Walking, Birth, and Rite of Passage

Fall 2012 059“Being pregnant and giving birth are like crossing a narrow bridge. People can accompany you to the bridge. They can greet you on the other side. But you walk that bridge alone.” (African proverb)

There’s a reason I picked the name Birth Walk for my business and blog.  Walking.  It’s the great milestone of the first year of life and is the basic form of our movement and mobility for the rest of our lives.  It’s something that most of us probably take for granted, but walking both literally and figuratively plays a vital role in birth.

From a very practical perspective, staying upright and walking during labor  can help dilation, and bring baby into the best position for birth.  Walking can speed up labor, or can help start a stalled labor–all benefits that are lost when women are forced to labor in bed or on their back, as tends to happen in most hospital settings!

During both of my pregnancies, I tried to walk as much as possible, not only to prepare my body for the hard work of labor, but, just as importantly, to prepare my mind for the mental work that takes place when giving birth. There are several cultural mythologies around women giving birth in indigenous communities throughout the world that involve walking.  In some of these stories, pregnant women walk long distances in search of a place give birth when it is time.  From a biological perspective, this could be tied to how animals of other species of animals will seek out a location or den to birth–out of a need to secure safety for their vulnerable babies. For humans today, whose physical safety may not be threatened, there is still a need to create a “protected space” in the mind when it comes time for birth.

As the African proverb above suggests, when women birth they must walk through a vulnerable place within themselves in order to bring a new life to this side of earth and simultaneously give birth to a new identity as a mother–a process that continues to unfold long after the initial birth of a child.  When I was 39 weeks pregnant with my son, I urgently felt the need to hike up my favorite mountain by our house.  In fact, though I’d been moving pretty slowly for a while, when I started that particular hike, I felt a lightness and a deep need to practically run up the mountain.  I HAD to reach the overlook at the top because I knew that when I arrived there I would make peace with any fears I had about giving birth.

When we reached the top, I sat in meditative quiet and felt my son stirring within me and knew that I would hold him in my arms soon and that no matter what, I was going to birth this baby. I was ready.

Walking continues to be my outlet–my opportunity to be in my body and mind.  It is the space where I learn more about the mother that I am and the woman that is emerging during this rite of passage.

So, for birth and for life:  Keep walking.  Don’t stop.

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