Birth has always been, intrinsically, women's business. From a young age we yearn to become mothers, we are curious about pregnancy and birth and motherhood; we instinctively understand it is an amazing, transformative, and transcendent process and rite of passage. Suddenly as we grow into young women, and we are exposed to images of childbirth as a panicked, emergency situation, as we listen to stories of traumatic birth experiences and descriptions of the horrors of the 'pain', we begin to doubt our ability. We doubt our bodies, we doubt our strength, we completely hand over our autonomy in birth; and become full of fear. What a great disservice we have done to ourselves, even though unintentional. As an introduction to the 'Sakinah Birth' class, we present a brief history of childbirth to facilitate a broadened understanding of birth; in order to be able to analyse our own views of childbirth, in a context that is not limited. Following is an excerpt from the class.
"Historically, birth was considered to be a natural and normal process that is part of a married woman’s life. Birth usually took place in the home, especially in Islamic history due to the modesty of the mother, and in other parts of the world women often gave birth in a secluded outdoor area or field. Birth was exclusively a female event, attended by a traditional midwife, a traditional helper, and 2 or 3 more female relatives. So, during the course of a woman’s early years, she would have been exposed to a number of births, and as the years passed by she would have become knowledgeable and skilled in pregnancy and childbirth, passing those skills and knowledge onto her younger sisters and daughters. Mothers-to-be during this time often knew what to expect, from their bodies, their caregivers, their environment, and their babies; and they had a visual expectation of what this would look like. This preparation caused mothers-to-be to approach their impending births with little fear, which in return caused for more cases of straightforward births.
This scenario of childbirth was the norm throughout history, until the 1800’s when analgesia for childbirth was introduced, and birth was moved from the home to the hospital where the analgesia was available. The only people who were allowed in the birthing room were the physician and his assisting nurse, and the analgesia caused the mother to be very sleepy and meant she needed to be confined to a bed for duration of the birth. Most of the time the mother was so sleepy she was unable to wake up enough to push and give birth to her baby, hence the increased use of forceps to assist the babies to be born. Another effect of the analgesia at this time was that the mother would often forget her birth experience altogether! So as this practice started the spread throughout the world, women, especially in civilised societies, began to lose their understanding and knowledge of childbirth and what to expect, until it became something that was feared by almost all women.
By the 1950’s, there were many professors, doctors and midwives worldwide who were expressing their concerns regarding the way childbirth was being handled in the hospital. Research was beginning to uncover the damaging effects of the unnecessary interventions on mothers and babies, and women began to instinctively feel the need to have more information and choice during the births of their babies. And so, the natural childbirth movement began, with women reclaiming the knowledge and skills that had been lost, and midwives moving back into the forefront as the caregivers for women during childbirth, while physicians or obstetricians focus mainly on women with high risk conditions."
Seeing as fear has been such an ingrained aspect of childbirth over the past two centuries, it makes sense that it could be something we need to consciously address and challenge.
Understanding birth is not something that is an 'extra benefit' or a simple 'interest' for those women who choose to gain this knowledge. It is a vital, essential, part of being a woman, a mother, a sister.
The Nakhlah Childbirth doula training was developed to gather those sisters with a common passion for this vision of educating women and changing the birth experiences of women all over the world.
The Sakinah Birth classes were developed to offer all our sisters (pregnant, mothers, newly married, sisters, daughters, grandmothers) an opportunity to understand the intricacies of birth in a way that can change the way we approach birth, experience birth, and essentially alter the way the newer generations of mothers view birth as whole.