepts more akin to the connected, rather than compartmentalized traditions so common in autochthonous peoples. Inherent in a process such a culture's birthing traditions and knowledge are elements of religion or spirituality, empirical science, myth, ethnobotany, medicine, oral narrative, social psychology and so on, and so the plethora of areas of humanity must be acknowledged and considered when seeking to understand the natural, most basic human sacrament of birth in its relation to humans. As such, midwifery can not be limited by simplistic, monolithic definitions, but must be understood as a rich, complex and layered tradition very much adapted to the cultures which utilize it; furthermore, future progress in Western gender relations, attitudes toward women, the body, nature and birth depends on revising the dominant patriarchal, Christian, hierarchical, overly rational and scientific systems in place which repress the woman, nature and the by extension the natural birthing process. For many of those involved in a birth, much more than a materialist, textbook definition is required to convey any of the deep significance and feelings of the experience. Indeed, everyone's prerequisite to life is birth, and as such, each of us should think twice about what it took to get us from “there” to “here.” With the woman, then, as the gateway, the midwife acts as a sort of attendant or guide in the process of bringing forth new life into the world, and as shall be presently discussed, midwifery is quite common across the entire planet.
Midwives and their potentially wide range of roles
Although most having been born within mainstream American culture would not likely guess it based on their own experiences and those of most of their peers and family, eighty percent of the world's children are estimated to be delivered by midwives. Traditions are passed various ways—often midwives are seen coming from a family already containing many midwives, others perceive a calling, through a dream, interaction with the divine, or through interpretation of a sickness as a calling, for some examples. In the Native American Assiniboine culture, almost all the elder women were found to be midwives, along with a large majority of the women in their middle age. The roles of midwives vary as per the needs of the culture. If in a particular setting, the people have close access to both traditional shaman healers, and also are within reach of a Western medical establishment, and trust in its methods, a midwife's expected role would perhaps be less than in a remote rural setting with perhaps only one medicine man or woman. Also, the range of a midwife's expected times to care for a woman can vary widely, for example in mainstream American society,...
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